How songs ar­rive

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

Joe’s joke. It was pure com­edy, and when I started Tradewinds in Toronto in 1966, I re­mem­bered the joke, told to me some 15 years ear­lier in the Gon­salves res­i­dence in Atkin­son Field. In­deed, many song-writ­ers will tell you they keep a lit­tle note­book with ran­dom song ideas or sug­ges­tions scrib­bled in that will of­ten re­sult in a song later on. These days, I do my scrib­bling on the com­puter, but I still do it. Cur­rently, for in­stance, I have these nudg­ings with re­gard to “oil com­ing,” or “fit and proper,” “protest signs in town,” and some oth­ers I am too em­bar­rassed to men­tion, but the re­minders are there.

How­ever, and this is a big “how­ever,” the other piece of the song-writ­ing puz­zle is the mat­ter of “how” to present the idea. “Hon­ey­moon­ing Cou­ple” was a joke, ba­si­cally put into rhyme, and ad­justed to fit with a melody. For some ideas, you have to fig­ure out how to form your idea. “Wong Ping,” for ex­am­ple: trav­el­ling the Caribbean, I knew there was a song in Chi­nee Brush; ev­ery­body was fa­mil­iar with it, and I tried sev­eral times to write it, but I could never find the for­mula and there were lit­er­ally years of fail­ure. And then I heard a Trini drum­mer, Louis Flores, im­i­tat­ing a Chi­nese shop-keeper in Trinidad (hi­lar­i­ous, by the way)

Sand the bulb lit up: that was the way to write the song; as a Chi­nese man be­hind his counter pro­mot­ing his sex­aid prod­uct in frac­tured English. That idea had been with me for sev­eral years, be­fore Louis’ com­ment showed me the “how.” No­tice, how­ever, that the ob­server thing has to be in play. I am sure that many other mu­si­cians heard the Chi­nese pro­nun­ci­a­tions – none of them wrote a song about it. You have to be notic­ing.

In the same vein, when I went to Toronto, see­ing all the stat­ues in the city, it struck me for the first time how dif­fer­ent that was from Guyana – there we had only one statue, and that one of an English queen. From that ob­ser­va­tion came “Where Are Your Heroes, Caribbea,” one of my per­sonal favourites, which would ob­vi­ously not have oc­curred to me if I had known only the Guyana ex­pe­ri­ence. (In that song, by the way, I used “Caribbea” not “Caribbean” to sug­gest a com­bi­na­tion of na­tions rather just a re­gion). ome other pro­pel­lants would in­clude hear­ing a bunch of Guyanese af­ter a New York show, bunched on the side­walk, at 5 in the morn­ing, gaffing about all the things, places, peo­ple, etc. they re­mem­bered from Guyana. It hit me so pow­er­fully that, trav­el­ling home, I scrib­bled out the song “Is We Own,” which was al­most com­pletely fin­ished by the time we landed in Grand Cay­man. An­other one came from a leg­endary Trinidad in­for­ma­tion guy, Bunny Dunn, liv­ing in Toronto, who told me the lit­tle known story of a Trini schooner cap­tain who went down with his ship when he was sunk near Gre­nada by a Ger­man sub­ma­rine dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. That led to “Sink The Schooner,” which is well known in Bar­ba­dos. There was also my ex­po­sure, in my aunts’ yard at Hague, to roost­ers tread­ing hens with some reg­u­lar­ity; how could they pos­si­bly keep up this pace, day af­ter day? The in­evitable song from that was “Mis­ter Rooster.” There was “Women in Love,” de­scrib­ing women of var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties dur­ing sex: that came from an in­ci­dent a St. Lu­cian friend told me in­volv­ing him and a lady in the back­seat of his car.

To re­peat from ear­lier – the an­swer is any­thing and ev­ery­thing but you have to be an ob­server and you have to fig­ure out the “how” and not be im­pa­tient… that can take years.

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