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  • CARIBBEAN SUNSHINE A psychedelic adventure in the Caribbean waters

    One of the most memorable and transcendental music experiences that I ever had was on a tiny island located just north of St. Thomas , called Jost Van Dyke. This happened during the mid 60’s when we (my alma mater rock group The Living End aka: Space) were creating havoc during a summer in St. Thomas. Towards the end of our sojourn in St. Thomas , some local friends invited us (the group) to go to Jost Van Dyke (we had never heard of it!), as a personal invitation from the “governor”. Of course without hesitation and animated with such adventurous spirit we accepted. Soon enough an old fisherman with his small outboard fishing boat boarded us and took us on the probably around 10 mile stretch from the north end of St. Thomas to Jost Van Dyke. The small vessel didn’t make it to shore due to motor failure just short of about 3/4 mile from the bay. I had a lady friend with me and a matchbox with some 3 or 4 tabs of Owsley Orange Sunshine in my pocket. I didn’t want to wait for another fishing boat to come and tow us (true to the spirit of adventure), So, I took two tabs, gave my friend the other two, and off we went into pristine emerald blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

    Needless to say that by the time we arrived (swimming) to shore, the perception of being there defied any common sense or normality. The island then was inhabited by 40 native of African descend subjects of the British Crown, fishermen on the most part. In addition to the fishermen there was a tax collector and a “governor” by the name of Foxy. As far as structures the only concrete structures were the remains of a small one room jail and the façade of an equally small chapel. The other structures consisted of Foxy’s house, a dearly cozy wooden shack where Foxy kindly lodged my friend and I during an unexpected storm that night, and some other sparse small wood and palm shacks inhabited by the other natives. As it turned out, my friend and I were the only ones who took the dive. A couple of hours after our wet arrival the others arrived at shore towed by other fishermen. That means that some of the other Sunshine had also arrived on land dry and safely. As for myself, I can say that the core of the intensity of being there was to observe how an ordinary day in the life of the Van Dykians would turn into the most dynamic, intense, extremely colorful, and aggressively prosaic but cleverly poetic form of RAW calypso extravaganza - the kind of calypso I never knew existed! It all started with a visitors (our own humble) offering of the only treasure that we possessed (besides our green adolescence) to share; Orange Sunshine, and of course, a little weed for chaser.

    The prelude to the music was a game of dominoes between Foxy and his closest competitors on a makeshift wood and driftwood table under some dry palm leaf which served as a catapult to effects of the Sunshine experience. While the Sunshine was covertly performing its breach on the lock of the ultra senses, the game took on an energy level of its own. It became strangely aggressive with overtones of a struggle for live and death. Amidst the heavy sweat pouring out of the charcoal black skin the Sunshine evoked such levels of adrenaline and tension that the half naked gladiators proceeded to take arms. Fortunately the choice of weapons was musical instruments - most of them homemade. The only classic instrument was a guitar with a few strings missing that Foxy played. Other instruments were a broom stick on a wash tub with a string and a homemade tambo and some other homemade percussion.

    The aggressiveness that had started during the domino game morphed into their form of calypso. As they picked up their instruments with vengeance they started playing what it seemed to be an 8 and possibly 9 bar cadence reminiscent more of jíbaro (mountain) music from Puerto Rico (not textually), than calypso. The intensity though was in the textual improvisation that each combatant engaged on. One would utter verses to the other about “how good I fucked your mamma”, or how “your wife moaned louder with me”, etc, etc. How I wish I had a Sony Walkman Recorder then, although it was the intensity of the moment and the sweeping expressions what added to that singular and priceless event! What troubles me must is not remembering the structure of the music. I remember being highly impressed by it - it wasn’t like any calypso I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately Jost Van Dyke is not the same as it was then over 40 years ago, but Foxy is still there, playing and singing his music, not quite as prosaic as before, but nevertheless profound- I can take you there… come rain or come shine.