I cook dinner for Malu and her boyfriend. I am dressed as a Mexican Wrestler. I hope I scared him when he came over and I answered the door — I was in a red jump suit and a silver wrestling mask.
Made a pumpkin pie. My first.
I cook dinner for Malu and her boyfriend. I am dressed as a Mexican Wrestler. I hope I scared him when he came over and I answered the door — I was in a red jump suit and a silver wrestling mask.
Made a pumpkin pie. My first.
Birdies, bunnies and black people. Those are the 3 subjects of cute watercolors in a gallery in the historical district. This district seems to be about half shopping and half residential. Half of the historical district has become a sort of colonial-themed mall — with the occasional church or Confederate museum interspersed between the Gap, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, shoe stores, candle shops and colonial-style furnishing shops. The other half of the center is mostly well-kept, beautiful mansions, and may be entirely inhabited by the gentry and by interior decorators.
After a walk around, Tracy, Mauro and I have oysters, crab cake, shrimp and alligator sausage at a bar in town. It's delicious, though the oysters seem like they're on steroids compared to most I've seen.
I suggest to Tracy that the town has 2 opposite and complementary sides — the frilly feminine side of gift shops, colonial furnishings and chintz, and the macho side represented by The Citadel, a private military college which is also more or less right in the center of town, though tucked off to one side. Even in the romanticized past the Southern ladies in long dresses were protected by an impressive array of canons and fortified seawalls.
Tracy points out that there is a third side — the ever-present but sometimes out of sight Black population, who, in this town, appear to be relegated to the service industries. There is almost no integration or mixing whatsoever, although there are a few Black tourists here by the waterside, taking in the sights.
The Civil War started here. It seems it hasn't ended yet. There is a Daughters of the Confederacy neoclassic edifice, a Confederacy museum and numerous buildings housing fraternal and Masonic organizations.
I am reminded of the theory that the war was not really about slavery. That was an excuse, a high moral justification by the North for subjugating the Southern agricultural lands. The North, so this theory goes, controlled the manufacturing and much of the shipping and finances, so the South felt under the thumb of the Yankee businessmen, manipulated and squeezed. No wonder they wanted to secede, if that was indeed the case. The anti-slavery crusade was real and just alright, but it may have been used like the words "democracy" and "freedom" are used today to justify an essentially economic war.
During the last week, the missing 320 tons of high explosives that have been missing in Iraq (this was known by the U.S. government for over 6 months) has become a political football. It is the largest missing arms cache in world history. Today the Pentagon has produced a spokesperson and a soldier who claims he blew up some explosives — but, when questioned whether or not it was these missing explosives, no one could say. So basically they are muddying the water, confusing the issue, and hoping for misinterpretation, as election day is only a few days away.
The issue is whether the explosives were still in the bunkers when the U.S. troops arrived, as it seems they were. In that case, they fall under U.S. responsibility, which makes the management look pretty incompetent.
This show was sold out weeks ago. It's in a nice theater right in town. When we enter the stage, the audience rises and I am shocked, pleasantly, to see how young the crowd is — it seems to be mostly college age kids. In the course of the tour, these kids usually make up some percentage of the crowd, maybe 1/3 or 1/2, but here they're the majority.
As the set proceeds, they're up and dancing and the whole front row seems to be young women. From the looks of it they're either on dates or here to party — the crowd at times appears like a giant sorority mixer gone wild. Not that I've ever been to one of those, but I'm imagining what they must be like — a lot of screaming blondes and arm waving. They’re the loudest crowd we've ever encountered — they seem to revel in the incredible volume they can achieve. Terry, mixing from the middle of the floor, is doing his best to get the band heard above the din — he's got the PA cranked. My between-song patter is useless, it's met with a rising wave of indistinct yelling and conversations with friends who must be across the room. Afterwards, Terry tells me he ended up putting in earplugs in between songs, the applause and yelling was deafening him.
Crowds need to express their crowdness, their existence. Sometimes we're just a justification for them to come into being, and a good show is one in which they can vent their joy and pleasure at the communal experience. The music is important, but secondary. (I hope not really, but there's an element of truth there.)
This will be the last show for a while... until a short Australia/New Zealand leg in February. After the show, the band and crew convene at the restaurant next door, a French place with good wines and a raw bar. I sort of say thank you and goodbye to some of our folks, then George, Paul, Mauro and I board the bus at 1:30 AM for a 10+ hour drive to New York. [It turns out to be more like 14 hours, though, to be fair, I suggested the driver rest during the night if he felt like it.] The rest are all dispersing to Austin, Milwaukee, Houston, Atlanta, Oxford Miss, Oakland and Minneapolis, where Terry is mixing an Alanis Morrisette acoustic show.
It's 10AM as I write this and we've just passed Spotsylvania, so we've got a few more hours to go. The trees have turned — the reds, yellows and oranges of fall have reached this far south. We've been in summer/spring weather for the last month, so it's odd to be returning to the chilly climate where some of us live.
Over the next few days some of the gear will be returned to its owners and some of it will be checked, repaired and eventually put in storage until we go out again. Halloween and Election day are right around the corner. NY will be jumping. Daylight savings time is over at midnight tonight. I will have to adjust to sedentary life, which isn't always easy. I tend to feel restless without the focus of the shows at the end of each day. I'll have quite a few boxes of stuff to sort through — stuff I've collected and stuff that was given to me on the road.
Why do these exhausting tours?
Well, looking at it pragmatically; in North America I made money. In Europe, South America and Australia/NZ I will probably end up losing a little, but North America will cover it. Then why do the areas that don't make money?
In the past, the rationale was that touring generated record sales. Well, this might be true for some. For new acts it generates a certain increased awareness and some press activity, but for me the connection is pretty indirect. I may have played to more people than have purchased my new CD this year. Granted, the record company would be pretty disappointed if I didn't perform, so maybe there's an unspoken agreement going on there.
My business managers say that getting out there activates the catalogue (I own part of much of my publishing and writers share income with record companies when stuff is used in movies, etc.). This happens, they say, by reminding people of my existence, and possible relevance, especially the people who license music who might think of my name more than they would if I had stayed at home. So eventually more income is generated than just from the concerts. Or so the theory goes.
But there are other reasons to leave home for so long and return so exhausted. In the past I had to get on stage simply in order to communicate, to express a part of myself, as I was pretty shy socially. It was out of desperation. It was almost a matter of psychological survival.
I'm not as shy now, so that desperate need isn't there as much — but what has happened is that the performing now has become a pleasure. It has become, on many nights, a real joy to hear the music, to sing, to dance and try things out and see if they work (they don't always). I think the band and crew partake in this pleasure as well — I hope so, because there is not a lot of glory in it.
Performing is also a way of letting the material evolve, breathe, coalesce into slightly new forms — some of which often hint at a place to explore next, a new musical direction with seeds in something that was tried on the road.
And, I love to travel, to see new places, to visit old acquaintances and to meet new people. I think of my peers as being scattered all over the place, a network that exists but isn't always humming, and traveling helps re-cement some of those bonds.
Thursday's paper says that a new species of human has been discovered. Miniature people — 3 1/2 feet (about a meter) high — once inhabited the island of Flores, an island east of Indonesia. Neither dwarves nor midgets, these beings were true miniatures who hunted 10-foot (3 meter) dragons (whose ancestors now inhabit nearby Komodo) and elephants that had evolved down to the size of a cow. There were giant rats on the island too, which were also hunted by the Floresians.
It was a lost world where size and scale realigned themselves. As one creature shrank another became giant. I imagine there are other lost worlds too. We tend to think of these islands as figments of the imagination, quaint relics of novelists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. But if one such place really exists, until fairly recently, why not others? Granted, this species is extinct, but not that long ago, they filled this island. There were reports of them still inhabiting caves when Dutch settlers and explorers arrived in the 16th century. No wonder novelists' imaginations ran wild. Other outposts in other parts of world might have, or may still, shelter even smaller people — intelligent, industrious, inhabiting elaborate miniature cites, with tiny temples, tiny factories using tiny books to detail a science of time that posits a completely different and, to us, unimaginable universe.
I read that MTV has a new show premiering that they claim is ad-free — except for the unacknowledged insertion of a segment created by an ad agency and staring a jeans icon. Oh. It's an example of imbedded advertising, a future trend in which the product is part of the program and therefore the ad and the programming are inseparable. There are no commercials to skip or ignore, which pleases the client, so the producers and the ad agency work hand in hand to integrate the story, the scene and the characters.
It was often said that commercial television programs were merely a means of delivering viewers to the commercials that ran every 10 mins (or less) but now it will be like much of the rest of the country's visual landscape — the advertising and the editorial content will be hard to tell apart.
It is a nice taste of reality to see characters using real products and eating in real restaurants — we know more about the character by the stuff they wear, use and eat. But, sadly, much of this is paid for rather than being part of the writers' character development or depth. It actually makes the program more shallow, more fake, not more realistic.
In the future, this might reach a point where there are no producers, no studios and no TV networks anymore. The advertising agencies will make the shows, in their own studios. There will therefore be a nice savings to them of the cost of ads, money which could then be plowed into the "content," upping the budget of the "program." All of this is in turn paid for by the large corporations that sell diapers, drugs, beers, jeans and cars. Granted, these are the folks who pay for most shows already, but by eliminating obvious ads they can meld with the medium completely and seamlessly. (Wasn't this the way TV began? Didn't even the newscasters on old 50s programs shill for products without cutting to a commercial?)
Entertainment values will be high in the future — as one has to keep the viewers attention. So we don't expect anything too difficult, or anything that takes a while to get into. Expect a lot of winks and irony, cleverness, smirking and smartass behavior (a kind of inoculation of the empathetic heart)... and a big helping of sentimentality.
I also read that when Adam Smith proposed the laws of laissez-faire capitalism, there were few if any huge factories of millions of workers packed into grimy cities. His model was based on a scenario that soon ceased to exist.
Scene from the new Star Wars movie. Federation storm troopers terrorize a small village on Tatooine:
On a jog through a nearby neighborhood, I notice Kerry placards on some yards and Bush-Cheney ones on some adjacent yards. Must make for tough neighborly relations. Who in their right mind would support Cheney, a charmless bad-tempered toad?
Jade Dellinger, an independent curator, offers to drive a small group to St. Petersburg to catch the Dali show at that city's Dali museum during the afternoon. It's maybe the first show there that isn’t made up entirely from their own collection — which is an incredible collection. I saw it last time I was here.
This show originated in Spain and is called Dali and the Media; it's excerpts from films, some fake newspapers, the House of Venus from the 1939 World's Fair, the Spellbound sequence (Hitchcock) and even a 7-minute Disney animated short that has never been seen. (Apparently the Disney folks, after stonewalling numerous enquiries about this legendary film, looked at their contract and realized that it said that none of the sketches and preliminary paintings for the film were theirs unless they completed the film — so it was completed recently. It sort of looks like a Daliesque sequence from Waking Life.)
There are a few video monitors with hilarious TV ads that Dali did in the 60s — one for Braniff Airlines, in which a parade of celebs exit a plane all saying, "If you’ve got it, flaunt it!" And a wonderful one for Alka Seltzer in which he paints the route to a woman's stomach on her unitard torso.
Our hotel is cool, but really creepy. The universally attractive staff all wear white; some are in shorts, some in trousers and jackets. The rooms are all white, immaculate, stylish, and some of us feel as if we have become inmates in some kind of Stepford mental institution — we're in for reprogramming. Everything is beautiful and perfect, but vacuous. They will help us by wiping out all troubling thoughts and by making us look better.
A man by the elevator — all in white, of course — asked me in a soft, dreamy voice, "Will you be taking some steam today?"
Down by the lounge and pool, it's a meat market. Artificially enhanced specimens of both sexes stroll the grounds. Even the hostess has enormous breasts. The staff speak in sweet, breathy high-pitched tones — like they’re all little girls. Nothing is real. It’s a shocking change from Mexico, even though I realize many of these folks might have come from south of the border.
Walking around the corner for an ice coffee is another world. Gay prostitutes display their tummies on the pedestrian mall. A crew of teens from the 'hood talk tough in a mixture of Spanish and English. Geriatrics whiz by on motorized wheelchairs. And there are fat people.
The bank on the corner has a series of wacky ads that emphasize privacy and how no-one will know from them about your financial affairs. At first this doesn't seem odd in an era of online banking, where all transactions take place in the realm of hard drives, but then I think to myself, maybe there’s more to it. Maybe folks down here have others reasons for keeping their transactions hidden from view. Drug smuggling, for example, is one of the largest industries in and around the United States, so maybe the banks are simply catering to their customers' needs — money laundering and offshore banking.
The venue, the Gusman theater — one of the over-the-top movie/theater palaces that John Eberson built across the country and around the world — is in the center of town. The State Theater in Sydney and the Majestic in San Antonio are other examples. As in some of the others, there is a vaulted, deep blue sky with little stars that twinkle. Fake classical pavilions create a kind of skyline and serve as outposts for spot operators. A stuffed peacock sits on one faux balustrade theater chain — apparently, the peacock was the architect’s symbol.
The place is not quite full. There are some empty seats in the big balcony. But the orchestra, at least, is packed. Maybe I lost some seats to Morrissey, who just did 2 nights ending yesterday at the Jackie Gleason theater in Miami Beach. Maybe others were lost to Laurie Anderson, who was at this venue a few days ago. Whatever, the audience is wildly enthusiastic. By the 7th song or so, they’re up and dancing, a nice mix of younger and some who might even be my age. This being Miami, there are young women intent on displaying their wares. One girl dances like a stripper, or a pole dancer. Most others are slightly less obvious. This seems cheap and tacky to me at first, but by the end of the show I somehow find it hilarious; it’s so over-the-top.
The talk is about Ashlee Simpson, the manufactured rocker, who went on Saturday Night Live and, for whatever reason, decided to rely on her pre-recorded vocal tracks, as these singers often do. However, as I heard it, the band began playing one of her songs but the vocal track that aired live was for a different song. Ooops. Someone is not on that tour anymore.
Sounds like a pretty radical concept, if she’d only gone with it. But the press, who love nothing better than seeing one of these kids they helped build up stumble, had a field day.
I think if a show has enough spectacle, pre-recorded vocals are permissible. Then the show is not about the emotive and personal power of the singer, but about the flash, the sets, the dancing boys and girls, the cool effects and sight gags. One could also say that the singer might be more easily replaced in these kinds of shows. The singer is a just another modular part, like any of the technicians or dancers. This need not be bad, from a purely visual point of view. It means the person can be chosen for their dancing and physical talents. A dark Goth pop spectacle, should one exist, would work best with a pale, dark-haired waif, who moves in a dreamy ethereal manner — a buxom earth mother cast in this role would simply spoil the whole look.
But the Simpson gal doesn't revel in the fakery. They strive for the appearance of a real, punky, expressive young girl fronting a band of her mates. It's realness, but manufactured and carefully manicured realness. So when the curtain is pulled aside and the fakery is revealed, there is embarrassment instead of pride.
Coming out of Miami in the wee hours of the morning, Bobby, who was sitting in the front, noticed that the crew bus was on the wrong side of the highway. There was almost no traffic, so it wasn’t immediately apparent. When he pointed this out to the driver, the driver reacted by moving towards the center. "You’re not going to drive across the median strip, are you!" Bobby exclaimed.
The driver was getting white-knuckled and agitated. A car was approaching in the distance. The driver decided to do a 180. Bobby said "wait, lemme warn the guys in back" (a big sudden turn can throw people out of bunks, smash glasses, etc.). But the driver didn't wait, and stuff and bodies went flying as the bus fishtailed around and pointed itself in the right lane but wrong direction. Bobby had been in a bad bus accident, in which a member of Metallica was killed, so, needless to say, this driver didn't continue on our tour.
I bike out to Polanco Pavilion, an American-style mall, to find some CDs that were recommended to me over lunch yesterday. I also need a second suitcase to transport all the books, CDs and DVDs I've been given and the few that I've purchased.
I find some of the CDs; the others will have to be found on the web. I get a small suitcase at Sears and pedal back holding the suitcase in one hand.
The distinct nasal twang of an "American" accent echoes thought the plane. We're flying American Airlines to Miami. The voices exude confidence, superiority (they don't sound like they're very flexible and they're not.) After the gentle, sensuous vowels of Latin-American, this language sounds harsh, cruel, authoritarian.
The reviews in the Mexican papers today are surreal. It's hard to tell if the writers were actually at the shows. Admittedly, my Spanish is not all that good, but most folks understood what I said, and I even got a laugh, which is a big step in language. However, these writers quote me saying things I never said... and not just getting things a little mixed up — much of it is completely made up.
One paper quotes me as saying "Mexico, los quiero, mi desea es que esta noche sea magica", translated loosely as, "I love Mexico... and my desire is that this night will be magic!" Well, it goes on but I never said anything remotely like that.
Further down they quote me again as saying "se estan divertido? Que tal este noche?" (Are you having fun? How's it going tonight?) — just the sorts of things I would never say. Maybe they have improved my performance, or are giving me subtle hints as to how to attract a larger audience.
Last night's show went incredibly well. It may be the best audience response we've ever had. Lots of screaming, endless smiles and a sustained bout of cheering and yelling right in the middle of the set. A business man came up to me at the hotel the next morning and complimented me. He said he went by himself and thought it was an incredibly honest show, totally from the heart. It was maybe one of the most sincere and nicest compliments I've ever gotten. And from a somewhat unexpected source.
The venue is frighteningly clean, not just for Mexico, but for anywhere. It's a large club with standing room and a bar in the back, plus a balcony with bar-type seats. It sounds pretty good and it's filled up (not really). It's incredibly dry; we're in a high altitude, but I forget and wonder why my throat is so dry that I keep gulping water.
Afterwards, I say hi to some of the members of Los De Abajo, Déborah Holtz (who did the Sensacional! book of Mexican street graphics that I wrote an essay for), and Lynn Fainshtein (who licenses music for films). I bike back to the hotel.
We agree to meet the next morning, as Déborah has arranged to go out to JUMEX, the giant juice factory outside of town, where there is a contemporary art museum with a show curated by Guillermo. After that, she has arranged a lunch with a bunch of folks.
Around 11 AM, we head on out. The rest of the band, those that are awake, have gone to the pyramids. The factory is huge, spotless, and silent (it's Sunday). It has its own water processing plant, its own water tower. This might be largest juice factory in the country. It's run by one of 2 brothers. The other runs the plant that specializes in canned foods.
The entrance to the museum has a sign that must be an artwork — it's in English. It reads, "Love Invents Us."
I think it was Guillermo who refers to a lot of the younger artists on display as "children of Orozco," referring to Gabriel Orozco, a Mexican artist who works in a host of media and is a part of the big international scene. Santiago Serra has some pieces here; he had the images of people paid to say things they didn't comprehend and people paid to sit in cardboard boxes.
There is a lovely video by a Belgian artist that is a collage of pretty much unrelated scenes — roller skaters, girls screaming, clouds darkening a mountain. I only wish it was shot in film, as opposed to video, as the images are beautiful.
Damian Ortega, a young up and coming artist (according to Guillermo) made a neat sculpture out of chairs, string and a cabinet that looks like one of the odd, improvised constructions one sees everywhere here on the streets. Here are two of these "street" items I photographed earlier:
Surreal objects seem to exist as part of everyday life here. It's a fairly porous barrier between the objects seen on the streets and fine art.
The storage area has even more art hanging from ceilings and wrapped in hallways.
Our trip here is on the coat heels of a group from the De Menil museum/collection based in Houston. They arrive momentarily, older ladies and gents with accents. There is a spread laid out for them — champagne and juice, cevice served in shot glasses, squash blossoms filled with goat cheese and round chocolates. This will be my breakfast.
One man asks me what’s to see in Montevideo. I wonder who pays for their trip. Is it a reconnoiter in view of a future show of De Menil holdings? I don't think so. Maybe it's scoping out the competition.
A few of us head back to town for lunch at El Bajio, the rendezvous Deborah has arranged. Most of the folks who meet us there are involved with music here in one way or another:
Los de Abajo (Liber, Yoku and Vladimir)
I sit next to Liber from Los De Abajo, the band whose last two records were on Luaka Bop. Oscar (which one?) sits across from me and, soon enough, I was taking notes as he and Liber recommended recordings by Mexican classical composers and Norteño singers.
Some of these folks, being in the music biz, have just returned from Miami, where the Latin Grammy's were held. All were appalled that it was felt necessary to have respectable Latin songwriters and singers be presented under the auspices of a salute to Usher. What is that about? Smells like multinational record label pressure to me... or TV pressure... or both. But it's pretty damn stupid.
Others mention how fake Miami seems in comparison to Mexico City, which is dirty, crowded and messy, but full of life and energy.
After lunch, Deborah says we simply must visit her friends, the family of an artist, Jaled Muyaes, who has a collection of about 5,000 Mexican masks, from all regions of country.
We arrive in a nice neighborhood; it has character and seems old. People wander the streets comfortably. Down a dead end street is a gate and we are let in to a courtyard, where the family has been celebrating a birthday. The tequila is out.
Jaled is, it seems, an obsessive collector, not just of masks. On a massive pink wall nearby is an artwork made of tools. It’s a veritable hardware store of saw blades, pickaxe blades, trowels and awls. Other pieces of his are scattered about — a "tree" of trowel blades, another of shovel blades.
In a hallway are maybe a hundred framed old French engravings of people dressed as their occupations. A furniture maker is made out of tables and cabinets, a book printer is made of presses and books. In a side room, Jaled himself, 80 years old, is patiently at work on some Matisse-like colleges made out of cut-out bits of corrugated cardboard. He rises to answer some questions about the masks and where they are from.
There are other collections here and there: a massive collection of Posada prints, massive antique fruit presses, ceramic cows and old books, including 1st editions and encyclopedias.
The mask collection is incredible. I'm getting seriously overloaded today. It's beautiful to see this 80-year old quietly getting on with his work of creating while the family celebrates a birthday with nieces and nephews. Some masks are very contemporary looking, abstract, or distorted and even hairy. Some have penis noses. We are told that they are not made very much any more. Villagers now buy the mass-produced rubber ones that we all know; the craft of making these is fading away.
Deborah wants to visit the house of the JUMEX owner for anther round of drinks and more art viewing, but as it's getting on and the tequila is taking its toll, I beg off. This puts her in a tricky social situation, but none of these visits were planned, so I suggest she blame me.
The one tourist attraction I haven't checked off here is Xochilmilco, a kind of Venice of islands, waterways and water traffic. It's a UN Heritage site also known as the hanging gardens of the Aztecs. Farmers still grow crops on the floating islands. Typically, a city dweller would go for a weekend lunch, hire a boat and oarsman, and then, when hungry, summon another boat that pulls alongside, attaches itself and prepares food. Likewise, a marimba ensemble might attach itself on the other side and provide entertainment. I was told at lunch that one of the islands is a Barbie island, with thousands of doll heads hanging from the tree branches.
Whew, I'm exhausted. A lot of talk. Incredible food, and plenty of Tequila and cervezas.
A few of us go walking. I made a mistake, the flea market is NOT today, but tomorrow. Arrrgg. I was told, yes, it's today, but I guess there was the usual miscommunication. It's a pleasant walk around, I love the messy energy of this town. Every nook and surface is occupied by a vendor. The metro, clean and efficient, supports people selling DVDs about the universe, giant bars of chocolate and a collections of greatest hits by bolero singers. We stop in a bar for beers. They have a sign that says no sleeping. On the wall there is what appears to be a concrete guitar. And a giant concrete gun and bullet.
I go for a run in Chapultapec Park and later bike over to the venue, Salon 21.
I escape the venue as soon as possible and various kids in cars spot me in the van and honk and wave. Hanging out the windows of their cars and yelling, its really sweet, and a little disconcerting, as I'm still recovering from the horrific sound. How could they be so enthusiastic? They don't trail us to the hotel, so a few of us have drinks at the hotel bar.
Mauro said, with a disappointed tone, that he felt Santiago was very much an "American" city (meaning North American). I can see what he means; it's pretty clean, lots and lots of office buildings and little messy character or funk in evidence. Mauro pointed out that this was one of the only countries that didn't have slavery. (I mentioned that even Argentina had a sizable black population at one point, but, ummm, mysteriously they have all vanished, pretty much from the collective memory as well.) Anyway, he's implying that the Africans gave South American culture much of it's character. Certainly much of the unique music on the continent is a hybrid of European, indigenous and African styles.
Last night a bunch of us were joined at dinner (I had goat) by Ignacio from El Arranque. He mentioned that numerous groups are trying the tango/electronic fusion, but to his mind none of them have succeeded yet — not that it's not a worthwhile goal. Unlike lots of tangueros here, he and El Arranque are open to collaboration and new approaches, from the part and the future. They've unearthed actual handwritten old (1940s) arrangements, some of them fairly radical, he says.
They're in the middle of completing a CD on which older masters join them and play their guys. He says this is unusual because it’s not a very collaborative or open scene.
He wonders how Arto Lindsay does it — producing Brazilian artists and making very up-to-date sounding records that don't lose the flavor of the music. We're both admirers of the Piccolo Orchestra Avion Travel CD (Cirano) that Arto produced.
(Nico recommends another tango group whose name I can't remember; it's larger and more trad in format but less trad in material.)
I take a late morning swim in the hotel pool. At the far end, here is a chubby kid with a baby face, who possibly has Tourette's. He's bobbing in the water, ejaculating yelps and weird cries. At first I think he's down there playing with himself super enthusiastically and vigorously, but it seems he's just having a tick-y moment. He submerges and goes under the partition that allows one to swim to an outdoor patio. Maybe he's whooping out there. I can't tell — his back is to me. Soon enough, he reappears on this side and the yelps resume. I begin my laps.
A woman lays outside on a deck chair sunning herself in a swimsuit, even though it's sort of brisk weather. Her skin is like tanned leather and her hair is white. Maybe she's the yelping boy's mom? There's no one else around except the pool receptionist that hands out towels.
Two hostesses or stewardesses in matching outfits enter. They also go outside and plop down on some deck chairs, turning their faces to the sun as they chat.
There are newspapers available for browsing. La Nacion has a well-written review of our last concert here. They mention that I went to the El Arranque rehearsal and brought a CD of theirs to be autographed. They note that during the show I mention that I will miss Susana Baca's upcoming BA show, that Ausencia was arranged by Goran Bragovic, who will be in BA next month and that "Desconocido Soy" was a duet with Ruben of Café Tacuba, who will be here in a few days.
I go to a nearby bookstore, as I've exhausted my English reading material and pick up Foucault and Cabrera Infante books to carry me though. I read the intro to the Foucault over a fish lunch alone and think there are maybe some parallels with my tree drawings.
I just finished reading The Telephone Booth Indian, a collection of AJ Leibling pieces written in the 1940s for The New Yorker. There is one piece about sideshow folks that is hilarious and another about The Jollity Building, a midtown Broadway place, like the Brill Building, but filled with the bottom feeders of show business.
The show in BA was videotaped for television. This was part of deal that Aquiles had set up.
La Portuaria, a local band I know, opens with an unplugged set; they're joined by Chilean singer Violetta Parra (daughter of Violetta Parra?). She has a beautiful voice. The drummer uses a folkloric drum instead of a kick, which draws Mauro's attention. I had met Diego, the singer, on a previous trip. He was also my introduction to De La Guarda, the physical theater production. His wife (?) is in it, as part of the original cast. So when it came to NY we connected.
The audience is fantastic. After about our 6th song, they rush forward to dance, led by a woman in a wheelchair who unabashedly twitches to the music. Once again, there are soccer chants in the middle of the show — after "Psycho Killer," I think.
I can see Leon Gieco, the Rock Nacional icon, in the 4th row in a baseball cap, smiling. We sang together once in NY, and I covered one of his songs years ago. (After the show I see in my dressing room that he sent some lovely red wine as a present.) I can see Violetta Parra dancing over stage left. Half the audience fills the right side of this basketball arena.
Afterwards Leon and others converge in the catering room. I see Nico, who I thought was part of Los Autenticos Decadantes. He certainly was back when they performed in NY, but I'm never really sure. We crossed paths once in Mexico after a show there and he amazed the Mexicans with his knowledge of Narco Corridos, the ballads sung in the north about drug dealers and traffickers. He knew the words to all of them. Now he’s handed me a pile of CDs of Argentine and Paraguayan cumbia bands. I didn’t know such things existed. There's even a bachata band here, something I thought only existed in Santo Domingo. He says Paraguay is the Jamaica of South America, though what he means by that is slightly unclear. It's not the dope. I think it's the fact that he believes they've evolved an original slant on their music.
He and a young woman both attempt to tell me what the various cumbia CDs he gave me represent. He says the words are deep, important, like Leonard Cohen. Somehow I doubt this is the correct analogy; this is music of the poorer people, music that reflects their concerns, as rap did at one time in North America. But I can see what he means. There is deep poetry here, in the way we think of blues as being deeply poetic, within its parameters.
He said rock has become the music of the big companies, the big countries, and therefore it is no longer the voice of the people. I have to agree that, seen from here, contemporary rock is the product of the foreign, often North American, multinationals. No matter what or who the artist, the product is invariably tainted by its source.
We return to the hotel and reconvene in the pub. Las Chicas de Tosca have headed off to an El Arranque social.
Nico says he'd like to give me his shirt — a kind of handmade guyaberra from Paraguay. I go fetch a T-shirt to give him to wear, but he says, "Why don't we just exchange shirts?" I'm wearing a black western shirt that might be a teeny bit tight on him, but he agrees to try it and we both strip to our waists in this bar full of people. He inscribes his shirt to me, which is sweet but I kind of hope it washes off because it is a nice shirt.
Lastly, he says that he is content that their band may never be "international." He's proud that they represent the culture and identity of this region, which may limit them commercially, but he feels it is right and proper.
Now it's the next morning and we’re on a flight to Mexico. In the passport line I say hello to Ely Guerra, the Mexican singer, and her band, who are flying to Santiago after playing a festival in Argentina. Her hair used to be short and blonde and now it's a huge sort of afro.
I watch The Terminal on the plane, which is spectacular-looking but wasn’t the true story of the man who lived at Charles de Gaulle. The movie is relentlessly upbeat, filled with cute touches and heartwarming situations like an old Hollywood movie from the 30s. The bureaucrat of Homeland Security is portrayed as an inhuman dunce. Spielberg is a skilled craftsman, and he knows exactly how to push the buttons. I admire the way he makes pop culture mythic – resonant images of piles of mashed potatoes, airplane meals, Reese's cups. And, often, it's the background;the production design and cinematography tells the story more than what the actors are saying.
Out the window is the mountainous desert that covers the very top of Chile and the southern part of Peru. Reportedly, it's the driest place on earth. There are white salt flats here and there, as in central Australia. The Nazca lines are down there somewhere.