Sat | Dec 3, 2016

The story of a cultural icon ... in his own words

Published:Sunday | April 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM
The cover of 'The Half That's Never Been Told'.

Book: The Half that's

Never Been Told

Author: Doctor Dread

Publisher: Akashic books,

New York

Reviewer: Dr Glenville Ashby

Doctor Dread may just prove to be as gripping a storyteller as he was a record producer. In this revelatory vignette-filled offering, he bends the rules with an unorthodox literary style, unveiling a torrent of chronicles that are spontaneous, colourful, richly authentic and brazen. This is a unique work on many levels. Doctor Dread does offer new and intimate insights into the legends of Jamaican culture.

His 'dedication' to Gregory Isaacs is naked, unsanitised, brutally candid, and provocative, but he is never dismissive of his friend. Isaacs was shredded by the disease of drug addiction, but Doctor Dread never fails to remind readers that his genius was undeniable. He is at pains to understand, to psychoanalyse this gifted but tragic figure whom, to this day, he fervently admires.

It is a futile attempt, but his sincerity is heartfelt.

Dr Dread's relationship with executive producer, Fatias, is also worth mentioning. Again, his ability to ground with people leads to lasting memories and unbreachable unions.

His brief interaction with Irish singer Sinead O'Connor is bizarre and leaves readers sharing his wonderment and sheer disbelief.

And portions of the ex-producer's reflections are marked by levity and genuine comedic, side-splitting narratives. He recalls these nostalgic flashes with the ease of a seasoned griot. In one scene, he recounts being apprehended for drugs in Texas. He writes, "One night, some cops approached me. When I saw them coming, I stuffed my bag of weed down my pants ... . Stupid me; I had not realised I wasn't wearing underwear and that the bag of weed slid right down my leg and on to the ground just as they were searching me. I exclaimed, 'That's not mine! How did that get there'?"

 

Monkey story

 

He tells another jocular tale during a trip to Ecuador with his girlfriend. "One day, we went to the park and encountered a man who offered to sell us a monkey. The monkey was asleep, but the man assured us it was tired and not sick. We took the monkey back to our hotel where it continued to rest all day. But then, late at night, the monkey started to attack us with its claws - it turned out to be a fierce, nocturnal jungle creature."

Doctor Dread is natural and unpretentious. They are attributes reflected in his professional, personal, and social relationships.

The Half That's Never Been Told fires with sheer star power. The big-name musicians, their stories, ascendancy, and demise are magnetic, and readers are roped in. We relate to their experiences on a very personal level, courtesy of the author's captivating and rhythmic delivery. But behind all the glitter, talent, excitement and dread, there is a deeper, more instructive tale. And it centres on Doctor Dread. Indeed, this is his stage, prepared for him, it seems, by Providence.

Born Gary Himelfarb, he possesses an enviable gravitas. He proves unmoved by the self-serving quid pro quo motto. He receives because he gives without expectation. And his is a heavenly reward. He has that inimitable ability to flourish and realise his potential in a starkly different, if not bristling culture.

And, while history echoes the tragedy of exploited, unsophisticated and naive artists, the legend of Doctor Dread turns the image of the predatory and powerful music executive on its head. He cultivates relationships. He absorbs his new surroundings, connecting on a primal level. He is not what he appears phenotypically. Over the years, he has become Jamaican, a Rastafarian in doctrine and philosophy. He is reborn. His is an existential odyssey, not a course in cultural exchange. He breathes, lives and exudes 'island culture'. He understands its most complex nuances, its rhythm, its soul. "I was hungry," he pens, "Hungry for knowledge. Hungry to learn as much as I could about the culture and people of Jamaica. I let my hair down and it began to knot up."

 

Classic music catalogue

 

Sure, his musical contribution is transformative, advocating tirelessly for Jamaican talent. He has worked with the Marleys, Bunny Wailer, Gregory Isaacs, Culture, Steel Pulse, and other iconic figures. His artistic sense is unrivalled. And the adoration and loyalty he enjoys serves an enduring lesson on humility and humanity. His words ring true, "I get along with most people. I try to accept them for who they are: I take the good with the bad. Only Jah is perfect."

And therein lies the real worth, magic and triumph of Doctor Dread. With bated breath, we await the other half of his enthralling saga.

Ratings: Highly recommended

- Send feedback to glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @glenvilleashby.