Okay, this is neither here nor there. Or it’s both. It has nothing to do with being an immigrant, though. Just with being a 51-year-old user of modern technology. Every now and then there’s this technology moment that blows my mind. The younger you are, the less you will understand this, but my contemporaries will.
In 1979-1980, during my first year in library school in Deventer, the Netherlands, a pub called De Steile Trap was reserved for our school every Wednesday night.
And this DJ (older dude–twenty-five if he was a day) had a wonderful collection of reggae music, including lots of records from obscure little Jamaican bush labels. So most of the time when I heard something I liked and I asked him what it was because I wanted to buy it, he’d tell me only a hundred records had been pressed, and he only had it because he went and got it himself in Jamaica.
But I kept asking, on the off-chance (and because he was kinda cute, for an older guy), and one night he played something I loved and could actually buy in a store. Linton Kwesi Johnson. The record was Bass Culture.
I have played that record so often, because I love the music and Linton Kwesi Johnson’s voice, but also because the lyrics intrigued me.
Dem are bluck petty booshwah, dem fillaflah.
Fillaflah? What the hell is fillaflah? Black petty bourgeois I get. But fillaflah? It didn’t matter how often I played it, I couldn’t make any more of it than fillaflah. Not to this day. Well, yesterday. Very early this morning, actually.
I probably could have found out earlier, but for a librarian I’m surprisingly slow looking things up at home, for myself. And when it took turning on the computer to get on the Internet, it still required the effort of going to the computer or remembering when I was at my computer.
I’m translating a book right now, and late last night I used the term “petty bourgeois”. Instantly I heard Linton Kwesi Johnson chant petty booshwah. But I was fully focused on translating, so I thought nothing of it.
Later, in bed, still wired from working so hard, I decided to read the UK & World News on my phone. And Dem are bluck petty booshwah, dem fillaflah was going round and round in my head, as it has on a regular basis for more than thirty years now, usually in similar situations, like at two in the morning when I’m trying to sleep.
But now I have a smart phone, so I left the news and googled Linton Kwesi Johnson’s lyrics. A few clicks and the thirty-year mystery was solved:
Dem are bluck petty booshwah, dem full of flaw.
Full of flaw! Of course! Maybe tonight I’ll look up Julien Clerc’s lyrics. There are a few lines in my favorite song from 1976 that I never got . . .