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Séance on the 6th & 7th fret
Bobby Keys, Texan sax-man crucial to the Rolling Stones’ Seventies sound, went to the great gig in the sky the morning I got a picture of a picture of an old friend, dead a year-plus now; and walked over to the blu-ray player that replaced my old turntable, as my daughter will replace me in a future selection of the right song to remember a body by, and put on Exile on Main Street and listened to “(I Don’t Want to Talk about Jesus) I Just Want to See His Face.”
And thought of us, West Indians, the rock salt of the Earth, used up-and-tossed-away occupants of these little islands we cling to long after the cane fields have been cut clean, long before the ganja fields will be planted, like algae, like the moss rolling stones don’t gather, and pretend “We’s a country: look we anthem!”
And wondered how long we will live in yearlong summer before we realise we could grow food every day, instead of the three months that the part of the world to which we have always been enslaved has, to grow their wheat, to sell back to us as our daily bread.
Our father, which art, in Heaven: Lord put a hand or at least put a firetrucking comma after the “art”: if God lives, she lives, and gives birth, in music and painting and sculpture and poems beaten out of the human heart by inhuman suffering; but it is Art—God—that the religious murder first. The holier they get—and Boko Haram and Opus Dei are not distant relations, but twin brothers—the more viciously do churches crush the human spirit.
But there’s more God in a Keith Richards’ guitar lick than in the whole Qur’an; with or without apostrophe. God writes books; religions ban them. God sculpts statues: the Taliban blow them up. God made women’s breasts; every religion covers them up.
“Just Want to See His Face” runs into “Let It Loose” and I let loose memories of you to run, like the horses you loved—every painting, every ornament in your house, a horse—and you appeared in your robes on the day we were called to the bar with Nal and Sonj, and none of us fluffed the oddly-worded oath to “true allegiance bear,” and there you were again, chuckling because your 25-cent piece landed nearest the line and you scooped up $1.25 towards bad mall Chinese food, and here you are, now, in my e-mail inbox, on the Arima Race Club members’ stand wall, of which, so the plaque says, you were president in 2011, gone forever but grinning down at racehorse-people.
Billy Preston’s skittering keyboards bring me back to the chorus of “Shine a Light,” and I marvel how Billy (the fifth Beatle) and Booker T could make such a joyful noise from a plastic organ. Keith Smith, dead too long himself now, knew we were lucky to have seen great West Indies cricket teams that fought to win the most minor of tour matches, not abandon major tours without lifting a finger, and to have heard Sam Cooke; Otis Redding; Janis Joplin; the Beatles; Earth, Wind & Fire; Santana; Al Green; Miriam Makeba; Credence Clearwater Revival; Smokey Robinson; Simon & Garfunkel; and James Brown, all in the same hour, on the same radio station! Andre Tanker came out of that, and David Rudder, and Shadow—and you and me; and you and me.
And you were going to your only other destination than Hall of Justice, that day. The track. Come closer now, and you’ll hear the tracks of my tears. For all the satisfaction I get from “Angie,” and although “Jumping Jack Flash” always starts me up, “Wild Horses” could be the Stones’ greatest song; but Exile on Main Street closes with “Soul Survivor,” and I giggle: as between you and me, that’s me. One by one, we go. My father, God, is dead. Derek and them firetrucking dominoes.
David Rudder sang at Allyson Hennessey/Hezekiah’s funeral and his voice broke, fulfilling her dream it would happen when she served him a fish dish in Veni Mange and, if I could, would I pass up this cup?
What else it have to drink?
And I would drink ink. You have a fountain pen? Laugh and cry live in the same house and James Joyce wrote streams of consciousness but Keith Smith wrote Dry Rivers of unconsciousness and I know which one I tumble down in, with Kitch’s Mystery Band, and where I coming from, if not St Ann’s? And the River washes away all my unlovely; but my people dance away from the brand new discovery: of self; that self; the damned thing: self!
The disc stops. Outside, Small Man, the little cane dog, ten years old and falling apart, half a row of teeth in his lower jaw, another rescued stray, like me and you, surveys all he can see, of which he is the king, which ain’t much, with just the one eye left, and that with a cataract. (You go beg?)
If his vision went farther than the next few steps, if we could look back in any way other than anger, he, we would see the cane fields I took him walking in. You can feel the blood under your feet in them, still: a rain- or teardrop makes the earth stick to you. Anywhere quiet in Barbados, you hear the echoes of the howling.
Walking in their footsteps; and they sting: These are my people, broken, still waiting to be mended by a messiah, never brave enough to join a broadband, always happy to win a consolation prize. My father’s name went up on a wall yesterday, as yours did last month. But we don’t live forever on walls. We live—or die—that way in one another’s hearts.
n BC Pires prefers a sax solo to a sex one. E-mail your charges of flippancy in weighty matters to him at [email protected]
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