Gregory was drifting across the stage, in an orange three-piece suit, his skinny back swayed like a sea-horse, his voice a rippling whinny.
–Colin Channer, Waiting in Vain
It’s for lines like this that I rate Colin Channer; with 25 cannily chosen words he curates a transcendental image of the inimitable Gregory Isaacs, the much beloved Jamaican singer who surrendered to the big C in London today. Popular well beyond the shores of this small island the words Gregory and Isaacs have been trending worldwide on Twitter today. To understand what a feat this is, know that during the peak of Buju Banton’s recent troubles in New York, he trended for half a day in the New York region only. With Gregory every ten minutes 112 new tweets are pouring in from all over the world. Not all of them are in English (see sample below) showing that the Cool Ruler’s reach transcended geographic and linguistic boundaries in a virtual enactment of his song The Border. It’s hard to choose any one GI song as No. 1 but for me this one comes close.
If i could reach the border
Then I would step across
So please take me to the border
No matter what’s the cost
Cause I’m leaving here
I’m leaving out of Babylon…
This place could never be my home…
we waan we waan go home…
where the milk and honey flow
That’s where we want to go…
we waan we waan go home…
Africa we want to go…
So please take me to the border
and i will pay the cost
coz i’m leaving here…
The metaphor of Babylon has multiple meanings in Jamaica but the most potent is that of the biblical Babylon, the proverbial den of iniquity, reeking of corruption and venality…a place we know well…guarded by the world’s most brutal soldiers, themselves known as Babylon. The Jamaican Police.
When i moved to Jamaica in 1988 Gregory’s Rumours ruled the airwaves and the balmy, steamy nights just before Hurricane Gilbert. The dramatic opening chords and riddim bars hint at that heady mixture of menace and romance that typifies the Jamaican landscape. Another favourite…I still think of it as Rumours of War…which is what i thought i was hearing but it was actually Rumours a gwaan…
A pure rumours a gwaan, (rumours a gwaan)
Please mr. officer, leggo me hand
You don’t know me and you don’t understan’
You see me flashin’ a criss rental
So you claim that me a criminal
Rumours dem spreadin’…
Then who couldn’t love the perfectly fork-tongued Night Nurse, on the one hand a straightforward song of playful passion that so many couples can relate to, on the other a veiled paean to Gregory’s one time muse–the other big C–
Tell her it’s a case of emergency
There’s a patient by the name of Gregory
Only you alone can quench this Jah thirst
My night nurse, oh gosh
Oh the pain it’s getting worse
I don’t wanna see no doc
I need attendence from my nurse around the clock
‘Cause there’s no prescription for me
She’s the one, the only remedy
There have been 553 new tweets since i started writing this an hour ago. (PS: One is not making exaggerated claims for number of tweets as any indicator of real quality mind you, for alas, today, the day after i posted this, Gregory has been replaced by Paul the Octopus as a top trender. Apparently poor Paul was found dead in the water this morning. “Anyway Paul always had four feet in the grave…” quipped @Sidin. No doubt because his mortality had intimated itself to him !)
But back to Gregory…i present an excerpt from a conversation on Facebook between me and Olu Oguibe, a Nigerian artist and critic.
Olu Oguibe Declaring 24 hours of nothing but The Cool Ruler
Annie Paul Times like this you realize not just the breadth but the depth of Jamaican music...
Olu Oguibe Still remember and cherish my first Gregory Isaacs cassette tape: Gregory Isaacs Live at the Brixton Academy, 1984. Wasn’t till I moved to Britain 5 years later that I realized Brixton Academy isn’t a real academy, but a night club, lol!
I was once even wooed with Gregory’s words by someone who thought he was the paradigmatic expression of Jamaican male angst (‘Though she isn’t in my top ten, still she is on my chart…”). Gregory forever holds a place in my heart on that count.
Here’s a selection of tweets on Gregory from local tweeters. i challenge you to guess which singer @bigblackbarry is referring to:
bigblackbarry [to] @oblessa He isnt in the category I was referring to but your dad would prolly be the biggest trender currently god forbid if he died.
oblessa [to] @bigblackbarry yeah he would be in that catagory God forbid.
@bigblackbarry [to] @oblessa prolly the biggest i believe.
@bigblackbarry [to] @oblessa but he aint “current” so he doesnt count.
wadablood R.i.P gregory issacs real legend. What a year this has been oniel, sugar now gregory
@cucumberjuice Amen»RT @MsTrendsettas: Dear Lord, please don’t take Beres Hammond! Many thanks!
Below a few random tweets from the twitterverse at large…people expressing their appreciation of Gregory in many languages. Keep ruling Cool Ruler…
I DO care about Gregory Isaacs…R.I.P
8 thoughts on “A Patient by the Name of Gregory…”
BBB & Oblessa are talking about the great Jimmy Cliff *KNOCKING ON A BIG PIECE OF WOOD* BBB was also correct, I think, when he tweeted that the Reggae trinity was now all gone, only to be remembered: Bob, Dennis, and Gregory.
Gregory had one of the most soothing & charismatic voices for me…one of the first tunes I recall knowing and loving is “Night Nurse” even though at that tender-er age (because I’m still young, fresh and green *grin*) I had no clue what it meant or COULD mean.
Favourites of mine by him are “Night Nurse” and “One Man Against the World” “My Number 1” & “Hard Drugs” (which I think eloquently described Isaacs’ own struggle with cocaine).
What recent trouble is Buju embroiled in in NY now? *sigh*
OMG sorry not New York, i’m conflating Buju with Dudus, i meant Tampa…
LOL…that’s actually kinda funny.
yes indeed! … Channer’s quote is spot-on, thanks for re-posting … Gregory was truly one of the most unique troubadors in this universal tribulation …
Gregory Isaacs FTW. A big miss…
“Went to a dance last saturday night
I was feeling tipsy, the mood was right
Sight a little daughter steppin’ out the corner
’cause I feel like dancing all night …”
LOVE TO ISAACS !
Singing for the most high now.
Gregory Isaacs, in Memoriam, keeps on ruling reggae music, Irie Ites …