Friday, March 10, 2006

Tu No Puedes Con Migo


When Ray Barretto died, I frantically tried to find my Indestructible album that I hadn't listen to in about,uh, . . . forever. Good thing I cherish this emotionally valuable piece of music, huh? The good news is that I found it. The bad? I found it in a box in the garage as a cassette. Remember those? Cassettes? The things that have the tiny film tape that are precariously fragile BRAND NEW, so let's not talk about the state of the 15-year old tape as found in my garage. I mourned, and then realized the remains were a lethal weapon. The shards of the busted plastic case clearly a dangerous shiv and the tape itself, which only breaks in the middle of your favorite song when you're trying impress someone with it, could be fashioned into a durable noose.

I thought, No problem, right amazon.com ol' buddy? We'll find Indestructible. But then Three Sheets pointed out that though amazon sold the CD, they were trying to fetch $95.00 for a used copy. WHAT IN THE HELL. Still calm, I tried other on-line distributors. Nada. HOLY SHIT. I had had this problem once before when I looked high and low for a particular Maraca y Otra Vision CD that I HAD TO HAVE and I found it only after entering a narrow record store in Spanish Harlem. When I asked the storekeep who was behind the glass case counter displaying bongs for the CD, he said, "You won't find this west of Hoboken." No shit, and I grabbed the CD from his toying hands. So, would my search have to be this elaborate for Indestructible? I was up for the challenge.

I turned to eBay (western whistle sounds) and blew on my fingers. There was one copy being offered in CD form. It was a burned copy and I realized right then that I am not a collector only an appreciator of the music. I just needed to have this CD in my collection. I typed in $20.00 as my max bid and the wait for the vicious eBay war began. I know how those sharky eBay buyers worked, how they manipulated time. I vowed that nobody was gonna get this CD but me. I figured as long as I paid less than $95 all would be right in my world. But no one else bid on my beloved album, and I got it for $9.50. SWEET.

The CD arrived yesterday. And I haven't listened to anything else since. I've kissed the xerox'ed cover a couple times. To be honest, I was surprised at how emotional the songs still make me. Even now that I'm more emotionally evolved -- blahblahblah -- the music moves me in similar ways. It's not melancholy music where the songs allow you to feel badly for yourself until you're all cried out. It's is all-empowering music. It makes you curl your lip at all the shit weighing you down. Makes you stomp your feet and dance around the house entranced by and intertwined in the rhythm until you're a sweaty, sobbing heap on the floor. This album means so much to me that I once wrote an entire short story based around the second song, El Diablo. I've done three literary readings in the last two years. I've read from this story each time and I always choose the part of the story where I sing one of the lines from the song: "Pero yo tambien soy fuerte, y yo no caigo Lucifer." But I'm strong too, and I'm not falling because of you, Devil. And obviously Devil means anything, everything dragging at you. I heard the song again for the first time yesterday, blarring it in my car like it needs to be, and I sucked in my breath at certain verses and didn't fight the tears. I thought, That's right, tu no puedes con migo -- you can't fuck with me. I'll fight all that weighs me down until I can't any more. The song Indestructible does the same thing to me. As the deep congas and the cracking bongo and the timbales and blasting horns and the percussive piano and the base of the song converge into a religious experience, the vocalist sings, "In this moment, everything is possible." And I believe it. I really do.

The door to music was really opened to me twenty years ago when I dated a conga player, The Congero. We met when I was asked to dance in a show. We danced Caribbean folk dances in a progression around a night club to marching drummers that followed us. As a favor, The Congero played for the dancers. He had played with Mongo Santamaria and many other greats. He was an amazing musician. His mind worked in ways I had not witnessed before; he brilliantly saw patterns of music beyond sheets of it. He was engrossed with anything rhythmic and to him that meant everything. Everything had rhythm. Anything could be played as a percussive instrument. His specialty besides the congas was bongo and during his solos he would jump off stage and with the drum between his knees he'd walk to someone in the audience and play rhythms alternately off their legs and off the bongo. He could find the off beat, the dead-on beat, the in between, the syncopated, the beat wanting to be a beat, but what I thought he did most amazingly was play melodic congas. He would tune five congas to different notes, and he'd play a song like, Ain't No Sunshine on the drums. It was so beautiful and sad sounding this way.

If you date a percussionist seriously, there are certain things you are required to know. The basics of rhythm. How to find the clave in salsa which is an underlying ancient African rhythm that all salsa is based on. You need to know how to differentiate between drums and between rhythms. As a dancer, this was not hard and I wanted to learn every nuance. Every tiny beat I wanted to know what it was and why it was what it was. The more I learned the more obvious it became that everything is in fact rhythm and that a drum will only call you back to that fact.

Other than his musicianship, the other great thing about The Congero was that he was the first person that told me regularly that I was smart. He recognized my intuitive intelligence even though I had no formal education. I wasn't sure if I was dumb or smart. This wasn't a self depreciation thing. I just really was unsure if my thinking was relatable to anyone else. But he pumped up my smarts. Almost daily. And he genuinely made me believe it.

It all sounds like a dream, doesn't it? But sadly, The Congero was a lying, selfish cheat. He was a Taker. Three years we dated, and I was a dedicated little servant. I cooked and cleaned and laundered and served. I was known in the salsa circle as The Congero's woman and I was respected and treated well. But just because I was the queen didn't mean The Congero wasn't fucking every girl that crossed his path at the local clubs and on the road. I don't think I'm exaggerating the "everyone" part. I call it Pussy on a Platter Syndrome. That's what musicians have. Every woman was turned on by The Congero's musicianship and that kind of attention is hard to refuse, I imagine. I turned an eye from it for most of the three years we were together. I let him talk me out of my "paranoia" many times. Until I found naked photos of one of his lovers packed in a bag as he was about to go on tour. I was done then. Done. He was defensive and told me to leave. And I did. I left and never looked back. And then his pleading began. The marriage proposals, the promises, all the things I wished he'd said before. He begged for years. Begged. For years. But my light for him had been permanently extinguished. Tu no puedes con migo. When the light was gone, I felt bad for him, not angry. He was tormented for a very long time for his inability to be loyal to a good woman. He still may be. As for me, I got the good end of this stick. I just had to pay a very high price in exchange for two life-changing things: A belief in my own intelligence, and an education in the complexity of rhythm, in all its forms.

6 comments:

maven said...

PLACATAN! I love this.

Laini Taylor said...

As always, great read. I see stories and novels just dripping from your fingers -- the life you've had, the richness of it, and your ability to relate the details. Also, any percussionist would have to just sigh in despair over me. I have no rhythm, the very notion of it is a mystery to me. It would never have worked out!

acumamakiki said...

Great story, amazing. I too remember the person that first told me I was the smartest person she knew. I don't know if that says much (ha!) but like you, it wasn't self-deprecation, it truly was this fascination that someone thought I was smart! And the smartest person she knew! It really meant something to me and I always loved her for it.

kiki said...

kudos to you on finding your album. i love when i finally find an album i've been hunting all over for. it just makes it sound so much better than all my other albums.

andrea said...

music has the power, man. love this.

and this might not be the time or place but I secretly wish for ezra to become a drummer.

SUEB0B said...

Oh, Maaaadness...

I have a "Win a BlogHer entry fee" contest going on over at my blog. No real skill required, either. I just wanted some other woman to get to go...

http://redstapler23.blogspot.com/2006/03/big-de-lurking-blogher-contest.html