The Jamaican Cowboy was a friend of mine, though I did not know him well. Like a piper calling us home to Negril, his music and his charm filled our living rooms every Sunday morning.
Our first meeting was on my first trip to Negril way back in February 1994. I didn’t know who he was when I met him, and thankfully he didn’t remember me because I was naked at the time. Let me explain:
Cowboy was the entertainment for Hedonism’s Island Picnic in those days. A girl I”d met on the Road to Negril bus ride asked if I wanted to go to the “Island Picnic” the next day. It”s been my experience, when a girl asks you to go to a naked picnic; you go! Flab be damned.
We ate, drank and jiggled to the syncopated, rockabilly-reggae beat all coming out of one man, and one guitar. All I can remember is thinking, “Man, dude makes that thing talk!”
I found Negril.com in late 2003, the message board, the Real Negril Sunday Webcast from Selina”s, and of course The Jamaican Cowboy. I remember scrambling to my memory box (a big plastic bin filled with my keepsakes) looking for my Hedo trip stuff, and right there on my Island Picnic Agenda, “Entertainment provided by The Jamaican Cowboy.” “Yeah, I remember that guy!”
By the time I got to Negril in April ’04 I was an official Boardie. I was consistently amazed with the quality and the sincerity the answers my newbie questions received.
I didn’t know how to act on my first live Sunday Morning Webcast. I wore my Philadelphia Eagles cap, ordered Jamaican Breakfast, and tried to figure out who was who. About halfway through my breakfast Meg (Tom & Meg from Wilmington) came over and asked “Are you Vinny from Philly?” I said yes, and she yelled to everyone in the joint, “Hey everyone, Vinny from Philly is here!”
At first I was kind of embarrassed, but within five minutes I was part of the crowd, part of the wonderful boardie family. I met Rob. Selina hugged me. Several people whose names I can’t remember bought me Bloody Marys, and Selina introduced me to Alex, The Jamaican Cowboy. I tried to tell him I was a big fan, but he would have none of it, I was moved by his modesty. He just smiled with those warm piercing eyes and began to play. He was much better in person.
When a person on the periphery of your life passes on, at least for me, it gives the most room for pause. Forcing you to look within yourself, to come to grips with the big questions. To take a look at life, at the life lost, or at least your impressions of that life, as a mirror or even a magnifying glass to your own. Like a distant relation, one you don’t see very often, but feel an attachment to. Standing at the back of the room during the wake, a partner to the family’s grief, yet somehow disconnected from it.
My eyes welled up reading Selina’s stoic report on the message board, the overtones of her sadness, her loss, and her tears bleed through the words catching me in the throat.
Cowboy’s passing also brings to light the true hardships our friends in Jamaica face every day. We see them in town, we trade with them, have a few Red Stripes, but it’s rare that we get a glimpse into their total life.
We take for granted the ease of life in the States, and in the Land of Maple Leafs. If I get a sniffle; I hit CVS for some medicine; if it holds on; I go to an excellent doctor right down the street, and even then it’s just a ten-dollar co-pay.
My downstairs neighbor had a heart attack in 2005, he was ok, but it’s two years later he”s still bitching about the interminable thirteen minute EMS response time. There is a lot said about healthcare in the states, but with even the most basic emergency room care, Cowboy would have had more than a fighting chance.
Happy Trails Cowboy –
Thanks to Dreadneck & Lizzardbeth for the photos
June 24, 2007
“The Biggest Human Event in Planetary History!” A headline blared from some mega media website. A bit heavy handed don’t you think? Well, I was there, and I wasn’t in some cordoned off media area with air conditioning and adult beverages. No not me, your intrepid reporter was in the thick of it, squashed between stinky biker types, soccer moms and half naked teenagers. What I don’t do for you, dear reader!
The adventure began with a walk to the train depot near my house. There were about twenty very young, very hip looking people waiting impatiently for the 7:51 SEPTA R2. A few High School aged girls were flitting about unable to mask their excitement, while the ultra-hip nose ring and Doc Martin crowd looked on disdainfully. I guess I fell somewhere in between, as my tie-dye shirt, canvas shorts and sandals identified me as one of the faithful.
Going to events in Philly via public transportation is usually an adventure and this trip did not disappoint. Packed well beyond capacity with bleary eye-ed Live8ers, the train rolled and rocked its way towards Philadelphia and the big event. Industro-techno music from an unseen boom box filled the crowded car, keeping heads bopping, feet tapping, and really pissing off the conductor who was unable to control the situation. Other than feeling a little weird being the oldest person on the train, the trip was far-out! I mean cool. The cat’s pajamas?
Back in the spring I’d heard there was going to be a Live-Aid 2, and I barely took notice except to reminisce about that long, hot, and very wasted day at the old JFK Stadium when I was a kid.
As the hype grew so did my desire to be a part of history, again. Really it was more like a “wouldn’t that be cool ifâ€¦” kind of thought, but as the big day drew nearer my resolve grew stronger and at 8AM Saturday July 2nd I was on my way!
It was Live 8 this time, not Live Aid, and this time we’re not fighting hunger, but tackling third world debt and trade injustice. I guess I’m not the only one who’s grown up in the last twenty years.
Walking up the stairs from Suburban Station in Center City Philadelphia, I was amazed how crowded the city was at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. I could see thousands of people streaming from everywhere up Broad Street toward Ben Franklin Parkway. What a sight to see!
Finally, I got to the place where I was supposed to meet my friends, but they were nowhere to be found, so after a few minutes I decided to check out the infrastructure for today’s event which was pretty impressive.
The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is about a quarter mile long from Love Park to the Art Museum, you know, the one with all the stairs Rocky likes to run around on?
At several points along the tree-lined Parkway there were huge television monitors with speaker clusters, they seemed so far from the stage, and were right in the middle of the street. How many people are they really expecting?
I counted four very large, well staffed EMS tents with huge pallets of ice and bottled water to keep the thousands hydrated, and even at 8:30AM the police presence was heavy and everywhere.
Parked at 20th and 22nd Streets North and South were big red fire trucks with giant spray arms ready to cool the crowd. I didn’t think the crowd would actually get this far back. There was no view of the stage. Little did I know that in a few hours 22nd street was only going to be mid-crowd.
Lining the entire length of the Parkway were food vendors of every stripe, well almost every stripe, hundreds of them! There was your regular outdoor event fare, Hot Dogs, Cheesy Fries, and Water Ice. There was also Greek, Chinese, Organic, Vegetarian, and even a Falafel stand, but no Jamaican food! What a disgrace!
My gastronomical disappointment was short lived, I was standing just a hundred yards from the stage when The Fresh Prince himself came out and the place went nuts! He spoke of the reason for Live 8, how we were all here so the members of the G8 would take notice of poverty in the third world, especially Africa. I was impressed with my fellow revelers, because they cheered like crazy and we all joined people around the world in raising our hands in the air in an act of unity.
Normally, being a sophisticated slightly jaded ex-deadhead, I would poo-poo this act of unity by the ipod generation, but I was caught up in the moment as the Black Eyed Peas took the stage and found myself jumping and cheering with the crowd.
Then as if by magic, the familiar bass riff of Bob Marley’s “Get-Up, Stand-Up” shook through the crowd and then Rita and Stephen Marley took the stage and broke into the lyrics! Was this really happening? Woo Hoo! What a moment! The sheer power and integrity of the Marley’s created an irie explosion that blew from the stage into the crowd as we all moved as one.
Then it was my ol’ pal Bon Jovi, his familiar “Livin’ on a Prayer” is a Philly classic. Although eighty percent of the crowd wasn’t born when the New Jersey album came out, (hell it was actually an album, vinyl, an LP!) their moms and dads kept the song a staple in classic rock radio.
The day was getting hot and my friends and I decided to move back from intensity of a “Stage View” position. I didn’t really have much need to hear the canned music of Destiny’s Child, but the slappin’ bass line turned us around and I have to admit, Beyonce’s “Survivor” rocked! Something about her voice that cut through everything and made white people jump up and down saying things like “You Go Girl!!” I sometimes feel the need to apologize for my race.
For the next few hours we listened to the music, but spent most of our time people watching. They were all here, though most of the crowd was between fifteen and twenty five there were thousands of kids, this was definitely as family friendly affair. No bad behavior, no obvious booze consumption and all day, ALL DAY, I didn’t get one, NOT ONE whiff of sweet ganja smoke. There were also a large cadre of hippies, and hillbillies, radical old ladies and a smattering of outlaw bikers.
Walking thru the crowd is always a lot of fun, I found one guy who had crowd walking down, he was about 6’3″ very hairy, very sweaty and had his arms over his head, it was like he was a big smelly Moses as the crowd seemed to part before him. What I found sorely lacking were the angry young men and lesbian activists, they were there, but kind of quiet and marginalized, so they didn’t add the flavor I count on them for at these large events.
I dialed back in when Toby Keith was singing some song about “Whiskey for my men, and beer for my horses,” you gotta love dem backward ass country folk.
Next up was Dave, the Dave Matthew’s Band, a big time favorite of mine! The sound was great for an open air concert and I tried to get closer for a better view of Dave, but I only got as far as the 22nd Street North fire truck sprinkler set-up. Dave-shmave, now this was quite a sight! A few hundred folks were frolicking in the cool falling water, like a giant wet t-shirt contest. Of course I watched only for editorial reasons, just to relay the event properly.
This is where I noticed the first of another interesting activity many teenage girls were involved in. They would walk up to a bootleg t-shirt seller, ask for his ID, and when she felt she proved he wasn’t legit, she’d start in on the guy. She would scream, “You fucking dirtbag!! You’re stealing from starving babies!! What the Fuck is wrong with you!! Don’t you have a fucking soul???????? Etc. . .” While her friends who were spaced twenty yards apart all screaming for the police and pointing in the direction of their friend and often the fleeing seller.
It was a pretty funny site these big tough looking guys with a five foot nothing sixteen year old girl just wailing on them. Most just walked away, some argued back and a few ran. Good work girls! Linkin Park was the perfect soundtrack for this, starting sweet and then rocking out!
I found a place under a tree and took some notes as Sara McLanahan’s beautiful voice mixed with the cool breeze and cooled off a million people bringing them to a mellower place. I’d hear Sara before, my daughter likes her a lot, but this was the first time I ever listened to her. Wow, just enchanting.
By the time Stevie Wonder came on I was all the way back to Love Park singing the dozenth “we hate capitalism” type petition of one kind or another. This added to my pile of fliers from NORML, Act-Up, The Lesbian and Gay Task Force, and even the Church of Scientology, though I didn’t see Tom and Katie anywhere.
The mass exodus to busses, trains and parking lots slowed to a crawl as more and more people turned to take in Stevie Wonder’s performance. Dressed in white at his piano, with a full band and choir also dressed in white, “Superstition” was bouncing off the granite museum walls, like a giant surround stereo. Even the cops and vendors stopped and bobbed their heads paying homage to the legendary performer.
Getting out of town was insane, every road was choked with traffic and the over taxed and under prepared regional rail service was rife for one of those human stampedes. It was a hundred degrees in the station, the air was thick stinky, people had that look in their eyes where panic was only an inciting incident away. I got out of there.
I walked a few blocks to Girard and Broad, got on the very crowded but tolerable Broad Street Subway up to Olney Transportation Center and waited for the 55 bus to take me home. While I waited I got a few patties and a few Tings at the Golden Crust Bakery and Grill and pondered the enormity of the situation I’d just left.
July 3, 2005
The Rolling Stones Goat’s Head Soup
Inpired by Jamaican “Mannish Water” which they first experienced in Negril!
Recorded at Dynamic Sound Studios, Kingston, Jamaica.
Following the enormous success of Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, Goat’s Head Soup found the Rolling Stones jetting down to Jamaica in 1973 and tweaking their rebellious image with a bit of voodoo imagery. Kicking things off with “Dancing With Mr. D.,” the Stones picked up the thread of “Sympathy For The Devil” and gilded their already hedonistic reputation with some Satanic allusions. References to Beezelbub aside, Soup offered up some of the Stones’ more heartfelt ballads including “Angie,” “Winter” and “Coming Down Again.”
Of course, being known as “The World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band” means a number of songs more than back up this moniker. Among them are “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” propelled by Mick Taylor’s wah-wah pedal and Billy Preston’s electric piano, and the twang and slide guitar of “Silver Train.” With an abundance of cheeky attitude despite a slew of slow songs, the Stones close Goat’s Head Soup with a backhanded tribute to groupies called “Star Star.”
April 12, 2005