The Blind, Deaf, Naked, and Half-Naked Man

This time we’ll listen to Mighty Spoiler’s take on the old joke about the blind, the deaf and the naked man who all claim a dropped coin as their own, employing blatantly self-contradictory reasoning to argue their case. Variations of the tale are abundant in American and Caribbean folklore (and surely in many other parts of the world), bearing also obvious connections to biblical rhetoric: With the coming of the Messiah the blind shall see again, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and so on. In this case, the impaired trio—try to image how they got together in the first place—are arguing over a shilling that the narrator has happened to drop after coming out of a theatre. Spoiler, as always, provides so much detail and convincing dialogue that you almost take it for an eyewitness account. (There are, annoyingly, a number of gaps and uncertainties in my transcript.)


 

Joseph ‘Cobra Man’ Clemendor


The observant listener has already made out that this is not the Mighty Spoiler singing. Spoiler recorded the song for Vital Angel’s elusive Vitadisc label in 1954. But since I don’t have that one, I present instead an excellent cover version by calypso singer Joseph Clemendor (sometimes spelt “Clemendore”). I was really delighted to find this recording. Clemendor sings very much in the vein of Spoiler, with a lively yet distinct tone, smoothly syncopating the beat of Gérard la Viny’s orchestra. He has changed some references here and there. For instance, Spoiler sang that the events took place outside the Globe Theatre (in Port of Spain), while Clemendor seems to sing about another venue, some place phonetically akin to “The Gomo Theater”.

By all accounts, ‘Clemmy’ was a big admirer of ‘Spoilo’. The album whence the song is taken has several other Spoiler-penned calypsos on it. One of them, Ugly Girls Have Pretty Name, performed by Spoiler in the calypso season of 1951 was, from what I can tell, never recorded by its originator. Thanks to Clemendor’s rendition, we can get a good grasp of how Spoiler would have sung it. Bandleader Gérard la Viny apparently also took the song to heart, making his own French translation and titling it Les prénoms des filles. He recorded his version twice: in Paris around 1960 for the Simm label and in Guadeloupe in 1968 for Henri Debs’ Disques Debs label.

Spending a pleasant afternoon with a little armchair research on Clemendor, I soon stumbled across wishful postings in comments fields from people—several claim to be relatives—who also looked for more info on the man. What seems safe to ascertain is that Clemendore was born of African and Indo-Caribbean descent in Trinidad in 1923. He resided in Jamaica in the early fifties, touring the Caribbean with a dance troupe, singing calypsos at The Montego Beach Hotel, and making at least two excellent recordings at Stanley Motta’s studio in Kingston. More surprisingly, however, he was also a greatly skilled yoga practician and contortionist, a fact aptly sustained by his sobriquet: Cobra Man.

A Hungarian poster promoting Clemendor as “the mysterious Indian fakir”.

Subsequently, he moved to England with his wife Leonor. According to his grandson, Jacob Bell, he was part of a touring circus troupe while also offering healing sessions and teachings on the art of yoga, a vocation that took him at least as far as Bulgaria.

Promoted as “the Yogi of the Caribbean” he was once engaged to display his contortion skills on Belgian national television. Having fasted for three days before the show, he allegedly collapsed after the performance and had to be carried out on a stretcher.

 

Gérard la Viny – singer, guitarist, bandleader.

He spent some time in Paris in 1956, and that is probably when the album Calypso was recorded for the label Guilde du Jazz. It is not far-fetched to imagine that Joe and bandleader Gérard (called Geraldo on the record, for some reason) met at the Parisian cabaret restaurant La Canne à Sucre, known as “the Creole embassy of Paris”, where the latter was a regular entertainer. (The restaurant is still run by his relatives.)

According to the sleeve notes, la Viny, originally from Guadeloupe, had in fact gone to Paris to study economy at L’Institute des Sciences Politiques, but the “demon of music” also tugged at him and eventually won the fight.

 

Here’s a scanned page from a 1956 issue of a French weekly called Qui? Détective (still in print as Le Noveau Détective) focusing on crime, sport, celebrities and other sensational tidbits. The photo set shows Clemendor in a snaky outfit displaying highlights from his routine, which according to one caption demands at least twelve years of yoga practicing—a statement which would have had the armchair detective conclude that he was not older than 21 when he set out on his yoga career, if it hadn’t been contradicted by another claim in the text: that Clemendor had been a calypso singer for some dozen years before discovering yoga. Looking at the pictures of the stern, half-naked cobra man while listening to his joyful, melodious flow—and we’re talking about the same year here—is a rather baffling experience. As prosodically proficient as any of the great calypsonians, and as extraordinarily contortable as any Indian fakir, one must at least concede that this was a man with strong ambition.

 

My attempt at a translation:

The art of knowing how to bend yourself

Joe Clemendor is 33 years old. He was born in Trinidad in the West Indies. Having been a composer, musician and poet for a dozen years, he happened one day to discover the delights of Yoga, the philosophical system of India. Through practices of asceticism, the yogi acquires absolute power of the mind, becoming a master of the body, which he can submit to the most incredible exercises. The originality of Joe Clemendor is that he practices Yoga in the Parisian nightclubs, where the guests could often be classified as epicureans, those who, according to the Renaissance poet, live without waiting for tomorrow, picking the roses of life. If they remain insensitive to the philosophical ideas of Yoga, they nevertheless admire the ease with which the beautiful West Indian contorts. Watching him bend his body, we cannot say that they… bend with laughter, but it does occur that women faint with horror!

I’m indebted to the accounts of several researchers, yoga practicians and enthusiasts for having been able to put this little piece together. Thanks also to Zeno Obi Constance for help with the lyrics transcript.