jammin’ at de Saba

he was jamming
last night at the Saba
redundant bass line heavy and hard
drummer triplin on the two-three
old style
rub-a-dub style
Jah Al-mi-TEE
can you say Amen

“Ras Tafari”
cry de baldheads
chillin my Irie
but the brothas don’t care
cause there’s coke in dey dreads
and even Babylon
look pretty in de snow

image-9

Kurt P. in college

I wrote that poem a long time ago after a visit from my old college roommate and soon-to-be-ex best friend. In college, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. After floundering the 1st two years, and getting a 1.75 GPA my 4th semester, I decided I better grow up and decide on my future. I went to the library, checked out a book on careers, and started reading. It was alphabetized, I remember.

My future was determined by my A-B-Cs. See, I got bored quickly, and once I hit “Accountant,” I read the blurb, and decided, “I can do that.” Mainly, I was sick of reading. Nonetheless, that is how I chose my future career in business. Now, being a dumb kid, I paid little heed to my heart. It was logic or nothing for me. By my junior year, I’d raised my GPA significantly, and figured I was set. (I got a 3.75 in my first semester as a business major. Shit was easy.)

I met my future bestie hanging out in front of one of the dorms, beating rhythms on his knees. He was a drummer who’d decided to “grow up” and get a degree. He chose Computers, then Psychology, though I think he put about as much thought into his as I had mine. Mostly, however, Kurt was a musician. I thought nothing of it, as all my other close friends were artists, poets, dancers, musicians. Still, I didn’t notice those desires in my own heart.

We can easily become blind to what we need if we focus too hard on what we must do, can’t we?

Anyway, Kurt and I became like brothers, and remained that way for 10 years. At one point, in the mid 80s, after finally getting my career on track, I was visited by my old musician friend and a new buddy of his. They’d driven 90 miles to my apartment, ostensibly to hang out. It was like old times, for a minute.

Age 18

Bill, 1st week in college

Then, to my surprise, the dumbass friend, a failed musician and mostly cokehead, starting asking me if I was a buppie or yuppie or some other configuration therein. “I bet you make $30,000 a year, don’t you?” He asked. At around the 3rd time he asked me, I unceremoniously threw his bitch ass out. Kurt too. Later, my friend apologized, informing me his buddy was grumpy from trying to kick coke. Like that’s a good excuse. Fuck cokeheads; you bring shit like that into my life, I’ll probably beat the fuck out of you. My friendship with Kurt continued for several more years, but I knew we were on different glide paths.

That was when I first convinced myself I’d made the right decision all along in suppressing my artistic bent. I never told my parents I wanted to learn to play the bass. I never told anyone I could write poetry until I started getting published. I never did a live reading. I took photos whenever I could afford to, but never learned the darkroom stuff because that would require taking classes. I never learned to paint, even though I always wanted to. I never. You name it.

Self-taught is a cop out. Yeah, I’m pretty fucking smart, but that was never the reason. I was scared of failing, of being judged.

But I did still go to reggae clubs, even after Kurt and his friend had cut they dreads and reentered middle-class society. I did the same thing, at least metaphorically, even though I’d never been outed as an artist in the first place. At least Kurt’s cokehead friend had the courage to be out of the artist closet.

Eventually, after my 1st marital mistake ended in divorce, I began claiming my identity as an artist. That was in 2000, some 13 years after I put on a tie and cut my metaphorical dreadlocks.

Now, I am an artist all the time, and a businessman from M-F, 8:30 to 4:30. It pays well, and is hard work, but doesn’t sweat me. It has taken me all of my life to realize that the reason I never chose to be an artist is because I am two people, and never should have been forced by society to pick one.

It’s no wonder so many people get lost in de snow. Choices are for bitches. From now on, I choose “all.”

When I find something I can’t learn, I’ll make a different choice.

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12 thoughts on “jammin’ at de Saba

  1. I’ve been thinking about this picture of you quite a lot recently, in fact since our last little altercation. I think it’s what triggered the dream of the younger you. It was weird, because when we started talking again I felt like there had been a dramatic shift in you, and that somehow the Bill I knew had merged with the younger version in the above photo, and it changed you indelibly. It has been a good change, and quite profound.

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    • It’s a difficult thing to tell ourselves we’re allowed to be both, because there’s that inner voice calling us a fraud, but I think it’s important. Artist is who we are. To deny it is to diminish ourselves.

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