feels they are second class - the Indian, the African, the White, Chinese.
Self hatred is rampant. Nobody could hate us like we hate ourselves’
much as I welcomed a break from ‘Charge, Toro Toro’ and
‘Footsteps’ on Ash Wednesday, it saddened me to hear mostly American
pop music return to the radio’
like the type of conversations you can drink deeply from. They are very
rare here. Picong you get, flirtatious repartee, eye and hand and arm
contact, information you get, efficiently packaged, laughter you get, but
the deep red smooth taste of vintage conversation is rare. To have
conversations like that you have to speak to people who gulp life down
whole. They are the sort of people who are always asking “why?” These
connoisseurs of life find answers in books, in people’s eyes, in words,
and music, in the sway of a woman’s walk, the toss of a man’s head and
whether or not he wears pointy shiny shoes and what it means. And they
always have a sense that life is an absurd tragic-comedy which means they
dig out humour in almost everything.
had conversations which two such men. The first was with David Rudder. The
second was with my friend Etan Vlessing who is an editor for the Los
Angeles-based Hollywood Reporter. The first is an entertainer and the
second writes about the entertainment industry. The first is sacred. The
second is delightfully profane.
Rudder I met at the height of the Carnival season, an hour before he was
due to go off and sing his High Mas’ in a school in St James. He carries
quiet around him like a mantle of latent energy which will be unleashed at
full force when he gets on the stage. What struck me about Rudder was that
in the height of euphoria and interest in High Mas’ was his overriding
sadness about this country.
Vlessing is a friend from university who was much taken this Carnival by
Roy Cape and poom poom shorts. Bright, bookish, he has a store of tales to
tell accompanied with expressions and gestures calculated to make his
conversation with these two men was punctuated with the usual pauses,
inquiring looks, questions and responses, meandering here and there, the
way people do when they enjoy talking to one another. If I reproduce it
word for word you will be bored. To
spare you I am cutting out all that tiresome stuff of he said, I said, and
giving you the kernel of it in the form of a monologue. It may appear to
shift haphazardly but what I am reproducing is one side of the
conversation - theirs. Drink with me.
Rudder: Songwriter, performer, artist, music-producer, mentor for many:
worry constantly about this country. There is galloping illiteracy which
is a mixture of bad planning and bad parenting. There is helplessness and
rage all around us and we move from hysteria to hysteria, without doing
anything to change it. One month it is rape, another murder; at Carnival
pickpocketing and thugs at fetes. All of it exists together and is a
manifestation of the hopelessness, poverty and illiteracy which exists all
year around. The society’s response is to build higher walls, more
guards, more dogs, tinted cars. Not to work towards dealing with the root
of the problem.
go back to institutions that failed them (schools) and plunder and steal.
Kids in junior secondary schools find it hard to catch up, and are left
behind. Instead of improving the system to give all the children a chance,
the schools put up barbed wire.
have lost our humanity. Everybody is getting flakier and flakier. Sex is a
meaningless act. The attitude by many men is ‘a baby is none of my
business.’ In the countryside you see many people whose eyes are dead.
They have lost hope.
even those who are trying to survive somehow, give up easily. Take the
Drag Mall where people lost everything in the fire. When they went to
insure their property they were told that wooden structures could not be
insured. What they didn’t know was that what was inside it could have
been insured, but they didn’t even bother to ask. If that fire took
place in Westmoorings the response would have been different.
feels they are second class - the Indian, the African, the White, Chinese.
Self hatred is rampant. Nobody could hate us like we hate ourselves.
like I said in my song, devils might come and devils might go, I will
never live anywhere else because no one can match our natural energy. I
always see good people. There is really no country in the world with the
mix of people we have in Trinidad.
have a gift, and a calling, and I use it for my people. I have discovered
that the more you give the more you get. (I don’t mean that in an
economic sense). And there is peace in that. Those people who said High
Mas was sacrilegious should come off the pulpit and walk among the people.
I always strive for a beautiful thing - it is around us, even amidst the
pain and rage, and that is what my music is about .” That was David
Vlessing: Journalist, party giver and goer:
go to parties to talk about themselves. Their conversation is about how
much money they are making, or not making, and how much sex they’re
getting, or not getting. They are either about money or sex. Mine are not
last party’s theme was ‘Where Art Meets Tarts’. I was aiming to
recreate Hugh Heffner’s ‘After Dark’ penthouse parties of the 1950s.
Broadcast on television, Heffner’s seemingly ‘impromptu’ parties
blended an array of well-known celebrities of the day from the arts and
entertainment worlds with a bevy of bunnies. Hef wanted people to believe
he was holding round-the-clock parties at his Chicago mansion, where art
and conversation prevailed downstairs while sexual shenanigans - games (goyesche
naches) took place upstairs - well off-camera, of course.
‘When Art Meets Tarts’ was billed as a penthouse party. As guests
walked in they were confronted with the sight of an artist painting a nude
(voluptuous blonde on a divan, a la Goya) model behind glass. In a country
where people are reserved, it broke all barriers. Suddenly everyone from
the agent and actress to the insecure writers, wanabees and wannasees,
after pressing their noses against the glass, began talking freely to one
another. The effect was transcending:
evening was much like the film and TV industry as a whole, a circle game
in which actresses and actors chase directors for parts; directors chasing
producers to finance their projects; producers chasing potential
investors; and investors chasing actresses. It simply ended with them
really is a game: for all their chasing, few catch their dream. But few
give up the chase. Hollywood is a dream factory. For players on the
inside, it’s about chasing success and stardom. And for most everyone
else on this earth who stares bug-eyed at US films and TV programming,
Hollywood holds out the lure for the little guy with no education or the
wherewithal to raise himself up in life. If he watches a Hollywood
blockbuster, and buys Nike trainers, then maybe, just maybe, he too will
be a rich celebrity chased by paparazzi.
have a fashion show in mind for my next penthouse party in June. I will
expect the designers to don their own clothing creations on the catwalk.
Listen, if the clothes aren’t good enough for the designers, they
certainly won’t be good enough for my party-goers. And I’m considering
having the designers be led along with a make-shift chain around their
necks held by nude models leading the way. My statement: even designers
are fashion victims!
course, Trinidadians need no advice about throwing parties. I was really
impressed by the Carnival: the bands, the pan, the soca and calypso.
It’s rare to see a whole country take part and revel in one entire
celebration. But much as I welcomed a break from Charge, Toro Toro and
Footsteps on Ash Wednesday, it saddened me to hear mostly American pop
music return to the radio airwaves here. Trinidadians need to listen,
watch and support their indigenous culture the year round, not just on
holidays, religious and music occasions when expected. National cultures
are a fragile thing. They need nourishment at the roots, or they wither.
Carnival, which has taken generations to evolve and prosper, could just as
easily in a lifetime become a mere trick bag of cultural artifacts that
Trinidadians dip into once a year to enjoy. It ought to, and must, remain
a shared cultural experience.
my home, similarly faces the challenge of maintaining its identity in the
face of the dominant American culture flowing in from the south. Our best
artists, like your own, flock to New York and Los Angeles in search of
their fortune - and who could blame them? They know that they can only
survive at home, but possibly prosper by producing for an international
market that begins in the US.” Etan Vlessing.
is a faithful reproduction of two conversations, one which took place
before Carnival, and another after. Make what you will of them. Cheers.