Dirty Reggae

I’ve been listening to some old-school reggae lately: The Ethiopians’ “Reggae Hit the Town,” Dave & Ansel Collins’ “Double Barrel,” Niney the Observer’s “Blood & Fire,” Jacob Miller’s “Tenement Yard,” and Althia & Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking.” In fact, I fancy myself a bit of a Jamaicophile. I love everything about the country, culture, and people – with the exception, of course, of the corruption, misogyny, and homophobia.

Which brings me to another song I’ve been listening to a lot lately: Max Romeo’s “Wet Dream.” I’ve heard the song countless times, but I guess I never really paid attention to the lyrics:

Every night me go to sleep, me have wet dreams
Every night me go to sleep, me have wet dreams

Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down

You in your small corner, I stand in mine
Throw all the punch you want to, I can take them all

Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down

Look how you’re big and fat, like a big, big shot
Give the crumpet to Big Foot Joe, give the fanny to me

Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down

The song, released in 1968, immediately caused controversy and was banned from the radio in England. Years later, Romeo tried to claim it was innocent, that he was only singing about a leaky roof. With an explanation like that, it sounds to me like he’s angling for a job in the Trump administration.

But let’s break it down, shall we? First of all, the title and opening stanza is clearly about involuntary nocturnal emissions, which are commonly referred to as “wet dreams.” Romeo was already 24 at the time, so I’m not sure why he would be singing about an embarrassing moment that most males experience only during adolescence.

But as we skip along into the second stanza, we discover that his solution for the problem is to get a girl to “lie down,” so he can “push it up.” Now don’t get hung up on the directions here. Jamaicans tend to have a different take on these things. For example, if the patio is too hot on a summer afternoon for the children’s bare feet, an American might ask you to wet down the patio whereas a Jamaican would likely ask you to wet up the patio.

So, in asking her to “lie down” so he can “push it up,” I think it’s clear that Romeo is suggesting that this girl engage in sexual intercourse with him, as a cure for his wet dreams. Which technically makes sense, because scratching tends to relieve the itch, so to speak. And, for what it’s worth, if he can leverage his persistent wet dreams as a means of convincing someone to have sex with him, then the man deserves some credit, for that’s a very unorthodox angle of seduction.

But then things get a bit, well, rapey. Romeo sings about how this girl is fighting back, throwing punches. Clearly the seduction did not work. And if a woman is indeed throwing punches as a man tries to engage in intimate relations with her, then his sexual advances constitute rape. And, no, my friend, that ain’t cool.

On top of that, the song goes on to insult and mock this girl, calling her big and fat (though, honestly, now I’m starting to feel guilty for assuming that “big” and “fat” are insults). And then, as if that weren’t enough, he suggest what seems to be a ménage à trois, encouraging the girl to let “Big Foot Joe” have vaginal intercourse with her while he penetrates her “fanny.” And, yes, overlooking the semen-stained sheets, rape, misogyny, and a threesome with Big Foot Joe, the English censors ended up banning the song because it references anal sex.

Still, I gotta say, I really like the song. And yet I’m struggling to come to terms with its lyrics. Is this a case in which, like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, the author is merely portraying someone with flaws, or is this more like The Birth of a Nation, in which the author is intentionally celebrating and promoting these flaws?

Only Big Foot Joe may know for sure.