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Reggae Pioneer Desmond Dekker

Rock historian Ed Ward remembers Jamaican singer Desmond Dekker, who died last week at the age of 64. His 1969 hit "Israelites" was for many Americans the first reggae they'd ever heard.

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Other segments from the episode on May 30, 2016

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 30, 2006: Interview with Al Gore; Commentary on Jamaican singer Desmond Dekker.

Transcript

DATE May 30, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Former Vice President Al Gore discusses his book and
film "An Inconvenient Truth," global warming and politics
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Al Gore is back in the news because of his new movie about global warming
called "An Inconvenient Truth." He was one of the big attractions at the
Cannes Film Festival where the movie was just screened. Now it's opening in
American theaters. Reporting from Cannes, New York Times film critic A.O.
Scott wrote, "Gore is a surprisingly engaging vehicle for some very disturbing
information."

Here's an example of disturbing information from Gore's companion book, "An
Inconvenient Truth." Gore writes "The voluminous evidence now strongly
suggests that unless we act boldly and quickly to deal with the underlying
causes of global warming, our world will undergo a string of terrible
catastrophes including more and stronger storms like Hurricane Katrina. We
are melting the North Polar ice cap and virtually all of the mountain glaciers
in the world. We're destabilizing the massive mound of ice in Greenland and
the equally enormous mass of ice cropped up on islands in west Antarctica,
threatening a worldwide increase in sea levels of as much as 20 feet."

Gore's new movie and book are adapted from his multimedia presentation about
global warming which he estimates he's given about a thousand times to
audiences here and in other countries.

Al Gore, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, at the beginning of the movie,
you say that you've been trying to tell this story about global warming for a

long time and that you feel as if you've failed to get the message across.
Why was it so difficult as a politician to get the message across?

Former Vice President AL GORE (Author, "An Inconvenient Truth"): Well, Terry,
I think there are several reasons. First, it's a complex issue. When you
boil it all down, it's fairly simple, but it does have a lot of moving parts.
And the complexity by itself is an obstacle. Secondly, there's a natural
tendency to avoid thinking about the subjects that might involve some psychic
pain, and the idea that human civilization is colliding with the earth's
environment is a painful reality. And, third, it's a new reality. Nothing in
our history or culture prepares us for the new reality, the new relationship
between human civilization and the planet's ecosystem.

We've quadrupled our population globally in the last hundred years, and we've
magnified the power of our technologies thousands of times over. And when you
combine those two elements, 6.5 billion people times incredibly powerful ways
of exploiting nature, and then you mix in a new philosophy of discounting the
future consequences of present actions, it produces this new collision, the
most dangerous part of which is global warming. And so it's hard to absorb
it, but I think it is now beginning to sink in. I think people are coming to
grips with it, and I'm actually becoming optimistic that we're going to
respond in time.

GROSS: Over the years, when you were in politics, you were sometimes mocked
for your environmental positions. George H.W. Bush called you "ozone man"
and said if the Clinton/Gore ticket won, we'll be up to our neck in owls and
out of work. Are there other ways that you think the issue was spun over the
years to make environmentalists and people who are interested in reversing the
effects of global warming seem like kooks?

Vice Pres. GORE: Sure, and that's another reason that it has been difficult
to communicate the truth, the inconvenient truth if you will, about this
planetary emergency. And that is that some interests--political, business and
ideological that strongly resist the truth here--have used every means at
their disposal to confuse people, to put out misinformation. Much in the way
the tobacco industry tried to confuse people about the scientific linkage
after the surgeon general's report in 1964 showing that smoking cigarettes
causes lung disease. They were able to confuse people about the validity of
that science and continue the pattern of abuse for almost four decades. And
basically the same thing has been going on now, and the disinformation, the
ridicule, the intentional confusion, all that's part of a political strategy.

GROSS: Well, how much of your--how much of the anti-environmentalism and the
resistance to moving against global warming, how much of that do you think is
coming from, for instance, the oil-related industry that has a vested interest
in keeping a certain status quo and how much of it do you think is coming from
people who don't believe the science or who don't get the science?

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, I think they go together. It comes from both
sources. And I would add in a third source. There's a concern on the part of
some ideological conservatives that some on the progressive side have engaged
in hyperbole over the years, over the decades, in trying to stampede the
people in the Congress to enact some new regulatory initiative by exaggerating
the seriousness of this or that crisis that we have faced. And it's a `boy
cried wolf' story in that respect. I think some of them are genuinely
suspicious of any description of an impending catastrophe. And I understand
that. This is different, and I think some of them are now awakening to it,
but as for the first two causes, I think that any change is inconvenient. And
the prospect of making a transition in the technologies we use and some of the
patterns we follow in our lives, that's something that people don't like to
think about. But at the core of it, there are millions of dollars being spent
every year by a small group led by ExxonMobil and a few other companies that
support pseudoscientists that almost never publish in any peer-reviewed
journal but put out disinformation and in the process try to confuse, first of
all, the news media, into thinking that they are obligated to say the majority
feel the earth is round, but some feel it's flat. And really the consensus on
global warming is as strong as it gets in science, and the naysayers are so
isolated and so without any support or respect in the mainstream science
community. It is partly the oil company disinformation campaign that keeps
their message out there.

GROSS: Let me mention a study that you cite in your documentary and your
book, "An Inconvenient Truth." This is a study from the University of
California at San Diego. A scientist there named Dr. Naomi Oreskes published
in Science magazine a study of every peer-reviewed journal article on global
warming from the previous 10 years, and then in her random sample of 928
articles, she found that no articles disagreed with the scientific consensus
on global warming. Then another study on articles on global warming that were
published in the previous 14 years in the press, specifically published in The
New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times and Wall Street Journal found that
more than half of those stories gave equal weight to the scientific consensus
and to the view that human beings played no role in global warming.

So just to sum up the scientific journals, the scientists agreed about global
warming, but in these four, you know, major American newspapers, equal weight
was given in half the articles to the opposing view that human beings are not
causing global warming. So what does that say to you? How do you interpret
that?

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, it's astonishing. And that image in the movie and in
the slide show that has preceded the movie is probably the one slide that has
evoked more post-presentation commentary when people come up afterwards and
ask questions than any other. And it does highlight the gulf between science
and popular culture. C.P. Snow wrote years ago about the two cultures. I
guess that gap is even wider now. But I think it illustrates something else
in this instance. It illustrates the vulnerability of our marketplace of
ideas, our public conversation, if you will, to manipulation by the kinds of
techniques that were innovated early in the 20th century and were labeled
propaganda. They're more sophisticated now, they're part of corporate PR
strategies, they have been refined, and the nature of the news media has also
changed, not in all media but in a lot. And, as a result, I think we're
vulnerable to this kind of manipulation. I think we've seen it in other areas
as well.

Before the vote on the Iraq war, 77 percent of the American people genuinely
believe that it was Saddam Hussein who was responsible for hijacking the
planes and flying them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in
Pennsylvania, and there have been times in our past when we've been vulnerable
to being misled over an extended period. But not like now, and when there's a
very well-funded, determined, unethical corporate campaign of disinformation,
it can have a much larger impact on the impressions put into the minds of the
American people than is healthy in a democracy.

GROSS: My guest is Al Gore. His new film and book about global warming are
called "An Inconvenient Truth." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Al Gore. He has a new book and
movie documentary about global warming. They're both called "An Inconvenient
Truth."

When you were running for the presidency in 2000, did your advisers warn you
against talking about global warming in your campaign?

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, you know, some have written that that took place. My
view of that is slightly different. It wasn't a warning, it was their feeling
that every single news cycle every day should be focused on whatever issue
would get the most traction, if you will, the most response and move the
needle in the horse race of the election. And in spite of that, I insisted on
continuing to address this issue, but I have to say that, in one respect, they
were tactically correct because often when I would discuss the issue, the
formal presentation would be completely ignored in favor of some response
during the Q&A afterwards on whatever the horse race issue of the day was.
And over time, that inevitably led to them saying, `Well, look, you know, we
tried this, we tried that, and that's ignored.'

And remember this was at a time when, A, more than half of all the news
articles were saying this issue may not even be real, and, B, my opponent in
Governor Bush had publicly pledged to regulate CO2, a pledge that was broken
immediately after the inauguration, but the perception during the contest
itself was that there wasn't that much contrast. Here was a so-called
compassionate conservative who said he cared a lot about global warming and
had pledged to legally force the reduction of greenhouse gases and therefore
why would that be a fit issue for covering the campaign conflict. So to that
extent, it was difficult to have a full-blown contrast presented in the press.

GROSS: I guess I'm wondering if you've lost faith in the political system
when it comes to global warming. If you think that there are certain issues
like global warming that just have no sticking power in the political world
until years and years and years later. Because you were talking earlier about
how it was a very difficult issue to communicate during the 2000 election.
Now you're going back to the very beginning of your political career and
talking about how difficult it was to communicate that issue then even when
you had, you know, a leading scientific expert talking about it. So is
politics a bad arena to talk about an issue like this?

Vice Pres. GORE: It's a tough arena. I haven't lost faith though because I
believe and from my experience I feel as if I know that the political system
shares one thing in common with the climate system. It's nonlinear. It can
appear to move at a glacier's pace, and then after crossing a tipping point,
it can suddenly move rapidly into a completely new pattern. I've seen that
happen, and when enough people absorb this message and understand it and feel
the sense of urgency that it demands, they will in turn demand that
politicians in both parties react accordingly. And I think that there will
come a time when our political system does cross a tipping point, and in that
sense, I still have faith that we will respond. It's just taken 30 years
longer than I thought it would.

GROSS: Let me ask you another question in comparing politics and your
political career with the case you make for global warming in your movie, "An
Inconvenient Truth." In your political career, you were criticized often for,
you know, rightly or wrongly for being stiff, for not being as communicative
and as lively as you might have been. Your reviews for this movie, the ones
I've seen, largely have been very positive both in terms of the larger issues

that you talk about but also in terms of your presentation. You've been
praised for being lively and funny and engaging, you know, a different
evaluation of you than you typically got, for instance, in your 2000 campaign.
So what do you think has changed?

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, I benefit from low expectations. But I think that
there are two reasons for the comments that you're referring to. Number one,
I think that, in a political campaign, particularly a campaign for president,
the way a candidate's perceived is shaped by the constant attacks by the
opposing side, shaped by the healthy skepticism that viewers and listeners
bring to anything that somebody asking for votes is saying and shaped also by
the necessities of the campaign which really don't allow you to speak about
only one issue but require you to speak, necessarily speak, about a full range
of concerns that the American voters have the right to hear your views on, and
when you move from one to the other, that's a different kind of presentation.
But I think there's a second reason for the comments you mentioned, and that
is I have been through a lot in the last six years. And the old cliche that
what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, actually, I think is sometimes true.
And all of us learn and grow and evolve in our lives and, you know, your
interviews--I'm sure you've got a lot of listeners who contrast the interviews
you do now with ones you did when you first started, and find new texture and
depth, and, you know, that's part of just living our lives.

GROSS: You've traveled around different parts of the world looking at the
symptoms of global warming. What's the most disturbing thing that you've seen
in those travels?

Vice Pres. GORE: The melting of the North Pole is one of the most urgent
catastrophes that should be prevented as quickly as we can convince people to
act. It's a fairly thin floating ice cap, and as you know, the Arctic and the
Antarctic are very different. The Arctic is ocean surrounded by land while
the Antarctic is land surrounded by ocean, and that makes all the difference
in the thickness of the ice. It's 10,000 feet thick in Antarctic and less
than 10 feet thick in the Arctic. Much less now. We've lost 40 percent of it
in the last 40 years. And when the ice there melts, there's a dramatic change
in the relationship of the surface of the Earth there to the sun. The ice
reflects 90 percent of the incoming sun's energy like a mirror. But the open
seawater, after it melts, absorbs 90 percent. And that's a phase change. It
sets up a positive feedback loop that magnifies and speeds up the melting
process.

And the North Polar ice cap is in grave danger now. And nearby the great ice
mound of Greenland is under increasing pressure from growing temperatures
also. If that were to melt, it would--or to break up and slip into the sea,
it would raise sea level 20 feet worldwide. The west Antarctic ice shelf,
that's on the other end of the planet, the other pole, is the part of
Antarctica propped up against islands that allow it to be affected by the
warming ocean but also allow it to raise sea level by 20 feet, again, if it
melts or breaks off and slides into the ocean.

And these are the three areas that many scientists point to as affecting a
so-called point of no return which we need to avoid because if we cross that
point of no return, then the process of a downward spiral would be
irretrievable. So we have to stop short of that.

GROSS: Al Gore's new film and book are called "An Inconvenient Truth." You
can find a link to the film's Web site on our Web site, freshair.npr.org. Al
Gore will be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of "Israelites")

Mr. DESMOND DEKKER: (Singing) "Get up in the morning, slaving for bread,
sir, so that every mouth can be fed."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Coming up, Ed Ward remembers one of the pioneers of reggae. Desmond
Dekker died last week at the age of 64. And we asked Al Gore to evaluate the
Bush administration's policy on global warming.

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of "Israelites")

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) "Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir, so
that every mouth can be fed."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Al Gore. He has a new
film and a new book about global warming. They're both called "An
Inconvenient Truth."

I'd like your evaluation of the Bush White House on global warming.

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, it's a great disappointment. And I must say I'm not
completely surprised because I did more or less expect it. But the brazenness
of it is surprising. To take the chief propagandist in charge of the
disinformation campaign funded by ExxonMobil and a few other responsible
companies and make that person the person in charge of all White House
environmental policy and to take that person that has no scientific training
whatsoever and empower him to censor the scientific reports that were intended
by the EPA and other groups of scientists for the American people, and to
censor them to conform to the economic desires of the biggest polluters in the
country, I think that should shock people. I really do. And maybe we have
grown numb to these kinds of manipulations by special interests but almost
every key position that affects environmental policy has been filled by the
Bush/Cheney administration with spokespersons, propagandists, lobbyists for
the polluters. And the fact that there has not been more outrage about that
speaks volumes about the desiccation of the public forum in which these kinds
of abuses once were called to task. And now they're just not.

GROSS: The person who you were referring to who Bush appointed to head
environmental policy was Philip Cooney who had been a lawyer lobbyist with the
American Petroleum Institute.

Vice Pres. GORE: Right, and before that he defended Exxon in the Exxon
Valdez oil spill case, and then he was in charge of that disinformation
campaign, yes.

GROSS: You refer to organized campaigns to, you know, discredit the science
of global warming. Can you point to one that you think of as an organized
campaign to discredit the science of global warming?

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, there's one running on television right now. One of
the many front groups that's funded by these polluters, the Competitive
Enterprise Institute is running television ads right now, and the tag line is,
the announcer says, "CO2, they call it pollution, we call it life." It almost
falls off its own absurdity, but over 20 years, I have seen them have a
tremendous effect.

There was a large investigative piece, Mother Jones magazine, showing how
ExxonMobil, just one company, has financed in whole or in part 40 different
organizations and front groups that exists for the purpose of putting out
disinformation on global warming. And--I mean, I think it will be looked back
upon as immoral, and--I mean, I think it's horribly unethical and immoral.
And just as some of the tobacco executives now look back on their efforts in
the '70s and '80s and feel ashamed, I'm certain the day will come when some of
these executives will feel shame about what they're doing because they have
slowed down the ability of our democracy to absorb the truth of our
circumstances.

We face a planetary emergency. It's a challenge to our moral imagination to
realize the gravity of this. The future of our civilization is at risk. And
that sounds shrill and it sounds outside the boundaries of our shared
experience and so many distrust such a formulation but it's the truth. And we
have to absorb it, and then we have to organize a very bold urgent effective
response. We are, after all, one of only two countries in the entire advanced
world that has not already joined the world treaty to fight against global
warming. And since we're the largest economy, it's important that we rectify
that.

GROSS: My guest is Al Gore. His new film and book about global warming are
called "An Inconvenient Truth." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Al Gore. And he has a new book
and a new film, both about global warming, both called "An Inconvenient
Truth."

You were recently on "Saturday Night Live." I'm sure a lot of our listeners
saw this. And you were on as the president in a parallel universe and a
parallel universe where you were actually the 43rd president and you were
delivering a speech from the Oval Office about how we've reversed global
warming, how we're dealing with our huge budget surplus and how much the rest
of the world loves America. In fact, let me just play a little clip from
"Saturday Night Live." This is Al Gore.

(Soundbite of "Saturday Night Live")

Vice Pres. GORE: In the last six years, we have been able to stop global
warming. No one could have predicted the negative results of this. Glaciers
that once were melting are now on the attack. As you know, these renegade
glaciers have already captured parts of upper Michigan and northern Maine, but
I assure you we will not let the glaciers win.

Right now in the second week of May 2006, we are facing perhaps the worst gas
crisis in history. We have way too much gas. Gas is down to 19 cents a
gallon and the oil companies are hurting. I know that I am partly to blame by
insisting that cars run on trash. I am, therefore, proposing a federal
bailout to our oil companies because, hey, if it were the other way around,
you know the oil companies would help us.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Al Gore recently on "Saturday Night Live."

Al Gore, do you sometimes play the what if game, and do you sometimes play the
game of how the world might have been different if you had become president in
2000?

Vice Pres. GORE: Only in an alternate universe. I don't...

GROSS: Yeah, but seriously, do you think about that a lot? Do you play that
game?

Vice Pres. GORE: No. No, I don't. And if you were in my situation, I doubt
you would either. It's just a lot healthier to look forward and try to focus
on the positive things that lie ahead. And, you know, it was a difficult
experience, but not so much for me as it was for the millions of people who
were negatively affected by the policies that have been put in place because
of that election. But I made a choice to uphold the rule of law. After the
Supreme Court decision, in our system there's no intermediate step between the
final Supreme Court decision and violent revolution.

And so I made a decision to support the rule of law and then to go on with my
life and try to find ways to live a positive and useful life, and I'm pleased
to have been able to find ways to serve in other ways. And I'm enjoying them.
I've started a couple of businesses that are quite fulfilling for me, teaching
some, serving on the board of Apple and advising Google, but most of my time
is spent delivering my slide show and speaking on the climate crisis, and it's
an increasing part of my time.

GROSS: Is there any chance that you would run for the presidency again?

Vice Pres. GORE: I don't see any chance. I'm not thinking about that, not
planning it, don't expect it. I have said that when pressed on this question
as I'm sure you're about to press me, that I haven't reached a point in my
life where I'm willing to say never again will I ever consider such a thing
for the rest of my life. But that is more a function of internal gear
shifting, not an effort to be coy and keep the door open to it.

GROSS: You got to see George W. Bush close-up when he was your opponent for
the presidency. What surprises you most about how the Bush presidency has

turned out?

Vice Pres. GORE: I guess what surprises me most is his incuriosity. That's
a real mystery to me because he's clearly a smart man. He has a different
kind of intelligence, as everybody does. There's so many varieties of
intelligence. He's clearly a smart man, but it is a puzzle that he would ask
no questions about important matters. When his first secretary of the
Treasury came in for their first meeting and spoke for an hour about economic
policies of the new administration, he asked not a single question. When he
received the briefing in August of 2001 that Osama bin Laden was planning a
major attack soon, you know, on the United States, he did not ask a single
question. When he was briefed several days before Hurricane Katrina hit New
Orleans and the weather service people were saying it may mark a return to
medieval conditions, he asked not a single question. And that same
incuriosity seems to be a factor when he just accepts hook, line and sinker
the ExxonMobil view that global warming is not a problem, in no way related to
the massive volumes of pollution we're putting into the Earth's atmosphere
every hour of every day.

When they tell him that the scientific community is wrong and that they're
just lying because they're greedy for more research dollars, he doesn't
apparently look under the rug. He doesn't ask questions. And in the American
system, the president of the United States is the only person who is charged
with representing all of the people in every state in every district and
looking after the welfare of the people as a whole. And if the special
interest has one view, at least you should ask questions about how the public
interest is affected, and I really do not know why he is so incurious.

GROSS: Does Congress look different to you from a distance? And, you know,
so many Congress watchers are saying it's more divided than they can ever
remember it being in their memories. Does it appear that way to you, too, and
what are some of the differences you see?

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, I served in the Congress for a long time, for 18
years, and then as president of the Senate, and it was a different Congress
than what we have today. The legislative branch of government is intended to
be co-equal with the executive and judicial and independent. And as such,
it's supposed to conduct oversight and render independent judgments of policy.
And this Congress has been so shockingly obsequious to the desires of the
president and his political advisers that it has become a rubber stamp. This
Congress has actually, if you look at their plans and schedules, they will
work 17 days less in this Congress than the legendary do-nothing Congress that
Harry Truman ran against in his last race. They allow lobbyists to write the
laws, they ignore the parliamentary rules of procedure, they allow the
executive branch and the lobbyists that work there to come in at the tail end
of the legislative process after the conference committees have met and insert
special interest language that neither House of Congress has ever considered,
much less voted on independently. And that results in powerful and wealthy
special interests writing laws that the rest of us have to abide by under
penalty of imprisonment or whatever the penalty of this individual law is.
And that is something the Congress has allowed to happen. And I do not think
that--many of of them are simply not living up to their oath to defend the
Constitution.

GROSS: Democrats and Republicans?

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, first of all, the Democrats were they in power would
not have allowed this to happen. Have some of them been too willing to go
along and too willing to allow some of these things to happen? Yes, I'm
afraid that is the case, but I'm not going to blame the victims because I do
believe that if they were in power, it would be very different, and I have
great hopes that the elections this fall, 2006, by midterm elections, will
produce a real tidal wave of change. I certainly hope they will.

GROSS: Does it ever amaze you how much the world has changed since you ran
for presidency? September 11th, the war in Iraq?

Vice Pres. GORE: Yeah.

GROSS: The death that we have, Hurricane Katrina. I mean, on every front,
things have changed so much.

Vice Pres. GORE: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Did you imagine that that much change would even be possible?

Vice Pres. GORE: No. No. I did not. And I'm not alone in that. You know,
the premise of that "Saturday Night Live" skit was the existence of an
alternate universe and there are people who sort of voluntarily say now it
feels as if we've entered an alternative universe. I would not have imagined,
for example, that Americans could be routinely torturing helpless captives in
the name of the American people and to continue it day after day. It's going
on right now without an ongoing outrage and the demand that it stop. I would
not have imagined that the government could routinely eavesdrop on tens of
millions of Americans without a warrant and not have an ongoing outrage. I
would not have imagined that we, the American people, would tolerate the
locking up by the executive branch of American citizens without right to
trial, without right to inform their families, to be held in secret, without
being charged. These are offenses against the Constitution and the rule of
law that I would never have imagined could take place, much less be allowed to
continue after they came to light. So, yeah, the degree of change is truly
shocking to me.

GROSS: Al Gore, thank you very much for talking with us.

Vice Pres. GORE: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Al Gore's new film and book are called "An Inconvenient Truth." You
can find a link to the film's Web site on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward remembers Desmond Dekker, a reggae pioneer
who died last week. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Rock historian Ed Ward talks about Jamaican singer
Desmond Dekker who brought reggae to America and who recently died
at age 64
TERRY GROSS, host:

When Jamaican singer Desmond Dekker died last week at the age of 64, it was
reported that he was the first Jamaican singer to have a song on the American
chart. In fact, before Dekker, Milly Small had a hit with "My Boy Lollipop,"
in 1964 and Prince Buster had a small hit with "10 Commandments" in 1967. But
Dekker's real accomplishment was to bring three eras of Jamaican pop music to
Britain and the United States. Rock historian Ed Ward has this profile.

(Soundbite of "Israelites")

Mr. DESMOND DEKKER: (Singing) "Get up in the morning, slaving for bread,
sir, so that every mouth can be fed. Poor me, the Israelite. Aah. Get up in
the morning, slaving for breakfast, sir, so that every mouth can be fed. Poor
me, the Israelite."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. ED WARD: When Desmond Dekker broke into the American top 10 in mid-1969
with "Israelites," he'd been a star in Jamaica for six years and in England
for two. But the record stuck in Americans' minds because for most it was the
first reggae they'd ever heard. The bubbling guitar of Hucks Brown and the
interplay between Jackie Jacks' base and Paul Douglas' drums was irresistible
and indeed some of the same musicians played on Paul Simon's "Mother and Child
Reunion" a few years later, a song produced by Dekker's producer, Leslie Kong.

Kong owned Beverly's Ice Cream Parlor in Kingston, which also sold a few
records. And when the 20-year-old welder Desmond Dacres came in and sang in
the song which had been rejected by Jamaica's top producers, Kong decided to
go into the record business full time. He rechristened Dacres as Dekker and
told him to come up with a hit. It took him two years, but he did.

(Soundbite of "Honor Your Mother and Father")

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) "Honor your mother and father that your days may be
long n the land. Children obey your parents and the law. This is the law of
the prophets. Honor your mother and father that your days may be long on the
land. Children obey your parents and the law. This is the law of the
prophets. Love your parents as how you love yourself. Do unto others as they
would do to you. Honor your mother and father that your days may belong on
the land."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: "Honor Your Mother and Father" was a smash in Jamaica and in it
you can hear what Kong heard in Dekker's voice. With Beverly's records and
Dekker established, it was full steam ahead. Eventually, Kong decided that
Dekker might do better with backing vocals, so some vocalists were rounded up.

(Soundbite of "King of Ska")

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) "Take your time."

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) "Talking about the King of Ska."

Singers: (Singing) "Take your time."

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) "You got to know about the King of Ska."

Singers: (Singing) "Take your time."

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

Singers: (Singing) "Take your time."

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) "You got to know that the King of Ska."

Unidentified Man: "Don't push it man."

Singers: (Singing) "Or you will surely lose it. I am the...(unintelligible).
I like the place that I am. So take your time."

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) "Talking about the King of Ska."

Singers: (Singing) "Take your time."

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) You got to know about the King of Ska.

Singers: (Singing) Take your time.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: The Cherrypies, as they called themselves, were exuberant,
talented, and they very nearly outsang Dekker on "King of Ska," his next big
hit. Kong soon spun them off, rechristened them the Maytals and recorded them
on their own, while Dekker found a group called the Four Aces, and a match was
made. In late 1966, Desmond Dekker and the Aces took advantage of a current
pop culture trend and released the record that would bring them international
acclaim.

(Soundbite of "007 (Shanty Town)")

The Four Aces: (Singing) 0-0-7. 0-0-7. At the Ocean 11, and now rude boys
have go wait, cause them out of jail. Rude boys cannot fail cause them must
get bail.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) "Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail."

The Four Aces: (Singing) "A shanty town."

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) "Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail."

The Four Aces: (Singing) "A shanty town."

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) "Dem rudely get a probation."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: "007," also known as "Shanty Town," dispassionately described the
chaos in Kingston streets that became a huge hit, so much so that a British
record company took a chance on it and by the spring of 1967, it was settled
in the British top 10. It hit not only because of its lyrics, but because it
was one of the first records in a new Jamaican style which was replacing Ska
rock steady. Dekker and Aces toured England and sold out houses throughout
the tour. Returning to Jamaica, they recorded a song called "Unity," for the
annual independence festival, only to come in second. That wouldn't happen
again. 1968 saw "Israelites" come out in Jamaica and slowly spread to England
and eventually America. Dekker released hit after hit, some of the greatest
pop music ever made in Jamaica, easily finding his way into the new style
called reggae. When festival time came around, he took a punch line from a
detergent commercial and made one of his most exuberant records ever.

(Soundbite of Dekker song)

Mr. DEKKER: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Dekker followed up "Israelites" with a song called "It Mek" whose
Patua was too thick for non-Jamaicans to follow, leading to the rumor that the
title meant something extremely rude in Turkish, which it doesn't. It didn't
do as well in Britain as his other records, but he was in such demand there,
that he was spending half of his time on tour. In 1970, he moved to London
and Leslie Kong sent him backing tracks to sing over. One of them, a song by
Kong's other great success story, Jimmie Cliff, Dekker didn't think was right
for him. But Kong kept at him until he recorded it.

(Soundbite of Dekker and Cliff song)

Mr. DEKKER and Mr. JIMMIE CLIFF: (Singing in unison) "You can get it if you
really want. You can get it if you really want. You can get it if you really
want, but you must try, try and try, try and try. You'll succeed at love."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: But neither Kong nor Dekker knew was that this song would thread
its way through the hip film "The Harder They Come," the album from which
would sell like crazy around the world and bring in buckets of royalties. And
then one day in 1971, after coming home from his studio, Kong, only 38 years
old, suddenly dropped dead from a heart attack. Unlike most reggae singers,
Desmond Dekker never flitted from one producer to another, and Leslie Kong was
his lifeline to the charts. No other Jamaican producer would touch him and he
was stranded in England, whose reggae seemed dependent on imported talent.
Dekker's hits dried up, although he continued to record, all too often he
rerecorded his old material. He declared bankruptcy in 1984. But Desmond
Dekker never gave up. Touring as often as he could, perhaps believing he
could still get it if he really wanted. He was getting ready to headline a
world music festival in Prague the day he died.

GROSS: Ed Ward, remembering Jamaican singer Desmond Dekker. He died last
week.

I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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