“I thirst!”: Barnabas Collins, Lone Ranger, Clovis and Carolyn Cooper

Deconstructing a Jamaican cartoon uncovers a vampire story of no mean order, a piece of Jamaican cultural history.

Clovis, Jamaica Observer

Well, Clovis certainly ruffled a lot of feathers with this cartoon, not least of all Carolyn Cooper’s own; in her blogpost Clovis Draws Blood and her April 3 Sunday Gleaner column she “wondered if Clovis Brown had finally sold his soul to the devil”  (see her labeled Patwa Doctor in the cartoon above). You couldn’t blame her either for after being caricatured three times in the space of a month anyone might have felt a little tender.

Interestingly it seems Clovis was referencing a song from the Jamaican archives called Barnabas Collins (the refrain of which goes “I thirst!”–go Clovis!) by a 70s stalwart named Lone Ranger. This was brought to my attention by Christopher Cozier, the art critic, curator and artist from Trinidad and Tobago who remembered listening to it in his teens and immediately placed Clovis’s ‘I thirst’ in the right context. The lyrics are quite delightful with Barnie threatening to ‘chew ya neck like a wrigley’:

Out di light.
lock di door tight
Barnabas a come fi go tek one bite

Gyal mi seh fi
Out di candle
tek off yu bangle
turn yu neck
pon di right angle

According to Wikipedia:

Barnabas Collins is a fictional character, one of the feature characters in the ABC soap opera serial Dark Shadows, which aired from 1966 to 1971. Originally played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, Barnabas Collins is a 200-year-old vampire who is in search of fresh blood and his lost love, Josette. The character of Barnabas Collins was introduced to the serial in a last-effort attempt to resurrect the flagging ratings. The role of Barnabas Collins was originally intended to be a brief one, to run but a mere 13 weeks, but the popularity of the character and the quick spike in ratings resulted in his continuing on and becoming virtually the star of the show.

Quite a number of Jamaican performers were bitten/smitten by Barnabas Collins–the pallid vampire who evidently reminded Clovis of paleface Vybz Kartel. A blog called Distinctly Jamaican Sounds remarked on the phenomenon:

For the love of god, will this guy ever stay dead?! Here I am into the fifth year of creating these Halloween mixes and along comes Barnabas Collins poking his fangs into yet another Spooktacular! Judging by the plethora of tunes paying tribute to Ol’ Barnie and or Dark Shadows, it’s quite obvious that this guy must have achieved folk hero status in Jamaica back in the 70’s!

…I don’t know why, but the Barnabas Collins thing has gotten to be such a integral part of the Spooktaculars that I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue each year without at least one mention of the schlocky TV soap opera bloodsucker. As far as the namesake goes, we’ve had three versions of Lone Ranger’s “Barnabas Collins,” Yellowman’s answer “Mi Kill Barnie”, Dillinger’s version “I Thirst,” Charles Hannah & The Graduates “Dark Shadows,” and there are still 4-5 more that I have up my sleeve… but I’ll tuck it away in the coffin until next year. Maybe when the Dark Shadows and Barnabas tunes dry up, it may be the perfect indicator of an appropriate time to discontinue the Spooktacular… we’ll see!

In the meantime enjoy this video of The Best of Barnaby Collins–yes the orginal one:

Patwa Grammar

Today’s a big day in Jamaica. The People’s National Party (PNP) which held power from 1989 to 2007 is undergoing a power struggle which culminates today when party delegates will decide whether the incumbent party leader, Portia Simpson-Miller, continues to lead them or if contender Peter Phillips will get a chance to take the helm. An unbelievable amount rides on the outcome of this race for each candidate is seen as representing a different class. what we’re seeing is nothing less than a class war though there’s a lot of resistance on the ground to calling a spade a spade. Much of this class struggle expresses itself linguistically and Carolyn Cooper had a boss article called “Nuff tings a go gwaan” on the subject in last Sunday’s Gleaner (see below). Read it; i’ll be back at the end of the day when the results are announced to add my two paisa worth. till soon!

Nuff tings a go gwaan?

Prime Minister Golding spoke straight from his heart when he was asked how the nation was going to honour our Olympic champions: ‘Nuff tings a go gwaan.’ Then in response to Jacques Rogge’s reprimanding of Usain Bolt for celebrating victory in typical Jamaican style, the PM’s passionate assessment was: “Is pure red eye and ‘grudgefulness’.”

In classic dancehall fashion, our prime minister dismissively sent a message to all bad-mind people: “Tell dem to tek weh demself.” Incidentally, that’s ungrammatical Jamaican. It should have been ‘fi’ instead of ‘to’. And in the sentence above it should have been ‘a’ instead of ‘is.’ And then ‘grudgefulness’ adds an over-correct English ‘ness’ which wouldn’t usually be there in Jamaican. These are good examples of English interference in Jamaican grammar. Bilingual speakers sometimes get their languages mixed up, especially when they are in a highly emotional state.

8.10 pm

Yessssss! Portia prevails! by 350 votes–

Photo credit: Pepper swimps by Varun Baker (who happens to be my sun and a great photographer, check out his website)