Four years after Perdita Felicien’s fall, her left foot still hurts, and, oddly, so does mine. Photo By Anja Niedringhaus/ CP Photo
New songs used to come to me all the time. Then they stopped and there was nothing I could do. So it was surprising when, five years ago, a catchy tune popped out as though it had written itself, about, of all things, an Olympic hurdler. Pre-Olympic, to be exact.
I'd seen a photo on the front pages and noted the musical name of its bearer, Perdita Felicien. Curiosity led me to open the sports section for the first time in my vehemently unsporty life to read an account of "Purdy."
Her coach described her as a natural. So much of what he said reminded me of a race horse, and horses are the only athletes with which
I am at all familiar. Before I knew it, I was singing, "There's a little girl from Pickeringtown, Perdita Felicien. All the big names she runs rings around...."
I played it over and over on my Mexican guitar that trained musicians consider unplayable. Self-?trained in the old old school where the golden rule is that there's no point wasting time on a song that's not a hit, I felt Perdita Felicien made the grade.
So much so that I was overcome by the novel desire to record the song.
Then began the fruitless round of wrangling with the aforementioned trained musicos, who always insist on imposing the timing they learned at rote school, which invariably dulls my ditties to death.
"You have to learn to count."
"What you saying? I don't count?" Then we'd dis-?count to a standoff.
Fate stepped in and, on the evening news, I saw what I thought would be my perfect accompanists playing in a clip (so to speak) - at a barbershop. Someone was even rasping on the teeth of a comb. The barbershop is called Castries, after the capital of St. Lucia, which just happens to be the original home country of Perdita's mother. I got up to Pape Avenue as fast as I could.
Pepe, the head barber at Castries, is a musician first. The rest, if they didn't know how to play when they came to cut hair, had to learn. Friends drop by to strum a tune, and jams fill the time between trims. They were a little skeptical about my plan, and only the owner of the shop knew who Perdita was.
But, thanks to the exceptional help of producer John Switzer, who brought the studio to the barbershop, a recording was made that included whatever customers happened to be there. I was a little disappointed when even the barbers told me to count - but it was done.
Next, I sent copies to Perdita's mother. We had long chats on the phone. Perdita went to the 2004 Olympics in Athens to compete. I was thrilled to discover she's a bit of a character, spouting poetry to her fellow athletes at the bus stop.
The CBC had planned to shoot the family watching TV in their living room. "We don't have a TV in the living room." Perdita's mother didn't raise any couch potatoes. The CBC provided a faulty TV, so people across the country got the impression of a family "so poor we watch TV with lines all across it." She got a crash course in media studies.
Crash! Perdita had been working on her opening, shooting out of the blocks. For some reason, she hit the first hurdle at the 2004 Athens Olympics and went down. I couldn't help feeling responsible. I am so profoundly jinxed. Maybe it's contagious. I've never had anything to do with a winner. I should have steered clear.
Here it is four years later. The Olympics are continuing their global task of banishing the poor from host cities. A history of repression in the name of healthy competition - with highlights like the pre-?Games slaughter of hundreds of students in Mexico City in 1968 and imprisoned press freedom activists in China today - marches on, flags aloft.
And Perdita? She's suffering from a persistent injury to her left foot that prevents participation . Is it just cruel coincidence that an old snap and sprain in my own left foot has decided to spread painful swelling up to the ankle for weeks on end?
I know the tenacious subject of my song (CDs available!) is looking forward. That's the thing about hurdles. There are always more.