Garden of Eden
Old hotels are not all they’re cracked up to be, especially when they are repurposed as schools.
In some ways my high school was idyllic: sometimes it was hard to see the algebra problems because the glare off the noonday Caribbean was so bright; it was occasionally difficult to hear the French teacher because of the roar of the waves. There was no air conditioning, but none was needed with the Trade Winds blowing all the time. We had no lunch room; we brought bagged lunches from home, and ate them on the beach. After lunch someone would climb a palm tree with machete in hand (O innocent, halcyon days!) and cut down a coconut. The climber always claimed the milk, but the rest of us got to take chunks of fresh coconut meat to nibble on during our afternoon classes. It was a hard life.
In other ways, it was definitely a make-do situation. There was a vast room at the back of the school that I believe had once been the hotel’s kitchen. We used part of the area as an art room, and the rest was storage, except for the couple of times a year when there were school dances or other large gatherings, when all the clutter was swept to the corners to make room for chairs and a makeshift stage.
I remember one such school dance, in the spring of 1971.
Maybe it was just the time of year
Or maybe it’s the time of man
I don’t know who I am
But you know life is for learning
Things were vastly different in the islands, and times were vastly different then than now. And while liquor and drugs were officially prohibited, none of the faculty chaperones cared that the punch had been spiked or that some of the students were getting high on the beach a few steps from the door. I was in tenth grade, and none of this seemed terribly remarkable.
What was remarkable was the music. Two of the band members were students; two were friends of theirs. And they were brilliant: driving, exciting, incredibly polished and professional. Brad was the drummer and the de facto leader of the group, and of course I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
When the band took a break, I was bold enough to tell him how much I was enjoying the music. He asked what I liked about it. I stammered something about music as an intoxicant or drumming as a drug, and he said, “Then you’ll like this,” put on a record and turned up the amp, and handed me a drink (punch spiked with vodka, spiked further with 151 proof rum).
The next seventeen minutes changed my consciousness forever:
“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was a groundbreaking song, a groundbreaking album. I don’t recall ever listening to any other Iron Butterfly songs; I wasn’t even aware they had made other albums until many years later. There was only “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” in my world.
I don’t remember when I first heard the term “psychedelic rock,” but it was long after I had become entranced by The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother and the Holding Company, or early Pink Floyd. Before “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” my musical taste seemed to be equal parts classical music (I was a huge fan of Dmitri Shostakovich), movie musical soundtracks (I know, what a surprise), and — I shudder to reveal this — Easy Listening music of the most atrocious variety. I was a very peculiar kid. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” popped my cherry, as it were, and overnight, Easy Listening had become intolerable to me, as well it should.
The opening few bars still make me shiver with anticipation.
Which made this snippet even more enjoyable.