I passed out during a Jimmy Cliff concert at Wyandot Lake when I was 17. My friend and I had discovered “dub,” which is a sub genre of reggae that’s even more geared toward ganja. We only had one album, “Black Ash” and every song was named for a different drug; “Marijuana,” “Heroin,” “Lambsbread,” and so on. Actually I don’t know what the hell “lambsbread” is, but it sounds slangy for drug stuff. It was all irresistibly subversive and we felt so bad-ass underground. When you’re 17, the world is new enough to you that you can still discover cool things. That’s the only part of being 17 that’s awesome. Also the complete lack of responsibility. Oh and the persistently agreeable erections. I guess 17 is actually pretty great.
Wyandot Lake was a water park next to the Columbus Zoo. During the summer, they had concerts ranging from George Jones to other people like George Jones – it is Ohio. Every once in a while, they would placate the long-hairs by bringing in someone like Jimmy Cliff. If you’re not familiar with his music, he’s basically reggae for moms. He was the musician at the beach club in the movie “Club Paradise” with Rick Moranis and Robin Williams. He wasn’t much at all like the underground Black Ash jams we’d been listening to. It’s like eating taffy when you really wanted steak; they’re both food. Columbus also had a small population of Jamaicans whom we knew would be there smoking spliffs completely out in the open.
It must have been August, because even at night it was at least 85 degrees. Everyone was covered in luke warm humidity sweat, rubbing up against each other like damp bottles of beer pulled from an aging cooler at a horse race (yes, too specific). That slick glistening look is attractive when it’s on tan dancers in “Tequiza” commercials, but when you’re actually pressed against that lizard skin, it makes you wish you’d worn a shirt.
There was way too much pot at this concert. I was actually having trouble keeping up with all the joints coming at me. I had one in my mouth, there was someone passing me one from each side, and another dude tapping me on the shoulder from behind. It was like everyone at the show had brought 3 joints, lit them all simultaneously, and realized, “JAH! We have too much ganja, mon.”
At 17, I don’t remember having any anticipatory fear about anything. That didn’t come until the world expected me to contribute things. So even when the music started to sound garbled, and the sky twisted like a Van Gogh painting, I continued to enjoy myself though my brain was on the verge of taking a short nap.
I woke up on my back near the port-o-potty. For a moment, I had no idea where I was. I only knew that 4 of my friends were standing over me, shirtless and concerned. I could hear them talking about calling an ambulance, or worse, my parents. Despite encouragements to “Rest, dude,” I stood up, brushed myself off, and asked what happened. I had apparently passed-out while standing, and fell straight backwards without bending, like a toppled piece of plywood. My friends picked me up and carried me over their heads, like a bunch of show-off pallbearers, to a more secluded area where they could lie me down and argue over how to tend to me.
I felt completely fine. My brain had rebooted, dumped its memory, and I was ready to get back at it. They nervously agreed. I had a sip of water, grabbed a beer we had hidden, and went back into the swaying pit of moist zombies like nothing had happened.
Our bodies and brains are incredibly resilient as teens, and only adults understand how awesome that is. At 39 years old, if I passed out at a concert, people would call 911 assuming I’d suffered a mild stroke. I’d be given an MRI and put on bed rest with IV fluids. What I’m saying is THE PARTY WOULD BE OVER.
The anticipatory fear I should have had came much later. Starting around the age of 25, and continuing to this day (and right to this very moment because I’m unwittingly listening to Burning Spear coming from a nearby car), I become vaguely nauseas, sweaty, and emotionally uneasy whenever I hear Reggae music.