NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 1983 – The rock steady throb of voices raised against the system and twisty, deep roots in British working-class club life made reggae, ska and dub the preferred soundtrack in the haunts and squats used by the first generation punks in the U.K.
The first album by the Clash consisted mostly of staccato blasts of revolutionary fervor that clocked-in at less than two minutes, thirty seconds of vinyl fury and a six-minute take on reggae legend Junior Murvin’s classic “Police and Thieves.”
As Don Letts, primal force in the early days of punk opined, “What punk got out of reggae is kind of obvious – the basslines, the whole musical reportage with the lyrics. Dub played a big part and was very appealing to people like The Clash and The Slits and Public Image.”
Here in the United States, until punk came along, reggae music for most was Eric Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff” with some occasional Bob Marley mixed-in.
In America the two revolutions clashed. A deluge of vinyl imports from both Jamaica and the U.K. following the first wave of punk bands to cross the pond melded then forged new sounds and attitudes in college dorms and smoky clubs everywhere.
Gurl Twenty-One, despite being a nice, Jewish girl from New York, was an architect, inspiration and advocate for the music and people of Jamaica.
Amy Wachtel was also an early fan of your humble narrator (YHN) and his dub experiments behind the soundboard.
“Dubbing” sound means to deconstruct and expand music at the sound board through extreme echo, reverb and equalization. It requires a deep knowledge of rhythm, technology and soul.
A facility for dub is among the reasons YHN managed to get gigs working with Keith Levine during the Clash’s epic stand at Bond’s Casino dubbing the Slits, getting the nod to do the Raincoats tour and working with Ric Ocasek.
Boston was where Gurl Twenty-One and YHN first met and co-mingled as young adventurers are wont to do. It was a city where music ruled and lives began to bloom. As mentioned in Gurl Six, it is also a city that the best and brightest eventually leave.
Amy left Boston as soon as she graduated from college and YHN moved to NYC to do sound at Danceteria and eventually to Los Angeles for non-stop, hyper punk action at SST Records and beyond.
It would not be long until the forays of “The Night Nurse” started creeping everywhere YHN seemed to look.
Night Nurse was a nom de plume from a killer song by Gregory Issacs that Amy had adopted as she began to plot the invasion of Jamaican music into college radio and cultural consciousness.
Amy was booking amazing shows at S.O.B.’s, spinning discs on the radio, and making the Night Nurse the focal point of reggae in the early eighties.
It was her gig at the College Music Journal (CMJ), a Billboard-type publication for college radio stations and hip music retailers across the country, that propelled the Night Nurse to heights and experiences most could never conceive, let alone dream of.
She began making regular trips to Jamaica and forged life-long relationships with some of the greatest artists that the island had to offer.
Her commitment to her mission of spreading love, peace and reggae was contagious. She was as evangelical as a deep-southern snake handler and was shoe leather tough like a private eye in a noir film when she advocated for artists she supported and the music she loved.
We would see each other during music conventions. We shared dinner tables and antics with some of the most dynamic and fucked-up people one could hope to meet. She always knew where the absolute best parties were, and she’d usually drag YHN to various scenes of joy and abandon.
One New Year’s Eve she dragged YHN to Brooklyn, at that time a deserted outpost that no one really cared about (unlike today) to a party hosted by the American stringer to the N.M.E. and all-around groovy lawyer Richard Grabel’s soiree’.
That hazy evening and subsequent morning can best be summed up by leaving you, dear reader, with the image of Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis disco dancing as the sun rose and the spirits flowed.
If you saw anything cool happening in the reggae world, the Night Nurse was there.
Woody Harrelson presenting an award to Bob Marley’s widow Rita; Ini Kamoze on his first, chaotic visit to the States; Burning Spear, kicking it on the beach before the release of his record on punk label Slash (Home of the Germs, X, Faith No More, Los Lobos. et. al.), the Night Nurse was everywhere.
Here is what makes her special, what makes her a “gurl.”
Few among us have the courage and single-minded determination to follow our passion.
Back then, the notion of a tiny Jewess from New York holding her own, being respected, calling shots and advocating for a cultish community with an odd approach to women was just as alien as the notion of a black woman owning her own media empire.
Amy made it seem effortless and more to the point, approached any obstacle as simply a new way to create a love vibration.
Gurl Twenty One has the courage of conviction. The patience of a saint. The strength of the righteous and the undying respect of YHN.
No dream was deemed to have been wasted in the writing of this article.
Your humble narrator Alex McAuliff is a character from “The Cry of the Halidon ” and is known for attempting to survey the deepest, darkest parts of Jamaica, discovering things others don’t and finding out that there is always more to the deal than was expected.