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Journey inside the mind of Janis Joplin and Bob Marley as Bouncer gets "Crucial."

Wednesday, Dec 15 2004
The best part of the city to be in when it's raining is the Lower Haight. You feel like you are in Janis Joplin's brain: Psychedelic splashes douse the dirty, depressed streets, drowning the filth, muting the sadness, and ultimately washing all the troubles down the storm drain of your poor tortured soul.

So yeah, if you haven't guessed, I was depressed, it was raining, and I was in the Lower Haight. There are two kinds of depression. There's the kind that comes after your dog dies or the wrong man wins the presidency, and then there's what I have, passed along by my ancestors like a Podunk bucket brigade taking on a raging forest fire. This kind of depression is genetic, and it seems to worsen with every generation. That's bad news for me, because my grandmother spent her last decade miserable, in a dark house in Pasadena with crumbling walls, sitting in the same bathrobe with a scowl on her face, long curly nails on her fingers, and a strange addiction to televised baseball. (If I ever show any interest in sports, call Napa State Hospital.)

One thing that my grandmother didn't have but my mother and I do is anti-depressants, which work miracles. I love you, Prozac. But I haven't had health insurance for six months and have gone off the stuff. And now, as usual, I am starting to pay attention to hockey scores and listen to reggae.

Enjoying reggae music is a sure sign that I am depressed. But before all you Sunsplashers get in a huff about the joy of reggae, the "one love" irie goodness of it all, hear me out. Because I am right and you are wrong. Positive reggae music is shite. There is nothing worse than a reggae love song: "I la la la la love, I la la la la love, your big brown eye ...." What the hell is that? An homage to a butthole?

I want to hear about war inna Babylon. I want to hear about Jah. I want to hear about Zion and children in the streets and the Man comin' down. More important, I want to zone out to the same hook over and over and over because I am down and I need a mind-numbing escape.

Lower Haight watering hole Nickie's BBQ hosts "Crucial" on Wednesdays, a reggae dance party thingy with several DJs trading off and all the beer and wine you can purchase. The night took a vacation for most of this year but has recently returned. I decided to check it out.

Nickie's is perfect for disappearing. It is dark, cozy, grungy, and has lots of ripped-up boothlike seating around the perimeter. Aww yeah.

When I walked in I was immediately hit with a cloud of ganja and the sounds of Israel Vibration. The place was pretty dead, save for a boisterous bunch of honkies who were dancing the way white people dance to reggae. You know, like an instructional grape-stomping video played on slo-mo.

I found a spot just below the DJ booth where I could wedge myself into a corner, drink cider, and watch. On the dance floor there was one girl and three guys. The girl was very pretty, but the kind of pretty that blossoms after high school. She had probably just realized how pretty she was. Her companions were alternately grabbing her and picking her up -- they were quite drunk -- and she was being a good sport, giggling. When one guy had her, the other ones danced off to the side with the concerned look of a kid with ice cream and no spoon. By gosh, yes, it appeared these guys were fighting over her but were too sophisticated to tussle over a girl like dumb jocks. The pseudo-standoff escalated from there and resulted not in fisticuffs, but in the girl and one lucky guy going into the bathroom for 10 minutes.

As for me, I sat and listened to song after song. Then Bob Marley came on. The song was "Could You Be Loved?" which is not a reggae love song, despite its title. No, this song is about brotherhood and Jah and racism, so it fits my criteria just fine. All I can say is, there's a reason that Bob Marley is the biggest name in reggae. When that classic came on, the superiority of Marley's backing band, the lyrics, and the melody far surpassed anything that had been played previously. I made a pact with myself that I would never again avoid Bob Marley because he is popular. And as I watched the Homo sapiens mating ritual unfold before me on the dance floor, the message that came through in the song was a positive one wrapped in a sad package: "Only the fittest of the fittest shall survive. Stay alive." These people were drunk, they were young, and they were happy, which is more than I could say for myself.

A few weeks ago a woman I grew up with, the journalist Iris Chang, pulled her car over on Highway 17 and shot herself. We were both the children of physicists at the University of Illinois, and she was the third daughter amongst our peers to commit suicide. My new health insurance kicked in on the first of the month, and I am now the proud possessor of a bottle of Prozac and a Bob Marley box set. I ain't goin' out like that.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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