August 10, 2011

The Genesis of "Bob Marley and Bradford's iPod"

I have been losing too many friends to conditions that plague Black men my age: hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. When we were younger, we would talk about books, soccer, film, football, and girls while we smoked and had a few drinks at a local bar. Now we are beginning to resemble the characters in "Miami, USA" (Florida Bound), a poem about my first impressions of Miami Beach: "old men/ trade prescriptions, amber bright/ as stars over Auschwitz tagged to their sleeves."

I could say that my conversations with my friends were the genesis of "Bob Marley and Bradford's iPod," but I would be lying. The roots of this story are far more complex than many of my other stories, but they share a common heritage.

Bradford Ramsay, my doppelgänger, is a fused character from "The Day Mrs. Ho Sang Got Arrested," in my first collection of short stories, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien: The story is about a young man from Mona Heights, Jamaica who likes to smoke marijuana and to flick the ash through the window. Unbeknownst to Bradford, a seed has spouted into a "beautiful plant" which has been nurtured by his mother's hands and the rich fertilizer in her garden. One day, the police show up at their front door…

I've often wondered what would happen to the characters I created in Uncle Obadiah and the Alien. I've played with combinations of their names for many years now, which is how Bradford Ramsay was born. I guess that's why this genre is called speculative fiction.

The idea for the "haunted" iPod came after I wrote the post, "Five Songs I Must Have for my iPod." Many writers, including Stephen King who used it in "Ghost Radio," have been intrigued by the idea of a device that allows multidimensional communication, and I figure this trope will be used and reused for as long as Ogun rules.

Of course, anyone who has been reading this blog knows about my love for Bob Marley's music and the gratitude that I have for the impact of his life on my work. Bob's music guided me in constructing the conflict between Bradford and his antagonist, Dr. Tyrone Robinson. An article in The Gleaner also influenced the story: "60 per cent of Jamaicans held the view the country would be better off under British rule." I'll let you read the story to find out how Bradford reacts to these kinds of Anglophile sentiments.

The character "Bob Marley" in this story was grounded in a strong feeling that I've had ever since I attended the symposium on RastafarI: Bob is a becoming a caricature of a weed smoking Jamaican Rastaman.

Sure, Bob smoked the herb and sang many songs in its praise: "Excuse me while I light my spliff/ O God I gotta take a lift" ("Easy Skanking), and "I feel so high I could even touch the sky/ Above the falling rain" ("Kaya"). But to reduce Bob's work to smoking herb or to regard "One Love" as merely a Kumbaya sentiment is to miss an important aspect of Bob's work:

Let's get together to fight this Holy Armagiddyon (One Love!),
So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom (One Song!).
Have pity on those whose chances grows t'inner;
There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation.

There ain't no Kumbaya in these lyrics. This is another way for singing "War": "Until the philosophy that holds one race inferior and another inferior/ is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned/ Everywhere is war."

Bob is a warrior/prophet/poet whose compassion for the downtrodden/dispossessed sufferahs changed my consciousness and the consciousness of my generation who grew up in postcolonial Jamaica. Through Bob Marley's music, we learned to respect our identity (his Garveyite roots) and to fight/resist/ chant down any s[h]ystem that would diminish our I-manity. This is why I have argued that Bob Marley should be elevated to the stature of a national hero of Jamaica and President Barack Obama should exonerate that Marcus Garvey, Jamaica's first national hero.

Maybe one of these days, I'll collect all of my posts into an eBook about Bob Marley. Until then, my friends, quit smoking, eat healthful foods, start exercising, and buy "Bob Marley and Bradford's iPod."

No comments: