Does smoking dope make reggae less monotonous?

I got to thinking about that question yet again when I saw this:

KINGSTON, Jamaica — President Obama, who arrived here Wednesday evening for a meeting with Caribbean leaders, made an unscheduled nighttime visit to the Bob Marley Museum.

“I still have all the albums,” Obama, in rolled up shirtsleeves, told museum guide Natasha Clark, as he toured the home in central Kingston where the Jamaican reggae great lived from 1975 until his death in 1981.

Marley’s family has turned the rambling, Victorian style house and outbuildings into a museum where all things Marley are sold –T-shirts, posters, albums — and artifacts from his life and Jamaican culture are displayed.

As Obama toured, strains of “One Love,” a Marley great, with its chorus of “let’s get together and feel all right,” echoed out the windows and into the night….

And this is not an Obama-baiting post or anything. I just know that POTUS was something of a toker in his youth, and I’m wondering whether that’s why he is a Marley fan and I’m not.

I’ve just always reggae sounded:

  • Like music made by and for people who are really into ganja.
  • Monotonous.

I’ve just never been able to get into it, and I’ve wondered whether that’s because I’m not, you know, stoned. It has a kind of gently bouncing, going-nowhere, chilling-along sort of sound to it that seems like something that would appeal mainly to people who are artificially relaxed.

Oh, and as long as I’m confessing to being so uncool, I also have a problem with blues. Something about the whole basic, predictable progression, the first line that is repeated, the whole SAMENESS about blues makes it hard for me to listen to it for very long.

I can enjoy maybe one blues song at a time — I love Hendrix’s “Red House” (below), which follows the form religiously — but after a couple of them, they tend to sound repetitive. Unless they are the sort that departs from the standard pattern, such as “House of the Rising Sun” or “St. James Infirmary.” Those are special. But on the whole, listening to a whole set or album of blues wears on me.

I did sort of enjoy that album of blues covers that Eric Clapton put out in 1994, “From the Cradle.” He put a lot of energy into making every song special. But when I misplaced the CD sometime in the middle of that decade, I didn’t look for it very hard. And back to my original topic, “I Shot the Sheriff” is easily my least favorite Clapton track.

I’ve tried hard over the years to be a blues connoisseur — because all cool people are, right? — but failed. And yes, I know that a huge proportion of the pop songs I’ve enjoyed in my life are based in blues, but they appeal because of the innovative things they do on top of the basic form — near as I can tell, not being a musical scholar.

Anyway, consider the source in contemplating my comments on reggae — they’re coming from a guy who doesn’t even dig the blues…

59 thoughts on “Does smoking dope make reggae less monotonous?

  1. Doug Ross

    “I just know that POTUS was something of a toker in his youth, ”

    And look how that stunted his growth, development, and brain function. Let’s just legalize it now and stop all the nonsense. If companies or government agencies want to institute drug policies, let them.

    As for the music, I’d tend to agree. One reggae song is enough for me… and the blues are a yawnfest.

  2. M.Prince

    What about Philip Glass? You forgot to include him in your list of “monotonous” music.

    As someone who enjoys listening to, among other things, blues, reggae and bluegrass (sometimes also considered a self-limiting genre) as well as the above mentioned Mr. Glass, I can only say:
    If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. But if you do, you’re richer (and a better person) for it.

    These are all styles that depend more than other genres on the performer/performance to lend them freshness.

    1. Doug Ross

      ” But if you do, you’re richer (and a better person) for it.”

      Good one.! Wait, you weren’t just being condescendingly elitist? Eminem, Garth Brooks, and Taylor Swift disagree.

      1. M.Prince

        Music is, along with language and mathematics, the third fundamental form of human expression. It only makes sense, therefore, that the more you understand and appreciate it, the better, more fully human you are.

        1. Mark Stewart

          I would bet that visual arts predate either music or language. Mathematics is the tail of this triumvirate, and needed all three to blossom.

      2. M.Prince

        Snobbishness comes in a number of forms. There’s the highbrow form, of course. But there’s also lowbrow snobbishness, which generally rejects whatever isn’t considered “mainstream”. Both types shrink rather than expand the envelope. To me, eclecticism is the spice that makes life better. Most folks are like kids and new foods: they don’t like to leave their comfort-zones and generally have to be coaxed into trying something outside of it. And in that vein, I invite Mr. Warthen to listen to the first 5 or 10 songs here:

        and see if he still believes that every reggae song is like another (monotonous). Sure, they don’t have the sort of dramatic build-up to a big ending that characterizes so many pop tunes. But I’d argue that it’s precisely the predictability of structures like that that has the effect of turning pop music monotonous.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author


          There there’s the phenomenon — I won’t call it snobbishness, more of a presumption — that leaps to the conclusion that because I don’t like something, I haven’t been exposed to it enough. Or exposed enough to things “outside my comfort zone.”

          I’ve listened to it enough that I’ve had, many times, the very same feeling I’m having now as I listen to what you recommended.

          If it makes any fans of reggae feel better, there are many gradations of distaste. I’d rather listen to Marley that several of the other packages of greatest hits that video invites me to hear — Beyonce, George Michael, or Air Supply. But I’d rather hear Elvis and Creedence and maybe Gloria Estefan than Marley…

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            See, now, I actually like Air Supply–“Here I Am” hit that sweet spot of personal context Matt Warthen writes of. Also, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” hit that spot of time and separation from beloved, and age-related sappiness.

            But, yes, I agree–there is some music that no amount of exposure will change one’s response to….Heavy metal does that for me.

          2. M.Prince

            Ah, but I didn’t see you say anything about “monotony”. So perhaps you learned something after all.

            1. Mab

              “we’ll jump rope on the bed” — one of Bob Marley’s best lyrics.


            2. Mab

              Since the options aren’t ‘reply’ — I give you my best advise. To all of you. Best photo – open arms/I voted

              Best advise-stick with janus.


              …I’m going — and when I go — to state prison — there will be collateral damage. Sorry 😉

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    A lot of jazz buffs find YOUR music monotonous, with the boring, repetitive chord structure, and same-old, same-old rendition each time. Renaissance music fans find the limited number of modes used incredibly stifled. The limited instrumentation. I could go on…..

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, one of the things that makes pop music really work is the changes. You’re going in one direction, then shift into another.

      I remember that back in the ’60s, music theorists explained why Beatles music was so appealing, using all sorts of terms that I was unfamiliar with and can’t recall. But apparently Lennon and McCartney were doing these things without realizing what they were doing.

      I’m often surprised by how GOOD a lot of pop music is (to my unschooled, instinctive ear) in retrospect, even stuff that I regarded as background sounds at the time.

      Watching “Jersey Boys” the other night, I came to appreciate the work of Franky Valli (and of course, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe). I had NEVER been a fan of their music before, but the movie helped me see what they were doing, and how appealing it actually was…

      1. Matt Warthen

        I think a lot of it is personal context too. If you have nothing to relate it to, it can go in one ear and out the other without sticking. Frankie Valli didn’t stick because his personal context was unknown to you, but then when you became more familiar, you became more receptive. I think a lot of people have their own social context that personalizes the music.

        To understand Reggae you have to hear Jamaican ska from the 50’s and early 60’s. It sounds more like Motown than Reggae, with all of the horns and organs that you might expect. Lastly though, I the thing that Reggae and Blues have in common is that (like a lot of black music) it’s about the groove more than variety. I kinda feel this way about funk. I love the things that funk influenced, but I can’t sit and listen to George Clinton.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          … and I have a limited patience with the groove.

          It’s the same problem I have with dancing. I get out there, and I do the step, and then, as Mozart said of Salieri’s tune, I’m thinking “The rest is just the same, isn’t it?” and I begin to feel super-foolish doing the same move over and over, and I want to do something else or get off the dance floor. Preferably get off the dance floor, because I lack inspiration when it comes to dancing. I can’t improvise the way Mozart did with Salieri’s piece…

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          And why the 50s and 60s pop music so beloved makes me want to barf–I have no emotional connection to it, and it is otherwise so trite at best, and offensive at worst. The worst has to the Travelin’ Man song.

      2. Kathryn Fenner

        Lots of things make pop music work, chief of which are the hooks, the catchy tunes, etc. None of which are musical innovation….

      3. bud

        If you liked the “Jersey Boys” movie you would have loved the stage presentation. The touring company came to the Koger Center last year and it was probably the best live play I’ve ever seen.

  4. Burl Burlingame

    A key element of reggae is the time signature in the bass line. It is kept very deliberately in the lub-dub cadence of the average heartbeat at rest. Reggae songs may not sound the same, but they all FEEL the same.

  5. Norm Ivey

    Music has to match the mood. There are times when a reggae or blues tune or two is exactly what I want to hear, but more often I want to hear what I’ve heard before. Like Matt said above, it’s personal context that matters. We like what we remember. I suspect that part of the reason you like the music of the 60s so much is because it was important to you during some very formative years. Reggae and blues were not common in your cultural circles, and so they have a foreign feel to you.

    I listen to a broad range of music from 1940s pop standards to country western to classic rock to current pop, but this afternoon Huey Lewis was just the right vibe for sitting in the yard with a brew. It fit the context.

    1. Norm Ivey

      And at Tartan Day South at the Columbia Speedway a couple of weeks ago, Syr was the right music for the context. No what I want to hear all the time, but there was nothing I’d rather hear in that time and place.

    2. M.Prince

      Here’s the thing, though: Mr. Warthen suggests that the only mood suitable for appreciating reggae is one induced by the consumption of weed. We might just as well say that the only proper occasion for enjoying blues is when you’re loaded on gin, or that the only time for enjoying rap is when you’re freaked out on crack, or that the right moment for listening to The Doors or Jefferson Airplane is when you’re doped up on psychedelic mushrooms. It’s the white-bread, even yokelish condescension that … hits a sour note.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        “white-bread, even yokelish”?

        Really? And I thought you were being condescending BEFORE… By this point, were you speaking of someone else here on the blog, I’d have disallowed the comment.

        I fail to see what is “yokelish” about seeing a connection between reggae and cannabis. The connection is not inferred; I have leaped to no conclusions. The connection is overt and avowed. My only question is whether it is necessary to appreciation…

        And since you raise the point, it would not be at all a leap to wonder whether beer is essential to appreciating honty-tonk music…

        1. M.Prince

          So this list goes on, now to include beer and honky-tonk! As a “consumer” of honky-tonk but not beer, as someone who appreciates blues but not gin, as and as an occasional listener to reggae who does not use any kind of mind-altering drug, I offer myself as a refutation to your every presumption.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            on the flip side, one prefers gin, but not the blues. Nothing like a nice Bombay Sapphire Gibson to cap off the day–but with some cool jazz or elegant classical chamber music in the air….

        2. Phillip

          There IS a very strong connection between reggae and cannabis, entwined as the music is with the religion of Rastafarianism, which I believe regards smoking weed as kind of a sacred ritual that can bring one closer to God.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            YES, Phillip, thank you.

            It’s like peyote in the Native American Church.

            Or wine at my church, to some extent. Except that we’re not EXPECTED to actually get buzzed.

            I ever tell y’all about the Miracle of the Christmas Wine? The time, several years ago, when I was a Eucharistic minister at a Christmas Eve Mass? Well, we EMs are supposed to finish off any wine left in the cup. But as we were doing this, we realized we had a completely untouched cup among the ones with dregs in them. We had no idea where that one had come from , but we had to finish that off, too. I drank most of it. Then we cleared the table behind the altar, and went to wash up the vessels… and when I walked back out, there was ANOTHER chalice filled to the brim out on the table — the table we had completely cleared off moments before.

            So I drank that one off by myself, and took it to be cleaned.

            True story… Don’t know what it means, but it really happened, and I haven’t yet come up with a logical explanation for it…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Fortunately, the wine we use at St. Peter’s is very drinkable.

              I’d have gotten sick doing that at some churches, which use sickly-sweet wine…

          2. M.Prince

            Yeah, sure, but the Rastafari movement and reggae are not synonymous, nor is it reducible to cannabis consumption. Besides, Mr. Warthen’s point wasn’t directed at the originators of the music, but instead at the audience for it. Just because HE doesn’t like it is no reason to blithely suggest that only the drug-addled can. Tossing around cheap caricatures of whole genres of music and their fans is not a sign of thoughtfulness.

      1. Bill

        You’re wrong,and the last thing you wanna do,is argue music with me.I am music;)
        ‘Cliff is best known among mainstream audiences for songs such as “Wonderful World, Beautiful People”, “The Harder They Come”, “Sitting in Limbo”, “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “Many Rivers to Cross” from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, which helped popularize reggae across the world.’

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          What am I wrong about, specifically? Saying that that particular song is not a reggae song? OK, explain to me how it is. I’m no musical expert, but I’ll try to follow…

          1. Bill

            It’s a reggae ballad,and fits in the genre.Would you call ‘Eleanor Rigby’ rock music? No slight on your tastes;they’re good.
            I don’t much care for rock,anymore and listen to obscure instrumental music that can sound like jazz and/or classical,but as they say,writing about music is like dancing about architecture.Here’s and oldie but a goodie-

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I thought you were a Beatles fan, Bill!

              Didn’t you used to quote them and share links to their songs?

              And I don’t know exactly WHAT “Eleanor Rigby” is, aside from awesome.

              I suppose I would, though, as you suggest, lump it in with “rock,” because that term encompasses a wide range of experimentation in popular music during a certain time period. I would not, however, call it “rock and roll,” as I consider that to be a more restrictive term…

  6. Harry Harris

    Music doesn’t have to be similar or even have the same purpose to be appreciated or enjoyed. I’m a (too) big fan of many styles of music and many artists. I’ll dance early in the evening to “beach music,” but by midnight I want some serious Funk. I love some Harry Chapin story-telling on a long drive, but prefer doo wop while working around the yard. Give me some John Denver, James Taylor or old folk music when in my easy chair. Each type has its fans and its shortcomings. I’ve long said that the two most overpaid professions in the world are lyricists for hip hop and blues. Write one line and repeat it many times – but at least with blues it has to be a good line. Don’t even mention contemporary “praise songs.” I’m a long-time hymn guy. I think God let people invent jazz so we would have an idea of what eternity is like.
    Jazz and bluegrass musicians are amazing, but I don’t get jazz and only want a limited dose of bluegrass. One George Jones a week is good (especially if it’s a tear-jerker); two is one too many. If you can listen to Reggae or Zydeco and be still (or even stay in your seat), some key part of you is dead, but I’m seldom wowed by the musicianship. Country is so varied it fits in almost anyone’s tastes or distastes. Trop-pop doesn’t take a lot of musical skill, but the Parrotheads have a partyer-in-chief that I can’t get through the weak without hearing. Not only CAN we all just get along, but music might just be the key tool we need to find ways and occasions to do it.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I think you’re saying variety is essential to musical enjoyment. I agree. There is no one musical style I would want to be confined to on a desert island…

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Hmm. I could be extremely happy with only classical music, and if I had to narrow it down, Baroque or Classical period. I love my Handel station on Pandora, and my Baroque instrumental playlist on my iPod.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Of my 90-plus stations on Pandora (many of which, admittedly, were created out of curiosity and never revisited), there is no one I could live with as my only music. Although there are some that, as I look over the list, I realize I return to pretty frequently:
          Sergio Mendez Radio
          Badfinger Radio
          Mandolin Wind Radio
          Solomon Burke Radio
          Erik Satie Radio
          Jethro Tull Radio

          In each case, I like them not necessarily for the named song or artist, but for the associated music that Pandora offers within that context…

            1. Doug Ross

              “Bat Out Of Hell” is one of the greatest rock albums of all time. 43 million copies sold. Seven great songs.. including Paradise By The Dashboard Light.

              Since the statute of limitations has passed, I can admit that when I would get out of work at a hospital at around 5:30 a.m., I would put Bat of Hell into my 8-track player and see if I could make the 8 mile ride home before the title song was over (9 minutes 53 seconds). I was literally driving my orange Chevy Chevette like a bat out of Hell.

            2. Norm Ivey

              Meat Loaf’s best work is when he’s singing Jim Steinman’s songs (like Bat Out of Hell and Paradise by the Dashboard Light), which are mostly twisted idioms with over-arranged, bombastic music.

              Meat Loaf made a career out of Steinman’s songs, but they’ve been covered by many–Streisand, Bonnie Tyler, Barry Manilow, the aforementioned Air Supply, and Celine Dion.

              Bat is definitely one of my favorite road trip albums, and can easily make you (or at least Doug and myself) drive too fast. (Nowhere Fast is another Meat Loaf/Steinman collaboration.)

        2. Bill

          I’m sorry,but I can’t live without my Beatles,Anthony Braxton,George Jones,Tom Waits,Dylan,Shostakovich ,John Tilbury:Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston,who came across the ocean to play West Columbia,tonight…

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