I was in 8th grade. Old enough to have my own opinions but not quite experienced enough for them to be worth much. I was walking down the street, in the gutter. My dad used to hate when packs of teenagers would do this, leaving the sidewalks empty and daring cars to run them over. But I wasn’t a pack, it was just me, and I wasn’t all the way out in the street, just the gutter.
I was on my way home from school, or maybe Kirk’s house, I’m not really sure. I am sure that I was kicking rocks. Little landscaping pebbles that had escaped from a flower bed or a driveway. Off to the side in the gutter I didn’t have to look up to see who was in the minivans as they drove by or which blonde little kids were laughing as they played on swingsets in their back yards. I kicked rocks because they were there and because the rubber soles were coming off my Converse. I was trying to wear them out quicker in hopes for a new pair.
As my shoes made that scuffing sound on the pavement and the little kids laughed on the swings my mind drifted off to wherever it is the minds of bored suburban kids go when they walk. I wandered on in this mindless state for at least another ten years, but on this day I was startled out of my trance by the shallow clacking sound of hard plastic.
I looked down and saw an unmarked cassette tape. It was dirty, scratched up, but the tape was intact. I picked it up and slipped it in the pocket of my Bugle Boys.
When I closed the deck and pushed down the play button a ray of light burst through my shuttered windows.
Then I saw the angel with the seven seals
Babylon your throne gone down gone down
Babylon your throne gone down
A conduit straight to heaven opened up before me and I was carried away to some celestial world.
I said fly away home to Zion
One bright morning when my work is over
I will fly away home
It was as if the sounds of angels came bursting from the speakers and I was changed.
I was also confused.
I’m sure death and the passage into the next world would be confusing, or should I say will be? One day you are the same you have always been and then bang, hit by a truck, and now everything is different. That is what happened to me when I put that unmarked tape into the deck.
I had no idea what it was. I had never heard anything like it. I did not understand it.
You teach the youth to learn in school
That the dish ran way with the spoon
You teach the youth to learn in school
That the cow jump over moon
So you can’t blame the youth, when they don’t learn
You can’t fool the youth
There was a back beat. It made me smile. It was raw and unpolished. I had no idea what they were singing about but I felt like it mattered. I was convinced they meant whatever it was they were saying and hat I needed to be on board.
It wasn’t just the music. Between every song there was this guy talking. It sounded vaguely like English but I couldn’t make it out. Completely incomprehensible. But I was young and this was love. Love has never needed to make sense. This idea made perfect sense to me. I was in the height of puberty, everything felt big and important and I didn’t understand any of it.
Why should this music be any different?
Then came one song; instantly my favorite.
I went downtown
There I saw miss Brown
She had brown sugar
All over her booga wooga
Kinky reggae now
I rewound it over and over. Kinky reggae. I had never touched, never kissed, never seen a naked girl, and my new favorite song was kinky reggae. I knew in some vague way what that word meant, I have no idea how, and I didn’t care. I had my theme song. This one was mine.
It was years before I figured out who the artist was. I played it for my friends and they all just laughed. They couldn’t handle more than one joke and told me to turn that trash off. “That junk is non-sense, put R.E.M. back on.” Because of that one word, kinky, I didn’t play it for my parents. It wouldn’t have helped. I knew it wasn’t Chubby Checker so I knew Dad wouldn’t know who it was.
Every time I hear the crack of a whip
My blood runs cold
I remember on the slave ship
How they brutalized my very soul
The table is turned
Catch a fire
Yer gonna get burned
Decades have passed and I have never smoked a joint. I do not like the Grateful Dead and find tie dye repulsive. I have never owned a pair of Birkenstocks. But to this day Bob is by far my favorite. Writing that just now doesn’t really do it justice.
Every man thinks that his burden is the heaviest
Every man thinks his burden is the heaviest
Who feels it knows it Lord
That’s why yer runnin’ away
But you can’t run away from yourself