STORY OF THE SONG: 'Still Alive' and fighting HIV discrimination
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
An advertisement which is currently being run on free-to-air television pushes the message of a non-discrimination policy on HIV. In the advertisement, someone who is visiting a business place notices a poster speaking to the issue and engages the proprietor about it.
Tanya Stephens addresses discrimination against persons with HIV in Still Alive, a track from her free 2010 album Infallible.
Significantly, the transmission is from a wanton woman to a faithful husband, a reversal of the perspective that would constantly maintain the male as the knave of the piece.
Also, in tackling HIV within marriage, Stephens takes the lyrical path much less travelled, departing from a more accustomed route of indiscriminate sexual behaviour such as that taken by I-Wayne in Can't Satisfy Her. On that 2004 track, I-Wayne speaks to disease transmission through informal prostitution ("Say she flirt with har boyfriend bredrin/Him have money an bling so she go bed wid him").
However, the result is "ketch disease now it started spreading/she start to seek penicillin she's dying".
So the setting - both workplace and marriage - in Stephens' Still Alive are different, but she goes further to make it personal by starting a conversation between employer and employee which allows Stephens to use 'I' to very good effect.
The song starts out with an extended talk, which sets the scene of a good man betrayed:
"Johnny was a good man
Had two kids and a beautiful wife
He loved her very much
She was the pride of his life
He would never do anything to cause her pain
Unfortunately for him though
She did not see it quite the same
Johnny was busy giving her everything he had to give
And in return she gave him a test that came back positive"
She then moves the setting from the home to the workplace, the 'suss' mill getting the word around very effectively:
"The news spread like wildfire and pretty soon
Johnny would walk through the door and he would empty the room
His boss said I would like to keep you Johnny
But my hands are tied
God knows I've tried
But no one wants to work by your side"
Then, before she moves from talking to singing, Stephens changes the voice of the song to Johnny, facilitating this by the boss asking Johnny "so tell me, what would you have me do?"
Johnny replies and says a lot, asking "how can you watch me live in pain if your love could heal me, touch me every day how can you not feel me?"
In the chorus, Johnny shows his fortitude, as "after everything I gave/I can't believe you're all digging my grave":
"While I'm still alive
With every day I live
With every breath I give
I'm alive ...
I'm still writing pages of testimony ...
And I'm not ready to go
I want everyone to know
That I'm still alive"
The message is very different from nearly a quarter century earlier when King Kong did AIDS on the Firehouse label for Osbourne 'King Tubby' Ruddock. Then, King Kong sang "AIDS a go roun'/tell Aunty Mary fi tell John Brown". It was perceived as a death sentence as "when AIDS take you only the morgue can take you/when AIDS take you nobody cyaa help you".