By Steve Thomas
Observer Nevis Editor
This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain
-Under African Skies
By Paul Simon
(Pinneys Beach, Nevis) – This is the story of how to begin to remember to laugh, to let go, to let the worries of tomorrow be left in the wake of the moment – how to be brave and foolish and fun all at once.
Chevy’s Calypso Bar and Grill takes a little more than five minutes to drive to from the pier in downtown Charlestown. The last couple of minutes is over a rough dirt road that badly needs to be repaired, yet it’s easy to forget that when you park and get out and look at the Caribbean stretching endlessly to the west and then see Chevy’s small beachfront joint standing – actually, sort of swaying, though with a kind of cocky permanence – just yards from the waves.
Nearing midnight on a recent Monday, Chevy stood at the edge of his place and listened to the crowd singing and cheering to a karaoke performance and said, “This is why people come. They love it. They have a good time. They forget their troubles.”
People of every shade of every color were getting into the music. A gutsy, beautiful, sexy woman named Brandy was doing a rendition of “Like A Virgin,” full of energy and fun, shaking, swaying, smiling and tearing up the small room. About 40 people pounded their hands together, laughed, stomped their feet – made the place come alive with the kind of excitement that’s easy to disbelieve unless you’ve seen it; and very hard to describe on paper or with photos or even on tape, because for anyone who appreciates live performance – from great symphony to a calypso concert to a grade school play – the only way to really experience it is to experience it: to be there, to catch all the overlapping sounds, the incessant movement of everyone around you, the smells and the scents, the details of how a pretty woman moves on the dance floor, the taste of a good drink, the feel of the breeze cutting through the room and the ceaseless low rumble of the surf out there in the sea’s blackness, where only a few running lights are visible.
Chevy was right: No one was thinking about troubles.
There is, right at its core, something anti-trouble about singing, even karaoke. Making music is transcendent. It doesn’t matter if you can sing well or not; (Who hasn’t finished a song in the shower or in the car and taken a mental bow to a standing ovation?).What matters is that you sing. Which is at the heart of karaoke. Every person who steps in front of that crowd is taking that terrifying step which exposes daydream and ego to the possibility of ridicule. From the first note on, the karaoke singer is completely vulnerable with the only fallback position available being one that says you never thought you could sing anyway- which is a fallback position that flies in the face of karaoke because a personal evaluation of singing ability isn’t what’s at stake. It’s all about the desire to sing, to move a room of strangers (and maybe a few friends) with your voice and someone else’s words, albeit lyrics that have already touched you and probably a few other million people in some personal manner.
Auntie Vi did a touching rendition of the classic “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” a slow, heartbreaking song that can reduce any feeling person to tears; Karl, the master of ceremonies, sang throughout the evening, but his version of “Mrs. Robinson” mixed the upbeat rhythm and the underlying doubts of the lyrics perfectly; Cissie’s “My Hear Will Go On,” a song that was played to death during the “Titanic” movie craze, brought a poignancy to it that moved it beyond the years of overexposure; Uncle John made “Green Green Grass of Home” all his own; and, due to some poor note-taking that makes their names unavailable, the people who did “Imagine” and “What a Wonderful World” made those songs feel like the great lyrical think-pieces they are.
Those kind of performances can make trouble seem far, far away.
It’s also necessary to note that all performances were not slow songs. In fact a handful, like Brandy’s “Like A Virgin,” stand out: Mike, a man from the country heart of the U.S., gave the evening its most unmistakable feel for the twang and pull of country music when he sang “Jukebox Buddy;” Nathan, a temporary worker who hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, enjoying his last night in Nevis after embarrassingly squandering his earnings at the casino on St. Kitts (“I’m leaving here like I got here – broke,” he said.) riled up the crowd with his electric version of Van Morrisson’s classic, “Brown-Eyed Girl;” and, after some technical adjustments, a man from South America whose name is lost to bad handwriting, brought the place to its feet with his rip-roaring, taser-voltage version of “La Bamba.”
When “La Bamba” hit, troubles were danced off the floor. There was twirling and bright colors, shouting and laughing, a giant, vibrant, living reminder of why people love to dance, expressing vertically all they usually think about in the horizontal position.
In those moments, we begin to remember why we live at all; not for the work, toil, trouble or sadness, but for the sheer exultant transcendent joy of laughing and singing and dancing, of finding ways to smile without ceasing, to relish a soft touch and a gentle melody, to breathe fresh sweet free air, to celebrate another day and night of being alive.
And sometimes, to step back away from ourselves so we can listen to music and laughter; music and laughter; music and laughter, sweet sounds drifting out to the dark restless sea and delighting the stars.