Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

One-twenty-eight

Posted by ilbebe on July 4, 2012

This will attempt to recount how my initial distaste for reggae landed me in a sticky,  racially-charged moment in a bar when I was twenty-seven.

I didn’t hear much reggae bumping out of cars in Brentwood  in my teen years. If I had to guess, I’d say I’d probably heard no more than a handful of reggae songs ever before I moved to Arcata to begin college. I don’t even remember anyone wearing Bob Marley shirts in high school, though there must have been a few mixed in there with the Tool, NIN, and Nirvana shirts. My stance on reggae upon entering HSU was pretty similar t0 my stance on any “world” music that I was mostly unfamiliar with; a stance best encapsulated by the timeless teenage shoulder shrug/ “Whatever” combo. However, it did not take me long to start hating reggae.

Those unfamiliar with the term ‘trustafarian’ must consider themselves lucky, as the people described by this term are really some of the most contemptible young people I’ve ever come across. The defining elements of trustafarianism are a wealthy and privileged background, the escape of which results in a deeply flawed understanding of the message of traditional rastafarianism that manifests itself in an enthusiasm for reggae music and tattered clothing much moreso than the belief in a universal spirit of love and self-empowerment. This misunderstanding is then combined with an obnoxious and heavy-handed proselytizing attitude used in dealing with people who don’t like reggae that is actually no different than the common contempt any stripe of rich kids feel towards anyone different than them. The insidious part of trustafarianism is that these fucking asshole rich kids that are dressed like paupers from a Dickens novel will give you no end of shit if you dare say anything crossways about reggae music, or wearing garbage, or blatantly smoking weed in public while waiting to get into a show at a venue that has very nicely asked you to keep the weed smoking low-profile.

Thus did I come to associate the tones of reggae music with people I loathed. There was also an element of oversaturation at work; reggae can at times be inescapable in Arcata, and hell, sometimes yr just not in the mood. Once I was eating lunch with a co-worker at the cafeteria and he audibly groaned when ‘One Love’ came on the sound system. What’s Up, I asked. I Can’t Take Much More Bob, Man, he said. He continued to explain that the only CD that lived in the sculpture lab where he spent almost half of his week was Legend, the Bob Marley greatest hits collection. It’s As If The Wheels Won’t Turn Unless It’s Playing he said, sadly.

It took years for my opinion on reggae to soften, but it did. Then my friend Shawn became obsessed with Joe Strummer’s version of ‘Redemption Song’, never my favorite Bob song to begin with. It became a running joke between us where he would put it on at every possible time, and I would sigh and pretend to hate it, then sing along with gusto at the brilliant line “emancipate yourself from the chains of mental slavery”. After numerous listens, I finally grew to like the song, and I now smile when I see the bumper sticker with that lyric on it. However, there was to be one last awkward moment between me and the ghost of Bob Marley, and it happened at McNally’s on a dead Thursday night in the summer of 2008.

Shawn and I were there with a few other people, and other than us, there weren’t many other people in the bar. The jukebox died, so Shawn went to put some money in. I called after him “Yeah, put on Redemption Song!” and laughed derisively. He laughed over his shoulder as he walked towards the far wall where the jukebox was mounted, but another guy at the bar didn’t think it was funny. “What’s so funny about Redemption Song?” he asked.

How could I explain the entire personal history that had led to this stupid inside joke to a very pissed-off looking black dude with dreds in a bar in Oakland on a Thursday? My mind got stuck, and all that came out of my mouth was “Uhhhhh…”

“I’m waiting for an answer,” he said, “What have you got against Bob Marley?”

Shawn walked back over from the jukebox and intervened on my behalf. “Oh, it’s just a joke we have.”

The dude was not amused. “I don’t see what’s so funny about that song. It’s a great song. I’d love to know why you don’t like it.”

Now Shawn was stuck. “Well I do like it, it’s just a, um, you know, a joke…me and him have…” He trailed off.

Unsatisfied, but apparently now willing to let the matter be, the dude shrugged and turned away.

What the fuck? Confusion reigned. Bob woulda been mad dissapointed, and Joe Strummer probably would have as well. Anyhow, now the tale has been told.

Happy Independence Day. Burn forth.

7/4/12, 2:20PM, home. Still confused about the true meaning of ‘One Love’…

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