# 91 / Spinetta Jade 1982: el reportaje perdido

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Spinetta Jade en 1982 (desde la izquierda): Leo Sujatovich (teclados), Pomo Lorenzo (batería), Luis Alberto Spinetta (guitarra, voz), Frank Ojstersek (bajo) y Diego Rapoport (teclados).

En junio de 1982, Spinetta Jade se presentó en el teatro Nuevo Stella de Montevideo. No volvería a ver a Luis Alberto Spinetta (quien hoy cumpliría 69 años) hasta sus conciertos en Los Ángeles en los ’90 (Wadsworth Theater de UCLA y el Coconut Teaszer).

Este reportaje de 1982 tuvo lugar en el camarín del teatro luego del concierto y fue publicado en el “número cero” de la revista Ecos, que desaparecería poco después de publicado el número 1. Según el reportaje (que es bochornoso, por culpa de periodistas principiantes e ineptos que éramos y por eso quiero concentrarme en las respuestas, no las preguntas), en la charla estuvimos presentes, además de este servidor, un tal “Molinari” y un tal “Martínez”, quienes eran miembros de otra publicación. Pero también recuerdo que estaba presente Raúl Forlán Lamarque (hermano de Pablo Forlán y tío de Diego), un recordado crítico musical que fallecería prematuramente años después. Por alguna razón, dejé afuera sus preguntas, pero recuerdo dos (estoy parafraseando de memoria):

A Leo Sujatovich: “¿Te sentís opacado?” Leo abrió los ojos, sorprendido, y Spinetta se adelantó: “¿Cómo se va a sentir opacado? ¿Lo escuchaste tocar a éste? Además, para opacar a éste, no sé, tiene que venir Mahoma o alguien así…”

A Spinetta: “¿Estás con el proceso?” Spinetta se sorprendió más aún. “¿Con qué proceso…?” “Con el de tu país, con el gobierno [militar de la época]”. “No, no, no… Yo solamente estoy con el proceso de mi música”.

Sobre el final del reportaje se me ocurrió hacerme el gracioso, días después de la derrota argentina en el debut del Mundial de España 1982 [0-1 ante Bélgica]. Le pregunto a Luis: “¿Qué opinás de la derrota de Argentina contra Bélgica?”, me río y apago el grabador. Luis se enoja y me dice: “¿Qué apagás? ¿Qué sos, cómico? ¡Prendé, prendé…!” Prendo el grabador y dice: “Un tropezón no es caída. Somo los campeones del mundo y nos vamos a levantar. Ya nos verán”. [No se levantaron hasta 1986…]

Lo que sigue son las respuestas del grupo a todos, pero las preguntas son las mías. Saqué intencionalmente partes de la nota original escrita por mí porque son, realmente, impresentables. Pero lo que importa es lo que dijo el Flaco.

Sobre el recambio generacional del rock argentino en los ’80:

“Hay muchos músicos, lo que pasa es que la situación socioeconómica muchas veces impide que esos músicos lleguen a mostrar su obra, a producir discos o bien a organizarse conciertos como para que la gente los conozca. Acá tenemos a uno de los muchos talentos jóvenes [señala a Leo] que poseen grandes condiciones pero que les cuesta mucho emprender una producción por los grandes problemas económicos de los que hablamos. Básicamente, pienso que es eso, no porque no haya talentos, sino porque cuesta mucho llegar”.

Sobre la censura en su música:

“[No influye] de ninguna manera. La única censura la tuve sobre el tema ‘Sexo’ en esta última etapa de mi música, y no es demasiado importante; [sabíamos que] iba a ser censurada y se iba a prohibir su difusión. En el disco la hicimos igual y la tocamos en vivo”.

Pappo afirma que el movimiento de rock argentino no existe.

¿Quién?

Pappo.

…………

¿No lo tomás en cuenta?

No.

¿Por venir de Pappo o, simplemente, porque no estás de acuerdo?

“Simplemente porque no creo que no exista ese movimiento”.

Sobre el hecho de que Spinetta “no hace circo”:

Mirá, no creo que sea una cuestión de edades. Yo pienso que lo que ahora me importa es tocar mi música y nada más. Lo demás, con hacerles morisquetas a mis hijos, creo que está. Al público no necesito hacerle eso. Y [aunque parte del público necesite eso], también la necesidad de mucho público es que todo el mundo toque rock cuadrado, mientras lo que hacemos nosotros es una cosa bastante más completa. Entonces, si siempre hacés lo que quiere el público, estaríamos todos tocando chamamé, lo que sea”.

¿Te sentís con la obligación especial de hacer alguna obra que quede en la historia, al nivel de “Muchacha (ojos de papel)”?

“Por lo menos interiormente, no veo la necesidad de hacer algo más o menos perecedero de lo que pude haber hecho. Lo único importante para mí es hacer las canciones como yo las siento, poder tocarlas con Jade en la medida que todos estemos de acuerdo en hacerlo y poder darle a esas canciones el marco adecuado. De ahí a que esas canciones sean algo imperecedero, hay una gran distancia. Y yo no busco esa finalidad”.

¿Cómo recibiste cierta crítica que defenestró a El valle interior?

“Pienso que la crítica tiene derecho a decir lo que quiera, de cualquier obra. Lo lamentable es que el mismo crítico que deja mal una obra, luego critica bien una obra inferior. Si existiera una línea periodística que fuera consecuente con todas las cosas a la vez, no me molestaría. Lo molesto es que, cuando por algunos intereses bastante escabrosos, algún periodista escribe mal de un disco como ése, y a las dos semanas escribe bien sobre un disco-bochorno”.

¿Te referís a alguien en especial?

No. La mayoría de los críticos son más ego que los propios músicos. Todos, desde su Olivetti, pretenden recrear lo que los músicos tardan años en desenrollar. Entonces, pienso que la crítica en esta zona del mundo no es digna de ser tomada en cuenta”.

¿Es bueno que exista la crítica?

“¡Sí, por supuesto! Pero cuando tienen una línea y los periodistas no se dejan pagar, ¿viste?”

Que no hundan en un párrafo lo que al músico le costó tres años, ¿no?

“Exacto, que el periodista lo destruya en algunas horas con su máquina de escribir”.

Leo Sujatovich: “Lo que sucede es que los periodistas, en un 90 por ciento, no entienden NADA, Pero NADA DE NADA”.

Spinetta: “Aparte, se dejan guiar por cosas raras… Se toman dos whiskies y escriben bien; al otro día no tienen qué tomar y escriben mal… [….] Nosotros aceptamos a la crítica y a los críticos. Lo único que no aceptamos es cuando los críticos, por intereses personales, escriben mal de algo. Lo mismo que un crítico que trabaja para cierto y determinado artista y habla mal de todos los demás. Yo no estoy en contra de la crítica, sino de los que no tienen el suficiente poder para hablar de firme sobre las obras musicales. Escribir en dos palabras lo que a vos te lleva meses me parece destructivo, simplemente”.

Y eso va para la música como para cualquier arte…

“Absolutamente todo. Aparte, tenemos miles de ejemplos de críticas que son muy valederas, pero que son críticas de dos o tres páginas, como las de Rolling Stone, de los diarios especializados…”

Estudios, más bien…

“¡Claro! Y que los tipos son especialistas en determinado tipo de música y escriben muuuuuchas palabras, no lo primero que se les ocurre, ni se dejan guiar por las ondas mentales… En Argentina, los críticos van a los conciertos y, si ese día les vibró mal, escriben mal, aunque la música les haya roto la cabeza. Si se coparon bien, escriben bien. Eso no tiene nada que ver. La buena música es una sola y hay que escucharla con objetividad”.

El hecho de que una persona se ocupe de criticar un disco bueno, para bien o para mal, ¿no significa que ya esté tomando a la obra como un producto serio?

“No, porque eso no sucede. El crítico va a decir loas del sello que le regaló el disco”.

Sobre si la música es “buena o mala”:

“No hay otra manera de definirla”.

¿A qué se debe el éxito del candombe en Buenos Aires?

“En primer lugar, no creo en un éxito tan rotundo del candombe. Sucede que el candombe tiene la facilidad de ser fusionado con otros ritmos. No creo que sea por lo que vos decís, de que en Argentina no pasa nada [se refiere a otro de los periodistas presentes, no a mí]. De todas formas, quiero que sepas que ¿qué estilo no triunfa con Rada a la cabeza? El Negro es impresionante… A mí me gusta mucho. Los Fattoruso [Hugo y Osvaldo], ni hablar… Y otro solista muy conocido, que está afuera… [a ninguno se nos ocurrió preguntar si se refería a Jaime Roos, que recién había regresado a Uruguay]. Mirá que en Argentina hay candombe al igual que acá, al igual que toda esta costa”.

#92 / Racism 2.0: France is French, stupid!

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“The Africans” celebrating their World Cup victory in Russia ’18 (photo credit: French Football Federation)

 

Every four years the same bullshit: as soon as a European country with more than one black player in its national team starts winning games in the World Cup, the dormant racist shows his/her true colors.

“Well, yeah… They’re not really [insert “German,” “French,” “English” or any other supposedly “white” country], they’re all Africans.”

Nobody mentions the fact that, in the case of France, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has Catalonya roots and defender Lucas Hernández’s parents are from Spain. No. The only thing that matters for these idiotic, ignorant turds is the fact that Pogba, Mbappé, Dembele and other black players for the newly crowned World Champion are “African.” Never mind that all except one (Umtiti, born in Cameroon but in France since age 2) were fucking BORN in France. I could go on and on forever, team by team, pointing out evidence of the effect migration has had on those teams (even those without “Africans”), but better let Fernando Santullo speak.

Santullo is a Uruguayan rapper and journalist who, on June 21, published a must-read opinion piece in Búsqueda, a major Uruguayan weekly. With his permission, I translated the Spanish-language piece into English. It is, in my opinion, the text that better describes the problem with people saying France, for example, is “not really French” due to the presence of “naturalized Africans” in the team (another false statement).

Note to American (U.S.) readers: when I say “football” I’m obviously referring to what you call “soccer,” whatever that means.

Here Santullo’s story in Búsqueda (click here for the original link in Spanish):

The Ball’s Skin

by Fernando Santullo

One of the things that become clear during World Cups is that the issue of varieties of skin color, that topic of great interest to racists, is much more entrenched than they would like. Today, there are too many countries whose national teams show highly evident signs of how their societies have been transformed through recent and not-so-recent migratory flows.

This is also visible if you travel a little. It doesn’t have to be New York or Paris; I think of Buenos Aires, which is not so far or foreign to Uruguayans: in Argentina’s capital it is possible to find people from many places and, especially, those people’s children, already born in Argentina. Talking about children born in another country, if we get rid of the term “recent” when referring to the migration flows, you can see that almost all of us who live in Montevideo or Buenos Aires are the result of previous migration flows. And let’s not even talk about the children of the most recent immigrants we’re having the fortune to receive.

What a football World Cup allows us to see is how lots of people react before this new reality; how, for many people, a class vision persists which is concerned with pointing out a player’s ethnicity only when that player seems to come from a poorer country than the country he’s playing for.

I was asking myself on social networks, in a rather crude way: What is racism? Racism is to point out the origin of an English player when he is black and not when he is white. Or when he is a German of Turkish descent and not when his origins are, say, French. Or when you associate, probably unwittingly, citizenship and ethnicity. Moreover, racism appears when your little mental boxes point out ethnicity according to that person’s socioeconomic origin: ethnicity only matters if the player’s family comes from a poorer place. Let us not forget racism is always classist.

Besides being discriminatory, this vision is static and unhistorical. It is discriminatory because the comment about skin color, without fail, is always accompanied by a denigrating expression. It is static because it is not capable of accepting that these changes are taking place. So static that, oftentimes, those who spit out these types of things are people who, at one point in their lives, have migrated to other countries in search of a better future. But, of course, they’re white or, at least, that’s how they perceive themselves and, therefore, they don’t believe they’re part of this global mobility — that’s something people with less light skin do. And it is unhistorical because, almost without exception, that vision comes from people whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were migrants. Ignoring their own past, they don’t even try to understand that the present that surrounds them is a process that includes them and their great-grandparents. They barely look at it like a still photograph that slides in front of their eyes without any intelligible connection to their own personal past. Or collective, as it would be the case in cities like Montevideo or Buenos Aires.

At the same time, during a World Cup it is easy to see that these multi-ethnic national teams represent countries which, generally speaking, are usually richer. And we always come back to the same thing: it is the economy, stupid! People migrate in order to improve their material life, especially when their material life is practically nonexistent, mere survival. That’s why the negative pointing out of a player’s ethnicity (“These negroes can’t be French…” I heard 1,000 times when Uruguay lost against France in the U-20 World Cup final in 2013) only occurs when we’re talking about people who come from poorer countries — the poor is a migrant; the rich, regardless of ethnicity, is an investor or entrepreneur. It is a case of pure and almost always invisible classism. And many times, maybe out of the fashion of remembering the family origins of a player without realizing the bias I’m talking about, the sport journalists themselves are the ones who reproduce these nefarious habits.

This low-intensity classism-racism (its promoters don’t consider themselves one thing or the other, obviously) always necessitates the construction of an “other” to practice it upon. When it does not construct it in a clear and visible way, the ideology’s stench is barely noticeable: in Uruguay, almost no one has ever become scandalized by the fact that the proportion of poor blacks doubles that of poor whites; that’s part of the landscape and it is disguised as folklore: “They don’t want to progress, they just want to play the drums down on the corner.” And this is how they attempt to explain the fact that there are almost no citizens “of strange color” (as Rubén Blades said in “Plástico”) in the university system. Deep down, this vision mirrors the paternalism that characterized slavery in [Uruguay]: the blacks were “servants,” not slaves in a plantation. That closeness dilutes appearances and soothes hearts: The racist is always the other.

That is why it is interesting to see how that classism-racism blossoms, automatically and in HD but never admittedly, during World Cups. The ball reddens hearts and activates xenophobias that were, until then, dormant and without a clear objective. When the ball rolls and is touched by the opponents, the phobias find their objective and become explicit: “These guys are not English… Where have you seen a black Englishman?” Or French: “How can he be French if his parents were born in Réunion island?” The sad part of these questions thrown in the air by the Racist 2.0 is that the answer is simple and direct: You see plenty of black French and black English in France and in England, as it happens.

In a recent interview with Le Monde, Fernando Savater recalled something that is key in this issue: “Modern citizenship is not having the need to have blood from any particular place in order to be a citizen of a country.” That’s something hard to understand for the ethnicist, who believes citizenship rights must be associated to a particular skin color, origin or genetics.

Lastly, I have news for the xenophobic team: the world will never again be what your phobias and attractions thought they were. And I say “thought they were” because imaginary purities were never real: migration never stopped happening since we left the Horn of Africa and expanded ourselves throughout the world. And it will never stop happening: for as long as people understand it is worth moving and risking one’s life when it comes to look for a better life, migratory processes will continue happening and enriching us.

Thanks to that, we won’t stop enjoying Özil’s German technical skills, Pogba’s French power or Sánchez’s Uruguayan suede-shoe foot. Even if their skin color itches them, all the Racists 2.0 can do is learn how to scratch themselves.  

(Originally published in Spanish 0by Uruguay’s Búsqueda on June 21, 2018)

#93 / Mi reportaje perdido a Eduardo Mateo

MateoCon los periodistas que han escrito durante tantos lustros en las páginas de crítica, ni te molestes”, me escribió Jaime Roos hace unos días, después de que yo le comentara sobre el libro reciente de Milita Alfaro. “Se cocinaron solos. Es lo que tiene la palabra escrita, después no la borra nadie…”

Yo no me salvo de ésa. Nunca quedé satisfecho con ninguna de mis historias, pero lo que publiqué entre 1979 y 1992 (cuando finalmente me hizo click y logré algo meramente adecuado) fue bochornoso. Como muestra, basta un botón: el 23 de marzo de 1983, El Debate publicó mi reportaje a Eduardo Mateo. De entrada, el “Eduardo Matteo” del titular y el “Jaime Ross” del texto (ninguno de los dos errores míos; eran las épocas en las que uno llevaba el texto y alguien más lo transcribía, generalmente con horrores ortográficos) casi provoca mi suicidio, pero yo, que recién había cumplido 19 años y hacía tres que escribía “profesionalmente”, no ayudé mucho. El final de la nota es realmente impresentable y me lo llevaré a la tumba. Lo que sí me gustó fueron las respuestas de Mateo, a quien encontré una vez después de un show en el teatro Nuevo Stella (creo que fue la última presentación de Pastoral, antes de su disolución). Le había pedido que llegara a casa (un segundo piso en Colonia entre Ejido y Yaguarón) a eso de las 9 de la noche, y que fuera puntual. A las 9 en punto, suena el timbre y ahí estaba Mateo, empapado y con una guitarra (también empapada y sin sobre ni estuche) sobre el hombro.

“¿Está lloviendo?” pregunté mientras abría la puerta y miraba a la calle. “No”, me respondió, y en lugar de preguntarle por qué estaba chorreando, decidí subir e iniciar el reportaje. Mi primera pregunta (que inteligentemente dejé afuera) fue memorable: “Qué bueno verte de nuevo… Estabas como desaparecido… ¿Dónde andabas?”

“Mmm-mirá, l-l-loco…” empieza a balbucear Mateo. “Y-yo n-n-no sé si vos s-sab-sabés, p-pero y-yo… Estuve en cana”. Yo quedé blanco. Debería haberlo sabido y después me enteré que había caído, como tantas otras veces, en una de las infames razzias que hacían por esa época y había estado preso y/o en el Vilardebó.

Pese a mis limitaciones, la pasamos bárbaro y días después recibo un llamado de Renée Mieres, su novia de aquella época, para decirme que Mateo quería invitarme a comer a su casa, donde vivía con ella en la rambla frente a Malvín. Fui, comimos bárbaro (cocinó Mateo) y en un momento le digo, “Che, tocate algo…” Mateo, feliz, fue a buscar la guitarra y, a pedido de Renée, hizo dos increíbles versiónes de “Canción para renacer” e “Y hoy te vi”.

Un año después me fui de Uruguay y nunca más lo volví a ver. Cuando murió en 1990, escribí una nota para el diario Noticias del Mundo de Los Ángeles y muchos años después, en 2007, David Fricke (uno de mis mayores ídolos hasta que le dio cinco estrellas al nuevo de Juanes) escribió una maravilla en Rolling Stone sobre Mateo solo bien se lame.

Entonces acá está: mis torpes preguntas y las grandes respuestas de Mateo en 1983. Era uno de mis reportajes olvidados (Spinetta Jade y Dino Saluzzi son los otros dos que estoy tratando de recuperar). Todo el mérito es de Mateo. Sólo los errores son míos.

Eduardo Mateo 1

¿Qué es “La máquina del tiempo“?

“La máquina del tiempo” es un juego, una ficción que trata de poner en funcionamiento la imaginación de la gente, para que la fantasía haga de sus conocimientos y poderes lo más conveniente. Por ejemplo, si aclara algo, el hipocondrio es un poder de la mente, de la imaginación y, por lo tanto, de la fantasía. “La máquina…” trata de que las personas, en vez de imaginarse el cáncer, se imagine que nunca va a envejecer. O sea, enseña a la gente, a través de viajes en el tiempo, a no envejecer nunca. Bueno, ahora arreglate como puedas para ponerlo, porque esto lo aprendí de Einstein.

Lo que Einstein fue para la ciencia mundial, ¿pretendés que “La máquina…” lo sea para la música nacional?

Por supuesto, lo es. Es más: la ficción, en ese sentido, precisamente, es la trascendencia de músicos como, por ejemplo, Hugo Fattoruso, Jaime Roos, Wayne Shorter, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, John McLaughlin y, para mi gusto, que son increíbles cómo ficcionan la música en el tiempo, los músicos hindúes como Ravi Shankar.

Por lo que escucho, se nos viene algo que poco y nada tiene que ver con lo habitual…

Ah… Por supuesto. “La máquina…” no es un recital más. Es una obra de teatro musical.

¿Algo que ver con “Tres bigotes y una mosca más uno”?

Es más o menos parecido, o superior. Yo sigo trabajando, pero mi deseo es superarme. Con “Tres bigotes…” no estaba conforme; mi objetivo es “La máquina…” Ahora bien: actualmente estamos junto a Horacio Buscaglia en la introducción a “La máquina del tiempo”. Luego vendrá la segunda, etcétera.

¿Qué relación habrá entre el disco y el espectáculo?

Cada espectáculo de “La máquina…” va a ser grabado en un L.D. que saldrá a la venta. Claro, sino, ¿para qué se va a grabar el L.D.? Además se va a vender un librito con la introducción de “La máquina…” que es el título del espectáculo. Yo casi no voy a usar la guitarra, ya que la parte musical será casi toda en playback. Además, también en off, habrá efectos de sonido representativos de computadoras, cerebros electrónicos, robots, etcétera.

¿Qué lugar ocupa el humor?

Ocupa el lugar de las dimensiones de cada persona. De acuerdo a la capacidad de cada uno, para captar la relación que existe entre entre el espectáculo y la vida cotidiana, “La máquina…” va a ser un símbolo en la sensibilidad del espectador.

Te veo feliz…

Estoy muy contento, estoy como en expectativa. La primera parte está hecha y, aunque la segunda me pueda resultar difícil, tengo fe.

Previamente a algún trabajo tuyo, ¿te habías sentido tan feliz?

La vez que me he sentido más feliz, es ahora.

¿Se debe a algo en especial?

Se debe a algo muy importante, y es al mensaje de “La máquina…” para que los seres humanos olviden todo aquello que lleva a la vejez.

¿Te referís a la senectud física o espiritual?

Es que una cosa trae la otra. Por supuesto, el espíritu es aquello que le da brillo o sombra al aspecto físico.

Noto cierta repulsión tuya hacia todo lo referente a la vejez…

Sí, es temor. Tengo miedo terrible a la vejez. No quiero envejecer nunca. Me rebelo totalmente a la vejez.

¿Qué influencias hay de la vejez en tu música?

Y… Por lo que hemos andado, te darás cuenta que ha influido en todo.

No entiendo.

¿Cómo…?

Supongo que crees que saco en conclusión una música “pasiva” de tu parte… (??)

Estoy creando mucho más que antes, es una necesidad.

Y todo por la vejez.

Claro, claro. La preocupación por el tiempo se la debo a Horacio Buscaglia, que me ha sabido aconsejar sobre escritores capos en el asunto como Powell, Borges, Kafka, etcétera.

Muchos han hablado de El Kinto, pero no recuerdo palabras tuyas al respecto…

El Kinto fue un buen grupo de música afro-beat y, según Buscaglia, en ese tiempo El Kinto estaba adelantado. Yo, modestamente, pienso que hicimos lo que pudimos. Cuando nosotros incluimos las tumbadoras, a Santana nadie lo conocía.

¿Cómo los recibieron?

Cuando nos vieron entrar al Parque Hotel, al lado de Delfines, Sexteto, etcétera, dijeron: “Uy, mirá… Contrataron una sonora…” Pero, por suerte, cuando actuamos, tuvimos un recibimiento fenómeno de parte de la muchachada.

¿Lo esperaban?

No lo pensamos. Nos gustaba lo que hacíamos y nos importaba un pito todo.

¿Qué pasaría con El Kinto ahora?

Francamente, no lo sé. Pero tocaríamos con mucha fe, con mucha sangre. Esas cosas se transmiten. Pero pienso que, por el interés de la prensa y de la muchachada que siempre nos recuerda y tiene nuestro disco, pienso que sí, que El Kinto gustaría.

¿Qué concepto tenés del Canto Popular?

Yo pienso que es un movimiento de muchos estilos. Vale, todo vale.

Recordando la “época de oro” de nuestra música y su abrupta extinción, ¿pensás que pueda suceder algo similar con el Canto?

En cuanto a eso, tengo fe de que la gente, la gente nueva, porque cada vez hay más gente nueva, se le despierte más y más (como sé que se la va a despertar) ese interés por defender lo nuestro.

Cambiando de tema, ¿qué pasa en el Puente Sobre el Mundo?

Es un bolichito hermoso de dos plantas, en el cual (en planta alta) se hace música. Actualmente estamos trabajando Leo Maslíah y yo. Exhorto y pido por favor a toda la gente que no nos olvide y nos vea. El brebaje es muy barato y, además, hay juegos para distraerse en los momentos que para la música.

¿Qué opinás de Leo?

Es un tipo increíble. Sinceramente me simpatiza, lo quiero en pila y lo que hace es sensacional. Por fin lo conocí. He escuchado un montón de cosas de él sin conocerlo, hasta que al final lo conocí.

Finalmente, quiero que me digas tus estudios musicales.

Estudié solfeo con Nydia Scaffo, maestra sensacional que fue una madre para mí. Luego que terminé, hice un tiempo con Amílcar Rodríguez.

**

Como si esta última pregunta no hubiese estado más fuera de lugar, cerré la nota con una cita de Jaime Roos (que le pedí para acompañar la nota) que no necesitaba más nada, pero después de la cita la rematé con una pelotudez que no voy a revelar acá. Así que cerramos con Jaime, a secas:

“Eduardo Mateo es el más grande compositor, letrista, cantante y guitarrista de la música uruguaya. Si tomamos su capacidad de improvisación, sólo Hugo Fattoruso lo empareja. En resumen, son los dos maestros. Pero ponelo onda ‘Los Dos Leones’, como la fábrica de pastas: Los Dos Maestros”.

 

 

#94 / NEGRITUD: Recordando a Alfonso López Domínguez

Lopez 2

Foto de ALD cortesía Fernando Peláez

No tengo datos claros sobre la vida y muerte de Alfonso López Domínguez. Sólo sé que, en el par de años que me tocó conocerlo (1982-84), sus enseñanzas y ejemplo de cómo organizar un espectáculo dejaron una gran huella en mí. Desde 1984 vivo en EE.UU. y puedo decir que jamás vi un mejor promotor de espectáculos y manager de artistas. Sin embargo, “El Flaco” López Domínguez es un personaje casi olvidado por muchos de quienes lo conocieron y un signo de interrogación para las nuevas generaciones que (si leen esto) deben estar preguntándose “¿Quién carajo es López Domínguez?”

Me embola olímpicamente dar datos biográficos (que no los tengo) sobre gente sobre la que escribo. Lo mío es, simplemente, compartir mis experiencias y visión y esperar que algún día alguien escriba la debida biografía que Alfonso López Domínguez se merece. Pero como tampoco quiero ser un extraterrestre y hacerle las cosas difíciles al lector, acá van datos rapiditos sobre este pionero de la profesión de manager de artistas en Uruguay: fue periodista, empleado público y manager de Tótem y Psiglo, dos bandas emblemáticas de la música popular y el rock uruguayos. Organizó los primeros festivales nacionales de música “beat” en Uruguay y estuvo detrás de los primeros conciertos grandes en la carrera de Jaime Roos, así como el concierto de Los Jaivas en el Cine Plaza en 1982 (iban a presentar Alturas de Machu Picchu, pero la censura militar hizo que tocaran otro repertorio) y el retorno de Opa en el mismo cine en 1981.

“Negritud” es un término que el flaco usaba mucho: era para describir esa onda montevideana de nutrirse de lo negro del candombe y lo oscuro de la milonga, ese género que alguien describió como “el blues de Montevideo”. Esta serie de blogs son, simplemente, mis conversaciones con músicos, periodistas y otras personas que conocieron a López Domínguez. Lo actualizaré ni bien tenga el contenido, las energías y el tiempo para hacerlo, pero no puedo empezar esto sin antes explicar cuál fue mi asociación con López Domínguez.

Lo conocí en 1982, la noche en la que el grupo chileno Los Jaivas iba a presentarse en el Cine Plaza de Montevideo. Yo tenía 18 años, no tenía un peso y llegué al cine sin saber si podría entrar, pero lucía orgulloso mi primer carné de prensa, emitido por La Voz de Paso Molino, Belvedere y Capurro, un semanario (¿o mensual?) barrial para el que colaboraba (ad honorem, de más está decir).

Llego a la boletería y pregunto si habría alguna manera de entrar al concierto como periodista. La chica mira mi carné y, poco impresionada, me dice. “Tenés que hablar con López Domínguez”. “No lo conozco”, le digo. “¿Cómo es él? ¿Cómo lo puedo ubicar?” “Ah, no te preocupes…” me dice la boletera. “Debe estar en el lobby. Nomás mirá a toda la gente y, cuando veas a uno onda jirafa, el más alto de todos, ése es López Domínguez”.

Voy al lobby, miro, y ahí estaba: un flaco altísimo de bigotes, elegantemente vestido con un traje gris y corbata negra. Me acerco, me presento y básicamente repito lo que le dije a la boletera. El Flaco agarró mi carné, lo miró de ambos lados, miró mi foto y me miró de arriba a abajo. Miraba la foto y me miraba a mí. En un momento, muy amablemente, me dice “OK, esperame acá y en un rato te hago entrar”.

Habrán pasado 10 minutos, y el Flaco me ubicó en la planta alta (igual se veía y escuchaba bien). Cuando termina el concierto, me encuentra en la puerta y me pregunta si me había gustado el concierto. Nos quedamos hablando un rato y me pide mi teléfono, “para informarte de algún otro espectáculo y ponerte en la lista”. Le pedí si me ayudaba a hacerle una entrevista al Gato Alquinta, y me dijo que coordinara todo con Eduardo Irigoyen, que era su mano derecha. Al otro día fui a un hotel cerca de la Plaza del Entrevero (¿el Crillón?) e hice el reportaje, mi primer reportaje a un músico (ni recuerdo dónde lo publiqué).

A los pocos días, suena el teléfono en casa. Era López Domínguez, para invitarme a su casa (un cuarto que rentaba en una casa en Ejido y Galicia) “a charlar de música”. En esa conversación telefónica me contó algo que me partió la cabeza: él había sido manager de Tótem y Psiglo, dos de mis bandas favoritas (especialmente Tótem, a quienes adoro hasta el día de hoy). Le cuento orgulloso a mi madre que “el manager de Tótem quiere hablar conmigo” y mi vieja, mi hincha número uno siempre, abrió los ojos asombrada.

Cuando llego a la casa, lo primero que me impactó fueron las paredes de su cuarto: estaban empapeladas con posters de… ¡Menudo! Eran de la época de Xavier, la primera integración en hacerse famosa (yo los odiaba) pero recuerdo que en uno de los pósters ya estaba Ricky Martin. Imagínense: llego onda Tótem, y me encuentro con esto:

Menudo

No dije nada, pero ya me puse medio en alerta. No tengo pudor en reconocerlo, pero en esa época yo era culpable de la homofobia tan común en el mundo, y Uruguay no era (ni es) la excepción. Muchos homosexuales me paraban en la calle para “levantarme” porque decían que me parecía “a uno de los de Menudo”. Yo me ponía furioso. Y cuando el Flaco me pidió que me acercara para ver la hebilla de un cinturón tejano que había comprado en Houston, Texas, en 1981, noté cómo hábilmente el Flaco bajaba la mano. Yo logré dar un paso atrás y aceleré la charla, concentrándome exclusivamente en la música. No le dije nada y al rato me fui. Nos saludamos cordialmente y quedamos en vernos en otro momento. Pero a mí me había quedado una sensación rara.

Entonces lo llamo a Irigoyen y, con mi uruguayez de la época, delicadamente le pregunto: “Bo, decime la verdad: ¿López Domínguez es puto?” Eduardo dijo que no. Cuando le conté lo que me había pasado, él repetía: “No es puto”. Pero después le contó a López Domínguez y éste me llamó por teléfono para recriminarme por qué no le había preguntado directamente a él. No estaba enojado. El Flaco era un tipo con tremendo sentido del humor, pero le había causado gracia que un pendejo de 18 años se hubiese horrorizado porque un veterano tenía pósters de Menudo en la pared y porque “le había tocado la hebilla”. Ni me reconoció ni me negó nada, pero al final, quedamos bien y me dice: “Oíme: estoy por hacer otro concierto grande y quiero que me ayudes con prensa. ¿Lo tenés a Jaime Roos?”

Yo no era el fan de Jaime que soy ahora, pero tenía sus tres primeros discos; me gustaban todos, pero Aquello, para mí, era una obra maestra, y en poco tiempo saldría Siempre son las cuatro, que era como Aquello pero en esteroides. “Bueno, mirá: vamos a hacer un show con Rada, Falta y Resto y Leo Maslíah en el Teatro de Verano. ¿Te prendés?” “¿Y cómo no me voy a prender?”

Cuando empezó la organización del concierto, el Flaco ya se había mudado de su cuarto en Ejido; ahora vivía (“vivía” es un decir) en un cuartel general instalado en una casa desvencijada que creo que quedaba en Germán Barbato o Hermano Damasceno. Eran las ruinas de lo que había sido un comité del Partido Colorado, si la memoria no me falla, del grupo de [Manuel] Flores Mora o [Manuel] Flores Silva. No había electricidad ni agua, era un desastre, pero ahí se juntaban un montón de chicos jóvenes (los pegatineros), más Irigoyen y dos veteranos más: Quique Introini (que era amigo de mi madre y no sé cómo fue a dar ahí) y un pelado de apellido Reyes, que sugirió que el show se llamara “Falta y Resto al candombe”, pero el Flaco lo vetó: “Mmmm… Me suena mucho a ‘tallarines a la marsala'”.

[Aclaración de Eduardo Irigoyen vía Facebook: “Un detalle: la casa tenía electricidad y agua, pero a veces la cortaban porque no daba para pagar. El club era del Partido Colorado, pero pertenecía a una pequeña agrupación batllista que en las elecciones internas de 1982 le faltaron menos de 10 votos para sacar un convencional. No era ni de Flores Mora ni Flores Silva. Se llamaba Agrupación Batllista para el Cambio. Eran amigos políticos del Flaco y él les dio una mano en la campaña del ’82”.]

Al final, López Domínguez optó por la cortita y al pie: Rada-Roos-Maslíah. (En un momento de la organización, el Flaco me manda a hacer no sé qué cosa a un local que el comerciante Charles Loewenstein tenía en una galería cerca de la Plaza del Entrevero, y cuando Charles me ve, sonríe socarronamente y me dice “Ah… ¿Vos sos uno de los amiguitos de López Domínguez…?” En el  momento no caí; ahora caigo. Le hubiese dicho: “Sí, soy. ¿Y?”)

Desde esa casa en ruinas, el Flaco y su equipo planeaban los comunicados de prensa y a quién enviárselos; las pegatinas en toda la ciudad; se diseñó el afiche (dos angelitos blancos y uno negro en el medio) y se coordinaba la actividad en las radios, diarios y TV.

RRM

Cortesía Eduardo Irigoyen

Además, de vez en cuando llegaban cassettes (en lugar de cartas) que Jaime Roos le enviaba al Flaco desde Holanda, donde le expresaba cosas como “yo quiero trabajar contigo porque sos el mejor organizador de conciertos del Uruguay”. A veces el Flaco me hacía escuchar partes de esos cassettes, y fue en esos encuentro que descubrí la brillantez de la mente de Jaime y, sobre todo, su profesionalismo. “¿Ves?” me decía el Flaco. “[Jaime] no solamente hace música, sino que la defiende y entiende que no se trata de un disco o una canción, sino de una carrera; la tiene clarísima”. (Muchos años después, Gustavo Santaolalla le diría exactamente lo mismo a un joven León Gieco: que no se trata de un disco, solamente, sino de una carrera y uno debe tener mucho cuidado con los pasos que da)

Fue en ese cuartel general que el Flaco me dijo algo que jamas olvidé: “Todos los conciertos deben tener un motivo”. El motivo principal era que toda banda debe tener un disco. López Domínguez era enemigo acérrimo de “tocar por tocar”, o simplemente tocar para hacer plata. Todo artista debía, primero, concentrarse en hacer un buen disco, inundar los medios de prensa con el disco por varios meses y recién ahí, después de “comer arroz” por un tiempo (como le pasó a Tótem), hacer buenos conciertos con entradas agotadas.

En el “cuartel general” yo notaba que, de vez en cuando, El Flaco intercambiaba miradas con alguno de los chicos y desaparecía por horas en uno de los cuartos de la casona. En un momento lo encaro a Irigoyen y le digo: “Entonces, ¡es! ¡Vos me dijiste que no era!” Mi pelotudez no tenía límites. Irigoyen me dio una respuesta perfecta: “Vos me preguntaste si era ‘puto’. ‘Puto’ no es. Quizás sea homosexual, pero ‘puto’ no es. El Flaco es un caballero. Si tenés alguna duda o te molesta algo, decíselo a él”.

Nunca le pregunté nada. “Ibargoyen” (como lo llamaba el Flaco) tenía razón: López Domínguez no sólo fue un caballero conmigo y todos los que lo rodeaban, sino que fue una de las mentes más brillantes (y excelente periodista, cuando tenía ganas) que conocí en mi vida.

Debajo del inmenso mapa de Montevideo que el Flaco tenía en la pared para organizar bien la pegatina (y que usaba para decirnos por qué era importante concentrarse en un barrio y no en otro), uno de los pegatineros le dijo. “Flaco, son las 10 de la noche y todavía no comí nada”. En la casa había una garrafa (supergas, creo que se llamaba; perdón, yo hacer muchos años que vivir en EE.UU. y olvidarme de los nombres) donde se cocinaba el único menú que recuerdo: papas fritas con huevos fritos. Eso era lo que comían todos… cuando se comía. El Flaco inmediatamente le dio su plato al pegatinero, con la condición de que, ni bien comiera, siguiera con la pegatina.

El show, finalmente bautizado como “Rada-Roos-Maslíah”, fue un éxito, pero el Flaco no vio un mango. O sea: vio, pero no era ni cerca lo que merecía. En medio de la organización, el Flaco se enteró que el promotor Edmundo San Martín había hecho no sé qué cosa (creo que le había negado una entrada a un amigo de él, aunque Irigoyen lo recuerda de otra manera) y fue hasta el Palacio de la Música y le pegó un piñazo.

Hasta que dejé Uruguay el 1 de febrero de 1984, me habré juntado con el Flaco decenas de veces en su casa, en la mía o en algún restaurante. Yo lo invitaba de vez en cuando y él se afeitaba y se vestía con su veintiúnico traje (el de siempre) y hablábamos horas (al escribir este blog me rondó en la cabeza el título “Los portones del señor López Domínguez”, en clara alusión a Las puertitas del Señor López, la historieta de Altuna, pero también la podría haber llamado “El lungo del trajecito gris”). En una de mis últimas noches en Montevideo, decidí hacerle un reportaje de casi dos horas. El cassette se extravió en algún rincón del Este de Texas, pero por suerte Fernando Peláez, autor de De las Cuevas al Teatro Solís, hizo un reportaje similar cuya transcripción gentilmente me cedió.

Para leer el testimonio en primera persona de Alfonso López Domínguez, vayan a la siguiente página. Es imperdible.

#95 / The Jaime Roos ‘Complete Works’: A Must-Have for (Serious) Alt Latin Music Lovers

Photo by Mario Marotta Jr.

Photo by Mario Marotta Jr.

[UPDATE on 7/26/18: All 13 volumes released so far are available on Spotify and other digital platforms.]

Unless you’re from Uruguay or Argentina, chances are you have no clue as to who Jaime Roos is. I won’t bore you with ultimately unimportant biographical details, but here’s a story I wrote about him years ago.

To make it quick and painless: Jaime Roos is one of the most successful and influential musicians (at least in neighboring countries) to ever come out of Uruguay and, if you’re into World Music in general (and Latin alternative/popular music in particular) you absolutely must find a way to obtain his Obra Completa series. As stated in the series itself:

“The collection Jaime Roos: obra completa includes all of the artist’s recordings to date. The audio has been transferred in high definition from the best available sources, then restored and remastered especially for this edition. It also includes all the graphic material from the original releases.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, as of today, the only way you can get these masterpieces is through a friend in Uruguay or Argentina, and there are no plans to ever have these albums available on digital platforms (that’s the whole point of the collection; you want to have the original art and info).

Uruguay’s Bizarro label is behind this mammoth project (from material originally released mostly by Ayuí and Orfeo), and in this blog you’ll have samples from each record (using original sound, not the remastered sound available in Obra Completa) and full translation of the Spanish liner notes for each album, specifically written for this collection by Brazilian musicologist and author Guilherme de Alencar Pinto.

Keep in mind Uruguay is a country with a population of a little more than 3 million (even less when Jaime started making music), so the meager sales figures mentioned in this blog are huge by Uruguayan standards (at one point, Jaime would become the best-selling local solo artist in the country’s history).

I will update the blog as new batches of CDs are released, and whenever I feel I want (and have the time) to add more of my own commentary for each album (so keep checking back for updates). Within the liner notes, you’ll find brackets with my own text, which I added for clarification. But I tried to respect the superb original notes by Guilherme as much as I could. Most of all, Jaime’s eclectic, timeless music should speak for itself. Listen loudly as you read.

My only reservation with this collection is that Jaime opted to release the albums chronologically, which means sometimes collaborations, live albums and rarities come before his albums of original material. No biggie. I’m just an impatient guy.

So here we go, starting with…

Candombe del 31 (1977)

jr-candombe-31

“Cometa de La Farola” is an early murga-song Jaime wrote while in Amsterdam, after receiving a newspaper clip from his father informing him that his beloved soccer team, Defensor, had won the Uruguayan tournament in 1976. It was the first time a “small” team won the tournament since the beginning of Uruguay’s professional era in 1932. Overcome by emotion, Jaime wrote what he once considered “a children’s song.” Years later, he would record an alternate version of it. Here’s the original:

And here, in my opinion, is one of the best (if not the best) candombe performances on guitar ever.

Complete liner notes by Brazilian musicologist, critic and author Guilherme de Alencar Pinto:

“On September 13, 1975, Jaime Roos got on a plane on his way to Madrid. The main pretext was a series of performances with Patria Libre, the Latin American folk music group he was a member of. His deeper motivation was to travel the world while escaping the oppressive climate of Uruguay, which had succumbed to a [military] dictatorship since 1973. Jaime was 21 and had worked professionally as an instrumentalist since age 16. He had written the music for a play in addition to four songs, only one of which (the 1973 ballad ‘Hoy’) had been performed live by Epílogo de Sueños, where Jaime was the bassist. But it was in Europe where Jaime finally developed as a composer, especially in December, when he moved to Paris and embarked on a personal artistic project he hadn’t foreseen until then.

In August 1976 he selected four of the songs he had finished and recorded a demo at Adam Studio in Roissy-en-Brie, a Paris suburb. Lacking alternatives, he played all the instruments, not devoid of a certain fascination for exploring the possibilities of multi-track recording and testing himself, albeit unofficially, as a one-man orchestra. Except for the bass, all the instruments were loaned to him. Because he couldn’t pay more than a few hours of studio time, both the recording and the mix were done almost without retouches.

Soon after, Jaime and his girlfriend — the Dutch Franca Aerts — went to Mexico with a plan: to hitchhike through Latin America and visit Uruguay, where they finally arrived in December 1976. In Montevideo, Jaime showed the recordings to Coriún Aharonián, co-founder and head of the Ayuí label, who immediately proposed to him an LP. Coriún figured those demos sounded better than anything that could be produced in Uruguayan studios, and decided to include them in the album. In retrospect, those four French recordings are the least ‘professional’ in all of Jaime’s discography, but their existence made it possible to finish the album recording only six additional songs, despite Ayuí’s tight budget. Four of them had been completed after the making of the demo (‘Viaje a las ruinas’ and ‘Carta [a Poste Restante]’ reflect the Latin American trip). To complete six, Jaime used ‘Te acordás hermano’ — the only pre-Europe song that made it onto the record — and specifically wrote ‘Y es así.’

At Sondor studios, Jaime had even less hours than in Paris (and more songs to record), but he chose simpler arrangements. Besides, he had guests: Jorge Bonaldi and Jorge Lazaroff, his buddies in projects like Patria Libre and Aguaragua; Luis Sosa (legendary drummer and former member of El Kinto) had shared with Jaime works for the stage and TV, and that’s how this candombe-beat pioneer also played in the first murga-beat: ‘Cometa de la farola.

The first batch of the LP was printed in a hurry (to coincide with the series of release shows in April and May of 1977) and its cover didn’t please those who had designed it. For the next batch, the colors were corrected, and this is the version utilized on the cover of the present edition.

Jaime returned to Europe immediately following those shows. Candombe del 31 sold a little more than 100 copies in its first two years of existence. Later, the increasing repercussion of his following albums fed the curiosity for this first work, which became a cult album and sold a little more than 1,000 copies on vinyl and cassette. This is the first complete CD release.”

Go to the next page to read/hear about 1978’s Para espantar el sueño.

#96 / Roberto Canessa y el mito del “No aguanto más”

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En diciembre de 2015 me llegó el adelanto de un libro que me paralizó: I Had To Survive (Atria Books), la versión en inglés del libro del Dr. Roberto Canessa que finalmente salió publicado (en inglés y español) el 1 de marzo de 2016. Para quienes no reconozcan el nombre, Canessa fue uno de los sobrevivientes del llamado “Milagro de los Andes” de 1972. A nivel personal, siempre quise hablar con Canessa, Fernando Parrado o algún otro sobreviviente de la tragedia/milagro; fue esa odisea, así como los milagros futbolísticos uruguayos a lo largo de la historia, lo que me permitió (como persona sin muchos estudios) sobreponerme a todo y “meterle para adelante” siempre. La publicación de este libro me daba la oportunidad de, finalmente, hablar con la persona que a lo largo de mis 52 años me vino a la mente siempre que me dije “no aguanto más”. Milagrosamente, siempre salí de todo y aquí estoy, lleno de moretones pero vivo y coleando.

Inmediatamente me comuniqué con mi editora en The Associated Press y mi nota salió publicada junto con el lanzamiento del libro.

Lo que sigue es la transcripción casi completa de mi videochat por Skype con Canessa y Pablo Vierci, el coautor del libro, en enero de este año. Ni bien pueda agregaré algunos detalles que faltan, pero ojalá este fragmento de mi conversación de casi una hora les sirva para que piensen dos veces antes de sucumbir ante ese falso “no aguanto más” que nos ataca a todos.

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Antes que nada, hábleme un poco sobre su relación con Pablo Vierci, el coautor del libro.

Pablo era dos años mayor que yo en el colegio. Nos presentamos a un concurso de poesía. El sacó el 1er puesto y yo el segundo. Rugbistas poetas, una cosa extraña, pero tiene mucha coherencia por la pasión del rugby. Y él se ha convertido en un experto en el tema de los Andes. Pablo escribe el libro La sociedad de la nieve, un libro sumamente exitoso, que da el trasfondo de por qué esas personas sobrevivieron en los Andes, qué características tenían, y [La sociedad de la nieve] tiene una diversidad de fórmulas sobre cómo sobrevivir. El error que ha cometido el mundo es que se piensa que el sobreviviente tiene un perfil solo. Yo creo que el sobreviviente, así como el vivir la vida, tiene muchos perfiles. Y él logró enfocar en cada uno de los sobrevivientes cuál fue su perfil. Tal es así que, cuando hacíamos ese libro, en cierto momento le digo, “Mirá, Pablo, yo creo que nosotros tuvimos que crear una sociedad nueva adaptada a ese lugar… Creo que vivíamos en una sociedad en la nieve, totalmente diferente a la sociedad civilizada”. Y le encantó ese nombre. Y tanto le encantó que al capítulo le había llamado “La sociedad de la nieve”. Lo malo es que, a los que [publicaron] el libro, también les gustó y lo usaron para nombre del libro. Y nos dimos cuenta que nos habían quedado muchas puertas interiores por abrir, de ver que la persona que había pasado por todo eso obviamente tiene que haber dejado marcas en la conciencia y el espíritu que podrían haberse transformado en un problema terrible. Alguien dijo, “Estos muchachos vivieron tanto que su alma ya tiene 80 años y no les auguramos una larga vida”. Bueno, aquí sigo, [44] años después. Entonces, junto con Pablo buscamos en esa idea de por qué me aferraba yo tanto a los pacientes, por qué buscaba casos perdidos e imposibles, y surge la duda: ¿Ya era así antes o soy ahora así? Pablo tuvo esa intuición, quizás por su formación de psicólogo, de ir viendo adentro y fuimos encontrando cosas. Una mañana estábamos hablando por teléfono y le digo, “Pablo, cuando veo la ventana del ecógrafo y veo a ese niño ahí adentro, es como la ventana del fuselaje que me unía a la vida”. Y ahí Pablo compró. “Pero Pablo, ¿no será un divague?” “¡No, Roberto, eso es así, es así! ¡Es terriblemente poderoso! Tú estás vinculado a todo lo que es la búsqueda de la vida”. Y así fueron surgiendo muchos paralelismos. Y yo seguí viviendo la vida, no como sobreviviente pero sí como rescatista, ¿no? De ayudar a salir de su montaña a tantas familias y, en ese sentido, he tenido un retorno espiritual maravilloso, con esos padres agradecidos, que a fin de año vienen con esas niñas grandes. María del Rosario ya cumplió 12 años… Los padres tenían grandes dudas, si no era traumatizante para ellas poner todas sus peripecias en el libro. Y ellas decían, “Pero mamá, ¿cómo no voy a estar yo en el libro de Roberto, si él me salvó la vida?” [El libro muestra] un camino impresionante para mucha gente que maneja adversidades como todos y a veces con adversidades extremas, como es tener que comerte a los muertos, como es sentir que te vas a morir. ¿Cómo convivir con esos muertos que están alrededor tuyo y cómo sobrevivir y salir adelante? Este libro está dedicado a los que sufren, para que sepan que hay esperanzas. Creo que ése es el gancho más importante del libro. No solamente de la cordillera ni de una enfermedad, sino de muchas cosas.

“La cordillera de la vida”…

¡Claro! Es una imagen un poco gastada, que cada cual tiene su propia cordillera y la trepa como puede, pero yo creo que cada cual tiene sus problemas y los maneja como puede. Acá lo que hay es una manera de manejarlos. No solamente la manera mía sino la manera de los pacientes. Siempre surge una madre o un padre que están enganchados de manera diferente, y eso es lo fascinante: que podemos resolver problemas muy importantes con diferentes palancas, cuñas, gatos, herramientas.

Sacando fuerzas de donde uno no tiene… El ejemplo de los Andes siempre me marcó mucho, es un recordatorio constante de que muchas veces nos sentimos que no damos más pero siempre como que queda una reserva que ni nosotros mismos conocemos, ¿no?

Es el famoso lema del “no aguanto más”. Yo sentía eso a la media hora del accidente, pero resulta que aguantás mucho más. Aguantamos 72 días. Si nos hubiesen dicho “vas a tener que esperar 72 días”, yo hubiese dicho “No, yo me muero ahora y me ahorro todo el resto”. Y ese “no aguanto más” es una sensación espiritual, no es una realidad material. No sabemos nosotros cuándo es “no aguanto más”, no sabemos cuáles son los límites de nuestras fuerzas. Porque seguís aguantando y seguís estando. Y con cada paso en la cordillera no aguantás más, y sin embargo das el siguiente paso. No es que uno no sepa cuánta fuerza tiene: lo que no sabe es dónde está el límite de sí mismo y uno cree que conoce todo de sí mismo, y ése es el error. Cuando uno realmente no aguanta más es cuando se muere. Pero la mayoría de los “no aguanto más” son grandes mentiras.

Después de todo lo que pasó en la cordillera, ¿siente, realmente, que hay algo imposible? ¿Alguna vez se dice a sí mismo que tal o cual cosa “no tiene solución”?

Yo lo único que pienso es que, si logré salir de los Andes, voy a tratar de hacer otras cosas y, si es posible, que me vaya bien. Apliqué la misma fórmula: das un paso, das otro paso, vas caminando, vas viendo, te vas acercando, vas esperando… Vas viendo que le energía te vuelva de vuelta…. Yo creo que el timing es muy importante, a veces. A veces nos apuramos mucho: “No, es imposible”. Lo que es imposible es educar a los hijos, por ejemplo. ¿Viste qué difícil que es cuando te confrontan y te discuten? Y vos decís, “Pero acá no puedo aflojar, tengo que dar el siguiente paso, tengo que seguir avanzando…” Además, yo disfruto de esa incertidumbre gigantesca de los desafíos de la vida. Creo que es lo sabroso. No es un tema de si hay imposibles, el problema es si hay sueños y si estás dispuesto a avanzar hacia ellos. Aunque suene a cliché, la vida es el camino. Si ya te compraste la Ferrari, la remera Lacoste, tenés la modelo, todo, y te mirás al espejo y seguís siendo el mismo estúpido de siempre, entonces te das cuenta que arrancaste mal, que no era de afuera lo que necesitabas, sino de adentro. Por eso hay tanto sufrimiento, porque se te atiborran todas las entradas de placer y quedás intoxicado y no tenés tiempo para sentir, para desarrollarte y te das cuenta que tiene razón el asceta que vive en un camastro y vive realmente conectado a lo espiritual.

En Uruguay nos jactamos de tener el lema ése que dice que en nuestro país “las únicas estrellas están en el cielo”. Me da la impresión de que en Uruguay no se le da hoy tanta importancia al milagro de los Andes que la que se le da en el resto del mundo. Se llegó a insinuar, incluso, que si los pasajeros del avión hubiesen sido de otras clases sociales, no tan “acomodadas” como las de Carrasco, hubiesen salido antes de la montaña. ¿Eso lo molesta o hiere?

Me encanta, me fascina, me parece divertidísimo. Me da mucha lástima el mecánico de Villa Española que se murió triste y solo. Yo le preguntaba cómo se manejaba la radio [del avión], un montón de cosas… Y capaz que es verdad: si [los pasajeros] hubiesen sido de Villa Española hubiesen salido mucho antes, pero no estaban ahí los de Villa Española, ahí estábamos nosotros e hicimos las cosas como pudimos. Yo creo que el conocimiento te ayuda muchísimo. Este país es divino, pero tiene la neurosis del Río de la Plata. Vivimos en la época del tango, del pasado, de que se fue, que no volvió nunca más, todo ese lloro que tenemos constante, y además esa frase tan divina que dice “Y éste que va a hacer? Yo lo conozco, vive en la esquina de casa”. “Si yo nunca me elevé más de dos centímetros del suelo, el otro no puede subir”. Pero eso se está terminando, porque ya estoy viejo y tengo pelo blanco, voy caminando por un corredor del hospital y la gente dice, “Mirá, mirá, ése es el Dr. Canessa, después te cuento su historia”. Pero para eso tuvieron que pasar 40 años, se supo que la historia que contábamos era la verdad, que no había dos versiones, que cumplimos con todos nuestros objetivos de volver a la vida, que fuimos solidarios. Pero está muy bueno eso, es donde vivimos, a nosotros nos gusta ser así también.

La pesadilla no terminó cuando los rescataron, sino que ahí empezó otra odisea, ya que los rescatistas no creían que los sobrevivientes estaban donde ustedes decían que estaban.

Estaban totalmente desconcertados, pensaban que estaban viendo marcianos, no le entendían nada [a Parrado], no entendían cómo habíamos sobrevivido. Era un milagro que nos vieran vivos. Los únicos que sabíamos que no era milagro eramos nosotros, porque lo habíamos vivido, pero [los rescatistas] estaban totalmente desorientados. De las frases más lindas y emocionantes que vi en un diario de Chile era una que decía “Uruguayos tenían que ser”. Ése espíritu negativo que tenemos es el mismo que nos hace no aflojar y nos permitió salir campeones del mundo varias veces. Cuando nos creemos que estamos muy bien, que somos fantásticos, después vamos a la realidad y perdemos 10 a 0. Nosotros tenemos que ir de punto para ganar partidos, no podemos ir de banca. Cuando vamos de banca estamos fritos. Pero al momento del rescate estábamos muy felices. Los chilenos fascinados, como que nacimos de vuelta. Y ver ese helicóptero y saber que iban a volver mis amigos, aunque no sabíamos cuántos iban a volver…

Pero ¿cuántos quedaban en el avión cuando usted salió a caminar con Parrado, y cuántos quedaban cuando volvieron?

Pablo Vierci: Cuando Roberto, Nando y Tintín [Antonio Vizintín, que regresó al fuselaje al tercer día de la caminata de Canessa y Parrado] salieron, quedaban 13 sobrevivientes vivos, 14 con Tintín. O sea que en esos 10 días de caminata ninguno murió. Incluso lo que precipitó la salida de la expedición final fue la muerte de Numa [Turcatti], el último en morir. Pero eso fue antes de la expedición final.

Canessa: Éramos 16 en total. Quedaron esperando 14 en el fuselaje y sobrevivieron todos. Recién el año pasado falleció el primero, que fue Javier Methol.

Me imagino la mezcla de alivio y euforia que sintieron al momento del rescate…

Sentís que lo habíamos hecho como equipo, que les pudimos cumplir. Era un momento de una alegría brutal. Fue como haber pasado 72 días con un elefante sentado en la cabeza y de repente no estaba más el elefante y podías respirar hondo y bajar la guardia.

Como buen (e irracional) futbolero, últimamente desarrollé una especie de fobia contra todo lo chileno. Pero preparándome para esta conversación, lo ví a Carlitos Páez llorando y gritando “¡Viva Chile! al momento del rescate y como que fue un muy necesario ayudamemoria. Así que desde estas líneas le pido disculpas a cualquier chileno que ofendí desde la última Copa América…

Con Chile siempre tuvimos una relación excelente. Vas a Chile, te invita gente, te invitan a una copa… ¿Quién va a negar la hermandad con Chile? Nosotros también somos muy babosos. El chiste ése de que, si salís a una fiesta, tiene que manejar el chileno porque nunca tocaron una copa… Hay una baba de ida y vuelta, pero creo que ellos también tienen derecho de ganar su partido. Con Chile nos podemos agarrar a las tortas en un partido de rugby, pero hay un tercer tiempo que nos une de toda la vida. El otro día escuchaba a un comentarista chileno decir “¡A Uruguay es imposible ganarles, si se caen de un avión y salen caminando!” Desde esa humildad que tuvieron para decir que lo que hicimos era imposible, nos ganaron.

En el libro usted menciona las diferentes personalidades entre usted y Nando, al punto que uno piensa que solamente ese equilibrio entre ustedes dos, esa combinación, hubiese permitido salir de la montaña. ¿Qué tipo de relación tienen hoy?

Somos totalmente diferentes. A Nando le gusta el glamour, Punta del Este, los autos deportivos, y a mí me gusta trabajar de médico. Mi mujer me dice “¿Por qué no hacés como Nando, que la pasa bien? Vos te pasás autoflagelándote”. Ahora estoy en el medio del campo, corriendo atrás de los caballos, transpirando y todo, pero creo que ahí le encuentro el gusto a la vida. Yo no soy para estar tirado en la playa, conversando, o para dar entrevistas con AP por Skype… (se ríe) Me gusta el sabor del asadito casero, y ahora no puedo comerlo porque estoy a dieta.

Explíqueme bien esa imagen de que usted y Nando dormían al borde de un precipicio.

Es lo que había. Estás ahí colgando de una piola y lo único que querés es que la piola no se rompa. Lo importante del libro es poder relatar esos momentos que hacen los seres humanos y cómo los viven y los sienten. Yo te lo puedo contar, pero con un libro podés leerlo y releerlo y ver vos qué harías en ese momento. Ésa es la gran ventaja. Al tener un libro vos manejás el relato. Yo tenía la necesidad de dejar plasmado en un libro cómo son las personas y cómo reaccionan a 4,000 metros en un precipicio. Lo único que sabíamos es que, caminando sin parar, 100,000 pasos al oeste estaba Chile. Ese hilo conductor de la noche, esa lucesita que ves al final del camino que te dice, “No aflojes, seguí, que caminando vas a llegar. Si parás, estás muerto seguro”.

Pero los que caminaron fueron ustedes dos.

Nando estaba totalmente convencido que tenía que ir con él. Él me quería en la escudería, sabía que conmigo iba a andar bien. Y yo no tenía ganas de ir, me parecía absurdo, sentía que me estaba manipulando, que él era el portador del mensaje de, “¡Sí, vamos a sobrevivir!”, como si estuviese dispuesto a inmolarse en la montaña. Un día Arturo Nogueira me dijo “Bo, Roberto, la verdad que vos te debés sentir bárbaro, porque vos te das cuenta que nos podés salvar a todos y yo tengo las piernas quebradas”. Y ahí me di cuenta que me la estaba robando como un sinvergüenza y me convencí que tenía que meter [toda la carne] en el asador y me vino la idea heroica, me decidí a caminar y me importaba un pito si me iba a salvar o no. Hasta ese momento, la idea de especular a que otro saliera funcionó, pero en ese momento hice el click y me decidí a caminar. “Vamos, Nando, qué me importa si me toca morir”. Y Nando tiene una personalidad muy tranquila, muy de seguir y soportar todo… Cuando Nando quiere algo, banca lo que sea. Y bueno, me tenía que bancar a mí. Nos empezamos a transformar en uno, dormíamos abrazados, sin barrera, no había nada, había como una dependencia del uno y del otro. En lugar de ser dos personas, eran cuatro manos y cuatro pies que caminaban por la cordillera con dos cabezas.

Cuando quedaban pocas esperanzas, si no ninguna, su padre, Juan Carlos Canessa, se enteró que usted y Nando habían aparecido con vida mientras estaba en un taxi en Buenos Aires, y terminó llorando y abrazado con el taxista. “Mucho he pensado en aquel taximetrista, del que nunca supe el nombre, que me devolvió la vida justo en el momento en que yo había claudicado”, escribió su padre en el libro. “Recuerdo perfectamente su fisonomía: era ligeramente gordo, el cabello raleado, tenía unos 50 años”. ¿Le gustaría conocer a ese taxista?

Se terminaría la fantasía. No sé si tengo ganas de conocerlo. Es una historia de mi padre, yo no viví ese momento. Es como la carta que desapareció que Nando le tiró al arriero.

Me gustó la desdramatización que se hace en el libro de la antropofagia. Cuando debe mencionarse, se menciona, pero como la cosa más normal, sin demasiadas explicaciones ni justificaciones innecesarias.

Si tengo que encontrar una virtud de todos los sobrevivientes es que todos han sido honestos con la historia. Yo creo que [la historia] es tan fuerte en sí misma que es una lástima desvirtuarla y transformarla en un libro de canibalismo. A mí me dicen, “Ustedes se salvaron porque se comieron a los muertos”, como si fuera una fórmula mágica: te comés un pedazo de muerto y salís de la cordillera. Nosotros nos salvamos porque salimos caminando. Nos salvamos porque encontramos al arriero. Nos salvamos porque éramos un equipo, nos salvamos porque Dios nos ayudó y Dios es grande. Nos salvamos por cosas muchos más valiosas. Ése es el gancho gigantesco de la historia. Las personas creen que lo peor es tener que comerte a los muertos. Lo peor es ver que se mueren todos tus amigos y ver que vos sos el próximo en la fila. Estás ahí en lista de espera para morirte y lográs sobreponerte a eso y que hay una fórmula para hacerlo, y el “no aguanto más” es el umbral de un camino de 70 días.

En el ’94 usted incursionó en la política. Ahora que aparentemente el romance con el Frente Amplio empieza a desgastarse, ¿hay alguna posibilidad de que vuelva a hacer alguna campaña?

¡Tas loco! Si salgo presidente ahora salgo corriendo. Yo lo veo a Tabaré Vásquez, colega, ha envejecido 10 años en nueve meses. En este momento el poder sindical es pavoroso. Tienen toda parada la basura y la tiene que recoger el ejército. Y les siguen diciendo “¡milicos putos, no queremos que recojan la basura!” Estamos metidos en una parafernalia muy terrible, le han dado mucha manija y la manija se soltó ahora y le va a arrancar los dientes a todos los que estén cerca. Es un país muy diferente al que había cuando teníamos el Partido Azul, que era otro Uruguay. No es un momento para enganchar la política.

Yo banco al FA, pero pienso que, justamente, en momentos difíciles se requiere de grandes hombres, y si alguien puede soportar y aguantar cualquier cosa, ¿quién mejor que usted?

Sí, cuando tenía 19 años podía, pero ahora estoy jubilado. Quizás mi nieto sea presidente. Hay 53 fotos en el libro y ves a un flaquito morochito de 19 años que se va poniendo gordo y le aparecen las canas y los hijos. Vos me estás proponiendo para presidente, pero yo tenía 19 años y ahora tengo 62, loco, y peso 98 kilos. No, dejame tranquilo… (se ríe)

Pablo, la última: dame la visión definitiva entre el paralelo entre la montaña y la profesión actual de Canessa.

El vínculo entre la montaña y la profesión de Roberto como cardiólogo infantil es el inicio del inicio, cardiopatías en el feto, en el recién nacido, eso es un vínculo intransferible, no es un simulacro, no está traído de los pelos. Trabajamos 10 años en el libro. Estábamos en el año tres y Roberto me dice, “Pablo tenés que ver a Isabelle [mamá de Agustín, uno de los pacientes]… (se emociona cuando lo dice). Y fui a la casa, los entrevisto a los tres y después me fui y estoy parado con el auto en la Rambla y llamo a Roberto y le digo, “Roberto, el libro cambió de órbita”. La nueva órbita estaba ahí y no la veíamos por estar encandilados con la luz de la cordillera: es la luz que tienen que enfrentar todos los niños todos los días. Lo de la cordillera es más épico, pero lo otro tiene una épica intrínsica. Entre la cordillera y esos niños a los que Canessa ayuda a sobrevivir con su trabajo, encontramos el hilo conductor de la vida.

#97 / ICYMI: Death in/on San Antonio

Death's Bobby Hackney (photo by Veronica Luna)

Death’s Bobby Hackney (photo by Veronica Luna)

Death's Bobbie Duncan (photo by Veronica Luna)

Death’s Bobbie Duncan (photo by Veronica Luna)

On August 21, Death (“the precursors of punk,” some say) performed a stirring set at San Antonio’s Paper Tiger. Shows like these make me come out of my hibernation, but I don’t recall ever feeling the need to write about a show more than a month after it happened. This is why:

It all started around 9, when Fea (recently chosen as Best Punk Band in the SA Music Awards) showed why they’re so bad ass: their stuff is not just power and attitude, but above-average ability to actually fucking arrange songs, spending a little extra time in rehearsals and taking the songs to a better place instead of the usual, simplistic DIY common (and boring) ground. You’re not any less punk if you work on your creations rather than simply relying on energy.

Speaking of “punk” (?), never was Fea more beautiful, and never was Death so full of light. Seeing Pop Pistol’s George Garza body surfing in front of the Detroit Three was one of those unforgettable moments in the local scene.

“Last night, at the ‪#‎deathdetroit‬ concert, I crowd surfed for the first time in my 30 years,” tweeted Garza. “I always felt too big for that ride in my younger days, but the wave overtook me as friends lifted me up, at first against my will, and then in complete surrender. I even kicked someone in the head. I landed right in front of the stage for the last two songs. It was perfect. Furthermore, it was inspiring to witness these guys and be a part of their incredible dream for one night.”

A month after that show, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So sometime in late September I tracked Death down in Miami for a quick phoner with Bobby (bass/vocals) and Dannis Hackney (drums) and Bobbie Duncan (guitar).

You played in SA for the first time, right? What did you expect and what did you find?

Bobby: Yeah, first time. We were expecting wonderful people and we found one.

At one point you said, “You people are off the hook!” It was pretty wild, even though, unfortunately (and embarrassing for us) it wasn’t as packed as it should have been…

Bobby: It wasn’t sold-out, but it definitely felt like a sold-out night. It was wonderful for us onstage, and we thank all San Antonians.

Do you get the same vibe wherever you play for the first time, or did San Antonio have something special?

Dannis: Death is usually well-received everywhere we go, but San Antonio has a certain vibe, and when the people get together it’s such a party atmosphere. You just have to perform at your 100 percent peak, so… It wasn’t a complete sell-out but it was a very nice crowd there and…

Bobby: …and we felt a lot of energy.

Bobbie: If I may say, it felt like 1,000 people.

Dannis: We didn’t need to look at the crowd to feel the energy.

Did you have a chance to go out and take a closer look at the city, either before or after the show?

Dannis: Oh, yeah! We did the River Walk, the Alamo…

Bobby: San Antonio is a great town, man, even though it’s a little hot.

Well, those leather pants you wear don’t help either… (loud laugh by all three) For a band called Death, you guys send out pretty positive vibes…

Dannis: That’s what it is, Enrique: It’s all about life. The band is called Death, but we’re all about life.

You just released N.E.W. in April. Sorry for my impatience, but is it too soon to talk about the next album?

Bobbie: Yes, it is. Our new album is a compilation of six songs that the brothers already had from the original Death catalogue in the ’70s, and I had the opportunity to collaborate on one of the songs, “Relief,” and it came out the way we wanted.

Searching for Sugarman, the Big Star doc, now A Band Called Death… Fame and recognition aside, how much better can a musician get once he’s “forced” to play constantly? You absolutely kicked ass in SA, but did you always sound like that?

Dannis: Yeah, it was a big change. Before the movie came out we were dealing with the rediscovery of the band, which was really being received very well. We started playing again in Chicago, Cleveland and of course, Detroit, like a sort of experiment. Together with the Joey Ramone birthday bash, you put all that together and our playing was pretty respectable. But when the movie came out, that offered a deeper look inside of the situation, so it even made it better and gave us and the people more energy. Now, everything’s just got really good.

Now, honestly, what do you think/feel when you read or hear that “Death invented punk” or is “the precursor of punk”? When I hear Death, now and then, I hear a band using a lot more elements than your average punk band. I mean, the “inventors of punk” label is good for marketing, but… seriously? You have the attitude and energy, but you’re much more than a “punk” or “protopunk” band. I’m perfectly fine with just calling you “a great rock and roll band.”

Bobby: Well, let me tell you. We appreciate that people say our music, the sound of it, predated that “punk” term by four or five years, but what you have to understand is that when we were making this rock and roll, we made it in 1974 and 1975. And during that time, if you would call a young kid between the ages of 18 and 25 a “punk” in Illinois, Michigan or even in Texas, you got either one of two things: a black eye or a bloody nose. You see what I’m saying? We didn’t even know about the term punk. We didn’t even know we were inventing or trying to invent a genre, that wasn’t our goal. Our goal was to simply play hard-driving Detroit rock ‘n’ roll, the rock ‘n’ roll that was being played around the country, so that’s what we called it. Realistically, going all the way back to the early days of Death, that’s what we relate to.

OK, guys, thanks for your time. This is your time to pitch. Sell, brother, sell!

Bobby: We have our autobiography out, Rock ‘N’ Roll Victims, we have a new album out, and visit our website.

#98 / Meet San Antonio’s TOP Men

Jorge Alcoz (left) with 1963 U.S. National Spinning top Champion Rusty Steubing (photo by E.L.)

Jorge Alcoz (left) with 1963 U.S. National Spinning top Champion Rusty Steubing (photo by E.L.)

I knew my friend, countryman, electronic engineer and San Antonio resident Jorge Alcoz was into spinning tops, but you can’t imagine my surprise when, a few days ago, he called me to tell me he had won a big world championship in Japan, one of the countries with the longest and most sophisticated top tradition. This is how he did it:

On August 15, Jorge (who competes under the pseudonym Tao) beat Japanese Kazuhito Miki and Keita Watanabe in the Spintop Freestyle category of the 2015 World Yo-Yo Contest held in Tokyo on August 13-17. It was Jorge’s fourth championship, having won the South Central Regional Contest in 2006, the National Spintop Contest in 2008 and the World Spintop Contest in 2009 (he also has one national second place, a national third place and a world third place).

When I asked Jorge whether he knew any other local trompo practitioners, he told me about a guy named Russell “Rusty” Steubing, who had won the first Duncan top championship in 1963. About five years ago, a collector had given Jorge a Duncan business card with Rusty’s name and an old address on it. That’s all Jorge had as to Rusty’s whereabouts. Well, that, and this clip from the San Antonio Express (or was it the News? Rusty isn’t sure):

Rusty-1963

Fifty years after Rusty had won the tournament, Jorge called called the address on the card (which had the old format of EDison 3-0XXX) and asked to speak to “the person who won the top competition in 1963.” When Jorge finally contacted him, it took him five years to finally meet with him.

“After a while, I realized he was very low key and I didn’t want to impose,” said Jorge, who owns a collection of hundreds of tops from all over the world and whose living room is decorated with “Los Trompos,” a signed print of a painting by SA artist Joe Villarreal.

SA artist joe Villarreal (left) holding “Los Trompos” with proud owner Jorge Alcoz. (photo courtesy Jorge Alcoz)

I suggested he gave it another try before I’d try myself, and in a couple of days Rusty accepted to meet for a joint interview on September 7.

“It was like a dream,” said Jorge. “I couldn’t believe it when he accepted. He’s like a hero to me.”

So here it is: Rusty and Jorge, SA’s first and latest spintop champions of San Antonio meeting for the first time. Watch the videos and read part of their conversation.

Jorge, when did your passion for spinning tops start?

(In Spanish) I used to see older players spin tops on the floor. When I was old enough to play, nobody else was playing. I still have my dad’s spinning top. But no, I never played with spinning tops as a kid. Around 1998 I started collecting magnetic spinning tops because I’m into science toys. I once found a paper saying, “How to throw a spinning top onto your hand,” and I learned that.

So you learned through manuals?

Yes, but I used to do juggling since I was 18, with balls and clubs, so I had an idea about eye-hand coordination. In 1998 there was a great yo-yo boom or revival and, as they had done in the ’60s, yo-yo companies also started making spinning tops. With the advent of the internet, some spinning top forums started appearing and I was hooked, to the point I started my own forum. I was 39… (laughs) Now I’m 54.

After you won the National Championship in Orlando [in 2008] you retired and concentrated on judging, but now you decided to play in Japan. Why?

After Orlando I felt I didn’t need to do anything else and decided to let younger people play. I was a judge until last year and decided to compete as Uruguayan in Tokyo. I only want to compete in international competitions, to support the tournament so that there are more countries represented.

Rusty, I’m so happy to be sitting in front of SA’s first and latest spinning top champion players. Thanks for coming!

Rusty: I find it funny to hear the word “player,” because I prefer the word “top spinner.” That’s the older terminology that existed in 1963 and 1964. You didn’t “play” a top: you would spin a top. So “player” is an interesting new terminology.

Jorge: My wish is that it will eventually be considered a sport. But it’s really a hobby.

But it is also an art form, isn’t it?

Rusty: I think so. It’s a skill that requires hand-eye coordination, and although juggling is different, there are a lot of similarities.

Do you think top spinning should be included in the Olympics?

Rusty: I think it is an art form. Whether or not it should be included in the Olympics, I’d have to think about that. Jorge, how do they score points nowadays? Are points assigned for style?

Jorge: In Japan, 20 percent of points this year were assigned to style. It used to be 10 percent, 15 percent… Tricks are assigned 1 to six points depending on difficulty, but it is very subjective on the part of the judges.

You were also a judge. How hard it is to score this, given the fact that things happen very rapidly in top spinning?

Jorge: Yes, it’s hard to follow routines.

Rusty: For what I’ve observed online, competitions today are so much different than they were. In 1963, that was the very first time Duncan actually had a top-spinning competition. Up until then, the company was mainly known as a yo-yo manufacturer. “If it isn’t a Duncan, it isn’t a yo-yo,” was the slogan. My father competed in the 1940s with yo-yos, but it was a simple matter of one contest at a Downtown theater. In San Antonio, it was usually at the Majestic or the Old Texas Theatre. I don’t think they even had qualifiers. Everyone would just show up. If I’m not mistaken, it was similar to what I had to do when I competed [in 1963 with spinning tops]: you had to do tricks, and if you did it on the first try you got 10 points. With tops in 1963 was basically the same thing: you had to do 10 basic tricks and, if you did it on the first try, you were awarded 10 points. In California at Disneyland there were almost 50 kids, and the first trick was just to spin the top. The second, you had to spin it within a circle and make the top stay within the circle. And so on, with increasing difficulty, all the way to the twin spin, aerial tricks, etc. So if you missed it the first time, you would basically be out, unless other competitors also missed.

So you were 11 years old when you won the first national in Disneyland in 1963. How did you get there? Did you have to win some kind of regional?

Rusty: There were local, regional and statewide competitions. In 1962, Duncan was going nationwide with these campaigns for the yo-yo, because in ’62 was the first national yo-yo championship. In ’63 they sponsored not only yo-yos but tops. There was a demonstration in San Antonio done by Don Winters.

Jorge: Oh, really? He’s the one on the booklet showing all the tricks.

Winters-01 Don-Winters-04

Rusty: Right! He was in San Antonio for probably three or four weeks maximum. His responsibility was not only conducting the contest but coordinating local appearances on TV shows and local toy stores and grocery stores comparable to the Family Dollar nowadays. I won San Antonio on one Saturday morning with 40 or 50 kids competing. There was a grocery store called Handy Andy where they sold tops. Then they had what was billed as the “Southwest Regional Championship,” which technically was just Texas. They had kids from Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth… Maybe Waco.

What did you win in the Regional/State tournament?

Rusty: The price for the local was a bicycle and qualification to the State championship, and the prize for that was a trip for you and your parent or guardian to compete in California. This contest was in February 1963 in SA, and the National Championship was not until three or four months away. As it turned out, we didn’t fly out: My father decided to cash in the airline tickets and take the entire family on a trip out there. My recollection of that trip, frankly, is very similar to the Chevy Chase movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. (laughs) We were in a station wagon, very much like that one, we had trouble with it pretty much the entire way, but it made for a big adventure. I was the eldest child. I was 11, my sister had 9, a brother who was 7, and a brother who was 3.

Did you think you had a chance to win it?

Rusty: Well, I did, because of the influence my father had. I would not have gotten involved in this had it not been for my father. He saw the top ads on TV and told me, “OK, let’s learn how to do this.” I didn’t watch too much TV. In 1963 we spent our time outside playing. There were no computers, so we were either inside reading or outside playing. He was pretty good with the yo-yo and taught himself how to spin. He would take me to see the demonstrator and then we would go home and practice. There were horrible printed instructions, so the only way to really learn was to watch someone. We would practice for hours everyday. Sundays, everything was closed, even malls and grocery stores, but Monday through Saturday we would compete, sometimes twice a day.

OK, so you finally arrived in Disneyland. What happened there?

Rusty: They had a meet-and-greet and I just started doing tricks.

Jorge: And there were kids that were older than you, right?

Rusty: Yeah, most of them were 13 or 14. Then I started doing tricks with the twin spin, where you throw it and pull back and do the boomerang, and then catch one top in each hand. Most kids didn’t know that. On the very first day it became apparent to me I was one of the best there. Everyone was invited to a Dodgers baseball game, but we didn’t go. My father said, “That game is going to last late. We should stay here and relax… and practice!”

That did it! Your father was smart!

Rusty: I also wanted to see the Dodgers, I was a big fan, but it was a long drive (we were in Anaheim) and the game wouldn’t start until 7, so we decided to concentrate on the contest. My whole family was in the same room, you couldn’t even walk around in the room… (laughs) The next morning, everyone was asleep and we went to have breakfast at a coffee shop, and my dad says, “Son, you know, if it hadn’t been for you winning [in Texas], you mother would have never come to California. So this has been great. Don’t worry if you don’t win this thing.” And I said, “Dad, don’t worry! I’m going to win this thing!” So I went out there, did 10 tricks, and at the end three of us had a perfect score. So instead of going to advanced tricks, as was planned, they put the slinky out, which I had practiced a lot [instead of drawing a circle on the floor and make the top spin within it, players were supposed to place the top inside the slinky from above, which is more difficult]. So I thought, “This is a piece of cake!” One of the kids missed on the first try, so it was down to the two of us, and I won.

Jorge: I can’t imagine what the trip back was like…

Rusty: Well… We had to delay our return, because Duncan wanted to put the yo-yo champion and myself together. The yo-yo champion was four years older than me and he was from San Antonio as well! Jimmy Lukacs! I had beaten him in San Antonio in the top competition in 1963 and then he went to California to compete in yo-yos and he won [according to Jorge, Lukacs went to California in 1962 and came in second in the yo-yo national competition]. He was well-known by Duncan. Last I heard he was in Austin, and I think he owns a bar there.

What did you win? What was the main prize?

Rusty: A big trophy and a check for $5,000.

Jorge: I did the conversion, and it is $38,000 of today. For an 11-year-old!

Rusty: Their advertising said the winner would get “a $5,000 scholarship”and, to our surprise, they presented us with a check! I never had to use that money for my education, I was a good student and earned another scholarship, but after winning the contest, I don’t know if it was myself or my father, but somebody made a comment in front of Duncan’s management and advertisers. “Well… 11 years old, the limit is 14, we can win four more scholarships!” That was said in front of the wrong people, because the next year I was informed by Duncan I couldn’t compete. I don’t know if they thought I would win again or what, but I was denied the opportunity to compete again. I never competed again, I was a little discouraged. I did many exhibitions and appeared on TV, including I’ve Got a Secret in New York with Groucho Marx as the main guest, but that was it, no competitions. I felt somewhat slighted by them for not being asked to come back [Rusty’s segment starts at 14:45].

How did you two meet?

Jorge: The way I found him was incredible. A collector gave me a photocopy of a business card from Duncan with his name on it. It had the address of his parents’ house. Fifty years after that [card was made], I look in the White pages and I see his last name still listed there. I called the number listed, I talked to his parents and say, “I’m looking for the winner of the 1963 top championship…” (they both laugh) So the father gave the phone to the mother.

Rusty: My father had a hearing loss, he couldn’t hear much of anything…

Jorge: I couldn’t believe Rusty was still in San Antonio.

Do you guys think tops will make a big comeback and become mainstream again?

Rusty: I hope so.

Jorge: I’m absolutely convinced of that. It’s only a matter of time.

An ad for Duncan's 1964 tournament, one year after the one won by Rusty.

An ad for Duncan’s 1964 tournament, one year after the one won by Rusty.

# 99 / Metallica’s Rob Trujillo on Jaco and ‘Jaco’

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Believe it or not, this is the edited version of my April 64-minute talk with Rob Trujillo. I loved his Jaco movie so much (which I saw at South by Southwest 2015) that I wanted to speak to him about the man who blew us both away. For more info on the movie, visit the film’s official page.

I’ve always wanted to see a movie about Jaco Pastorius, and you’ve been involved with this project for about five years now. How did the project evolve?

Basically, I’ve been involved as the main financier, executive producer, for over five years. but it all sort of started long before five years. It goes back to about 19 years ago when I became friends with Johnny Pastorius, Jaco’s eldest son. We had a mutual friend in Florida, in Fort Lauderdale, who was a bartender, and Johnny Pastorius came in with a credit card to buy some drinks and my friend, who is a surfer in the East coast (I live in Los Angeles), said, “Hey, that name’s familiar, this name Pastorius…! Is that name related to a bass player?” And Jaco’s son said, “Yeah, Jaco.” “Right, Jaco!” And he was like, “My friend Robert Trujillo, he has a photograph of your father at his house in Venice Beach!” And then right there the connection was made. Soon afterwards I came through town with Ozzy [Osbourne], this is in 1996, and I met Johnny and one of the first things I said was, “You know, some day you gotta make a film about your father,” not thinking that I would be involved in the film. I was like, “You should share the story because it’s important. There’s a lot of people, not just jazz musicians, fans, rock fans, punk rockers, funksters, who are fans, and you have to share that story with the world.” That’s when it all started. Over the years he checked with me, “Hey, Robert, we’re going to work on this documentary film, we want to interview you.” And then two years later the same thing. Every couple of years I’d get a phone call or we would see each other, and I didn’t see progress, and this part is really important: Johnny and another guy called Bob Bobbing came to the concert in Fort Lauderdale and it was Metallica. Now all of a sudden, five years ago, Metallica is playing in Ft. Lauderdale and Bob was sort of navigating the project at that time, and he saw and was impressed by Metallica. He didn’t know anything about Metallica, and he wondered, “This band is so big, and this bass player loves Jaco.” That night I spoke to Bob and said, “You know, look, for this movie you really have to check in with Flea from the Chili Peppers, Geddy Lee [Rush], so many other rock musicians, because you have to bring excitement, some fire to the party, because Jaco was not just one-dimensional, he’s not just a jazz guy, but he’s also a funk guy, the attitude of a punk rocker, he’s rock ‘n’ roll, he’s really well-rounded.” I said, “Even young people are going to love Jaco.” He got very excited and then they asked me to be a part of the team. So I did join, and basically kind of adopted the film. I realized there’s no way this film is going to be finished and completed unless somebody puts the money and makes it a reality. Documentary films take time. They’re passion-driven, but they also take money. If you can’t fly to Florida, New York, California or wherever, what are you going to do? It has been a very expensive journey for me.

Can I ask you what the budget has been so far?

Over $800,000. Insane!

Is that a combination of your money and money from other sources?

All my money. We had to raise money at the end because I ran out of money. We had to raise money for post-production so we could mix the sound and obtain clearances.

Oh, clearances… I’ve been working on a doc for 10 years, and the clearances are killing me!

Oh, that’s very complicated stuff. Clearances for film… I learned a lot in the last two months. I learned so much. Five years ago I didn’t know anything, and that’s why I was just, “Yeah, let’s make this film, yeah, I’ll pay for this!” and all that. But the reality is that most people don’t finance their own movies. Most people who make films have investors, and there is a reason for that. Films are very expensive.

Did you have to hire somebody to deal exclusively with clearances? For me it has been a nightmare.

I’m glad you can understand what I’m going through. I needed to hire a professional, and the only reason I got a professional that was wonderful, is that, luckily for me… Where do you live, by the way?

San Antonio. But I was in L.A. for 19 years. Including five in Culver City, where you grew up…

Right, right… Luckily, because I live in Los Angeles and know a lot of people in the film industry, I was able to get help. One of my friends work for Oliver Stone, he writes music for Oliver’s movies, and he knew I needed help. So he connected me to a music supervisor he knew, someone who does great work with documentary music. She really loved the film and she cared, and she represented me as the music supervisor. So it was her job to reach out to Joni Mitchell’s people, to Sony Music, Warner Brothers… That’s what she does for a living, and it costs money. What she does is work out the deals with each of the publishing companies and the musicians, so it’s a very long process and a lot of it has to do with making deals. The important thing to understand is, when you’re making a documentary film, the people that are allowing you to make the music need to understand that this is not a blockbuster, Transformers or an Angelina Jolie movie. This is a passion piece, this is art. This is charitable in a lot of ways, because if you’re sharing someone’s story with the world, and you’re bringing it to light on the screen and you’re trying to celebrate somebody, you’re doing something charitable. And you’re spending the money and you and your team are investing the time to bring something to life for the world. All of a sudden you have to pay for these songs and they want top dollars. Some of these people want crazy money. “I want $40,000 a song,” “My artist deserves $50,000” or whatever… A lot of it is deals, you know? There has to be deals worked out because if you don’t have somebody working for you to get you a good deal, a lot of times you can’t use the song. That’s the reality. The same thing goes for footage. When you see Jaco playing live at Montreaux Jazz Festival or in any other rare footage, my film producer has to track those down, to find out who owns the rights to the high res photographs that are taken. All these things I didn’t know about, and all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh my God, it’s so much money!”

OK, but one thing is myself going through hell trying to obtain these rights. But you’re Rob Fucking Trujillo, bassist for Metallica! Even you have to suffer?

Yeah, but I have two kids, and my wife, and I got payments, you know… I lead a normal life as far as… I have to pay bills, I have to feed my family… I recorded one album with Metallica in 12 years, really… I didn’t write songs on the “Black Album,” you know? I think people have the wrong perception of me. They think, “Oh, you’re rich!” It’s like, you know… I have to make ends meet too, you know what I mean? It’s like… Anyway, so for me to take on a project like this I have to be very passionate about this. And this was how the project came to be. It has been difficult to get it together. We did a PledgeMusic campaign to help raise money for clearances and other expenses.

But did you raise the money once you knew how much these clearances would cost?

No, no, no… I had to figure out roughly an idea of how much I would need and then I had to put a budget together.

But how can you figure that out if each rights owner makes a different deal?

Well, I have a team. Professionals know how to figure that out. That’s why I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by people that care and who are professionals. And it’s never dead-on, you know? Sometimes it’s not enough. I think when you’re doing something like this you have to do the best you can. If you come up short, you need to figure out a way to complete the journey. And that’s just reality. When you’re making art, or music, or anything, usually, at least in my universe every time I’ve done anything creative… And I’m not talking about Metallica, I’m talking about Infectious Grooves or any project I’ve done outside Metallica, these opportunities to be creative are great, but they also cost money, especially film. Too many people think, “Oh, why does he need money to finish the movie?” Well, somebody’s got to pay for the movies people want to see, you know? I wanted to see a movie about Jaco, for a long time. I was looking around on the internet, hoping that someone was going to make a documentary about Jaco, because I care, until I realized “it’s not going to happen unless I do something about it.” And hopefully this is the first step for more to happen in the future. His music and story should be heard and he should be recognized as an important composer. The bass is one thing, but there’s also the composition and the story.

When I read Charlotte Chandler’s I, Fellini, a first-person account of Federico Fellini’s life, I was amazed to see how difficult it was even for a genius like him to obtain financing for his movies. Jaco, who was a recognized genius in his own right, went through something similar towards the end of his life: he couldn’t get gigs. How was that possible? Did that happen because of the drugs or he couldn’t work even before he deteriorated?

I know you know the story. At certain times in his career, Jaco had a lot of things he was dealing with. Jaco, as you know, was bipolar, had a very serious mental condition. It started to cause problems for him later on in his career. So here’s this talent, this incredible musician, but at the same time he was dealing with other things in his life. The mental condition fueled by whether it was alcohol consumption or anything, drugs, alcohol, makes existing very difficult for people with a bipolar condition. And you’re also talking about a time when a lot of people didn’t understand what [bipolar disorder] is, how to deal with it, how to, you know, medication or whatever. If it had happened today it would probably be different because there are ways to maintain a healthy existence with this condition, but back at the time when Jaco was doing what he did there weren’t these options. It was difficult for him to get a gig because he had problems.

I’m from Uruguay, but I saw Weather Report in Buenos Aires in 1980, I think, and Jaco blew us away. I was 16, and we were digging all the great jazz-rock bands, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc., and for a long time we had considered Stanley Clarke to be the man on bass. Then this guy Jaco comes out of the blue and pulverized everybody. Do you have a similar recollection, that Stanley Clarke (or anybody) was the man and all of a sudden Jaco changed everything for everybody?

I had a similar experience. I’m 50.

There you go. I’m 51.

I saw Jaco play in 1979 for the first time and then I saw him I think in 1980, at the Playboy Jazz Festival, I saw him with the Word of Mouth big band, and I also saw him with the smaller version of the big band. So I saw him on four different times and I even had an encounter with him in 1985. When I first started hearing about him, I didn’t even know what he looked like. They didn’t have the internet, so you always heard these rumours, “Oh, there’s this bass player, he’s incredible!” I was a fan of bass because I loved Sly & The Family Stone, a lot of the funk bands from the 70s, you know? And when I started listening to jazz-rock and fusion, like Return to Forever and Stanley Clarke, I was really excited to the point I didn’t even really cared to hear vocals that much for a while. It was short-lived, but there was a time when all I wanted to hear was ripping bass solos. When I saw Jaco for the first time it changed my world the same way it had the effect on you guys in Buenos Aires. There was this performer who was like a rock star, shirt off, long hair, a crazy, unique sound. A really dynamic style, his tone, his presence, his energy. And also I was impressed with the crowd. It was very mixed, diverse, there were rock musicians, heavy metal musicians, jazz people, skateboarders, surfers, wow! The truth of the matter was, most people there went to see Jaco. I have nothing but respect for the other members of Weather Report, but a lot of these people were there to see Jaco. And that’s when I realized, “Hey, this guy’s really, really cool.”

Was it you in the movie who said Jaco was “the coolest cat who ever lived,” or something like that?

No, that was [the Red Hot Chili Peppers’] Flea. This experience you and I talk about was shared by a lot of people. Then you take the influence he had as a writer and as a player in terms of his feel for funk, or the way he could create with harmonics, you know… I started to try to do that with my writing, and that’s how Infectious Grooves came to be. It was a band that I created music for that was really inspired by Jaco, and also by Cameo, and Black Sabbath, but Jaco was the main influence of my writing in the late 80s and early 90s. That’s why I wanted to make the movie. I had young people come up to me and say, “Hey, because of you I really like Weather Report.” “I bought Heavy Weather on vinyl!” ‘Cause a lot of young people are listening to vinyl again, you know? The same with [Joni Mitchell’s] Hejira, you know? My goal is just to bring awareness to his story and his music, but also to all that music! I hope everybody embraces music from that time period, like Return to Forever and all those bands.

What was the reception at South by Southwest? Were you able to make any deals?

We’re real grassroots. For me, the most important thing about SXSW is that we were accepted. With all the films out there, for them to honor and care about Jaco and the movie was huge. I don’t have a marketing team, I don’t have publicist, I don’t have all the forces that you need to go into a high-powered festival. I can count on one hand the people that I have. It’s a very small family and we do the best we can. The screenings went well, everybody loved the film, and it continues, you know?

But you do want to have a theatrical release, right?

Yes, yes… If there is a demand to show it in theaters and a demand to do everything you need to do, I want it to have a chance like any other movie. I want it to be seen. I didn’t make a movie not to be seen. Right now we’re talking to various companies and we’re going to do the festivals this year. We’ll do Buenos Aires, Asbury Park [already happened] on April 10, and also Chicago [it happened on April 18 for Record Store Day], and Washington DC also around those days. Also there will be a Jaco celebration at Hollywood Bowl on August 11, I think, on a Wednesday [that’d be August 13]. And also Monterey Jazz Festival is doing something for Jaco. It’s working, there is awareness, there is excitement.

I liked the way the movie handled everything related to his death. You didn’t even name the name of the murderer (I call it the murderer because that’s what he is) and concentrated on Jaco’s legacy. What was your original approach? Did you at any point try to talk to the guy who beat Jaco to death?

As you know as a filmmaker, it’s very difficult to find a balance. Jaco’s story is very intense. You have dark times, there are times of huge success and beauty and glory, there were times of fun, funny, Jaco had a sense of humor, was a funny guy who always had a positive spirit even when things were bad. You know, like in the scene you talk about, he laughs and he says to Jerry Jemmott, “Give me a gig!” Jaco’s life was balanced between his passion for music and his love for his family. Family was important to him. But there was also the illness, and the way he was killed… It was a very dramatic arc. What’s important in making a film like this is, how do you balance it? How do you balance the bad with the good, and the beautiful with the not-so-beautiful? It’s a very delicate balance, and that’s been the hardest thing. In the last five years, every year we thought we were finished, and all of a sudden we realized we were not finished because the balance wasn’t right, or a treasure came in, like in the last year Joni Mitchell came on board. And that was really huge and important for the film. A lot of miracles have happened. How did that happen? I mean, for four years she was unreachable and, all of a sudden, I ran into her at a party, and we’re friends now. But for four years she was like an enigma. And also Jerry Jemmott himself, Jaco’s favorite electric bass player. He’s a legend. Jerry Jemmott was living in Alabama two years ago, you know what I mean? Nobody really knew where he was. He was sort of low-profile, and now Jerry moved to Los Angeles. I met him through mutual friends and he’s an important part of this film. But two years ago he wasn’t even in the movie. We got a lot of treasures, and each time we had to re-edit the whole film. Editing is a long process. It takes time and energy. And time is money, but it was important to be done. Photos that Sony had in the vault, concert footage from Havana, all stuff that we were able to use.

One thing that left me a little confused: when Jaco was in Argentina, he had a reputation as a health nut, and he would drink these mixes of pure lemon juice and pure garlic. But according to the film, reality wasn’t so… wholesome. I mean, I was surprised when I first heard about Jaco’s problems with drugs.

This is a touchy subject. Very, very touchy. There were influences in Weather Report that started to cause him to party. And that’s when things started to change, when he joined Weather Report. There was a good chance that, around the time you saw him [in Argentina] that he started to drink more. And in those situations there was also a lot of pressure because not only are you getting the pressure to drink, which was the common thing to do with musicians around you, but this was the 80s, and there was also cocaine. This was all part of being a musician at that time. You’re onstage in front of thousands of people praising you, “You’re the greatest bassist who ever lived!” The pressure of always having to be The Greatest and having a personality that, in a lot of ways, allowed you to be the life of the party… The alpha male. Joe Zawinul and Jaco were the alpha males, the brothers that were fighting and had that creative tension with each other. But there was also mutual respect and love for each other. But there was a lot of pressure on Jaco to be great, and a lot of that happened during the Weather Report years. The years you’re talking about were the years when things started to change.

Have you seen his son Felix play?

Oh, yes. I know Felix very well. I’ve known the family for a long time and know them very well.

I mean, seeing him with a bass on his back is such an amazing image.

And he’s an amazing player. Honestly, he’s the closest thing to… Even the way his hands are on the bass… It’s like, the bloodline, you know? [laughs]

He plays a fretless too?

He plays everything. I think he mostly plays a six-string Fodera. He’s not really a fretless player, but he can play a fretless as good as anybody.

Talk about carrying a weight, being a bassist with that last name…

Yeah. I would imagine, because you want to be your own musician and wear your own hat, and have the pressure of having a dad who was one of the greatest bass players who ever lived. People probably expects him to always play his dad’s music, “Hey! Play ‘Teen Town‘!” “Play ‘Continuum‘!” I’m sure it must be difficult to always have that demand around him. But he’s an amazing player and a really, really good person.

Jaco, as you show in the movie, grew up listening to Cuban music on a transistor radio from an early age, which explains lots about his love an understanding of Latin music. I always felt that Anglo musicians had better technique, but that Latin, say, guitarists, are musically richer because we listen to all kinds of stuff besides rock, lots of local, regional influences. But Adrian Belew, who had produced a superb album by Mexico’s Caifanes, once told me that he disagreed. I’m paraphrasing: “Latin guitarists are technically better, because they can play anything from rock, to blues, to flamenco, to rancheras, you name it,” he told me in the 90s at the then-called Universal Amphitheatre. Anyway, what I really want to ask you is, in what way did Jaco’s Latin side influenced you as a player?

He was from Florida and I’m from Los Angeles, and we were both influenced by Hispanic contingency, lots of mexicanos. I can go outside right now, I’m at the studio, and I can walk outside and I can guarantee you in the next couple of hours there’s going to be ranchera music coming out of a truck. But I also was exposed to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Santana and Beethoven and flamenco. My father played flamenco guitar. The first music I heard as a kid was flamenco music, flamenco guitar. That was the first time I saw a guitar being played with fingers, not a pick. And that’s why, when I started playing bass, I started playing with my fingers right away. The beauty of the Latinos is that, I believe, there’s a special ingredient in a Latino musician. Take Dave Lombardo, from Slayer, the drummer. The ingredient in Slayer is special because classic, early Slayer has a spice to it, and the spice is coming from the rhythm, and the rhythm is coming from the swing, and the swing of the drums, as heavy as it is because we’re talking metal here, is an invisible feeling coming from the groove of the drumming. That Cuban thing is very rhythmic and very funky, and that’s what’s so special about Slayer’s music. And that comes from our Cuban friend Dave Lombardo. The first album I bought as a kid was Santana’s Abraxas, and that’s because I was moved by bass lines, and the percussion, the energy of it all. That’s why I was excited about the bass, because I loved the feel of the rhythm section. That said, I was talking to Geezer Butler, from Black Sabbath, a few months ago, and he told me he’s more excited about rhythm & blues bass, you know? And he’s known to be one of the greatest rock, metal bassists. But what makes him happy is funky bass. The Latinos have a lot of funk, man. If you take that funk and apply it to heavy metal music or dance music or whatever, well… I think that’s something Latin musicians have. There’s a bass player called Armand Sabal-Lecco. He played with Stanley Clarke a lot, he’s with Al Di Meola right now. He’s from Cameroon and played with Paul Simon. Armand is a phenomenal musician, but why is he phenomenal? He understands rock music, he understands punk music. Jaco felt Armand was incredible. And Armand also understands pygmy music, and music from Cameroon where he was born.

Yeah! That brings me to something I overheard Santana saying in one of the first Latin Grammy Awards. He was talking to somebody during rehearsals, and he was saying, “We should invite Nelson Mandela. All we [Latinos] do is African music.” There’s no way around it: you always go back to Africa.

Exactly! It’s important to understand that, and it’s important to recognize and appreciate all styles of music. I believe music is much more exciting when it is grooving and funky. And funky doesn’t always mean it is disco, or dance or whatever. I strongly believe the reason Metallica is so special is that James Hetfield is funky! James was a drummer first, and his ability as a drummer has transitioned into his ability as a rhythm guitar player and singer. And the fact that he can play really heavy, funky, metal riffs and he can sing rhythmically on top of that, to me that’s funky. And that comes from indigenous… [laughs] you know, rhythms! It comes from the earth, it’s what makes our heads move! And Jaco had that.

Speaking of which, what’s up with Metallica? Are they all there at the studio now?

Kirk [Hammett] just left. We’re writing, working on new songs.

Yeah, your assistant had told me you were “rocking it out” in the studio, but you have so many projects I didn’t know what project you were in at the studio.

No, right now I have the movie and this, and Metallica. Like you said, making a movie is a very involved thing, distribution deals…

Yeah! After this film, making an album is a piece of cake!

[laughs] Totally! You know what I’m talking about, man! That’s why this is a good interview, because you understand what it means to be a musician, to make music, and you also understand what it means to make a film, a documentary film specifically. So many people looove documentary films, docs are popular right now, but people don’t understand they’re passion-driven, they cost money and time, and someone’s gotta pay for it.

Well, it was well worth the effort. As a longtime fan, I loved it. And I think those who didn’t know about Jaco will be blown away.

I agree. This creative, passionate journey doesn’t have to do with a style of music. This is for everyone. Jaco says it in the movie when asked about what advice he could give people out there: “Hey, listen to everything. I’ll play in a country band and I’ll love it, as long as it is good.” That’s the bottom line here. Some people say, “Hey, what’s a heavy metal bassist doing a film about Jaco?” And it’s like, number one, they don’t know anything about me; number two, as I said already, with Infectious Grooves I did three albums completely influenced by Jaco. Take what Jaco delivered and create with it. Be creative, be open-minded. When you hear a Jaco album you’re not hearing… “Come on, come over” is a great song, super funky, R&B at its best. He could’ve made a whole album of it, like a Tower of Power record or something. Which is really cool, but he didn’t do that. He gave you that, he gave you some classical, some jazz, some World music, he really made a very diverse recordings, and that’s how he shared his music.

 

# 100 / H.R. Giger: Beyond ‘Alien’ … And Away from San Antonio

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Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World opens in select cities nationwide on May 15. “H.R. who?” is something the average moviegoer would ask, but when informed Giger (pronounced GHEEgair) is the Oscar-winning man whose inspiration gave birth to the Alien monster, things change.

“Necronom IV,” the painting that inspired the ‘Alien’ monster and gave Giger an Oscar in 1980.

DARK STAR: H. R. GIGER’S WORLD Trailer from Icarus Films on Vimeo.

DARK STAR: H. R. GIGER’S WORLD – Probe the Soul from Icarus Films on Vimeo.

What doesn’t change is the fact that San Antonio remains a sort of movie dumpster, a so-called “secondary market” that always has to wait to see the best films while our powerful neighbors enjoy the party. The movie will be shown in Dallas (May 22-28, Texas Theatre), Austin (May 23-26, Alamo Drafthouse), Houston (May 23-28, Alamo Drafthouse) and Fort Worth (May 28-31, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth).

For those in other cities, here’s the calendar:

May 15-21 – New York, NY – Landmark Sunshine
May 15-21 – Los Angeles, CA – Landmark NuArt
May 15-21 – San Francisco, CA – Landmark Opera Plaza
May 15-21 – Berkeley, CA – Landmark Shattuck
May 15-21 – Providence, RI – Cable Car Cinema
May 22-28 – Long Beach, CA – The Frida Cinema
May 22-28 – San Diego, CA – Landmark Ken
May 28 – June 4 – Washington, D.C. – Landmark E St
May 28 – June 4 – Vancouver, BC – The Cinematheque
May 29 – June 4 – Denver, CO – Landmark (TBD)
May 28 – June 4 – Columbus, OH – Gateway Film Center
May 29 – June 4 – Philadelphia, PA – Landmark Ritz

A couple of weeks ago I spoke on the phone with director Belinda Sallin, who was in her home in Switzerland.

(all images courtesy of Icarus Films)

(Courtesy of Icarus Films)

Right off the bat, your movie (especially the intro) has a chilling effect on the viewer, similar to the one we have when looking at a Giger painting. Was it a conscious effort on your part to make such an un-Hollywood doc?

Thank you very much! I’m happy you feel that way. And yes, absolutely, it was clear in my head that I didn’t want to make a conventional biography, I didn’t want to start with a photograph and go, “H.R. Giger was born in…” You can read all that, it’s been done already, you can find it on the internet or in books. I was so surprised when I met him for the first time, or when I entered his house, I was completely overwhelmed. I thought it was extraordinary how he lived, in his own world, with his art and all of its consequences.

It seems the metalheads and other bands got Giger more than, say, the established art world.

These are the people buying his books, his publications, his posters. [Giger] got the acknowledgments from his fans, but he didn’t get it from the well-established galleries or art institutions. So he was very glad about his fans and he appreciated them a lot. But he was also a shy person, he didn’t like to leave his home. And to interact with his fans was quite difficult for him, but he did it. That heavy metal connection is funny, because that was not his kind of music, not at all, but he was a very open-minded man, he knew when something was special, as in the case of Celtic Frost and Triptycon, and his relationship with Tom Warrior, which is really extreme metal. He loved working with Tom, but it wasn’t his kind of music. His music was jazz; he really liked Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis, things like that.

Did he have a chance to watch the movie, or parts of it, before he passed away?

No, unfortunately. He did see a sort of teaser I did. I wanted to show him what I wanted to do, what my concept and intentions were. And he liked it a lot. It was a short teaser. He said, “Yeah, that’s good, you don’t have to explain everything, I don’t want you to explain everything. It has to be a little bit mysterious … It’s OK if things stay enigmatic.” For me, it was very important that, after his death, Carmen Giger supported us, and she continues to do so. She told me, “Yes, go on, finish the movie.” She saw it before it was released here in Switzerland. She was the first person to see it,  and she was really moved. She told me he would’ve liked the movie, because “it’s a very deep portrayal of him and it’s true.” This meant a lot to me.

He passed away shortly after you finished shooting, but it was obvious that he was very frail. How difficult it was to shoot his scenes?

It was a challenge to shoot with him. He was only available for very short periods of time so I had to carefully consider what I wanted from him, what scenes I needed to do with him. And he didn’t like to talk anymore. For much of the film he is silent, but he never liked speaking about his art. This is important to know. It was a relief for him when I showed him the teaser and told him we didn’t have to do hours and hours of interviews. 

When did you feel it was time to make the movie?

I’ve known his art since my youth, I saw Alien and I was shocked… (laughs) I saw pictures, posters, books… I was always intrigued and fascinated by his art. But I lost it a little bit out of my sight over the years, until one evening I met a former life partner of his, Sandra Beretta. This was really a special moment for me, because she started to tell me about him and I was immediately interested, and all these images I had in my head returned, I had never forgotten them. I think this is the quality and power of H.R. Giger’s art: Once you see his work, you don’t forget it.

Tell me about the museum and bar. Only Giger could’ve come up with something like that…

Yes! The museum, was built because Giger didn’t get the acknowledgment of the established galleries and institutions in Switzerland. He said to me, “They won’t show my work here, so I had to build my own museum.” He realized all his dreams as a child, and he built his museum in an old castle. It’s an amazing place, in the mountains, a little village, and the bar is next to the castle.

Was that always the case or they stopped showing his art as soon as he became famous because of Alien?

There are several reasons. I think Giger was difficult to categorize. Even when he was categorized under realism or fantastic realism, he also had a strong relationship with pop culture. He had many tools and outlets. He made films, comics, music videos, design… In the 1970s this was quite unusual. Then in 1980 he won the Oscar, and this was quite a scandal. He was taken less seriously by the art world than he deserved. But it’s hard to say whether winning the Oscar was a damage for him, because he became world famous. He was not interested anymore in this discussion, at least in the last two years of his life, when I met him. “They don’t show my art in these institutions, so what?” Maybe his composure came from the fact that he knew he didn’t need the establishment to enjoy worldwide success. Who needs institutional approval when you already reach countless people all over the world? The thing that impressed me the most about him is that he followed his dreams regardless of what people thought or said. He did what he wanted to do, he took his own path.

Courtesy Icarus Films

Courtesy Icarus Films