Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"The Forces of Babylon..."

In Catholicism, there are people who go to Church and celebrate the holy Sacrament of Communion every day, follow the teachings and advice of the Pope, and remain as reverent as the Church details.
Then there are Catholics who don't ever go to Mass and are not particularly impressed by some old guy in a silly hat and red slippers. And not a lot can give you details about the Second Vatican Council.
But they know some of the prayers. And enjoy eating chocolate bunnies on or around Easter.
I worked as deejay at a Newport Rhode Island club that featured a "Reggae Brunch," which carried on while the local college radio stations played their weekly reggae shows. Which meant that local reggae enthusiasts were home listening to the radio and smoking dope while my friends' band played derivative originals and Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff covers from noon to four, while I played poppy ska and reggae during breaks.
I was not known in town as a Reggae Personality.
I played "new wave" records for locals and tourists who accidentally found the place on weeknights. I certainly wasn't "White Lightnin'" a blonde kid who would show up, drink lots of water, and eventually grab a mic and "toast" whenever the band would float a one-drop and a bass-line.

I got to spend a lot of time those Summers with lot of guys who fancied themselves "Rastafarians."
One of my housemates claimed to be a "Rastafarian." He was also a diabetic, so Rastafarianism became something that we shared in long conversations ("reasonings") along with tips for glucose monitoring in bars. We took to attributing unfortunate incidents to "The Forces of Babylon" which "be all around us, Peeeej-man." (Not "mon.")
Much of the spirituality of Rastafarianity was lost on my linear cause-and-effect sensibility and Jesuit training. Yes, I understood much of the Bible, since I had to, what with my own sectarian upbringing and all. But I didn't understand why a book would be deemed the basis for details of someone's daily life -- say, their diet or hygiene -- particularly when they loudly and obviously considered it a demonic distortion perpetrated by others who wanted to keep them enslaved. Oh, and why everyone who respected Marcus Garvey thought that Prince Haile Sallassie (Ras Tafar I) was the promised messiah but Garvey didn't believe that but the point is that JAH is the way that I&I, yes, aye, the way to march to Zion, yes...
But, because I am a spiritual seeker -- or at least a polite and agreeable housemate -- I adapted, improvised, and endeavored to understand and empathize. Although, I had no problem with the plentiful meals of lobster and other shellfish provided by my employers, who were neither Orthodox nor Rastafarians, I tried to take everyone's dietary rules seriously.
My housemate, however, was apt to look up from under his heavy brows through bloodshot eyes and remind me that coffee was "the juice of Babylon" whenever I offered him a cup, indicating that caffeine was one of the non-kosher spirits. He didn't eat a lot, so that complicated diabetes management, but his girlfriend kept him sugared up on Ting and other hard-to-find soft drinks. (She also wanted to get a tattoo of Bob Marley. I explained that the irony would have been too much, especially among the sistren.)
In those days, it wasn't terribly clear the direction in which reggae music would eventually go. I had no idea that it would become a wallow of ugly sexism and violent homophobia. But as time went on, I would continue to appreciate rhythmic stylings and earnest spirituality. Plus: the dub work of Lee Scratch Perry.
I also began to grasp my terrible mistake of conflating music and culture.
I always recall the "be in the world, not of it" quality of my housemate, and wonder if he would have gone so far as to sue his employer for the right to wear his dreads or to not shave. As much as I overstand Leviticus' injunctions, I can't be persuaded that Moses knew much about Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
But the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court says that Bobby T. Brown can continue with his suit against Jiffy Lube. Very simplistically, his admittedly sacerdotal lifestyle is not something any employer can abridge. Take that, downpressor man.
Which is all very right and Constitutionally-protected.
Except for the squishy parts where a man, whose sectarianism is a rejection of the enslaving modernity of things like automobiles, finds himself having to sue to keep his job in an oil change shop in order to feed and house his family.
Just like anybody else.
If only...
(I could have put the Rasta Obama Coffee Mug, but I wanted to maintain a level of gravitas.)

5 comments:

bitterandrew said...

I have recently been listening to an album of reggae interpretations of TV and movie themes as performed by a bunch of Germans using assumed Jamaican accents.

The world is a very strange and complex place.

ThirdMate said...

Irie Dream of Jeannie?

bigsam27 said...

Tosh's Equal Rights is in my top ten greatest albums of all time.

LouCap said...

I always knew you were smarter than me, and this proves it...I couldn't form those thoughts on my best day. Bravo!

ThirdMate said...

BigSam: What do you mean "your" top ten? Isn't it on everyone's?

Thank you, LouCap. You know that means a lot.
Yet, isn't your next line supposed to be:
"But can you do THIS?"