I just got back from a week’s vacation at the beach with my family. Springtime on the North Carolina coast is hit or miss, but the ocean is always a powerful battery for the soul. Is it the sound, the rhythm, the iodine? Or the power beneath that refills our pituitary gland with juice?
My little boy is almost two and he likes to dig in the sand. Big holes. I liked watching him, the way he kept looking over his shoulder at the water like it might come get him at any minute. Imagine trying to get your head around the tide, the waves, and the wind when you have no context for them? After he went to bed in the evenings, I drank rum, played guitar, read pirate novels, and hung out with my wife and dog. And then there was sleep with the ocean’s breath in my ears. Deep, dreamless sleep for the first few nights and then restless, adventurous sleep with long, wild narrative dreams that meant nothing and everything.
We had beautiful weather through the week. When I had to get in the car to go to the fish market, or to the store for more limes, I listened to reggae that Rootfire had turned me on to: Giant Panda, Tribal Seeds, Soja, The Green, The Movement, The Expanders… a lot of the stuff on the 311 playlist but moving from those singles to the rest of the records, discovering new styles and phrasings. I never listened to Bob Marley, a first for me at the beach, in part because I can’t find a recording I haven’t heard a million times and it was not a moment for old music. New wine for new wineskins.
You see where I’m going with this? To Rootfire At The Beach this summer in Avila Bay, CA. Reggae music was born near the ocean and it understands it. When Rootfire’s Semaj Surreal says it gives you backbone, I know what he means. In the mornings over the vacation, I practiced my t’ai chi on the shore. The surface of the water gives you a focus that is unfocused. The shifting sand under your feet establishes the needle of balance. There is so much power in fluidity, a hard thing to remember in the rigid course of life today.
It was the off-season in Oak Island, NC. The locals live hard down there. There is hardly any money to go around when the tourists are gone, and when they come they drive you insane with their disregard. The teenagers work at the Food Lion and hang around the DQ, when they are young, or in the gas station parking lots when they are older, smoking cigarettes and showing off their trucks. Besides the retirees, there are a lot of dried out looking folks working at businesses that don’t make money, wearing illegal smiles like they know something you don’t know. There are a lot of hard men putting new roofs on houses, framing sagging decks, wearing their hair long and wild and smoking cigarettes like they can’t kill you fast enough. A lot of hard women who lost their beauty too early when they lost their faith in men. I saw one woman every morning on the beach. She walked five miles from one end of the island to the other, no matter what the weather. I saw her at different parts of her walk on successive days. At first she ignored me entirely, an out-of-towner who would be gone. If not today then the next day. But by the end she would meet my eyes with a quick smile. It was a long walk she took, all bundled up to protect her from the cold or the sun, carrying a bag over her shoulders to hold the sand dollars and conch shells she picked up. It was hard to tell if it was a business or a compulsion. Or maybe it was just that everyday, everything else in life was the stuff leftover after the walk.
A few days before we left for our vacation, I saw Tribal Seeds and The Movement play together at The Jefferson in Charlottesville. The show made me happy. Joshua Swain was channeling Bradley Nowell, full of cocky anger and talent, picking the scabs of white suburbia and exurbia, asking questions about what happens to all the white boys with soul. The Jacobo brothers were laying layers of a melody on a higher plane, lifting the roof with Steve’s eyes, hidden behind dark glasses, fixed on the sky. People ask us what we mean about the conscious way of life. We’ll show them when we meet at the beach this summer.