Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and the power of "but"

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán is a leftist I could have done business with because, while I don't quite share the late Barcelona crime writer's political commitments, I like to think I share his analytical eye for bullshit.

His 1988 novel Off Side (translated into English in 1996) does not just heap easy insults on developers and politicians, it analyzes its targets, and if that sounds polemical and didactic, maybe it is, but it can be fun. Furthermore, Vázquez Montalbán does not just excoriate moneymakers, he expresses considerable sympathy for the people (and, in this case, a lower-division soccer team) threatened by development ahead of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The sections that ring truest with me are those that expose rhetoric that triangulates, that tries to crush its opposition with kindness and sweet reason, that pretends to understand the other guy's point of view while plotting to take his land, that disingenuously identifies its own interests with the public good. Here's the patrician chairman of the the FC Barcelona soccer team addressing the College of Lawyers.:
"We must not let ourselves be carried away by speculative adventures, but at the same time we must not let ourselves be paralysed by the kind of unimaginative conservatism which on occasion dominates public policy-making in the guise of progressive, left-wing thinking."
The key word in that eminently reasonable-sounding bit of speech making is, of course, but.

For those worried that the book is nothing but a tendentious political screed, know that Vázquez Montalbán and his protagonist, Pepe Carvalho, are just as hard on political correctness as they are on disingenuous neoliberalism:
"`Some people might think you're getting old.'

"`People don't know the meaning of the word nowadays. The only people who know what the word means are people who are old already, and I don't feel that I'm old yet. Imagine it! They've even succeeded in disappearing the word out of the language. These days they talk about `senior citizens.' It reminds me of the years under Franco, when workers had to be called `producers.' To be a `worker' was politically obscene and dangerous. These days, to be `old' is biologically obscene and dangerous."
Since one is vastly more likely to read about "senior citizens of either gender" than "old people of either sex" in my country and my newspaper, I say olé to Pepe Carvalho and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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42 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think more artists should wear their politics on their sleeve. Either people are chicken hearted or they consider it to be naive and not in keeping with the irony heavy times to have a political commitment. If Woody Guthrie were to go around with a guitar sticker that said This Machine Kills Fascists these days he wouldn't be blacklisted, he would snickered at in The Onion and The Daily Show.

Heavy handed didactic writing is, of course, tedious - see under Stieg Larsson - but witty politically engaged angry prose can be tremendous fun.

August 07, 2012  
Anonymous Christopher G. Moore said...

I am in basic agreement with Adrian. A point to consider is not all writer's live and work in the same political situation. There are brave writers who put themselves a considerable personal risk (and that extends to their families) by expressing political positions not sanctioned by authorities. Others understandably are more careful about politically engaged angry prose. Only where there is rule of law and restraints on the exercise of power can the modern day Woody Guthrie would only face a blacklist as opposed to an unmarked grave.

August 07, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Of course, the writing trumps all. You can say anything you want if you're good enough.

Of course, inciting people to violence and hatred wouldn't be a very good use of your talents.

That said, we've got Montalban on the shelf (under M, not V) and I have yet to read him.

August 07, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

The sections that ring truest with me are those that expose rhetoric that triangulates

Triagulating rhetoric? Please, Peter, try and rememnber that at least one of your readers is a simpleton and that his attempts to understand rhetoric that triangulates is only going to leave the poor bastard (me, in other words) with seriously fucked up coordinates.

Are you a Guthrie fan, Peter? Would you get excited by Guthrie's lyrics, such as:

I see where Hitler is a-talking peace

Since Russia met him face to face—

He just had got his war machine a-rollin',

Coasting along, and taking Poland.

Stalin stepped in, took a big strip of Poland and gave

the farm lands back to the farmers.

A lot of little countries to Russia run

To get away from his Hitler man—

If I'd been living in Poland then

I'd been glad Stalin stepped in—

Swap my rifle for a farm…Trade my helmet for a sweetheart.”


I won't comment on this, it would be too much like shooting fish in a barrel.

Robert Polito's biography of Jim Thompson says that it was Woody Guthrie who got his fellow Oklahoman Thompson his first publisher. Well, at least the fucker did something useful.

August 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, you're right on triangulation. I used it to mean a rhetorical tactic that tries to disarm the opposition by pretending to embrace what it believes. You’ll find a definition here that reads, in part:

"The term was first used by political consultant Dick Morris while working on the re-election campaign of President Clinton in 1996. Morris urged Clinton to adopt a set of policies that were different from the traditional policies of the Democratic Party in order to co-opt the opposition.

"Morris described triangulation in an interview on Frontline in 2000: `Take the best from each party’s agenda, and come to a solution somewhere above the positions of each party. So from the left, take the idea that we need day care and food supplements for people on welfare. From the right, take the idea that they have to work for a living, and that there are time limits. But discard the nonsense of the left, which is that there shouldn’t be work requirements; and the nonsense of the right, which is you should punish single mothers. Get rid of the garbage of each position, that the people didn’t believe in; take the best from each position; and move up to a third way. And that became a triangle, which was triangulation.'”


I am a Guthrie fan -- Allan Guthrie.

August 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I wonder what Stieg Larsson's journalism was like. The causes he is said to have championed are admirable, but I wonder what the writing was like. I'm sure someone has thought of having some of his nonfiction translated into English.

I haven't read George Pelecanos, but he's often cited as a politically engaged crime writer. You're probably right than angry, politically engaged prose can be fun. I read Vázquez Montalbán's zestiest passages not as polemic but as vigorous engagement with the world.

August 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Christopher G., how would a modern-day Woody Guthrie be received? He might be lampooned, as Adrian suggested. Or he might get lost in the crowd.

The low state of political discourse in America, and the degree to which freedom of expression is permitted probably mean that one has to be shrill and persistent and bang one's spoon on one's high chair loudly for one's political views to get attention. That sort of thing does not not make for compelling crime fiction.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Of course, the writing trumps all. You can say anything you want if you're good enough.

Of course, inciting people to violence and hatred wouldn't be a very good use of your talents.

That said, we've got Montalban on the shelf (under M, not V) and I have yet to read him.


Seana, I would know where properly to shelve the author in question. I'll refer to him as Vázquez Montalbán, assuming that one of those names is a patronymic and the other a matronymic, but I don't know if that is, in fact, the case.

I always have the sneaking suspicions that Americans of radical political beliefs revel in outsider status, but (Vázquez) Montalbán loved his city, loved sports, loved food. He publicly embraced his culture in a way I'm not sure American leftists do.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Solo

You probably don't know that Guthrie served in the Merchant Marine on Atlantic Convoys in WW2. I'd say that that was pretty useful, no?

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I hadn;t known that, but I like this, from the Wikipedia entry on Woody Guthrie:

"Guthrie followed their advice: he served as a mess man and dishwasher and frequently sang for the crew and troops to buoy their spirits on transatlantic voyages."

August 08, 2012  
Anonymous Christopher G. Moore said...

Christopher G., how would a modern-day Woody Guthrie be received? He might be lampooned, as Adrian suggested. Or he might get lost in the crowd.


Peter,

The worry is not being lampooned but harpooned. The shallow graves run deep in many parts of the world, and many a Woody Guthries' bones can be found inside.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Peter, there is a volume of Larsson's journalism translated into English: The Expo Files: Articles by a Crusading Journalist, published by MacLehose earlier this year. Very impressive stuff, in my opinion.

Reading the Dick Morris quotation, it occurred to me that had he been acquainted with the word 'dialectic', we would not have been 'triangulating' these past sixteen years.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

I am not sure when Guthrie wrote the lyrics posted by solo about the Soviet Union and Stalin, but i would not read to much into them. A lot of people saw the SU as in a favorable light until the truth came out...For anyone to think that the SU was some kind of worker paradise is simply naive..

When Stalin was chasing the Nazis out of Russia he stopped when he got to Poland so the germans and poles could fight it out because he wanted the germans to kill as much as the resistance he could because Stalin wanted to take over the country...


As stated before by me in another thread, the shrarpest most accurate and critical reading of the nature of Bolshevism was always from the left. I gave Orwells "Homage to Catalonia" as an example regarding Spain.

If you want to go back to very origins of the SU you can read Emma Goldman, or say Alexander Berkman, or the left marxists Rosa Luxenburg..or again read Bakunin...

Guthrie, I assume, did not know any of this and I think his sentiments and values are admirable. He firmly stood with the working class, which when you get down to it, is basically everyone.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Christopher: I neglected to add that I meant to ask how a modern-day Woody Guthrie would be received in America. One hears of writers being jailed, killed, or going into exile. I imagine others don't make it out of their countries and into the newspapers. Any figures comparable to Woody Guthrie among them?

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, if I ever look at that Larsson volume, I'll want to see if the writing is any better than in his novels.

I'm also not surprised that Dick Morris's definition of triangulation is more benign than the sense in which the word is sometimes used and that I intended.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Verymessi, I don't know which song the Wooody Guthrie citation came from, but I also wondered when he wrote the song -- what he knew and when he knew it.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

I dont know. I am not an expert on Guthrie by any means. I just like and admire him and enjoy his music. I think what he stood for and what he believed in was generally good..Maybe he really did think the SU was some sort of socialists nirvana. Well, he was just wrong about it, but that is no reason to me to just kick him into the street.

He was and is a working class hero who inspired a whole generation of other great musicians in his mold of social protest through song.

Did you ever hear the "Mermaid Avenue" recordings where Wilco and Billy Bragg, and others I forget, took old poems and lyrics by Guthrie that he never recorded and put them to music. They did two albums both terrific and still timely. They came out around 2000, I think.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I learned about those albums earlier today from the Wikipedia article about Guthrie. And I had a nodding acquaintance with his music, as I suspect just about everyone in North America did. One year at summer camp my team's song in the annual camp Olympics was "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos."

On the other hand, I've been listening to lots of Cuban music and whenever I hear "Guantanamera," I recall with
a grimace Pete Seeger's abominable accent and pronunciation on the one version of his that I've heard.

Oh, and I also like that Guthrie sang about his own country, at least in his best-known songs. He didn't take on the aura of a carpet-bagger parachuting into the latest international cause to get in his two cents.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Hellen said...

I need to read more of his books one day. I agree with him: everybody talks about "senior citizens" as if they think "old" is something bad or dangerous.

I don't know how to quote comments, but the answer for the people who are wondering how to shelf his books is: under V. People in Spain have two last names. The first is the father's first last name and the second, the mother's first last name (women don't change their last names when they marry). His first last name is Vázquez.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I would know where properly to shelve the author in question.

Seana, I meant to type that I wouldnot know ..., but in any case, it would have been more accurate to say that I would be unsure where properly to shelve him.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Hellen. There no special way to quote comments. You just copy and paste the portions you wish to quote.

I presume from the name of one of your blogs that you know something about reading Spanish. I knew that the naming convention you cite is pracised in much of the Spanish-speaking world. I suspected but was not sure that such was the case in Spain itself, as well.

As for the practicality of shelving books, Arnaldur Indriðason "should" be shelved under A and Qiu Xiaolong under Q. Indeed, I have seen Arnaldur under A in one library. But bookstores (and libraries) must consider as well the practical need to put books where readers can find them. One solution is to post small notes under I and X directing readers to where Arnaldur and Qiu are to be found under the "correct" conventions,

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"...everybody talks about `senior citizens' as if they think `old' is something bad or dangerous."

Hellen, I read something sensible in an article some time ago about "size acceptance" -- the idea that one should not be mean to fat people. One woman, presumably of considerable girth herself, said that she longed for a time when calling people fat would mean no more than calling them tall or short. She was after something more important than coming up with gentle euphemisms, in other words.

I think you and Vázquez Montalbán would agree that our nervous insistence on terms such as "senior citizen" and "gender" reflects out own unease about those subjects.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Hellen said...

"I presume from the name of one of your blogs that you know something about reading Spanish..."

I'm Spanish, but I the blog that I keep updated is in English.

"As for the practicality of shelving books, Arnaldur Indriðason "should" be shelved under A and Qiu Xiaolong under Q..."

I assumed everybody sorted books by the author's last name because that's how I've always seen it in shops and libraries, so I meant V from Vázquez and not M from Montalbán. Of course, if sorted by first name, it would be M.

The authors I never know how to shelf are authors like Qiu Xiaolong. I never know which name is the last name because in my local library where everything is sorted by last name, his books appear under Q. I think that in some Asian countries people write their last names before their first names but I don't know if that is the case of this author.

"...terms such as "senior citizen" and "gender" reflects out own unease about those subjects."

Political correctness and euphemisms are sometimes weird because a word that is politically incorrect (sometimes even very incorrect) on a language may be perfectly acceptable on another. That's probably because of the unease about the subjects in different places.

August 08, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

You probably don't know that Guthrie served in the Merchant Marine on Atlantic Convoys in WW2. I'd say that that was pretty useful, no?

I would consider it presumptuous, if not downright foolish, to make claims about what somebody else knows or doesn't know. But here's a quote from an online source on Guthrie's WWII service:

He tried in vain to avoid the draft (government selection for military service). To stay out of the U.S. military he served in the merchant marine, but it was a dangerous strategy—two of the three ships he served on were lost. In addition, he was drafted into service anyway.

Something of a reluctant hero, it would seem. I doubt if he ever boasted about it afterwards to his Commie friends, unless to claim he was really fighting for Uncle Sam's ally at the time, Uncle Joe. Back then, the working classes of Communist eastern Europe needed a hero even more badly than the working classes of the United States. Not only was Guthrie not that hero, he was a shill for their oppressors.

On the other hand, I've been listening to lots of Cuban music

You ever listen to Ñico Saquito, Peter? A orillas del cauto is a good example of his style, but the one I really like, Al vaivén de mi carreta, is not on YouTube, unfortunately. Damn, I thought everything was on YouTube.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hellen, I knew you meant Vázquez and Montalbán. But I used Arnaldur's name as an example of how naming practices in other languages can create dilemmas for librarians and booksellers. Icelanders, properly speaking, have no family names, just patronymics ("son of") or matronymics ("daughter of"). So Yrsa Sigurðardóttir simply means Yrsa, daughter of Sigurd. According to traditional Icelandic practice, she would be listed in the phone book (and presumably shelved in Reykjavík bookstores) under Y rather than S. But file her with the y's in North America, and readers might not find her books. Same with filing Vázquez Montalbán under v or Qiu Xiaolong under q.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I have a recording of Guillermo Portabales performing the song under the title "A la Orilla del Cauto." It's one of my favorites.

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I forgot to mention that Guillermo Portabales also performs "Al Vaiven de Mi Carreta." It's a good song to listen to when I feel like complaining. Makes me want to clap the speaker on the back and say, "I know how you feel, pal."

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Political correctness and euphemisms are sometimes weird because a word that is politically incorrect (sometimes even very incorrect) on a language may be perfectly acceptable on another. That's probably because of the unease about the subjects in different places.

Hellen, I know subjects that are banal chat in one language can be shockingly improper in another. But my favorite recent bit of invective and stereo-type busting came from a story by Steven Torres, in which a Puerto Rican killer/protagonist in New York is the centerpiece:

"The man holding Carver thought for a second, then started shouting in Italian again.

"`Speak English,
maricon!' Ray roared. At the same time he pulled the trigger."

August 08, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

In a bookstore, somewhat unlike a library, where you have the numerical system as a back up,shelving of some foreign names is problematic. You want to honor the intentions of the writer's language, but you also want to make sure people can find the blasted book!

August 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I will go to bed knowing more than I did when I woke up. I had assumed that the Free Library's shelving of Arnaldur's books under A was connected with the learning that is the province of a library. It had not occurred to be that the backup of a numerical system helped.

Not even I would be so pedantic to insist that Qiu, Arnaldur and Vazquez Montalban be shelved "correctly" in an Engish-language bookstore if it would keep the customers from the books.

August 09, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Solo

I'd say it was a logical assumption that you didnt know about the convoy work during the war because you said "at least the fucker did something useful" when talking about getting Jim Thompson published.

There are only 2 ways out of this logical dilemma I feel. 1) You make an argument that the Atlantic convoys were not important for winning WW2 (an argument you will lose) or 2) Argue that the wrong side won WW2. Perhaps 2) might be a better option for you. You certainly seem a lot more worked about Stalin than Hitler. I forgot that you are from the Irish Republic and Ireland was neutral during the war. Perhaps you consider Stalin and Hitler as bad as each other? I think this is a common but serious misreading of history. The civilized world survived a Soviet victory in WW2. It would not have survived a Nazi victory.

I'm glad you're reading about Woody Guthrie now at least. Listen to his music too. Unless you're a dyed in the wool nutter I think you'll eventually come round to the side of anti fascism and good music. With you I think it'll take a while (you seem very young to me) but eventually you'll see the light. As Martin Luther King said, the arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

August 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here’s Woody Guthrie talking and singing on the BBC in 1944.

August 09, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I've spent the last hour listening to Portabales on YouTube. Really good stuff. Thanks for the recommendation.

Wikipedia says: As a composer he was perhaps not so important as his rootsier compatriot, Ñico Saquito, but what he did compose was of high quality, and still is popular.

I'm not knowledgeable enough about Cuban music or music in general to wade into that one with all guns blazing, but those Portabales versions of Saquito songs sound pretty good to me. Sometimes, composers are not the best intrepreters of their own work. There are a lot of Dylan songs I like only when they're sung by other people than Dylan.

As an old Cuban hand you probably know Celia Cruz inside out. One of hers that I particularly like is Baile Yemaa. Not typical of her stuff, not even a particularly good song, but it has an utterly irresistible rhythm.

I only know something about Cuban music because the first thing I did when I got an internet connection was to look for music stations that I wouldn't have been able to hear otherwise. What surprised me about Latin music was that I couldn't find any music I liked that wasn't at least thirty years old. Do you know any contemporary Latin music (other than that made by eighty or ninty year olds) that's worth listening to?

August 10, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

That Celia Cruz link should have been Baila Yemaya.

You certainly seem a lot more worked about Stalin than Hitler. I forgot that you are from the Irish Republic and Ireland was neutral during the war. Perhaps you consider Stalin and Hitler as bad as each other? I think this is a common but serious misreading of history. The civilized world survived a Soviet victory in WW2. It would not have survived a Nazi victory


Gosh, where do I start? Well, let's start with this one:

You certainly seem a lot more worked about Stalin than Hitler

Not a lot more worked up, just a little more worked up. In the atrocity business the Commies were vastly more murderous than the Nazis. But most of their victims were in Eastern Europe or Asia. In the West, those people don't count. 'Hitler bombs Belfast and nearly kills my mother' is a headline that might make the front page of a western newspaper, but 'Stalin bombs Grozny and kills my mother and brothers and sisters' wouldn't even make page 25 of a western newspaper.

Stalin and the Soviet Union are only Exhibit A in the totalitarian Marxist grotesquerie. I don't have to name all the countries that have been ravaged by this particular philosophy. Everybody knows them and are delighted that they don't live in them. But to sum it up let me quote the man Christopher Hitchins loved so well for so long: Comrade Trotsky, who being an intellectual put it better than anyone else could when he dismissed the 'Quaker-Papist babble about the sanctity of human life.' Hitler couldn't have put it better. And that's not to mention Stalin's interesting take on statistics.

I forgot that you are from the Irish Republic and Ireland was neutral during the war

I couldn't give a flying fuck about nations, flags or anthems. Maybe you'd be better off taking that one up with your good friend and Republic of Irelander Declan Burke.

The civilized world survived a Soviet victory in WW2

Obviously, you were in holiday mode when you wrote that sentence, Adrian. How can any man in the year 2012 use the term 'the civilized world' except ironically? Are you Niall Fergusen in disguise?

There was no Soviet victory, Adrian, unless you were unfortunate enough to live in Eastern Europe. The entire Cold War was about preventing such a victory in the rest of the world. Fortunately, such a Soviet victory never happened.

If it hadn't been prevented, Adrian McKinty novels would have to be submitted to the Soviet Writer's Union to make sure they were in accordance with Soviet ideology. You think you would have survived that, Adrian?

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wikipedia says: As a composer he was perhaps not so important as his rootsier compatriot, Ñico Saquito, but what he did compose was of high quality, and still is popular.

Solo: I had read that comment, the first I had heard of Nico Saquito. He seems like a rougher, more countrified counterpart to Gullermo Portabales on the link you posted, but other clips on YouTube are more polished.

I saw Celia Cruz perform on a bill with Tito Puente years ago, and a few years later I saw an all-star band that included Tito Puente, Arturo Sandoval, and Stevie Winwood, believe it or not. And I've Buena Vista Social Club. of course. But beyond that, my knowledge of Cuban music probably comes from the same place yours does: YouTube clips. I started by searching for the musicians in the Buena Vista Social Club, then for recordings of those guys when they were younger, then of the bands they sang and played with when they were younger, and then for anyone who came up on a "Cuban music" search that looked interesting. One recent song that I liked, and it's thoroughly modern, is "Repartero de la Habana," by Lisandro y Su Tratado."

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Then there's Jimmy Bosch, a youngish Puerto Rican trombonist from New York who has made some good music.

August 10, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Not sure about Lisandro y Su Tratado. The live clips on YouTube are of poor quality so it's hard to judge. But thanks for the heads up on Jimmy Bosch; he sounds teriffic. And he clearly doesn't need to be in the studio to do that. He might not break any new ground, but, feck, when you can plough the old ground like that, who needs new ground?

Have you listened to A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, the first Afro-Cuban All Stars record with great songs like Habana Del Este, Amor Verdadero and a nice version of Alto Songo, with Ry Cooder gatecrashing the party on guitar? The second album was good too, but the production had the kind of slickness that made you think the producer was deafened by the dollar signs in his eyes.

I'm too old to be into video games but it was on Grand Theft Auto that I came across A gozar com mi combo by Cachao. Apparantely, it was the Havana born actor Andy Garcia who managed to get that Cachao 'Master Sessions' album produced.

You've got all these great old musicians out there who can't get anywhere and then some pretty face from Hollywood with some pulling power at the box-office comes along and suddenly anything is possible.

It's a wonderful world, as Louis Armstrong might say.

August 11, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

In case my earlier comment didn't get through. Loved Bosch, Peter. Thanks.

August 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I put up a post about “Alto Songo” about a year ago. The first of the two versions to I which I link, by Chappotin Y Sus Estrellas, is the first that I heard and is as good as any. The song’s lyrics, stripped of the touching autobiographical tributes that singers tend to give in later versions, make it a fine crime song, I’d say.

I haven't listened to A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, but I think I've heard selections from it. Is that version of "Alto Songo" the one where the singer introduces Ry Cooder's solo by saying what sounds like "Como? Ry Cooder"? The solo is a terrific example of one style working very nicely with a different kind of music.

Here’s a fairly good-quality clip of “Repartero de la Habana.” It has a definite hip=hop edge, which I found especially interesting, since it’s anything but a bunch of 90=year-old guys. (I don’t know if Lisandro and his gang are Cuban, but they’re singing about Havana. And at least one version of the song has a line about “mucho cerveza,” evidence that they sing about matters of widespread interest.)

From that little I know about Jimmy Bosch, he both respects tradition (He even has a song called “Pa Mantener Tradicion”) and performs song with contemporary subject matter. One, for example, is about fighting AIDS, and its chorus, translated, is “One by one, with education, We will have an impact against this disease.” The same record includes a song about the death of its narrator’s brother, so I’m guessing Bosch may have a brother who died of the disease.

In re pretty boys from Hollywood, I had a colleague who had been born in Puerto Rico and tended to be dogmatic on matters of race and ethnicity. I asked him how he felt about all this fine old Afro-Cuban music being brought to the world's attention only through the efforts of a Ry Cooder, a white American. Displaying admirable pragmatism, he said, "At least somebody's doing it."

August 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My Spanish has a long way to go before it rises to the level of imperfect, so maybe the Jimmy Bosch line is really "...an impact against this curse." The message would be the same wither way, though.

August 11, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Is that version of "Alto Songo" the one where the singer introduces Ry Cooder's solo by saying what sounds like "Como? Ry Cooder"?

As usual, you're on the money, Peter. Forgive my appaling Spanish but ¿Cómo sabe Usted eso? Such knowledge or at least such memory is almost unnatural. Did you watch the Wim Wenders documentary on those sessions? I did. The DVD came with one of my local newspapers.

I asked him how he felt about all this fine old Afro-Cuban music being brought to the world's attention only through the efforts of a Ry Cooder, a white American. Displaying admirable pragmatism, he said, "At least somebody's doing it."

Ry Cooder is fine musician. His soundtracks for Paris, Texas and Southern Comfort are wonderful. But for those Buena Vista sessions he also nepotistically dragged his minorly talented son along as a drummer. Well, I suppose one has to forgive a doting father. I'd probably do the same myself, if I waa talented enough to be in such a position.

August 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Do you mean the Buena Vista Social Club movie? Yes, that's what got me started on Cuban music. And my memory ius not as good as you think. I have listed to the Ry Cooder "Alto Songo" recently.

August 11, 2012  

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