/ Music /
I remember salsa exploding all over New York City in the early 1960s. I resented it. I resented it then, I resent it now; but I think I’m wrong, and want to apologize: or at least to explain.
I’m paused partway into a biopic of Hector LaVoe, Marc Anthony & Jennifer Lopez: El Cantante. Actually I think I’ll bail out and mail it back to Netflix: I’ve seen enough, more than enough: needles, snorting: goddam junkies.
Junk has a lot to do with it, but it’s an aspect of the fulcrum, not the magilla. The whole country, the century, the marketplace is the magilla. Let me begin again, maybe a bit of the monster will show itself this time: not easy, since human culture is a game of Hide & Seek: one in which we wear costumes, mental costumes, to hide from our pursuit of ourselves. We’re looking for God? God is hiding himself? No, no: we’re looking for ourselves, hiding from ourselves, the truth un-swallowable.
I remember salsa exploding all over New York City in the early 1960s. I resented it. I resented it then, I resent it now. You see, I was a jazz nut. Jazz ravished me at the onset of puberty: and never let go. Slowly, the marketplace, the whole culture, pried it away from me. Loving jazz, a hybrid upheaval, a new mountain range, erupted from the collision of “black” music with “white” music: “black” everything with “white” everything: slavery backlashing wonderfully, magically on the slavers. The slavers expected the n-word [Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 01, I censor an offensive word and substitute something more obscene: euphemism!] to entertain them, while they lay down and opened their legs. The slavers did not expect to admire brilliance in the slaves: any more than Christians want to convert to Yahweh while exploiting the ancestral theology. Anyone who did find genius in the hybrid, who wanted all to see and appreciate Louis Armstrong, hear him: not just on Saturday night, but on Monday morning, got shunned. My friends sat me down at a beer party, made me promise to listen and not interrupt, and screamed in my face: they had only one thing against me — one thing: I loved jazz too much!
“But that’s the best thing about me,” I ventured.
“You swore you wouldn’t interrupt!” Brimming with hatred, spittle flecked Roger’s mouth.
That was in Rockville Centre, 1955ish. In Rockville Centre the n-s and their works were hidden, the citizens didn’t even know a ghetto existed! No main streets crossed it. It was OK to fuck the n- whore and listen to and dance to the n- buck on Saturday night; but Monday you had to get back to the hardwood Puritan school desk / marketplace pew.
No, wait a minute, I’m riding the wrong rocket. I remember salsa exploding all over New York City in the early 1960s. I got to the ‘Apple. Amazing, all my friends were jazz musicians! They’d all come from experiences much like mine. We’d survived them, sort of, so far. I was delerious: jazz! among my friends. They were good. (At least one was a genius!) And: they formed bands, got jobs. They knew to play “dance” music for four numbers, but they they’s slip in something far out: maybe some bop, some Miles, some Horace Silver: maybe something funky.
But by our senior year they got no jobs. (One classmate, a really lousy musician but unrelentingly ambitious, formed a band, then cloned it, then cloned it again, and rented out each clone all over New York City. He would put in appearances at each venue. He hired twelve year olds from Spanish Harlem: collected $100 per band, paid the kids $5 each. Carlos was grossing $500 a night on weekends, netting close to $475: minus a couple of dollars for taxis.) But for the others, could their having all become junkies have something to do with it? One guy was different, Marty. Marty was really good. Marty was a year behind us. We formed a clique, he joined it: a first rate trumpet, a Jew from Jersey. (You know him from the Mongo Santamaria band: that’s his trumpet on Watermelon Man. He put that band together, Mongo gave him the power, Mongo put up with him even after the stupid junkie split his embrasure and couldn’t play anymore! But before then, back on the quad, Marty practicing with the dorm window open: he could clone a Lee Morgan solo exact, perfect.
Point is: 1956 all my friends had gigs; 1960 only Marty had gigs! But not to play jazz; there was no market for jazz. Jazz was the punishment. We’d run out of capital subsidizing it. No. Marty had regular employment every weekend playing with Puerto Rican bands for Puerto Rican dancers, at Puerto Rican dances. The Puerto Ricans loved to dance. They loved to dress up for Saturday night. The little virgin wasn’t hiding from her family; the whole family went together! They were poor, but they rented the hall, hired the band, paid the musicians!
Among the Puerto Ricans Marty played whatever Marty wanted to play: Lee Morgan. He fit it to the Puerto Rican rhythms. Next thing you know Mongo hears him, sees he can read as well as play: Marty can write the charts, make the arrangements: and rehearse the band!
They’re all junkies: Marty is the one employed junkie.
Little did I know that that was the birth of salsa I was living through. Well, I lived through it with my eyes shut: I never heard of Hector Lavoe till I rented this movie! But it happened, I know it better than most “whites”. I was there: at least in the neighborhood.
I started to scribble on the subject yesterday under the title Blood Diamond. I’m gonna publish this part, then scrapbook on some more.
A blood diamond is a sort of “black market” diamond, it’s from a politically disputed zone of production: like a mink pelt during the French & Indian wars. My point is that the whole world economy is based on blood-this and that. Do you really think the natives growing palm oil freely chose to be in that industry? Are the diamond miners getting fair share from the retail sale? Were the arguments of those who wanted to leave the diamonds in the ground rationally considered?
Mick Jagger made money from the blues, Muddy Waters already had made a good living from the blues: half inventing the blues. But is it right for the imitation to make thousands of times more than the original? Why didn’t Great Britain (or the US) put itself in jail as it realized that it was doing it all over again: exploiting, robbing, murdering?
It can’t! It can’t realize it!
My income from offering an internet in 1970 has been a lifetime a sabotage and a jail cell. Only an atheist could be so stupid as to think that the game is over: won or lost. No, no: the charges haven’t even been read yet.
So far, there’s no one in charge competent to hear the charges.
Of course salsa has more than one meaning, more than one set of associations. Here I’ve been referring to music. But every week I’m in the store, so are you, and salsa is a food: or a sauce to go with food.
I’ll tell a story of salsa as sauce. In 1971 Denis Detzel, founder of the Evanston Learning Exchange, invited learning exchange founders and CEOs such as myself, founder of the Free Learning Exchange, Inc. 1970, the first such, to meet in Illich’s CIDOC, Cuernavaca. I couldn’t afford the subway, let alone to fly to Mexico. The United Methodist Women, who’d contributed $800 or so to FLEX, one of their executives an old chum of Illich’s, coughed up another $600 or so for me: plane fare, food money. (I should have been paid some part of what the US spent stealing the ideas from me.) Anyway, there’s pk, on his way to Cuernavaca: my mother-in-law chipped in, so pk and Hilary, bk, and Etta all went, all stayed in the Casa Maria. First breakfast: Oh, goody, I’m going to order huevos rancheros. The waiter brings it. I know no Spanish, the waiter knows no English, but there it is, wonderful; except: no salsa. Where was the salsa? It isn’t huevos rancheros without salsa!
No, no. The waiter is shaking his head with vehemence: all the nods and gesticulations mean that that’s the dish: no salsa. I’m upset, no patience, the waiter is having a fit. Out comes Maria, bring him some salsa she orders. The waiter comes back with a little monkey dish of salsa. He shoves it snug against my main plate, making it clear: no one else is to get any salsa. Then the waiter withdrew a few paces and stood figeting: as I tasted the salsa, approved it, and spread it liberally over my eggs and refried beans.
The waiter gasped with relief, smiles, shook his head, banished whatever stroke he been summoning. Thereafter the waiter always brought me a dish of salsa, no matter what else had been ordered. No one else at the Casa Maria ever say any salsa.
Later on it was explained to me. Americans arrive in Cuernavaca, to see the famous Ivan Illich.Do they want Mexican food? Oh, yes. Do they know it can be considered to be hot. Oh, yes, Bring it on. They they have a fit, scream murder, threaten to sue.
So: Casa Maria’s policy became: no real Mexican anything for Americans, never mind what they say. They allowed me to be an exception.
The other night at the dance, Dan offered me some hot pretzel. Oh, delicious, then Carole gave me the whole of the rest of it, saw me dip a piece into the hot mustard. She trembles, scowls doubtfully, as I put it to my mouth. I look quizzically at her, then continue. She gasps as I bite into it. She does not see me go into convulsions, No, I eat another piece, slathered in hot mustard.
The supermarkets are filled with sauces each promising to be twice as hot as hell. No, no, all watered down. Tobasco sauce is actually Tobasco sauce: all the rest is false labeling.
Why can’t we be truthful about our real preferences?
Hide & Seek, all over again, everywhere.
Aye, what a mess. If I start all over again maybe I’ll begin to express what so needs saying.
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