Three dead musicians and the Sandpiper
It is generally recognized in the culture of civilization that we are shaped by the people we encounter and with whom we interact, the books that influenced us and the events that changed us forever. Seldom is sufficient weight given to songs and movies that impacted on us so greatly that they contributed to how our character evolved.
I would never deny that songs and movies have had a definite hand in moulding my life. I could just rattle off my head the songs that I loved so much growing up as an employed youth on Durban Street, Wortmanville, and the subtle and not so subtle ways they affected me.
Most definitely were the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “The Fool on the Hill,” Elton John’s “Skyline Pigeon,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans,” Demis Roussos’ version of “Smile,” The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” Johnny Mathis’, “Yesterday When I was Young,” Bread’s “The Guitar Man.” I could go on, but I should not leave out, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and Sammy Davis’s “I’ve Got to Be Me.”
In South Georgetown, the cinema was your second home. For poor youths like me, the section we referred to as “pit” was the only option. No working class youth thought of “house” or “balcony,” the other levels. “Pit” was not only affordable but you wanted to go there because you met your friends in “pit.” There was always fun and laughter in “pit” not to mention the occasional fights because a fool put his foot on the bench and it dirtied somebody’s shirt.
On Old Year’s Night in 1967, alone without my friends, I saw “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Astor and it left a deep impression on me. One lazy afternoon, I went to see “The Sandpiper,” at the Plaza. It starred man and wife in real life, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I was really moved by the story and at my age, these morals and themes can exert a strong influence on you.
The theme song for the movie, “The Shadow of Your Smile” one of the greatest love songs ever written, is one of the most covered songs in musical history and has become a classic.
Within the space of two weeks, three really great, and I mean really great artists in the music industry that had a lot to do with how I managed to stay alive in Wortmanville, passed away. First, there was the inventor of “Ska,” Jamaican Lloyd Brevett. If there wasn’t Ska, there would not have been reggae and maybe we would never have known about Bob Marley.
In South Georgetown, Otis Redding, the Drifters, Ben E. King, Motown and Chuck Jackson competed with Ska, but Ska was our music. It was a Caribbean invention.
I never listened to Brevett himself, but I grew up in Wortmanville with Ska. I left St. Thomas More Primary School at 14 and became a permanent “limer” There was nothing to do in the day and there was temptation at night. All Wortmanvile youths waited for Saturday night. That was when we visited the dance hall (particularly, the three-storied lodge building at Lime and Hadfield Streets, which is still standing, though in a derelict condition) and gambled outside.
I never danced. I just couldn’t, but I always gambled my Saturday nights away, particularly outside of Tutorial High School on Bent Street, next door to Vincent Alexander’s home. Vincent is a Wortmanvile boy like me. I was born a corner away from his house. I didn’t dance, but spent my time in the hall listening to Ska while my friends performed. My favourite Ska tune is a dirty song called “Shaving Cream.”
Last week, Donna Summer died. I don’t want to refer to her as the Disco Queen because that implied there wasn’t a Disco King. There wasn’t. Donna Summer was the Disco Emperor of the seventies. Her music touched all youths in the seventies. The tune she introduced me to was, “MacArthur Park.” It is a tremendous song that is movingly piercing. One line reminds me that one day we all will be old people – “The old men playing Chinese checkers by the tree.”
Last week too, Robin Gibb of the famous Bee Gees died. That leaves only one of the Bee Gees alive, effectively bringing the group to an end. My favourite composer is Burt Bacharach, though I would put the Lennon–McCarthy duo ahead of him in terms of philosophical compositions. Bacharach only wrote two philosophical songs, “Alfie,” and “Do you Know the Way to San Jose.”
Bob Marley comes after the Beatles for me, because Marley wrote on the theme of liberation. The Beatles wrote on philosophy generally. But while the Beatles made you reflect on life itself, Marley taught you to uplift your very life.
Then, of course, there was the Bee Gees. Which youth in the seventies didn’t the music of the Bee Gees touch? Thank you Lloyd, Donna and Robin, for the music.