Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Overcoming Adversity = Yellow INSPIRATION
Making Tracks Jamaica - Yellowman
Nothing inspires me more than a fellow human overcoming the bad cards life's dealt him to achieve greatness. I especially love examples of those who've gotten past the adversity in their lives and have outdone the achievements of peers and competitors who had no such handicaps or impediments. I can think of no greater example of this than the great Reggae star, Yellowman. In 1982 my friend Red shared with me an album with the simple title of Mister Yellowman and I LOVED it! The best and most infectious Reggae I'd ever heard, I got my own copy and soon wore it out, replacing it with fresh copies down the road. All the while, I had no idea who Yellowman was and why he was given that name.
It turned out that Yellowman is a black Jamaican who was born an albino (hence, what others describe as his 'yellow' appearance). I've come to understand that at the time of his early childhood this rendered him disdainful in the eyes of his peers. As I understand it, Yellowman was rejected by his own parents and grew up in an orphanage in Jamaica where he was scorned, mocked, and abused for his condition. Somehow Yellowman (his real name is Winston Foster) managed not only to survive, but decided that if nature hadn't made him the object of desire and admiration, he would re-make himself to be so. He assumed and flaunted the identity of a "yellowman", transforming what was intended to shame and defeat him into an alternate persona, one designed to win acceptance and admiration... and he succeeded tremendously. Not only did he discover his own musical genius and appeal as a personality and performer, but he convinced millions of fans of it, as well. At one point, Yellowman was so popular an entertainer that he rivaled even the great Bob Marley.
I can think of other stories similar to that of Yellowman. There's the great Gypsy Jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, for instance, who not only reinvented guitar music as part of his ascent to status as contender for greatest guitar player of all time, but did so after having suffered an accident in which his left hand was so badly burned that for his entire career he had the use of only 3 of his 5 fingers. A similar thing happened more recently to Tony Iommi, master guitarist for the metal group Black Sabbath, one of the band's originators and bandmate of Ozzie Osbourne. Tony, before quitting conventional employment at the age of 17 to try his luck at becoming a full time musician, severely injured his left hand. A sheet metal worker, he cut off the tips of the fingers on his left hand, rendering him incapable of playing guitar, the passion of his life. After pulling himself together, he invented his own prosthetic fingertips from items he found in his mother's kitchen. That, in conjunction with the adaptive innovation of stringing his guitar with banjo strings, enabled him to go on and create music that has thrilled tens of millions of fans over the years.
In the case of Yellowman, though, the story becomes even more amazing as not only did he overcome the extreme social stigma of Albinism to become a beloved star, but after he had achieved super stardom, he was diagnosed with such bad jaw cancer that he had to have radical facial surgery, leaving him severely disfigured and with a great impediment to his speech and singing. Even this turn of events, something that even Job might have let destroy him, didn't defeat Yellowman who apparently has soldiered on to become an even more beloved public figure in his homeland of Jamaica. This is clearly evident in the video above.
As I was growing up, much was made of the story of Helen Keller, born deaf, dumb, and blind, and who managed to overcome these severe disabilities to go on to live a relatively normal life and who became famous through her sharing of that experience. An amazing accomplishment - true, but I get particular inspiration from the stories of Yellowman and Django and Tony, as they not only overcame their disabilities, but surpassed their peers by far, creating music that has uplifted countless people who for the most part are totally unaware of the 'special' nature of their feats.