Big. Big. Monkey Man!

And as soon as I start skanking the first chord, my kids instantly recognize the song. They start singing before the lyrics are supposed to begin because they’re only little kids and they have no sense of musical timing—yet. But they know the lyrics, because they’re nonsense lyrics, and they can relate to them. And so they start spouting off at different times and in different keys:

Aye, aye, aye
Aye, aye, aye

And then I get to the part of the song where the lyrics are actually supposed to begin, still skanking away on a G chord, and then a quick C and then a quick D, then back to the G, imagining the bass line pushing me along—and I start singing:

Aye, aye, aye
Aye, aye, aye
Them a tell me
Huggin’ up the big monkey man

And I start to think that maybe my kids are singing in key better than I am, but I ignore that thought, because my kids are going crazy, shaking their butts, rolling on the pillows, climbing on the couches, bouncing all around the room. It doesn’t matter if I’m in key. They love it. I’ve never seen a song elicit such joy in them.

And they keep repeating, aye, aye, aye. . . aye, aye, aye. . . over and over again. It makes them feel special. It makes them feel connected. To me? To the music? To something. They’re clearly happy, and it’s plain to see that they wouldn’t mind this song being looped over and over and over and over.

Which I am happy to oblige as I’m trying to learn it well enough to introduce it to the band. It could be our closer. The crowd would love it. Those who knew the song would sing along, and try to remember who sang it, and when it was conjured up in their mind that it was The Specials, it would bring back positive memories.

They would say, “That’s right! The Specials. Remember that band? Awesome band!”

If they didn’t know the song, or the band, they would pick up on the lyrics soon enough. They would think it’s fun and lively, and it would make them laugh and dance, and bounce around the room. The crowd would go wild, the people who knew The Specials and the people who didn’t know The Specials. We’d get more and more people at our gigs. A&R men would show up. We’d sign a record deal. We’d be famous. We’d owe it to The Specials.

And I think back to when I first heard this song. My first CD player when I was twelve years old. Saved my allowance for weeks—months!—to get it. Techniques, top of the line. Sure, it cost more than was reasonable for a twelve-year-old boy to spend on a CD player at the time. But I had to have it. The 45s that I’d been collecting since I was eight were losing their appeal. Casey Kasem’s Top 40 wasn’t doing it for me anymore. And my first full length LP: Quiet Riot – Metal Health. Hadn’t listened to that in months.

I was in middle school now. I wasn’t a little kid. I had to be cool. Cool kids didn’t listen to Paul McCartney and Air Supply and The Dazz Band. Cool kids don’t listen to heavy metal. Cool kids listen to 91X. Alternative music. New wave as it was called in the eighties. The Cure. Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, The Clash.

And, the best of them all, and my first CD with my first CD player: The Specials. Message to You Rudy. Concrete Jungle. Little Bitch. The music I listen to has swear words in it. That’s how cool I am. And the song about the naked man and the naked woman. For a twelve year old boy it doesn’t get much cooler than that.

And the song that was the coolest of them all:

“This one’s for all the bouncers! Big! Big! Monkey Man!”

And the first chords hammer down—G several times, a quick C, a quick D, back to the G. It starts skanking real fast. I turn it up way loud in my apartment. Loud enough for my neighbor who never complains about anything to yell “turn it down!” through the open window.

I ignore her of course. I am twelve and I’m listening to The Specials. Over and over and over and over. I commit that entire CD to memory. Every spoken intro, every grunt, every bit of mid-song chatter and dialogue, every lyric. Even the lyrics I don’t understand because of the heavy British accents. Those I just make up, fake it like I know what they are. I sing those lyrics with as much confidence as the ones I do know. It doesn’t really matter. It is the music that matters. What matters is that I’m listening to the music. What matters is that the music is part of me.

And it’s the music that still matters twenty plus years later when I listen to that same CD. Somehow it has survived all these years. How many times it’s been played, I will never know. That doesn’t matter either. What matters now is not that I’m cool. Or that I can swear when I sing my favorite songs. Or that there are songs about nudity. None of that matters.

What matters now is seeing my kids bopping around like crazy teenage punks in a small underground club in Coventry. Skanking around the room looking for things to bounce into, people to mosh against, ideas to shape their identity. The joy on their faces clear to see.

Aye, aye, aye
Aye, aye, aye
Huggin’ up the big monkey man.

Or as they say it, “Abicka, bicka, MUHNkee man!”

And I just keep skanking away on the guitar. A coupla G chords, a quick C, a quick D. I smile. They smile.

Aye, aye, aye
Aye, aye, aye
Huggin’ up the big monkey man

We all sing in our different keys, our different time signatures, our different intervals. It’s chaotic. It’s random. It’s cacophonous. It’s energetic.

It’s something special.

Aye, aye, aye!

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