Sixty years birthday

It has been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember that, on Old Years' Night (known as New Year's Eve outside of Trinidad), my father would sing a calypso. This was done in the extempo style, to the tune of Santimanitay, aka Sans D'Humanité, an ancient calypso and traditional tune for any extempo calypsonian. This calypso would cover the events of the year, celebrating and parodying as appropriate, and was much loved by all.

A few years ago our traditional old year's night party disbanded, and so dad wasn't called upon to sing a song. The tradition lay dormant for a while. Then one old year's night in Tobago, after dinner, my brother D stood up unexpectedly and burst into song. He did it excellently and faithfully to the tradition (not hard, since he is so similar to my father as to be his clone).

So on the occasion of my father's sixtieth birthday party, which was last night, it was pretty much expected that D would sing a calypso. What they didn't know was that at the second verse my other brother, T, would also jump in, and then halfway through that verse so would I. This happened last night -- thankfully there is no video or audio evidence -- and was a huge success. So, for posterity, and for all the people who asked for copies of the lyrics, they are below. D's lyrics are in black, T's are in blue and my own are in red. The final verse we all sang together.

Unless you are Trinidadian you probably will find the slang a bit difficult to read. (It's also probably the only time you might have heard me doing a successful Trinidadian accent.) And unless you know my family quite well (say, for the last 30 years or so) you'll probably miss a lot of the jokes. But so what? I also considered stripping names, but since dad's name is pretty intrinsically part of the lyrics, I decided not to.

Sixty Years Birthday

Right here in Trini many years ago
I heard my first home-made calypso
It was ole year’s night singer head was bad
But the lyrics were sweet the man was my Dad!
The tune I remember was Jamaica Farewell
I was full of emotion I’m sure you can tell
Since that day as the middle son
I decide to carry on the tradition

But D not alone I remember it too
I was there that night, so were many of you
I am the first some say the talles’
I must join in before he digress
But don’t forget bout son number three
I missed the first but witnessed plenty
And now that I am also singin’
You know this song can finally begin

Well he’s 60 now so where can we start
Hard to believe he’s now an old fart
A perfect time I’m sure you’ll agree
To share some stories of Prince Gary
The tales are familiar and certainly numerous
Some of them may even be humourous
And what better place to begin this rhyme
Than with Rainbow Cove and Sweet Lime

All of his life he had one real wish
That he could finally catch some fish
Off the jetty or on the north coast
He never had no reason to boast
Now lack of investment was not to blame
With expensive gear result was the same
Sun and rain bus’ our ass till we bawl
But we eh catch no fish at all...

I was never a big fan of fishing
Cornbeef and onion was never my thing
For me Rainbow Cove was just bout the lime
Especially around story time
Ga-ry Gary tell us a story
Was the cry - almost nightly
For plenty of us the memory lingers
Of haunted houses and bony fingers

One thing of which he is sure to gloat
His favourite thing, the man love a boat
In Sweet Lime so many memories made
Although the hull has had an upgrade
Now Gary Voss was a pirogue man
Since he get old no longer a fan
He decide the upgrade might change his luck
But the fish don’t really give a fuck damn...

Now Dad was always a businessman
From hedges to chairs he tried his hand
But small business was not always the deal
First was Cariri then Iron and Steel
It was in Champs Fleurs he made his name
Soap or ice cream its all the same
Now he spends of his time relaxin’
Two meetings a week doh seem that taxin’

Now you know the man has always liked sport
To Tobes and Dan football and cricket he taught
He got us Riptide and meh brothers went sailing
When it was my turn I just start up wailin’
Football on TV and now golf channel too
Nights at the tennis club there were a few
But when I look back and I start thinking
It seems the sport was always de drinkin’

Over the years yuh boy has changed
You might be forgiven for calling him vain
In the early days his hair was so slick
Then later a perm but now hair not so thick
Now it seems there’s a little grey in the locks
In fact now some people call him silver fox
Seems a long time since Express named he
Top ten sexy men in de country

Gary always like a nice set of wheels
From MG, to Sprite and Mercedes
There was a time when he was a scrunter
In those days he drove a Hillman Hunter
When he got a bad drive he used to cuss
Got more mellow later in the Lexus
But I think he start to get confuse
Now is only – BMWs

The garden was always this man's place to be
From lime and grapefruit to frangipani
The breadfruit tree always gettin' higher
And the boys got involved when there was a fire
The sweet lime hedge never really bore fruit
But the boat took the name and story is cute
A yard full of dogs and fruit trees to climb
Ragbir street was de real place to lime

Last week was a time of some happy scenes
As de family went sailin’ up de Grenadines
But is not always a boat roun’ de bay
Now dad an’ mom retire dey always away
New York Paris London they go at a thought
Is long cry from Barbados and Banyan Court
But when de teacher ask me if I went far
I say my favourite beach was Mullins Beach Bar

At the end of his teens he went to England
Education, fortune, plenty things was planned
He spent his 21st digging a ditch
Never realised cold could be such a bitch
Birmingham Uni was the next stop
Checking the talent at ev-e-ry hop
After Uni his good fortune was plenty,
He managed to export Princess Wendy

We all know this man real have de lyrics
Some call it bull shit but dey is cynics
To Princess Anne he showed a thigh or two
Baked beans are from Bradford, I'm telling you
But it's not only English he can converse
He also learned Spanish from Miss Universe
He doh have to prepare, he can just wing it
From him comes our talent, and we can sing it

At heart Gary is still an engineer
From teak furniture to Laurie breakfast chair
He built Rainbow Cove up like he had a fever
Everywhere you turn it was more cantilever
In iron and plastic, cyp woods and teaks
Though he never could get de roof to stop leaks
At the work of invention his skill never wavers
Now he lives in a house wid de first cable papers

Now something take over his life
This infatuation is totally rife
I’m talking ‘bout golf any chance he get
Still he eh manage no handicap yet
He puts in his life and even his soul
To the fairways and the 19th hole
Anytime you can’t find him in town
He’s down at Moka … play-in a round

Technology hasn't always been dad's thing
It took him 3 years to change his phone ring
Doh talk DVD and all dat progress
After 30 years still no VHS
He can e-mail and he browses de net
Typing with one finger, he'll be a while yet
But now dey have two PC in de house
Gary only downstairs playin wid he mouse

You think now at sixty the man is mature
But if you ask Wendy she’ll say she ent sure
But let us tell you now that our father is wise
And he won’t hesitate to give good advice
So I hear you say what is all of dis truth
That Gary imparts to all of de youth?
When life seemin’ rough and de world seemin’ evil
Go brave - stay cool... and live good wit people.

The lyrics are a collaboration. Seven of the verses are mainly by me (including the obvious technology one), but I didn't sing all of what I wrote. "Go brave, stay cool, and live good with people" is my father's motto in life -- it's written in a plaque on the wall of our house. It roughly translates as "have courage", "stay calm under pressure", and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", although that last doesn't really adequately describe the pseudo-karmic philosophy that underlies it.