That itching sensation in my eyes means that flowers are blooming, and outside my window, studly shirtless workmen continue what I pray are extensive renovations

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Smokin' grooves and the Inner Rollins

That itching sensation in my eyes means that flowers are blooming, and outside my window, studly shirtless workmen continue what I pray are extensive renovations on the neighbors' place. Does anything renew the human spirit quite like spring?

Don't ask me. I'm stuck indoors. The manuscript for my new book is due in less than 72 hours. For weeks, I've spent practically all my waking hours hunched over my laptop, struggling to distill my ramblings about DJ culture into 60,000 Pulitzer-worthy words. No time to chase butterflies.

This is not a plea for sympathy. I come from workaholic stock. When I was a tyke, my father missed my birthday for seven consecutive years because he was out of town on business. My mom is in her sixties, and she's still always rushing somewhere: the office, choir practice, volunteer work. She doesn't age, because time can't catch up with her.

Genetics aside, there's another factor that keeps me burning the midnight oil while you delicate flowers slumber. It's the persistent snarl of what I've dubbed my Inner Rollins in homage to my industrious hero Henry. "Keep writing, maggot, or you'll never amount to anything," the Inner Rollins barks, and I type on. (In his defense, my Inner Rollins also keeps me going to the gym regularly.)

I don't relish having an early coronary, but finding ways to unwind is challenging. I love booze, but when you're on a deadline crunch, alcohol's not such a hot idea. Hangovers and mood swings aren't conducive to rendering prose in a coherent, unified tone. Plus, the sauce is high in calories, and the Inner Rollins doesn't abide unnecessary carbohydrates. I can have about half of a Red Hook before he starts taunting, "Want a pizza with that, too? No wonder you can't get laid, you fat pansy . . . "

I'm a huge advocate of the calming effects of marijuana, but that's out of the question as well. My last two dealers died under weird circumstances, and I've been too freaked out to locate a new source. And inhaling smoke interferes with aerobic activity, so the Inner Rollins frowns on that, too.

Mercifully, I've learned to trick my brain into thinking we're nicely toasted, without actually sparking up. Certain musical sounds and production techniques inspire pleasant disorientation and attention to sonic minutiae—just like when I'm stoned—so well that I can briefly shrug off my responsibilities when these records play.

No, this column doesn't herald my surprise Jah Rasta transfiguration. I'm really discriminating about reggae. I dug Peter Tosh and Third World in high school, but I lost those leanings at Indiana University, where the nonstop party on Greek Row rocked to Bob Marley's best-of Legend as often as John Mellencamp's Scarecrow. There's nothing like a privileged, white frat boy slurring his way through "No Woman No Cry" to put you off an artist for life.

What I can wrap my head around is serious dub. Lee "Scratch" Perry's 1997 Arkology (Island Chronicles) collection has been in heavy rotation lately. Ditto for anything on the Blood & Fire label, especially by King Tubby. I listen to these tunes on my headphones, letting the bass envelop me in sticky-sweet warmth. The lumbering rhythms slip and slide, and my sense of linear time starts dissolving. "What's one or two days late on a six-month book project?" I muse calmly.

Equally soothing are two new non-reggae releases. Carboot Soul (Matador), the third album from England's Nightmares on Wax, stirs a sweet concoction that's equal parts instrumental hip-hop and mellow '70s soul. You can even sing the Fifth Dimen-sion's "Stoned Soul Picnic" note for note along to the steel-drum-tinged "Morse."

And when I need to get truly stupid, there's DJ Wally's The Stoned Ranger Rydes Again (Liquid Sky Music). If ever a record merited the baffling tag "illbient," this be it. The distorted Sergio Mendes samples of the opening cut, "Outta My Head," come wafting through the speakers, and I flash back to happier college moments. It's summer, and we're drunk on gin and passing a joint, sprawling on the porch as my friend Kate—decked out in hostess pants—dances like Mary Tyler Moore on The Dick Van Dyke Show to thrift-store vinyl finds.

OK, that's enough rhapsodizing for one afternoon. Better hit the pause button before I get the munchies. The Inner Rollins doesn't approve of Doritos and onion dip. And besides—I've got a manuscript to finish.

 
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