Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chicanonautica: Roque ‘n’ Rol

Looks like the political turmoil out of Arizona is giving us a break. Anti-immigrant bills got snuffed, thanks to the business community speaking up about how these paranoid delusions are bad for the economy. Certain politicians are furious. They may strike back soon.

But, meanwhile, this gives me a chance to get back to La Cultura, music, books . . . like Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock ‘n’ Roll from Southern California by David Reyes and Tom Waldman, two guys from my hometown of West Covina, California, who used to work at Tower Records. Tower is long gone. There’s now a gigantic, world-class shopping mall there, in the place that we used to call the Plaza.

This book is not just a SoCal nostalgia trip, but a well-researched (musicians, disk jockeys, and others were interviewed) documentation of Chicano Rock. It points out how integral this music was, not just to brown kids, but to Rock en General.

It starts back in the days of Lalo Guerrero and early Rhythm and Blues (the days when my dad said the police would pull you over if they heard that kind of music coming out of your car), to the beginnings of Rock in the Fifties, through the Sixties, into Punk, to Rap, and (in this new edition) to the present.

Quite a diverse array of musicians and musical styles are covered proving that this was rarely an isolated barrio phenomenon. Black music was always an influence as well as white rock. Rebellion against traditional Mexican music often turned into a rediscovery of that tradition, adding to the powerful mix, demonstrating that Chicano Rock is a mestizo thing.

Back in the early Eighties, when MTV dominated the national culture with the music videos it played, few nonwhite performers were featured. There was talk about musical apartheid, how black and white music were played on different radio stations, to different audiences, different worlds. Some pendejos suggested that only white guys could play proper rock and roll.

This what not the case where I grew up. KRLA and the other L.A. stations that appealed to the Chicano audience would go from the British Invasion to Motown without skipping a beat. I remember not knowing if a band was black or white until I saw them on television. And of course, in low-def black and white TV, the Beatles looked like they could be four guys from East L.A.

Chicano Rock provided connective tissue, linking cultures and communities, as well as providing a place to create new identities for those who lived between cultures. Land of a Thousand Dances shows all of this, and it makes me proud to be a Chicano.

Ernest Hogan’s story “Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song” -- that he expanded into his novel Cortez on Jupiter -- will be reprinted in Alien Contact edited by Marty Halpern.