So last Monday night I'm standing in one of those stupid lines of constructed exclusivity waiting to get into the Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard. Girl In a Coma is opening for the Donnas. An entourage of fashionably dressed Englishmen suddenly rounds the corner, skips past us doofuses at the door, and strides inside, no questions asked. Morrissey is in the house. Yes, that Morrissey. Of Queen Is Dead fame. Of the sublime "How Soon Is Now." Inexplicable patron saint to Raza of a certain generation from Montebello to El Paso to the Southside of San Antonio and all points of teenage angst and romantic alienation in between.
It's Day One of what I am now calling my Morrissey Week. The week that ends Saturday in Pomona, at yet another GIAC show (see my photo of singer Nina Diaz above), where I find myself in front of legendary Smiths tribute band the Sweet and Tender Hooligans, who headline. First the real Morrissey, and now the simulacrum, Chicano style. Did I mention this is happening in Pomona, home of Jessica "I'm Not Latina" Alba and Mrs. Kobe Bryant, born Vanessa Cornejo Ubrieta? What this all means, quien sabes, I will let all the cultural study heads out there deconstruct that particular brown confluence.
In any case,
I've heard of the Sweet and Tender Hooligans for years, and this 4/5ths Mexican American band reproducing English pop songs from the 1980s doesn't disappoint. They play an amazing show where in honor of the 20th anniversary of the release of the Smiths' Strangeways, Here We Come, they perform every song off the album. Equally fascinating is the packed crowd of brown kids singing along. Even at those parts where lead singer Jose Maldonado (AKA "the Mexican Morrissey) inserts Spanish lines into the classic Smith lyrics. Crazy scene. Check out this Gustavo Arellano article here for a much better take on the phenomenon than I could possibly write. A must-read for anyone interested in the sometimes strange yet always exhilarating ways of the post-Chicano onda.
In any case, on on to all things Latino and pop for this third week of Zeptember...
Ken Burns's The War premiered last night and the world did not end. I did, however, fall asleep. Sometime after the part about Pearl Harbor. Man, this is going to be a hard slog. My only worry is that with the Fall TV Season beginning, and the 15-hour Burns series occupying some serious space on my TiVo hard drive, some difficult choices will have to be made. The new Bionic Woman vs. slow meandering pan shots of corny Norman Rockwell teens at a 40s era malt shop? Ugly Betty vs. the systematic erasure of Mexican American and Puerto Rican historical presence in the so-called "Good War?" Thankfully, NPR comes to the rescue. In one comprehensive radio story (listen here) they manage to tell in eight minutes what Burns could not do in 15 hours. And this with no pictures, no majestic voiceover, and none of the GM sponsored multi million dollar budget. The radio piece not only details how Latinos heeded the call to duty, but gives a proper historical context for Mexican Americans before and after the war. How the soldiers left a segregated Jim Crow existence and returned home as veterans demanding their civil rights. Now this is Public Broadcasting money well spent. Ken Burns take note.
In other news, Tim Janus, a gringo day trader and aspiring Pizza Maker (?!) from New York ate 10 and 3/4 burritos in 12 minutes to win the self-described world burrito-eating championship. Each burrito, called the Big Kahuna, weighed in at 18 ounces (the weight of your average youth aluminum softball bat), and was stuffed with black beans, rice, pork, cheese, and a "mild" sauce, whatever that means. After the win, MSNBC reported Janus as saying "I love Mexican food." Vato is apparently proving himself to be the "Mexican Food" specialist in the world of competitive eating. Before his burrito victory, Janus recently shattered the world tamale eating record by eating 51 of them in 12 minutes. I don't know exactly why I mention this story except I'm weirdly fascinated by the fact that a bunch of gabachos got together in Maine (?!), decided what constituted a "standard" for a burrito, and some white dude is now the King of Mexican food eating.
And finally, the CBS show Cane premieres this Wednesday. Starring Jimmy Smits and a Who's Who of famous Latino actors: Rita Moreno, Hector Elizondo, and...ok, not that many. The prime-time soap -- modeled, some say, on Dallas and Falcon Crest -- tells the story of the Cuban American Duque family of South Florida, makers of the famous Duque brand of rum. They are rich, good looking, and can dance salsa. Latinos Who Care About Such Things have been complaining for years at the lack of diversity in network television. Well, here is the show. And it turns out not everyone is happy in Aztlan. Well, not exactly Aztlan, more so unhappy in that other mythic center of brown origin, Miami.. According to this report (via Hispanic Tips) Cuban Americans are unhappy that the actors portraying the fictitious Cuban Americans of Cane are primarily Puerto Ricans. For my cubano brothers and sisters I say, with much love, get used to it. I hate to bring up Ugly Betty again, but the Mexican immigrant characters in that TV show are played by a Honduran (America Ferrara), two Puerto Ricans (Ana Ortiz and Mark Indelicato), and, yes, even a Cuban (Tony Plana). Not a tapatio in the bunch. As my East Coast fellow raza blogger Carolina Gonzalez points out, " a lot of the modern-day Miami cubanito & cubanazo details seem right: the generational differences in musical tastes (from Buena Vista to Shakira to reggaetón), references to balseros and Operación Pedro Pan, the persistence of cigars and lechón and that legendary Cuban charm, and the fact that Jamaicans and Central American
Mayan Indians make up the bulk of Florida's agricultural migrant workers." A long way indeed from Gomez in the Addam's Family.