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No-spin Dr Rudder
The University of the West Indies last week caught up with the rest of us and gave David Rudder the honorary doctorate of letters to match the real one he earned when he wrote Calypso Music in 1987.
God knows that David gave us more in the seven minutes of that one song than we’ve got in seven decades from the Department of Literary, Cultural and Communication Studies—but God, the UWI and the ragamuffins know that the body of work David Rudder created in the last generation will stand for all future ones to come.
I take a particular pleasure in noticing that our pardner was given his cap-and-gown at the same time as my proprietor, Anthony Norman Sabga II (who himself follows in the footsteps of his own dad, Anthony Norman Sabga I; if David’s special day wasn’t already memorable, it would have crossed over into unforgettable when he found himself honoured alongside Dr Sabga Jnr).
The Trinidadian way of “celebrating” David Rudder’s achievement would be to call him “Dr Rudder” for the next few weeks, and expect him to be thrilled every time, since everyone will think they are the first person with wit enough to do it.
However, the Trinidadian, while being genuinely pleased that “King David get he papers,” will never think about why he does what he does; or how often, how tirelessly and how well he does it.
Prof Gordon Rohlehr, who got his doctorate at the start of his career, (and anyone who can spell Rohlehr without checking it deserves a doctorate of their own) has treated David Rudder’s songs the way they should be: as material for scholars.
Today, I also want to do something special for David Rudder, as he’s done for us all, so regularly; but I am more “skuller” than scholar; and, too besides, I can’t think of a more Trinidadian way of celebrating David Rudder’s achievement than making him do, for me, the bulk of my work for him; that sweet.
Here then, is an interview I’ve imagined with David Michael Rudder. The questions are mine; the answers are taken from his lyrics, apart from in the last line, where I change a country’s name to a man’s. I’ve tried to quote from his hits because, deep philosophical thinkers that we are in T&T, we just never play side two of the LP; or hear anything past verse one and chorus. So welcome, welcome, step right up, to the place in this space where the gobar flows nonstop.
This is the first interview I ever did where I started with the answers and then figured out the questions.
BC: You came from Toronto to collect your cap-and-gown?
DMR: Well this is a tale, oh, such a tale: soca music take me back to my island. Whole week my vibes just telling me to go down and cause some controversy.
BC: You felt like a king?
DMR: It was that kind of night, you see, when the music wins. It’s the lyrics and melody sending their soul to the boundary. If you want to jam with me, sit down. The action is here.
BC: You think the university now sees you as a poet?
DMR: Or some kinda stupid man. They say: “Who the hell bring this fool in we yard? Who sign papers to invite this imps? That is the root of our trouble. Just the look in their eyes, I saw it in the eyes. What it is you hide behind your eyes? Dark secrets! The hidden agendas of the mind-benders, desperadoes and renegades, who thought it wasn’t very nice. Them rich Trinidadians, they come to buy you and they come to buy me. It’s up to you and me to make sure they fail. We got to let them know we ain’t taking it so. Knock them down! Don’t ask: “Who, me?” You know damn well is you!
BC: It’s a very Trinidadian thing, to elevate someone, so you can shatter him?
DMR: They used to call him a hero; now they say he’s a son of a gun. This is madness! You fling your soul on a reel of tape in a sterile studio—some say it vanish into thin air! These people want you surrender, but no time to give up, brother, no time to quit. When you feel like your life’s locked up tight and somebody throw away the key, you know it’s shakedown time. It is strange: the more we change, rearrange, everything still seems the same.
BC: It must have been personally exhausting to keep on holding up the mirror?
DMR: What do you do in a land where there seems to be a charlatan on every corner? In this pappyshow land, nearly everything is a pappyshow. The self-contempt is like a badge of faith. Put up your hand if you understand: everybody hand raise!
BC: But you’re essentially pleased about the doctorate?
DMR: Why we going there? It don’t matter if you have a degree. You could crawl in a pocket and agree, long as you’re ready for this cosquel spree.
BC: They will call you a neemakaraam if you don’t tell me how you truly feel about the honorary doctorate?
DMR: The feeling of the feeling, Lord it oh so nice! It feels pretty good, this thing in my soul, as we gather ’round that day everybody come and celebrate. It doesn’t get too much better than this.
BC: Hey, David, you see where I put down my glasses?
DMR: Search under yuh bed.
BC: Yes, look them there. Thanks.
DMR: BC, I’m sorry. I don’t like old talk. Is enough to lose a friend. So I taking a walk.
n BC Pires is the stiff waist borrowed lyrics man blessed with random notes.
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