In a recent television interview Sparrow claimed that he was a member of “the Lack family.” Elaborating on this statement, he identified some other members of his family as “lack of opportunity,” “lack of funds,” “lack of education” and with a wicked smile he also recognised “lack of good behaviour.” Of course he hastened to add that the last mentioned of the family no longer existed.
Sparrow was no doubt referring to his early humble beginnings and his “youthful indiscretions.” The stories about Sparrow’s “scrapes” are legion and are easily believed as quickly dismissed by Sparrow’s supporters and admirers. Sparrow’s reported “badjohnism” was simply dismissed, with a wave and a smile” and “What else you expect from Sparrow?” It’s a difficult to say whether Sparrow didn’t enjoy creating this “badjohn image” as part of his public persona and his charismatic appeal. Remember the instance when Sparrow was reported to have been involved in some fracas when shots were allegedly fired and Sparrow had to run for his life? The incident might have damaged the career of a “lesser individual,” but not the “larger than life” Sparrow. I believe that the Mighty Sparrow was taken to court. As far as I know, nothing came of the matter but Sparrow’s version of that escapade found its way in his memorable calypso, “Ten to one is murder.” According to Sparrow, “Dey say a slap de gyul from Grenada....Ten to one is murder!”
Sparrow was apparently chased by ten men and the fellow in front was a big, big fellow and Sparrow detected a white handle razor in his hand. After all Sparrow was simply having “a chicken at Club Mirama” which he thought was “his last supper.” Well, as fate would have it, “a Sparrow in flight” was saved by a loud report from some unknown pistol. As Sparrow remembered it, “Ah hear padow pow, and de crowd start to scatter.” Now, it ought to be made clear that in the early days calypsonians sometimes identified with the badjohns and relished throwing down the gauntlet to the notorious badjohns of the era. We had someone with Mastif?, Mastif?, meet me down by the Crose?, Cutoutta, Cutoutta, meet me down by de corna!” It should also be pointed out that the traditional badjohn prided himself in manly fistic combat and was nothing like the psychopathic gunmen and cold-blooded killers of today. Some suspected that Sparrow’s cultivated public persona of bad-johnism was more bluff and bravado than anything else so it was not necessary as in Cro Cro’s case of having to appeal to his calypso constituency thus: “Mr youthman, please put down de gun.” Sparrow portrayed himself as an inveterate “troublemaker.” Hear Sparrow: “Ah young and strong/ ah ain’t fraid a man in town/ If dey feel dey bad, make dey play/ If dey ain’t bad, clear de way.” Sparrow was probably sending a message to “troublemakers” when he depicted himself as, “Drunk and disorderly/ always in custody/ me friends and me family, all man fed up wid me.” His fans saw him as “the loveable rascal.”
Ironically, a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, Sparrow sometimes portrayed “de Doc” as some sort of intemperate character, with shades of “badjohnism.” He “quotes” de Doc as telling those who disagreed with his handling of a particular issue that, “If you doh like it, get to hell outta here.” I may have been a bit unfair to the Mighty Sparrow by dwelling unduly on one aspect of his calypso output. Sparrow’s calypso output has not only been prolific but I can hardly think of some national or international, newsworthy topic that Sparrow has not put his calypso stamp on, in his own inimitable style. Like Dr Williams, Sparrow had, in my view, keen political instincts. CLR James took Sparrow very seriously and once expressed the view that Sparrow was capable of making very profound statements on political matters in his claypsos. Sparrow was once seen as “PNM to the bone,” but there came a time when he was no longer “PNM in the flesh,” despite his “undying love for the Doc.”
If Kitchener was dubbed “Grandmas-ter” then Sparrow could well be the “Elder statesman of calypso.” He has been awarded the nation’s highest honour, the Trinity Cross and although, as he said, he was related to “Lack of Education,” he received an honourary doctorate from the Uninversity of the West Indies. But being the guy that he is, Sparrow, having won the calypso and “road march” competitions on several occasions, declared himself “calypso king of the world,” even before such a contest existed. And no one seemed to have had any quarrel with that. Perhaps more than anyone else Slinger Francisco has been able to put calypso on the international map and raised the status and profile of the calypsonian so that politicians welcome and even seek their endorsements as though they (the calypsonians) belong to what some fellow called “society’s validating elites.” At the opening of Sparrow’s “Young Brigade” calypso tent, a government Minister once “brought greetings from Dr Williams” and said that Dr Williams not only followed Sparrow’s calypso career closely but often took some of the advice offered in his calypsos. Give me a break! On second thought, Williams might well have used Sparow as “a political sounding board.” Now some mischievous soul had been spreading rumours of Sparrow’s supposed death. Arrogant to the bone, Sparrow assumed that there were weeping and wailing among his women admirers and he assumed the general reaction was: “Sparrow dead, so what we go do? We might as well kill weself.”