The double drummer accents the beaten heart. Take a deep breath and inhale. Perspiration crawls out our eyes for what we have dared to see, enduring the years locked in a moment. Not of wonder. How much better to survive even when you cease to be necessary. Father’s words were never mine to keep. She turns the head as he learns the hard way home. Never cease to be necessary in the bullsweat of silence. Enduring love holds you hostage to freedom. A twinkle of an idea that winks at your foolishness. You earned it too. Your coffee is late.
“As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.”
– Walt Whitman
It has been noticed that I sometimes hold mine as she does hold her own. I wasn’t aware of that until it was pointed out to me. However in my case it may have more to do with the sack of fluid pressing on the nerve which restricts the fingers and forces the hand into a mildly clenched form when not active. Or it might just be that I am my mother’s son and have inherited a physical trait of hers.
Last December she told me that before I was born she prayed for another boy. She had read an article in a Reader’s Digest magazine titled ‘If your dreams came true’, and that was her dream. I was her dream come true. I was a little startled when she shared that with me. The idea of being someone’s dream is rich food for contemplation. Naturally I was destined to disappoint somewhere years down the line. Lawyer was not becoming of me with my head high up in the clouds. And there are some other things on the vicarious life through your children box that I didn’t tick off. But the hands have not failed to live up to the weight of dreams if not expectations. I’m not the baby in the picture and I’m not the differed dream. Just the dreamer still working with troubled hands that turn inwards but reach out for impossibilities like love. Some do wonder if fate and destiny, like some parents, have favourites. And yet children take sides too. I had only the hands of my mother so there was never a choice to be made. The bastard is fathered by the world he reconfigures. Made up mentors in books and elsewhere fill up his imagination. He chooses to love. He chooses to believe. He chooses to never give up. Bolder than stone. He chooses the hand he was not dealt and the hand he has not felt, to hold. And to be held, not held back.
When I was a child I was taken to see a Palmist who revealed something that would happen to me when I was older. It happened but I survived. Do not let people speak into existence your present or future if it is not for the good of your life. And that goes for your children too. When I was lying in bed in hospital in 2014, looking through an open window, I rejected those words spoken over my life. A hard lesson learnt. I spoke words of my own aspirations and decided I would live on. God would have the last word. And the hands of time would have to fall in line.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
– Bob Marley
I was not meditating but there are times when I tap into a peace that bounces back up in the abstract of sounds and colours. In this captured moment I put on my Sci-Fi music and reached for my guitar just to see what might happen. Sometimes I like to work out ideas on just one or two strings. Not chords. Single notes. Purples and reds at the bottom of the neck. One note can be everything. It can tell the whole story if placed and timed right. Not to say that it necessarily comes down to the semantics of right and wrong in the creative playground of imagination. It is as much a percussion instrument as anything that hands and feet can hit. The lower E string is home. It gave me my first guitar child, Love Never Fails, but I don’t always arrive at something of permanence. I had an old tape of home made jungle music that I dabbled in for a little while, trying to learn some modern production techniques in 1999 when I got my first computer. I was just throwing ideas out into the ether to see what might happen at a particular bpm. I had also read Octavia E Butler’s Mind Of Mind in my local library within that period or maybe a bit earlier and the images and ideas I got from the Afro-Futurist world of her novel aligned with the sounds and colours I didn’t know I was searching for. Fast forward to a few years ago, and I was now hearing something else in that old jungle music. I started to employ techniques pioneered by the late great Lee Scratch Perry, to strip down and make new out of the old. Just to see what might happen. I dared myself.
Jungle is a true school London sound which had faded out of counter-cultural relevance before the turn of the century but still held up low end sonic value owing much to Black America as most popular music does, and the polyrhythmic continent that we associate with the groove of life. In an ideal world of parity and fairness, The Amen break should have provided financial compensation for drummer, Gregory Coleman, and his bandmates in The Winstons for they and their heirs lifetime. Not to trivialise, but it is no less than the Henrietta Lacks of music samples, perhaps only matched in equivalent significance by Clyde Stubblefield’s Funky Drummer break. A similarly glorious and tragic story. I say this respectfully and without exaggeration. It is a cornerstone of recorded music over the last 30 years. Though Jungle music never truly crossed over, it had its moment in the zeitgeist. And its cult heroes. Goldie whose album, Timeless, marked its emergence from the underground into the homes of taste makers and gatekeepers of perceived cool in the era of Brit-Pop, has been a part of the institution of British music for many years. A purist? I couldn’t say. Whatever that means and for whatever that’s worth. What I do know is that the power of Jungle is visceral and almost indescribable.
I remember going to a Jungle music basement party in Camden with my friend, Beru Tessema (just for the record, this is not a false memory), long after its heyday. The hardcore massive as we would say, were out and they were mostly youngsters. Kids in late adolescence. They didn’t live those years of its come up and scene. Not that I did either. They would likely have been in their primary school years during its peak in the mid nineties and some in infancy. It found them or vice versa before the playlist era. There were mantra like moments when the DJ would mix out the drums and turn up the wobbling, squelching, soul curling bass. Alien textures that was felt. Colours of mystical sounds wildly spraying over everyone like lighter fluid in a sprinkler. Then the drums would come back in and planets in orbit collided or so it seemed. In that heaving space packed with substance fueled low gravity bodies, the intensity was overwhelming. Sweat dripping and filthy. The bass was that dirty and heavy all night. Sexual pummelling of the sensory. All the air was sucked out dry. Flesh watered by sound, and wet as the greatest sex ever consummated in a standing position. Possibly. Perspiration photographs life and holds mysteries by the hand too.
There I was, sitting in the not knowingness. Not a word of corner comfort. Slow burning away in deep space with a mystery. Unsolved. The reward for my unwilful ignorance was six stringed. The fairer the sex, down stroked, the bar chord is tinged with melancholy. This blackberry was sweet but so was I. All of my honey for burnt toast. The sex of it, long behind the love that held on to an idea we dreamed up. But I was blind of heart and nature is in the killing business of kindness. Venus kind, closing out after clamping up, let’s raise a toast for my burns, I’m growing out of my eyes and years.
In my time, I painted pictures. Were the colours
bright enough to hold the gaze of your first
In our time, I told stories. Did the plot
stray from the sincere path? And substitute undefined character flaws for a happy ending?
Life is in the blood, and the cup runs over. Love covers a multitude, and the pen still wonders.
Teenage dreams were purple, I wore blue and saw red when it got to me. Temper the beast with green, and watch it grow on the other side of the grass I inhaled. Roll without it. Like luck. Washed out. Like denim. Once or twice. Leaves and lies.
Teenage love was letters sent to her mother’s address, with words that spied on her thoughts. She thought. And she’d reply in kind and cursive, signed with a four letter promise of peace and hair grease.
Teenage fears were dying young without knowing that I ever was. I stole and ran, got caught once. A cast hand was clutched by desperation. Who writes poetry for a mute heart? If they didn’t kill me in Harlesden then it wasn’t my time.
Teenage hope was a prayer and a song to quell an asthmatic larynx and shoot hoops to high school glory. It was trying to master lessons of speech therapy and fulfill the prophecy of a Physio. A narrow Queen’s Park corridor was a palace of practice to double dribble and carry my fate quietly.
Elders count off years shaved by the blade. How quickly we forget the weight of days past tence. Mourn as you eat from the plate of good fortune.
I slept through more lifetimes than bodies, the nights wore me out. Single bedded mind on kingsize dreams, I was old before I was young. Too young to know I was rich in experience while I was earning my inches of growing pains. Lesson and class were taught in separate rooms, now life rents my living space.
This Roman city has been my stomping ground for all my life, and like a woman, it remains a mystery to me. A beautiful and sometimes infuriating mystery. And with all its challenges and failings, it has a beating heart that dares you to embrace it. Its old architecture and industry built from the profits of the slave trade, colonialism and the far reaches of the British Empire are part of London’s legacy. As a post colonial descendant, I am able to harness the history of London as both a symbol and witness of the city’s possibilities. The immigrant blood that upholds the NHS and that has permeated its way into the life and culture of Londoners is only one of many ways in which the history contends with the present. I try to see the beauty, resilience and hope that escapes into the polluted London air. I see the London of the Arts. I think of the fact that London can claim Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye as former residents. Its been the city of visionaries like William Blake. It gave the world the genius pathos of Charlie Chaplin. Its the city of Shakespeare and boasts the world’s greatest theatre scene and tradition. Charles Dickens did not hide the ugliness and brutality of London. Neither did Dizzee Rascal. As reflected in the Grime and Drill music, London has a screw face too. Knives and young lives have not been kind to eachother. But I’ll always be grateful to London because its where I found the great love of my life. She knows who she is. I hope that we will enjoy this city together again someday. A man can dream. I love London.
Once upon a time I presented this painting, ‘The Deep Thinker’, as a gift. It was turned down because the person who it was gifted to, said the face had no eyes. And that it was tantamount to bad luck. I’ve never dealt in charms but I graciously took back my painting. It seems the only eyes we recognise more often than not are the peep holes for our iris to take a snap shot of what we percieve in surreality. In real life as we term it, we are blinded by sight or rather blunted. The optical illusion of the vision is only equaled by the delusion of what we choose not to see in plain sight. We are all complicit in the great deception and visionaries will burn at the high stakes of our unseeing eyes.
The Deep Thinker
Acrylic on canvas
Six thirty. You were on time. This time. You were here. I was on my way. Missed the train. Missed the boat too. Burnt the bridge behind the rush hour. Always Knew I could fly. Just needed you to believe. I could fly across the world between your heart and I. On my bicycle. Travelling you has been my greatest journey. So far. So far away. Too high to climb your thoughts. I tried you like you were written by Hemmingway. You were sentences that served me time in the cave of loneliness. I fell down in battle. We grow up in love and loss. Played the hand too hard. Not soon enough. Only time wins it all. Its seven.