By Jeremiah Tucker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
I spent most of last week in Jamaica. I was on a pilgrimage to see where one of popular music’s greatest gifts to the world recorded his most beloved songs. To see the culture that inspired Snoop Lion firsthand was eye opening.
I kid. I didn’t get to witness anything as authentically Jamaican as where Snoop Dogg recorded his upcoming reggae album.
I was there to attend the wedding of my best friend, which was in one of those sealed-off resorts that my wife referred to as “Jamerica.” Not that this prevented other Americans at the resort from feeling sufficiently fluent in Jamaican culture to begin unironically peppering their speech with, “Ya, mon.”
On the way to the airport, at the end of the trip, our bus driver talked about how important tourism is to the country, and this young white guy next to me, in all earnestness, shouted “respect” in his best approximation of the easy Jamaican lilt. I’m not even sure what he meant by that. Respect tourism?
But was it any surprise that a Bob Marley compilation was playing over the bus’s speakers? Bob Marley was omnipresent.
His face was on merchandise from beach towels to T-shirts, and his music was played often and proudly at the various bars in the resort or by locals with guitars busking on the beach. At our particular resort, Saturday was Bob Marley day, and you could make tie-dye shirts at 10 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. in the reggae legend’s honor.
What I kept trying to figure out was whether Jamaicans really listen to this much Marley, or if they were trying to put us at ease, knowing full well that all most Americans know about Jamaica are Usain Bolt, the movie “Cool Runnings” and, above all, Bob Marley.
While I have no doubt Marley is an unassailable legend in Jamaica, as he is all over the world, I would be surprised if the majority of the locals listen to him at the exclusion of the rest of the island’s impressively rich musical heritage.
I suspected the snapshot of Jamaica presented to us was designed to adhere as closely as possible to easy island living, which is why we were quickly shuttled from the airport through impoverished communities to the white-walled buildings of the resort. Also, at the Montego Bay airport there is a Jamaican bobsled-themed bar and grill.
Not that I anticipated an all-inclusive resort that essentially functions as a stationary cruise to be an immersion into Jamaican culture, nor am I implying that I didn’t have a good time Ñ because it was great fun. Rather, I was just amused at how the experience felt like Jamaica was doing its best to reflect how it believed Americans viewed it, and in turn betraying how it viewed Americans.
Jamaica’s grasp on American culture also seemed as tenuous as ours of their own. The evening’s entertainment one night was billed as “oldies,” and the house band played everything from Nat King Cole’s “Route 66” to the Village People’s “YMCA” and Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.” The band was pretty tight though and did a killer Sam Cooke medley, even if its concept of oldies seemed slightly incoherent.
Sometimes I didn’t know if they were just messing with me. On our last day, one of the employees told me, as if imparting great wisdom, “In Jamaica we have an old saying: ‘All good things must come to an end.’” I was like, “We have a similar saying in America.”
During the wedding reception on the beach I was playing some songs off my iPod, and the young wait staff kept requesting Lady Gaga. So, in other words, they like the same things we do.
I’ll never know if, as I had envisioned and hoped, Jamaicans jam on old King Tubby and Augustus Pablo records while blazing giant spliffs all day, but I did my best to live up to their vision of America. At one point I was dancing, spun out of control and crashed into a tiki torch. The resort’s wedding coordinator helped me up saying, “I think you’ve had enough fun for tonight.” She was probably right.