This is the second in a series of entries just about songs that have a special meaning to me for whatever reason, its in part an attempt to just start writing again, and i’m sure a terribly narcissistic project in the long run. This is the second one of god knows how many i’ll do. Enjoy.
If there’s a soundtrack to my childhood, and probably the soundtrack of so many first generation Latino children like myself, it’s one filled with the music of Carlos Gardel, Trio Los Panchos, Vicente Fernandez, Javier Solis, Pedro Infante, Julio Jaramillo and other musicians our parents adore and brought with them from where ever in the continent they come from.
One of the earliest and probably fondest memories I have is that of my family together, drinking late at night, once everyone was too tired to dance anymore listening to the music of Vicente Fernandez singing along to the words everyone seems to know by heart, myself included. To say Vicente Fernandez represents so much of my childhood does not explain just how many times I’ve listened to the man sing. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of his by any measure yet I probably know 80% of the words to most of his major songs.
One of the first concerts I ever went to was one of his, I was 13 at the time, and my mother ended up with an extra ticket to watch him perform at Radio City Music Hall. While I was reluctant to go, as it was during my rebellious phase in which I had begun to explore my punk rock future, I tagged along anyways. To say that to this day I’ve never seen another man dedicate himself so much to a performance isn’t doing justice to how amazing the man is live.
He sang for 3 hours straight, all while taking shots of random alcohol people would give him, never stopping to really talk, just always wanting to please his fans who came to see him. In fact I’ve since found out that in the 70s, in his youth, his policy was as long as the fans are cheering he wouldn’t stop performing to make sure everyone got their moneys worth. Which lead to epic four hour performances people still talk about.
Other musicians play a role in my childhood memories. My dad sitting around on Sundays listening to El Trio Los Panchos, my family members singing the songs of Juan Gabriel at parties late in the summer, and just endless amounts of songs that have been played to the point of me involuntarily learning the words but above them all stands one man Vicente Fernandez, lamenting how much women hurt him but how he just can’t stop loving them.
Sometimes I think about it all, my childhood, the parties, the food, and even the drinks I occasionally found ways to sneak a taste of when I was young and I miss it. I miss the closeness of my family that has through time been lost. The cousins running around, hiding from my mother’s cousin Henry who thought torturing us through tickling was a funny thing to do and It just makes me sad.
Above all though what makes me sad is knowing the fact my children will never know that world. They’ll never know what its like to have a bunch of adults drunk on aguardiente, in unison at 3 am singing, and being happy, and everyone being happy in that unique way I can’t recreate. We’ve all grown apart, I don’t speak to any of my cousins really, and my family has all moved away to distant parts of the country at this point making family gatherings never feel the way they once did. However at least I know that when I hear this song, and so many by this man, if I close my eyes and try hard enough, I can go back to that 7 year old boy sitting in the living room endlessly amused by his drunk uncles and aunts.
In an attempt to write more I’ve decided to cover songs I consider in some way important to me.The idea being that if I write anything, even just personal experiences, it will reignite my habit of writing. Lets hope it works. I suppose its a bit of a narcissistic endeavor but I’m always rather selfless so I’m allowed to indulge myself. Enjoy.
I suppose it really must be appropriate that my friendship with Shannon in my mind is most fondly associated with a song about the violent death through suicide of the poet John Berryman. In a friendship that is based on the concept that most of humanity being in some way or another completely in existence to annoy us and hinder our ability to feel joy. It’s almost wrong for a song about happiness and joy to represent our friendship. There’s a reason for this though and one I don’t think I’ve ever really shared with Shannon herself.
I have trouble keeping friends and often it’s through complete fault of my own. I happen to be what most people commonly refer to as a know it all dick. I can’t help it and I often feel my intentions are completely misunderstood. I get no joy from being right, and if it was up to me I’d be half as smart as I am and no one would ever have an issue with me. I don’t enjoy knowing the needless amounts of facts I do, and if it was up to me I wouldn’t feel the need to correct you when you tell me that In The Aeroplane Over the Sea came out in 1997, when it in reality came out in 1998.
And so this inability to stop myself has cost me more friendships than I care to think of when it becomes clear to others that I must be a joyless, miserable know it all who takes his only kicks in life from his ability to make others feel utterly worthless. Proof of this is the following statement made in some variation by almost every woman (Shannon included) who has ever gotten close to me
“Alex no one can make me feel as unimportant and worthless as you can on a regular basis.“
For this reason when I do find a friend, one I connect to on a different level from others I tend to try my best not to be that asshole everyone hates.
It was sometime in October of 2007 that our mutual friend, and the person who introduced us was bringing her boyfriend to meet us. Shannon and I at this point had been friends for a couple of months since our trip down to Philadelphia for said friend’s birthday party in August.
Its not that we weren’t yet friends, it was rather clear from that trip in August that we defiantly had a connection of some sort. The night before the trip we talked online as we had never really talked before and by the time we arrived in Philly the next morning we had begun to be able to finish each others sentences. And the whole party was spent running out for smoking breaks, having her demand my attention which I was giving to a male by the name of Nate who like me was in the culinary field and I felt the need to compare burns with, and the loud and rather amusing question Shannon posed all night in the eloquent way only she can “Alex is my vagina showing?”
Still our interactions consisted mostly of just her and I going to shows together and talking online. We were friends for sure but not the kind of friends we are now, but up to that point I felt that was an okay state of things for us
That night after a bit of making dinner and drinking our two friends left and it was decided I’d spend the night so I could sleep instead of leaving to my house at 2am, a practice I now commonly do for whatever reason. In theory I could sleep at Shannon’s apartment as I’ve done it before but I choose to leave for some reason. This choice is always repaid in the summer with a warm trip home where I can sit and think and write, in the winter it just means I get to freeze outside waiting for buses in the dead of night. I’ve began to think I should reconsider this practice in the winters.
Her and I instead of doing the reasonable thing which was to sleep ended up staying up all night, watching movies, recasting the Princess Bride in inspired fashion and generally just talking about anything and everything that had ever seemed to amused us, or annoyed us.
ext day instead of going home I decided I’d rather stick around and join our friends to a trip to the hipster Mecca that is Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. We walked around and talked some more, headed into stores, and had Thai. In reality the day is uneventful and completely unremarkable, in fact I bet if you ask all three what we did, none could recall it in any sort of detail and I often wonder why I remember things like this at all.
Yet on that ride home, after being lost through Brooklyn, after not having slept for over 30 hours, as was to be expected, Shannon and I completely began to drift into sleep in the back seat of a car. In between it all I kept some semblance of consciousness through it and in my half asleep state could hear the conversation in the front between our two friends and more important I could hear this song, this song about suicide, about misery about all this bad stuff, and in my half asleep state, I was able to wake up and ask what the song was.
And as the song played I looked at Shannon and I suddenly felt different about everything, she was my friend but I knew I wanted it to be more than the friends bordering on casual acquaintances that we in reality kind of were up to that point . I knew had she been awake we could have talked for another 6 hours, and if we didn’t want to talk we didn’t have to because in reality the silence itself was in no way oppressive. We thought alike, we were alike and I wanted to keep her around, and I’d try my best not to be the most overwhelming terrible dick I know I can be to everyone around.
Its almost been two years since whenever that day was, and a lot has happened since then. We have had periods where we don’t talk for whatever reason (see the whole month of February 2008), there are times when it seems I spend every other day with her (see August 2008). I can’t say I’m not a dick to Shannon, but I do try pretty hard not to be, harder than with most people. And I defiantly go way out of my way to please her. And while some days in utter frustration I feel completely unappreciated, and sometimes used by her. When she‘s happy and she‘s around I feel as if really there are few people I‘d rather be spending my time with.
I don’t know what the future holds for either of us. I don’t know if this time next year we will even be friends, I’m terrible at keeping them, I always seem to find a way to alienate people and make them realize how terrible I really am on the inside. I do know that for the last two years, through all the bad, through all the good, the one pleasant constant I’ve had has been Shannon and really anyone who’s ever had to hear me bitch about her, knows how much in reality she means to me, and how hard I try to make her happy sometimes at the cost of my own sanity it seems. I still maybe foolishly think it’s totally worth it. All the bitching is just a byproduct of caring as much as I do.
And so its this song, the song about suicide, that was playing on a car ride no one but me probably remembers that I will forever associate with Shannon, that if I ever had to make her a goodbye mix tape would be the first song on the mix, like I said it only makes sense that a song of such depressing themes would be only one I feel really fits
In the summer of 2006 I experienced the worst heart break of my whole entire young life. I had been hurt before, and would be hurt again but never like this. While I wont go into details of the event I will go into details of the misery that seemed to envelop my life. Have you ever tried to get up but not been able to get up at all because everything seems so pointless and drab. Its how I felt every day for a month and a half. Here is an example from my beloved moleskine notebook I kept at the time
June 19th 2009
The days all seem blurry to me. They pass quickly and after each I feel mixed up.
And that really was the general feeling for far too long that summer, but we all know generic male longing for the opposite sex that has scorned them and chosen another. In fact whole albums have been written about it , poem, books and I doubt I have anything of any insight to add to this conversation. I’ve been hurt and I’ve hurt others in love and none of it I’m proud of, lets leave it at that. Its instead a piece of advice I was given that matters.
At the time a family friend had been staying with us and had for far too long seen me mope. Seen me refuse to eat, refuse to be happy for this reason that I never really shared with anyone but was clearly completely obvious to those around me.
He sat me down over a drink and told me something that to this day I sit and often tell myself so I’ll never forget, he said in a slightly drunk voice and in Spanish.
“Alex, when I was young the girl I had been with left me. I had been with her for three years and she left for no reason. She refused to take my calls, just left my life. One day six months into the ordeal I got up and said “Enough, I’m going to go shower and forget”. I took a shower, the hottest shower I could take, and when I came out, everything was okay again”
Its always stuck with me, this statement made to me at a moment when I felt like any sense of future happiness was clearly impossible and the melodramatic tendencies had firmly taken hold. That very night, after having one too many drinks, I took a scolding hot shower to metaphorically wash everything away.
It didn’t really work and every time I’ve tried since for other reasons its never really worked. I’ve always hoped it has and that somehow something as simple as a hot shower could solve all my problems forever. But while it never works it always does remind me of just how strong I am at all times.
Right now, I feel similar to that summer for many reasons most of which I tend to keep bottled up. And sometimes I take hot showers and think endlessly in hopes of washing it all away. In the end of the day I come out the same but in between it all I realize as I stand there that it would never be the shower that would fix anything but me. Its hard sometimes to remember how strong I really, how I can deal with things far worse than what stands in my way at any given moment, no shower will ever save me from myself, but every time i remember that I can do just that.
It was on a day much like today, I was 16, and broke. I was always broke then. I never enjoyed the idea of a job, and what money I did get I would blow through in no time. In reality I was happy being broke, and most of the time I still am. Its only adult responsibility that has made me want money. Money was always merely an object to the means I wanted, whatever it was I wanted. I still no matter what I’m told have no desire to really be rich.
It was hot, but Miami always is this time of year. I sat on a curb of at a still in development gated community much like those that always seemed to spring up ten a year, and stared at the sky. I just looked and looked, I was trying to find something. I didn’t know what it was, where It could be but I wanted to find it.
I knew later in the day I was going to meet up with a girl who’s name escapes me now, and I’d kiss her, and I’d enjoy it not because I liked her, I never did, but because we would hide behind the bushes and she would declare how I was perfect, and so smart. How when we both got back to new york city i could meet all her friends. She was wild for me, and I can’t even remember her name.
Yet all my mind could focus was on this thought, this dream of something that I was never sure what that dream was. I came back from Miami that year in September, and I bought a map of Chile that still hangs in my room. I decided that’s where I wanted to go that day while siting on the hot curb and I still stare at sometimes, and think those same thoughts.
I’ve wasted 23 years of my life and of my potential. I still haven’t been to Chile. This morning over coffee and what now seems like the endless reflection I do, I’ve decided that finally it has to change. Life is for living and not letting it pass you by. I’ll get to Chile, and every other place that I’ve always dreamt of. I’ll write again. Ill take all the pictures I long to. I owe it to myself and for once I intend to keep my word.
“So I took her to the river
believing she was a maiden,
but she already had a husband.
It was on St. James night
and almost as if I was obliged to.
The lanterns went out
and the crickets lighted up.”—
From Federico Lorca’s The Faithless Wife.
When I was younger, before my parents divorce, my dad use to read this poem out loud in Spanish, probably before I was able to fully grasp just how wonderful it is in Spanish. I heavily associate this poem with him. My father and I aren’t close, we are both way too similar and so it creates a sort of tension and the distance of him living in Miami makes it hard for anything but short phone conversations. But there is real warmth and affection between us, especially the older I get, and this poem is something that always reminds me of him.
I’ve also always been sad to think how many people are forced to read Lorca in English, it loses so much of its lyrical magic. But i guess the same can be said for those who are forced to read Shakespeare in any language but English. Then again what do I know.
I use to be sure of myself, not because of an over inflated ego, and not because of some unrealistic sense of self but because I knew that whatever it was I was suppose to do, wherever it was I was suppose to do it I would and that everything would be okay.
I use to be able to sit over a page and pour myself out over it. I could write books and books full of poetry and stories. It never was a struggle, it always just flowed. I don’t know if any of it was ever that great but I always knew I could do it. I haven’t written anything of any substance in a year
I could always count on myself to get it. To do whatever it was even if it was a bit of a struggle. I knew that what I had in me, it was going to make it all work. That on my brains alone I could get on all right. That’s not to say I was ever confident, and I’ve always doubted myself, my abilities and my intelligence. I’ve been called brilliant more times than I like to think about or admit to and never once have I bought it. I was called an amazing writer by multiple people yet I have a hard time sharing anything I write. And when someone now compliments my photographs I just assume they must be blind or flattering me. Even so I always knew and felt I had enough to make it all work, to put it all together and that in the grand scheme of things it would in fact all work out.
I can’t say that anymore. Never in my life have I felt so directionless. I’m nowhere I want to be and I’m not sure where it is I should be. I feel utterly alone more often than I should and for the first time in a long time I no longer feel as if I have any sort of support system of friends or even just family I can really fall back on. I’ll occasionally open up to random people only because I’ve felt like I’m at the edge of no longer being able to take it and not because I honestly expect them to care or really want them to. I’m sorry I do that I really am, but sometimes I just can’t hold it in and even if the sympathy is faked all of those who have shown it will never understand how much it really means to me at that very moment.
I let myself get to this point and I don’t want to point the finger at anyone else. This isn’t some cruel joke from the heaven’s. This isn’t some doing of some unknown force. Its simply myself and all the accumulated mistakes over the years. Its me letting opportunities pass, friends drift away and goals unaccomplished. Its me saying the wrong things. Doing the wrong things.
Not saying I love you to those I should have. Its me come off as cold and pretentious, unaffectionate and miserable when in reality I cared about things and people more than I could put into words and wanted nothing but their attention and adoration .Its being afraid of the unknown and of taking the bold steps I knew I had to, that those who cared knew I had to. Not taking the leaps for those who deserved better and instead got only half what they gave me. Its getting to the point I am now and realizing that through my choices I am alone with no one to turn to anymore and nothing to really show for the whats now almost a quarter century of existence.
I know it’s my fault and I know I’m the only one who can change all this except that now for the first time in for as long as I can really remember, I’m afraid that just me, that just my brains and my abilities will not be enough. And I think that’s the scariest thought I’ve ever had.
“I am afraid that there are more people than I can imagine who can go no further than appreciating a picture that is a rectangle with an object in the middle of it, which they can identify. They don’t care what is around the object as long as nothing interferes with the object itself, right in the centre. Even after the lessons of Winogrand and Friedlander, they don’t get it. They respect their work because they are told by respectable institutions that they are important artists, but what they really want to see is a picture with a figure or an object in the middle of it. They want something obvious. The blindness is apparent when someone lets slip the word ‘snapshot’. Ignorance can always be covered by ‘snapshot’. The word has never had any meaning. I am at war with the obvious.”—from The Democratic Forest introduction by William Eggleston.