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Vc Life and style

Vc Life and style

Vc Life and style

Vc Life and style

Vc Life and style

A Closet Latino and How I Became One

Story and Photos by Michael Lindsay


I have been sitting for some time, wondering how I got to be this way. I have been listening to Pablo de Lucia, Aurora Vargas and the Gipsy Kings. There was nothing in my heritage which might have indicated this, except for some Black Irish blood. I listened to Elvis Presley, bought the requisite red windbreaker from Rebel Without a Cause, joined a car club called ‘The Syndicate’ and pretty well had led an average life. Then one evening on the Ed Sullivan Show, there was this guy named Jose Greco, doing, I shall never forget, a dance called La Petenera about a girl who’s bewitched. The music Jose Greco danced to was one of the most haunting songs I had or have heard. I searched for Flamenco records and saw a woman on television called Carmen Amaya, who made me fall even deeper in love with Flamenco.

My grades were awful. My teachers told me I was not inspired. I asked them to inspire me. A’s in French, English and History; the rest terrible. No college would have me, but I didn’t want more classroom stuff, so I did something even more stupid and joined the U.S. Army. They made me a photographer and sent me off to France, where for the next two and a half years, between the two cities of Cognac and Bordeaux, I was stationed. Having taken French in school and being a photographer, they gave me a pretty free rein of the place.

I discovered that the U.S. Army had many Toms. There was a small concert given at Bussac put on by a modest Flamenco troupe and I was first in line and enjoyed it a lot and I heard one of the Army Toms say, “Just seems like a buncha Spics tryin’ to crush cockroaches.” I was surrounded by so many dolts and had rejected school for so long that I thought I would do something. I decided to take courses in Russian and Spanish and go and spend as much time as possible speaking French: something to get my brain working. I met a girl in a bar named Juanita, who was from Madrid and sang beautiful Flamenco. She and her friend, Pixie were hookers. Pixie taught me about sex; Juanita taught me about Flamenco, both for free. My Spanish and French soon got better and my love of Flamenco grew grander.

I spent three days at a vineyard, where I shot photos for the Army of a group of Romanian gypsies. At night at the campfire, I even met a truly tempestuous Romanian girl whose father scolded her for looking at me, and probably would have cut out my gullet, had I touched her. Again, there was that primitive beat, perhaps another form of Flamenco, but the origins were there.

I went on leave to Malaga, stopping in Madrid between planes and went to the Prado. Next to a room full of Hieronymus Bosch paintings is a Goya, which is a painting of a dog, buried to his neck in the sand, with such a look of terror in his eyes that I turned away, then had to look back. I have never felt this way about a painting again. Goya had painted this of a sport in which Spaniards buried dogs up to their necks, then some guy rode by on horseback, and the first one to whip off the dog’s head was the winner. I have a post card of the painting, but I don’t look at it.

When the Spanish ousted the Moors at the end of the 15th Century, it spawned a persecution of all non-Catholics that lasted hundreds of years. The gypsies suffered injustices that they expressed in song. Perhaps the earliest Flamenco is the cante hondo in which a male singer tells stories of sadness and oppression. So the passion of Flamenco has its roots in pain as much as joy.

When I arrived in Malaga, I was told to go to Torremolinos, a tiny fishing village. This was 1958 and it WAS a tiny fishing village (now a huge metropolis), and I discovered a small night club called La Bodega Andaluz, out of which was coming the sounds of…Flamenco! Every single night I went and soon, the players would sit down to have a drink with me and explain the Bulerias and Sevillanas and Cante Jondo, La Voz Afilla, Cante Chico, Compas, though they, with their Andalusian Spanish, taking the s’s out of everything, were difficult to understand. But with their hands, they would explain the beats of the palmas and the pates. Juanita had taught me how to drum my fingers on the bar, as if I were strumming a guitar, so now I could pick up a beat on the table, and soon they were yelling “Ole!” at me. I later discovered that the ‘Ole’ comes from the Arab cries of ‘Allah!’ There was so much to learn and I loved it all.

I went back four times to Torremolinos, stopping at the Prado each time. I went over to Tangier, and again I could hear the origins of Flamenco.

I was once discussing with an old Spaniard (in English) the Goya painting in the Prado of the dog, along with different forms of Flamenco and the various performances. He asked if I knew the word, ‘duende.’ Nope, I didn’t. He started to explain, then gave me an article by the poet, Federico Garcia Lorca: “Whatever has black sounds has duende…the duende is not in the throat, the duende comes up from inside, up from the very soles of the feet. That is not to say, it is not a question of aptitude, but of a true and viable style – of blood, in other words; of what is oldest in culture: of creation made to act.” That took me a long time to fully digest, but it occurred to me that not only certain Flamenco performers had ‘duende” since the word was Spanish, but so did the dog in the painting. But so did Billie Holiday and Ray Charles.

And I discovered the word ‘juerga’ or gypsy party, a jam session. It was where I was going all the time to drink and listen to Flamenco. Juerga Flamenca is a good place to go.

In 1960, I got out of the army and one evening went to a Spanish nightclub on La Cienega in Los Angeles, called Casa Madrid. Carmen Amaya was dancing and Sabicas was playing and this was going to be one of the supreme moments of my life. Amaya danced and Sabicas’ head went forward and his toupee came up, turning the man scarlet with embarrassment, and Carmen Amaya put it back on his head, kissed him and whirled doing a Zapateado, which drowned out the laughter. At two in the morning, the owner came out and announced that he was going to lock the doors and anyone who wanted to leave could do so. How was a 21 year old kid going to pass up a chance like that? The doors were locked and out came a 17 piece Mariachi band, and they played Las Mananitas (the Mexican birthday song) for Carmen Amaya. They did the Jarabe Tapatio (the Mexican Hat Dance), and she asked each man to dance with her. I have been told that I dance like a ruptured Russian bear, but I sure had a good time whirling dervishly.

I worked for a while in New York and in 1961, got on a boat with three thousand dollars and went around the world, being sent off on the docks by Katy, whom I have now been married to for almost 32 years. I got off in Casablanca, drove down to Marrakesh, then the Atlas Mountains, then back up through Rabat and Tetuan and Tangier, then back to my old home base of Torremolinos. As I came in on the bus, I watched the last palm tree being cut down for progress, but the Bodega Andaluz was still there. I took a small hotel room and walked down the Calle San Miguel to a bar called Quitapenas. In front of me was a couple up from Gibraltar, or “Gib.” He a captain in Her Majesty’s Army was walking with his swagger stick when his lady stopped dead in her tracks, pointed up at the bar sign and said, fairly shrieking, “Quite a penis?!”

I went to the Bodega Andaluz, and there was Pepa, still dancing, now having giving birth to eight children and looking terrific, and a new cantaor. The new singer and Pepe, had duende late into the night. They took me to a small café on the beach, and armed with several bottles of rum, starting at four in the morning, they danced in the sand and sang whatever THEY wanted, and it was some of the most exciting stuff I’ve ever seen or heard. Mas duende! I went into Malaga a few days later, had a few tapas, then, as I was returning, passed by an antique store, and there was what looked a like a small floor about three by four feet, and I bought it for a hundred pesetas (about two bucks). That evening, when we all went to the beach, there was my floor for them. Slowly, they began to dance, thrusting the floor into the sand, then getting a good handle, they really danced and sang. The only thing I can add, to borrow from Hemingway, “And it was good.”

I took my trip around the world and listened to music all through the Middle East and North Africa and India and loved most of it.

There are new forms of Flamenco. When I first heard the Gipsy Kings doing what is called Rhumba Flamenca, I liked them. Now they play like mechanics. I never liked Manitas de Plata, nor Carlos Montoya. But I still love Sabicas and Carmen Amaya and Nina de los Peines and a whole bunch of others who had this thing called ‘duende.’

The thing is, when I was learning about Flamenco, I didn’t understand Spanish very well, then when I began learning some of the lyrics, I thought this is some of the dopiest stuff I’ve ever heard:

I made a fire in the hills
The wind came blew it out
While there was fire
Ashes always remain

And then:
If any doubts the love I have for you
Take this knife and open my heart

Or, one of the most famous Huapangos:
What beautiful eyes you have under your lashes

The Latin spirit is within me. Along with Flamenco. I have been to over 100 bullfights. I saw one fight of the manos a manos between Luis Miguel Dominguin and Antonio Ordonez. I have stood in the callejon (the small alley in the plaza) with a matador friend, Jaime Bravo, and the bull jumped the barrera (the wall) and we all went over the barrera, winding up in the ring, and in that same fight, Jaime and the bull took each other to such heights that, for the first time in my life I saw them let the bull go. That is another example of duende, perhaps the most graphic, taking yourself to the very edge. I will never see another bull fight, but I’m sure ready for more Flamenco.

I’ve been around the world and driven the length and breadth of Mexico learning to love Mexican music, and opened some tombs in Peru and done some nifty stuff, but now I’ve decided to take up writing my favorite euphonious words in Spanish, simply words that I love the sound of, dedicated to my wife, Katy:

Faro de mi azulejos, tu eres mi pomelo
(Lighthouse of my tiles, you are my grapefruit)

Tu eres la manteca de mi Corazon
(You are the lard of my heart)

You see, I’ve learned some pretty good Spanish, and my heart is still with Flamenco.

And finally:
Un flamingo no es Flamenco
A flamingo is not Flamenco

 

 

 
 

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