The Selected Quirks of Madjag

The Madjag Chronicles were compiled as memoirs and mental snapshots of my experiences during the 1978-1982 guerrilla growing years in Madjag Canyon and beyond. Importing weed from Mexico, lining up connections with the Colombians, and living for months in Jamaica to set up a 1/2 ton Ganja flight were some of my subsequent adventures. In recent years I have been a medical marijuana grower, a pollen chucker, and an Admin/Moderator for several online cannabis forums.

Music, Massive, and Melancholy

I had a visit from Melancholy the other day and as usual it showed up out of nowhere and didn’t stay for dinner either. I have a few ideas what gave it some life…..short days, the soft light in the lower sky, and all our gardens, herb or otherwise, have been harvested and the winter crops haven’t yet been planted. There’s a distinct feeling of being in between.

I love music and it’s no surprise that I love to dance. Three days, actually nights, of Sunsplash in Mo Bay, Jamaica in the early 1980s tested my metal for sure. The music began pumping up around 10pm and really hit the groove around 2 am and beyond. By then many pounds of ganja had been smoked by the lovers of Ragga so the energy was loose and dreamy, mellow with a touch of late night burnout. Each night a different act seemed to rule the night and would swell up and take the crowd to another level. One night it was Burning Spear, another Sugar Minott. The stage had a killer sound system comparable to giant outdoor spectacles in the US. The speakers were stacked 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide I’d guess. When I left at 5am one morning and drove west across the bay toward Lucea I could hear it at my hotel there, a good 10 miles away. At that distance it sounded like a small boombox playing in the jungle next door.

I had seen the Cool Ruler in a concert at Bigga’s Central Park, a small outdoor venue stashed behind sturdy 8 foot tall cement walls and an iron entrance gate on the West End cliffs of Negril. Gregory was full swing into his infamous crack-smoking period and would dance across the stage every few songs and hook up with a big bong hit of the devil and then dance back across the stage as the next song began. He’d spin and do his trademark shuffle as he exhaled a huge cloud of pure white smoke. His high-end coke connections and the quality of the freebase was quickly evident by the brightness of that crack cloud as well as the strong chemical odor that accompanied it…..not to mention the way the Cool Ruler would leap into his song and dance with renewed vigor. He was hooked.

The particular show at Bigga’s that sticks in my head was this one: Gregory was doing local venue tours around the island promoting his new LP, Out Deh. It’s still my favorite Gregory LP and several of the songs are top hits in my aural database, having been able to lodge in my head for decades and appear out of nowhere when I’m missing Reggae. During his beautiful prelude into “Love Me With Feeling”, as Gregory was whipping the crowd into a frenzy, several gunshots rang out from the barrel of a .45 a mere 20 feet from me and my German friends. It’s interesting how such sounds can viscerally move a body to duck (me), dodge (most dancers nearby), or dive to the ground (my German friends) without any interruption by one’s conscious mind. It reminds of the way my wife, and I too, instantly find ourselves 3-5 feet away from where we first heard the speedy rattle of a Western Diamondback that isn’t too pleased with our presence. Bodies do that so well……

Photo Courtesy of Adrian Boot

Well the Cool Ruler was so wasted while simultaneously surrounded by multiple amplifiers belting out the bass rhythm and his high-pitched lyrics that I think he totally missed the connection. Maybe it sounded like a whistle or something unidentifiable to Gregory though he finally stopped dancing once the whole crowd froze and the Gunman’s friends quickly grabbed the arm that was holding the smoking pistol above his head and shooting it into the sky in appreciation of the tune. With glances in all directions to see if any undercover detectives or security were about to pounce, his terrified friends literally picked Mr. Gunman up and charged him out of the yard.

I love that song. Must have been Gunman’s favorite too!

Here’s a link to Augustus Pablo’s music at JapanSplash in 1986 . It will set you up with 15 minutes of killer jazzy-reggae sound. Pablo’s trademark melodica gives his music a haunting sound when dubbing and it adds a jazzy feel to his vocal reggae in subtle ways that I’ve not heard in the music of other Jamaican roots musicians. A brilliant example is his classic song “East of The River Nile” on his first LP, Rebel Rock Reggae (1974). The song has been updated in his video performance from Japan Splash, however it is still just as powerfully evocative in this modern version.

Pablo spent a lot of time near Port Antonio and if you have ever explored the surrounding jungle and river canyons there, in the Parish of Portland, you’d totally flash on how his songs portray that area. Portanio is in the rainiest district of Jamaica, up to 200 inches of rain per year, and has killer year-round rivers like the Rio Grande spilling out of the mountain ranges and winding down to the sea. The John Crow range and the Blue Mountains both rise quickly to altitude in Portland and offer some dense, dense jungle comparable to any tropical nation’s impassable areas. Bamboo grows hourly, just like in Colombia. The ganja fields are difficult to discover in such overgrown areas like this and I smelled herb wafting in most places around town.

Unlike the southwestern end of the isle in the hills outside of Negril, Portland Parish has very little disturbed or cultivated ground that might be easily seen from the air. Herbmen hustle here without scores of tourists to hassle so the police are more laid back. It’s not overrun with hipsters like in Negril or Ocho Rios though Errol Flynn and the Hollywood gang of the 1940’s and 1950’s loved the Port Antonio region and made a distinct impact upon its history. It doesn’t have the typical miles and miles of sandy beaches that much of the northwest coast features so it was homesteaded differently. It rains a lot more, too, so it imparts a more moody feel to the local atmosphere than the sunny beach vibes of Negril.

The beauty of music that can evoke Melancholy is that the feeling it creates is ever-present in our psyche. Like all the primary feelings, happiness, joy, sorrow, suffering, it is one of the energies that our hearts can supply. Melancholy seems to appear out of nowhere and without warning whereas the other familiar emotions have a distinct, noticeable way of announcing themselves.

I define melancholy to be like an invisible arm weighing on my shoulder, the feeling of incompleteness and a need that cannot quite be identified or quelled. Melancholy is not inherently sorrowful or painful but it’s a distant echo and a little of both. Perhaps something over the horizon is evoking a strange feeling that can turn pleasant just as easily as it can turn unpleasant. It’s undecided yet very moving.

When I feel melancholy I usually make a point to let my lady know. We are both explorers in this way. We truly enjoy mapping how we came to feel a certain way by examining the setting, the set, the personal motifs at play, and the emotional trend in our lives at that time. Playing Pablo’s melodica-rich tunes are a surefire way to amplify that feeling and stare into its face. Top female vocalists like Sade can gracefully dish out a full plate of melancholy whenever they so desire, too. It seems that it’s one of the most powerful tools that top musicians keep close at hand. Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song” is a another, classic rock tune that drips with melancholy.

Smoke a few tokes of your top fire, play that song once or twice on a rainy afternoon, and I think you’ll agree. I’d add Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” as well though I think it actually moves quickly beyond melancholy and heads into a more tense, struggling mood. Maybe even angry. Melancholy doesn’t really have tension or anger at its center as much as it seems to be undecided and bounces me back and forth from peaceful to uneasy. It keeps me guessing at what’s next.

Usually, like yesterday, when I have a brush with melancholy, it disappears without notice as quickly as it seemed to appear. It reminds me that I have work to do, a life to live, and time, like the waning days of Fall, is always ticking in the background.

The clock of time tells me that I am sensible to live like a warrior, treating every day, each moment, like the true gift that it is. I hope you’re awake and watchful for the miracle in every breathe, too, and give Melancholy its due as a useful messenger.

Money can by you a clock, but not time. – Chinese proverb