I was 7-years old the first time I heard “Israelites”, on a beach near San Diego, its haunting, ethereal chorus floating from the tiny tin mouth of a transistor radio while I looked out past the dunes and watched the surf. Funny how certain memories from childhood remain vivid and clear while the bulk is washed out and buried deep, sunk beneath leagues of a lifetime. The exact moment I was introduced to Jamaican music is as clear as if it happened last Friday while I could not tell you name of my second-grade teacher's name despite the most excrutiating torture.
So who really taught me something, way back when I was 7-years old? Ms. Whatshername or Desmond Dekker? At the time I didn't know the song was 'ska' or 'reggae', just that I recall it was novel and beautiful and every time I heard "Ooooh, oooooh, me Israelites," my skin tingled. As years passed and I became an adolescent, jaded, depressed and oh-so-serious, that reprise would slip back into my subconsciousness to remind me that I was not so far from my childhood's wonder and that life was not an endless road of suckitude.
It was 1981 when I rediscovered Desmond Dekker, another beach (this time in Hawaii), a chance encounter with an album at the Hickam AFB BX. Though fully immersed in English punk, it was obvious that reggae was a big part of that scene (uh, The Clash folks...) and so I bought a copy of "The King Kong Compilation" out of some allegiance to my fellow funny haircut mates. I didn't know what I was getting, it was one of those purchaces where I walked into a record store out of habit and then figured it was better than anything else (certainly better than the Gino Vanelli they were blasting out on the sound system).
The album was a godsend, in so many ways. In the midst of my punk pose, my hard-nosed view of humanity, I heard a whisper from my past, as if an echo bid me out of a dark tunnel to breathe. More than that, the disk (a brief compendium of producer Leslie Kong's masterful work) acquainted me with more DD as well as some of the most memorable music of my life*.
Just one more lame eulogy for a man who meant so much to me and not only helped me discover eclecticism but also represents more of my childhood than any fluffy animal. Goodbye, Mr. Dacres, you mattered to me in so many ways.
* It's a shame that it's still only on vinyl and RARE - any angels out there who want sex with me can get it here but I'm not holding my breath... :-(
UPDATE: Goofy DD video over at Firedoglake but well worth the watch.