The time a boom box saved my life...
The time a boombox saved my life... mactrunk/gettyimages.com

Not long after arriving in the US, I was hit by a flu I will never forget. I had just turned 21, and I celebrated that milestone with lots of drinks at the DeLuxe Bar & Grill on Broadway. The next morning I found a ghost of myself. The hangover was too incredible. My head was hot. I remained in bed for five days and four nights. Sleep came in fits, and when breathing wasn't a rattling drag, coughing was trying to choke the life out of me.

I was waiting for the death in the room. I was a block or two down from St. Patrick Catholic Church, so it would have been a short trip. I owned only a bed with a frame that was much like the military bed frames made by the father of my closest friend in Harare, Robert Bertram. Next to me was a boombox I bought in New York City, because where else were you supposed to buy an authentic boombox? Recall Radio Raheem. Recall all of those batteries. That was like my machine, purchased in Brooklyn. My only other possessions were a suitcase of clothes, a copy of the Dubliners, and a shoebox filled with cassette tapes.

One of the tapes was Sings The Wailers.

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On the third day of the flu, I somehow found the strength to put this tape in my machine and press play. The first tune out was "Burial." It opens with a funereal organ, then it drops into a deep dub that has a dread insisting, again and again, that he "goes to no one's funeral." He wants the "dead to bury their dead" because he is "a living man he got things to do." The dread was Bunny Wailer, who was at the time the last living member of the legendary Jamaican pop trio, The Wailing Wailers. (The other two members were Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.)

Until the moment of "Burial," I was ready to cross that river. This was how it would all end. In some two-story, crumbling Portage Bay home occupied by four broke dreamers and more mice than we could count. But after listening to "Burial," I wanted to live to hear the song again (rewind, rewind, rewind). What was this Rasta saying? How can the dead bury anything? A corpse can only rot. The dead need us. What was this Wailer on?

Little by little, his renouncement of funerals gave me strength. I played the dub over and over until the sickness was over. After experiencing a full night's sleep, I woke up and found my being in that zone of feeling Friedrich Nietzsche described in The Dawn of Day. There is no greater feeling in life than recovery. And the closer you felt to God in a tight situation, the greater the power of this recovery.

I can say that there has not been a month since that near-death-like encounter with the flu that I have not played "Burial." It now dubs the innermost chamber of my soul. And today we learned of Bunny Wailer's passing from the now to nowhere. He was 73. He has become forever. (Marley was undone by cancer at 36; Tosh by a bullet at 42.) The cause of Bunny's death is unknown. The last Wailing Wailer is gone. Do not attend his funeral.