I was amazed to find two buskers I had seen ten years ago on the beach in Negril.
We were walking down the beach, and ran across this duo playing for a bunch of scowling, reddened Germans. They played a phenomenal, skeletal reggae, with fantastic, booming, slippery basslines over hypnotic, spare beats. A master class in Jamaican rhythms disguised as busking for tourists’ change.
I had seen these guys play when I was in Negril in 1994–a father and son named Dervin and Joseph. At the time, Dervin was an eight or nine year old boy, singing in a ghostly boyish voice. They played a haunting tune called “When I Fall in Love”–I don’t know who the original artist was–that I later would try to emulate when I wrote “How Many Cans?”
(I later referenced the two of them in “Disseminated”–sadly, my absolute least favorite of all the Soul Coughing songs I’m fully responsible for–having hooked up both the Raymond Scott loop and the lyric/melody–Lord how I loathe that tune–“Like Genius/like Dervin/like Joseph/like Jason.” Jason and Genius were Negril beach hustlers from that 1994 trip)
I was astonished to reencounter them. I asked them to play “When I Fall in Love,” which took them a little head-scratching, but eventually they did play, after a few interminable Bob Marley songs and a cover of “Under the Boardwalk.”
“We should tip them exorbitantly not to play Bob Marley,” I said to my companion. I’m tortured in Negril by the bland omnipresence of the 14 songs on Legend, a cherrypicking of the most syrupy, least fiery tunes of his career. Daily, we were asking some waitress to switch off the Bob and put on the infinitely weirder and off-kilter tunes on Jamaican pop radio.
They must’ve heard us. We were laying on the beach the next day, and they came strolling by, as they moved from tourist-cluster to tourist-cluster, and they recognized us and stopped, and played not a single Bob tune, or boring lite-soul cover. At the end of one tune, Dervin transitioned into Biggie’s “Ten Crack Commandments,” modestly omitting the “I heard he let her sniff a whole cake up/’cause she knew how to suck a dick and cook a good steak up” verse in the presence of sandcastle-building toddlers.
We made them play “When I Fall in Love” a couple times that week–each time we bumped into them. What a scary, eerie tune–I have such a clear recollection of the nine-year-old, supernaturally wise voice of Dervin singing: When I fall in love…it will be forever…