Saturday, January 06, 2007

como se dice?

More snow last night, admittedly not all that much but ridiculous. Side benefit: softens the bone jarring drive over ruts and mounds of solid ice sometimes a foot thick. I'd be more sanguine if my 1991 Honda Civic weren't randomly and quite mysteriously stalling. It's an avant garde stall, as it only occurs when the car is well warmed up, and seems usually to be when I go a constant speed in one gear for any stretch. I have vague hopes it's dirty fuel injectors or water in the gas or the old vapor lock phenomenon (about which I of course know nothing) but also vaguely suspect there might be a more serious problem.

The most serious problem is $5,000 in unpaid federal taxes, fines and penalties from two chaotic years, 01/02, when I lived in astonishing disarray and did not file at all. I have attempted a few times to settle the matter but the IRS decided to levy my savings account over the holidays. Pathetic, really, as it had less than a grand in it and I qualify for temporarily uncollectable status but just didn't jump through the necessary hoops to get that officially settled before leaving the country. The situation makes me regret that I returned. Is there anything more romantical than a tax exiled improvising musician living in Mexico? I'm sure Mexico needs another drummer, ex-teacher and sometime writer.

Speaking of Mexican music...I have to admit my almost complete bafflement at Mexican popular song. Well, the forms represented loudly by the employees or owners of Daggett's campground on Christmas Eve, by the Mexican patriarch who parked his family in front of our tent the night after Christmas (howling out of his tinny car stereo, complemented by the constant beep beep beep of his "door open" alert), by car stereos and stores/businesses with music blasting. Most of what I could place was indistinguishable from mariachi music to my ears. Brass was unrelentingly featured, usually with a front line and a second line underpinned by tuba or synth tuba. All of the singers were male. Tonally, the singing contrasts with the brass in several different inflections that are microtonally flat or sharp, giving the music a drunken, swaggering, jangling cast. Sometimes the arrangements seemed to have a New Orleans/Chicago jass influence, sometimes more clearly a US country music feel. But otherwise it was impossible for me to hear many other influences. The accordion was not as present in the mix as I would have liked, nor the drums. The overall tonally glaring and garish effect is highlighted by the music's unrelenting IV-V-I diatonicism. Also emphasized by the inevitably horrible stereos on which I heard it, often turned up to volumes that created searing distortion.

Admittedly, a small sample that was most often a sonic assault in otherwise quiet (sometimes mystically so) surroundings. And other than the way my interest was piqued-- tonal inflection, trying to catch lyrics with my abysmal understanding of Spanish, the very occasional switch up of the formula-- my impression was of a music absolutely lacking in any trace of sophistication, isolated from the past decades of musical and technological changes elsewhere, cloyingly pathetic (encapsulating some of the feeling of the blues but with absolutely none of that music's irony). It is rare, in my smoothed out so-called open-mindedness, for me to encounter music to which I respond with blind rage. But such was my feeling at times. It's been a while since music made me want to commit violent acts. Even when I hear the worst of "jazz" (syrupy, bland, limp garbage) I don't generally want to smash things, set fire to villages, bulldoze the world to rubble. But Mexican popular music eventually led me to these dark places in my soul.

The most generous place I was able to go was "how quaint." But that racist dismissal also rankles. It is all too easy for an American to view Mexican culture and people as "quaint." I could vaguely sense (was I projecting? of course) something strained and darkling in many interactions with hotel, store and gas station employees. I kept thinking that if I knew Spanish I would not stir up this oddly polite resentment, a standoffish mutual bemusement. No doubt US "tough on immigration" policies have provided Mexican citizens with additional reason to despise a bumbling Yankee such as myself, waving pesos around and obviously using their country as a playground.

One can be aware of these many layers of political and economic injustice and still think the local popular music is horrifying.

American popular music is horrifying too. That's fair. I remain politically correct. nyaa nyaa nyaa.

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