Story of the Song | 'Cancer' grows from parents' deaths
With the month's focus on cancer, The Sunday Gleaner revisits the tale of a man who put its effects into song.
Richard 'Influential' Powell's 2009 song, Cancer, reverberates from his parents' graves, the idea germinating as he rode a bicycle away from the health-care facility in Elletson Flats, St Andrew, where his mother laid dying, wracked by pain from breast cancer.
That experience is recorded in the first lines of the song when it gets personal, after the general consolation:
"This one is for all who have lost loved ones,
I'm sure someone can relate,
Don't lose the faith.
Jah is great,
Fe see me mother in such pain and know me couldn't even help you know it hurt me.
If it was to risk me very life I would have done it for this special one who birth me."
Many can relate. On Saturday, August 7, The Gleaner reported that "a new study on prostate cancer among Caribbean men of African descent has revealed there was a 270 per cent increase in the disease among Jamaican men between 1983 and 2007". The study was to be published in a book by Dr Henry Lowe.
The Gleaner, also reported in October 2007 that "breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Jamaica, followed in incidence by cancer of the cervix, large bowel and uterus".
Influential points out that initially he wrote the line in the present tense ("fe see me mother in such pain and know me can't even help ..."), changing it to the past tense after she had passed on.
Edith Powell died five months after she had buried her husband and Influential's father, Lloyd Powell. Cancer, was completed and written shortly after Influential helped lay his mother to rest in Maidstone, Manchester.
As painful as their deaths were and continue to be, Influential is still shocked by the transformation in his mother between his father's funeral and when he saw her five months later.
"She was living in Florida, then the doctor send her out and say there is nothing more them can do. Them go through all the chemotherapy, everything. She must just go home and we keep her comfortable," he said. She wanted to come home to Jamaica and Influential got a shock.
His mother's eyes were sunken and she had lost a lot of weight.
"Five months before she come down to bury my father. When I saw her I say 'no, is not my mother this'," he said.
Two weeks later, she was dead.
The shock was even greater because Influential was accustomed to his mother being a very strong person. On the other hand, his father, who was also blind from glaucoma in addition to having prostate cancer, would always talk about being ready to 'go home'. He eventually did when Influential was on his way to see him in Mandeville.
Again, the experience makes its way into song, as just after singing about the sacrifice he would make for his mother, Influential sings:
"I never get the chance to say the last goodbye to me father and it hurt me,
Him died when me on me way to Mandeville at May Pen 9:30."
Influential says on the night his father died, when he heard that he had been rushed to hospital "something inside me say you have to go down". His friend 'Spawn D' carried him to Half-Way Tree on a motorcycle for the first leg of a tedious journey. Influential caught a bus to Spanish Town, then got a taxi to May Pen, reaching there at 9:30 p.m.
And got stuck.
At this point, his brothers in Mandeville were calling incessantly, asking "How far you reach?" When he finally got to Mandeville, he saw his brother and sister-in-law outside the gate. "Me start walk towards the security post. Them say 'no'. I said 'me waan go see him'. They said 'him gone'," Influential recalled.
"Mi feel cold and everything one time. Is the first time mi feel that way. It mash me down."
However, even up to the very end, Influential's mother tried to ensure that he was spared the worst of emotional trauma.
"My mother, she really hang on to life. She did not want to leave. It reach a point where she couldn't hold on anymore," he said. "Is a lady who don't show emotion and she bawl out for pain."
"Mi wouldn't want my worst enemy go through the experience. She a weep and my eye jus' a run."
He would hear her crying out in pain when he rode up to the facility where she was staying, but as she caught sight of him she would try to restrain her tears. "She always a try protect me. Believe me, shi nuh waan see me cry," Influential said.
And so in Cancer, he sings
"But Mama always say, don't cry,
She never like to see me cry.
She always say, don't cry,
She never like to see me cry."
Then the drum and bass hit and Influential, widens his message, speaking to early detection and also offering hope:
"This is a warning on breast cancer what a terrible disease,
Only early detection, do your mammograms please.
Cancer blowing away people life just like the breeze,
Me can still see me mother weep.
The other one is prostate cancer,
What a deadly disease?
That very same one make me father now decease,
Cancer, oh my oh my.
I can only cherish the memories of the moments that we spent,
Because I am so very sure this could never be the end.
But Dada always say, if this is the only place that we have life,
Oh my, then we are of men most miserable."
"But still death me no pree dat,
Me say more life pon more.
Still I cyaa deny the facts of life me know sey death sure,
Is only salvation that I can't ignore.
Lloyd and Edith oonu gone on before,
Look at the state of the world how every day skull a bore.
It pays to live yu life good,
live it clean and pure,
More time we no sure we ago even make it offa tour.
Only a prayer a day, let's cut to the core."
Yet, there are the regrets about what death has now made impossible, as well as a statement of purpose about the entire song:
"Me still memba the nights, house whe me promise to me mother,
But death come spoil up that, right now Mama no deh ya.
A she sen' me go music school go learn music like Dada,
The memories of me parents me a honour."