Music: “Perfect day, perfect night”

 

 

In the middle of March, my wife MaryAnn and I were invited to go to Guadalajara to present a workshop on emotional intelligence.  Just a month prior to this, we had been to Tunisia to give a series of workshops on teaching grammar, and though we had prepared extensively, what we prepared for was not what they needed. As a result, we spent all our free time there creating the materials that the Tunisians really wanted, and we finally managed to get things on track.  It wasn’t the best of times, however, and we vowed not to let that happen again.  So when we were invited to go to Guadalajara last week, we felt a bit gun shy.  Would we hit the mark or not?

Our perfect day and night actually began. . .and ended. . .on a blue note.  When we arrived, we found that the workshop we thought we were presenting had been upgraded to plenary status, so we went back to our room and hunkered down to reconfigure it as well as we could, but we didn’t know how it would work.  We were further spooked when we walked into the auditorium and discovered that there was no OHP, no VCR, and no video projector, all of which we needed for our presentation—which was scheduled to start in just 10 minutes or so.  But “Don’t worry,” we were told; “The equipment is on its way.”  Turned out it was, but it didn’t arrive until about 20 minutes after we were scheduled to start.  We figured we’d just have to speed things up but were concerned about whether or not the plenary would work delivered in double time.

Well, to our surprise and pleasure, it went great.  Not only did we discover that we had provided exactly what the organizers wanted, but we had also managed to engage the audience, which seemed to be very appreciative.  After the little crowd of participants who stayed to ask us flattering questions had dispersed, we floated back to our room in a cloud of well being, that wonderful feeling of invincibility which seems so real, so much the essence of life, so doomed to vanish along with all other short-lived pleasures.  But we had to milk it for all it was worth!  We had to go to El Centro!

The last time we had been in Guadalajara, we had spent some time at El Centro, the main center of town consisting of a number of churches, a museum or two, and several plazas containing fountains, performers, and vendors surrounded by restaurants and shops.  We both love returning to the familiar, as you will soon find out, so we hailed a cab and prepared to be tourists for the afternoon.

Sure enough, El Centro was just like we had left it a year ago, including the museum in a beautiful old government building.  We wandered through its quiet rooms looking at the skeleton of a Mammoth, antiquities from ancient American cultures, and, interestingly, a collection of old carriages dating back to the late 1800s.  My favorite exhibit, these carriages were displayed around a balcony overlooking the quiet courtyard.  Wonder who rode in them?  Wonder what they looked like when they were new?

We needed to get something to eat.  “You know, that wonderful outdoor café where we ate last time we were here—I’ll bet we can find the same table.”  Sure enough, there was the restaurant, and I’ll be darned, the same table was free.  But it was pretty sunny, so we moved to one in a shadier section.  Not only did we have a great view of people walking around the plaza, but at the table right in front of us, two young couples were making out non-stop.  One of the young girls put on a virtuosa display of flirting, designed no doubt to convince her suitor that indeed she would always be this vivacious, and that if he only married her he would have a lifetime of this enervating pleasure, and, of course, more!  What made this even more interesting was the presence of a middle aged woman sitting between the two couples, totally bored and disinterested, drawing about as much attention as a potted plant.  She was there to prevent the petting from getting out of hand, for I’ve been told that in Mexico it is simply assumed that no one, particularly young folks, could possibly be responsible for the passions that arise, and if they were left alone it would be only normal for them to pounce on the nearest bed and let nature take its course.  But apparently short of that, more or less anything went, and even more publicly than I was used to seeing in the U.S.

We enjoyed the show, our beer, our cheese sandwich and fish salad, and, of course, our banana split, and we congratulated each other on having stayed the course and replicated last year’s itinerary, at least so far.

It had been quite a long day.  After all, we’d coped with the enormous breakfast buffet, worked our butts off at the plenary, come all the way down to El Centro, done some sightseeing, and had lunch.  But before going back, why not check out the rest of the square?  Just wander around and look at people, and maybe buy another hat like the one we’d bought last year when we were here, even though it was too small.

In our wanderings we spotted a number of shoeshine stalls.  Now, I generally like to get my shoes shined on trips out of the country.  It gives me a chance to experience the local culture—the culture of shoe shining—and mingle with the natives.  I spotted a young man sitting by his stand reading a newspaper, and climbed up.  No matter what kind of job he did, the shoes should look better than they did now.

The young man got down to work, first dipping into a can of saddle soap and lathering up the shoes, removing all of the old dirt and wax.  Then he soaped them up again for good measure.  Next, he then applied some wax with a cloth and buffed it out.  Looked great!  Worth the dollar or so.  But whoa there!  This guy was just getting started.  He rubbed on a second coat of wax and again buffed it out in preparation for Stage 3.  Pulling out another can of wax he daubed it on with his fingers this time, rubbing it into the leather.  My God, this was practically a foot massage!  He then took out some sort of polishing cloth and tied into the shoes with a variety of pops and cracks, including a particularly dexterous move in which he transferred the cloth from one hand to the other behind the shoe without missing a stroke.  In fact, I called MaryAnn’s attention to that.  (Heaven only knew what she was thinking about to pass the time.) To work on the challenging heel portion he bore down, extracting a screech from the protesting cloth.  This guy really knew the score!  I was enjoying what might be the world’s best shoeshine, except for those available during a brief, seedy period in which topless shoeshines made their way to downtown Salt Lake City.

The shine had been going on so long that now I had to whiz, but I couldn’t leave, so how could I distract myself from the internal pressure?  Next to the shoeshine stalls was a row of vendors, their items spread out on blankets.  A slim middle aged man in a Stetson hat with a bag of apples—a vendor himself, I guessed—was looking at a pair of used jeans to replace the ones he was wearing, but both he and I knew they were way too big, despite what the young sales girl seemed to be suggesting. Silly girl!  You work to keep your body slim and trim, and you don’t spoil it with loose jeans!  I caught the guy’s eye and we exchanged private knowing glances, me and this Mexican man who reminded me somewhat of Chuck Berry.  Chuck finally walked away and somehow I felt like I had caught the heart of Mexico, at least in my own mind.  And I hadn’t worried about having to whiz during the entire delightful connection.

The shiner had to be getting down to the final strokes, I guessed.  Yep, he was wrapping it up.  Apply dressing to the stitching around the soles with a brush and rub it in.  Then paint some moisturizing conditioner onto the soles and rub that in.  A few more flicks of the cloth, and after 30 minutes he was done!  I gave the guy double what he asked for the shine, and the always patient MaryAnn (bless her heart) and I wandered toward the taxis,  But a part of me felt incomplete with this part of the day.  We hadn’t found the hat seller, like I actually needed another one.  Maybe just a bit more effort—and there he was!  Around that last corner.  The same hats, too small, just like last time, but there they were.  Complete at last!  Now we could go back to the hotel for a nap.  After all, didn’t we deserve it?  We’d worked our way through a breakfast buffet, fought the logistic demons and won, hit the bull’s eye with our presentation, and satisfactorily recreated nigh onto all of the experiences in El-Centro that we had so enjoyed a year ago.  Enough was enough!

We got up late in the afternoon to see what the remainder of the day had to offer.  Since recreating the past had worked well so far, why not see if our luck held out?  Why not go to Zapopan, a sort of down-home folksy part of town not far from our hotel, a pleasant ten minute walk.  But before that, why not get a cup of tea?

MaryAnn likes few things more than a perfect cup of tea, which you can tell from the way she pronounces the word with a widely spread high front vowel that shows her smile and beautiful teeth.  At times I think that she gets as much pleasure just out of out of pronouncing the word as from eventually drinking the brew.  But the tea we get in the U.S. is not all that good.  We’re usually stuck with the kind of Lipton bags that you get in restaurants, which yield a workman-like cup as long as the water is hot and not contaminated by having been stored in a thermos otherwise used for the offensive coffee.  No work of art results.

We went down to the hotel restaurant where, thankfully, our favorite table was free.  Our favorite receptionist was also at his station and happily escorted us to our table with a smile on his face.  I wondered if it was because he was simply great at doing his job or because he found us so amusing.  In any case, we knew we wouldn’t have any trouble sustaining our run of luck through tea time, since among the many things Mexicans do well is brewing a proper cup of tea.

They start with the proper ingredients—Yellow Label Lipton tea bags that pack a real punch, the very same tea we stock up on during our travels and bring through customs instead of liquor.  Drink a cup of that and your eyes pop open in a hurry!  They bring the water in the purest of chalices, probably treated with the same respect as the bottle containing the communional wine.  And the water they bring is hot—in fact superheated so that it explodes into a frothy steam when it strikes MaryAnn’s bag.  Teach those little tea leaves who’s boss!  She beamed with pleasure and I knew I’d done my part as a good husband to join her in this little ceremony.  In fact, I’d actually gone the extra mile and ordered a cup of tea myself just to keep her company and let her know she had a partner in all aspects of her life.  In fact, drinking tea was not all that much of a sacrifice, since for some reason the coffee in Mexico is not all that good, but it never hurt to play the “I’m doing this for you” card as often as possible.

The setting sun reflected off of the mirrors on the ceiling of the restaurant, and I desperately wanted to be outside for those magic moments, so after savoring our tea together and praising Mexico once again for its enlightened weltanschauung, we set off for our short walk to Zapopan.

Our first destination was our favorite tapas restaurant, our favorite because it was not only the only tapas restaurant at which we had ever eaten but also because we had enjoyed another magical night of its own eating there last year with Michelle.  Michelle is one of those people whom you fall instantly in love with, probably because she has so many of the qualities that you love in yourself.

Now I realize that I’ve written myself into a corner here, because when I start singing her praises, it will sound like I’m also patting myself on my back (which is, of course, true), but try to ignore that embarrassing consequence of my logic if you can and focus on her.  First of all, Michelle immediately got our attention when we discovered that English was not her first language.  We had simply assumed that it was, since it was easily as good as MaryAnn’s or mine.  But it turned out that Spanish was her first language.  OK, bilingual is great!  But then, just yesterday afternoon I’d attended a workshop she’d given for French teachers, in French of course with all of the obligatory pursing of the lips, gesturing, and slight, but persistent diffidence.  Had I not known better, I’d have pegged her for an uncommonly pleasant Parisian.  And just to show us that she was not linguistically challenged—cooped up in an impossibly small three language box—she taught a demonstration German lesson at the conference using the improbably named “Silent Way” method.  Near as I could tell, her German was outstanding as well.

I guess I could go on and on about Michelle, about how she reflected on every corner of her life, sharing freely the ups and downs, and how she had found that her path around her demons and toward her bliss seemed to center on singing in a choir, even when doing so came at the end of an exhausting day.  Perhaps it was the group dynamic and interaction that worked its magic—I can’t quite recall.  But MaryAnn and I couldn’t get enough of Michelle and her perspectives.  And who knows, maybe even in her absence some of the residual glow of our last year’s meal together would carry us through the evening, as long as we didn’t make the mistake of doing anything different from what we had done before.

The sun was setting over the tree lined streets as we walked in the soft, warm twilight to the old family Tapas restaurant.  Once get got there, however, we faced a genuine dilemma.  We weren’t actually hungry yet, and despite the fact that we had had tapas a year ago, we weren’t actually in the mood for them now.  Should we force ourselves to eat what we didn’t really want when we weren’t really hungry, or should we take the enormous risk of doing something different?  In fact we were more in the mood for pizza, though not right yet, and the fellow greeting diners at the door of the tapas place was more than happy to point out just where we could get some good pizza—right over there, near the central plaza.  We made a mental note of it.

The vibes from the bells of the Cathedral called to us so we headed for the plaza,  There it was: solid, reassuring, suitably old, yet connected to modern times by the large, blue and white neon “VM” sign on the top spire.  Apparently for reasons having to do with matriarchal indigenous religions of which I know nothing, in the Mexican flavor of Catholicism, the Virgin Mary is the cherry on top of the sundae.  A nurturing deity, she gets higher billing than JC, or even God for all I know, particularly that masculine U.S. God up in Heaven beating and whipping people into shape.  Now I don’t want to get into theology, but I do know I loved that Neon Sign, as I do all neon signs, and I also loved trying to figure out the significance of a second, somewhat lower, white neon representation of a figure which to my naive American eye looked like Casper the Friendly Ghost.  Even an irreverent fellow like me couldn’t bring myself to believe that my interpretation was correct.  After all, how could you possibly believe in the Virgin Mary, God, and ghosts at the same time?  And where was Jesus Christ in this mix?  Maybe the neon Casper was, in fact, intended to represent Jesus on the cross—after all his head was hanging somewhat to the side—though I couldn’t actually spot the cross.   It couldn’t have been just a neon work of abstract art, although it would have been fine with me if it was.

As luck would have it, a wedding was just letting out, and we got to watch the couple emerge from the cathedral and stand around thanking guests and being photographed by what appeared to be a family member with a digital movie camera.  I found myself wondering what exactly had happened between the flirting stage of the relationship which we had seen so impeccably demonstrated at lunch, and the tying of the knot, which we were privy to now.  And what about the future, whether determinate or indeterminate I knew not which?  The door of the decorated stretch Chrysler limo opened to welcome the newlyweds and the guests dispersed, as did we, though not from each other.

I have always loved neon.  I first became aware of it as a necessity when I lived in Thailand and electricity was too expensive to waste in incandescent bulbs.  We’d buy neon tubes and tack them up wherever we needed a glow, but surely the most magnificent displays of neon could be found in the night markets, magical places where crowds of Thais and enlightened farangs (foreigners like me) convened for some of the best food in the Kingdom.

For the first time at Zapopan, I noticed the glow of neon over at the side of the square.  By God, it was indeed a night market, just like in Thailand, and the first one I’d seen in Mexico.  I didn’t even known they had them here!  We—I—had to go and immerse myself in the smells, shapes, colors, sounds, and personal ambiance of that market, bathed in the glow of all manner of colored neon tubes.  As always, MaryAnn indulged my Inner Child until he was filled to the brim with the experience that he was, in fact, a good boy, that he deserved the best, and the fact that the night market even existed was clearly evidence of that.

Despite the availability of all the great food the night market had to offer, as I said, we really had our hearts set on pizza.  Across the plaza, we found the pizza place but, sadly, it didn’t provide much in the way of ambiance:  only three small tables inside a decidedly small entrance next to the counter.  I guessed they were probably more set up for take-out.  And there couldn’t be another pizza place around here.  What a dilemma!  Did we eat what we wanted and begrudge our concessions to atmosphere, or did we settle for food we didn’t want and sit by the plaza, where we wanted to be, where we could watch people and I could talk about myself to our hearts content.  We retreated the corner to discuss our options.

MaryAnn is a master of accommodation and conciliation, and not one to rock the boat.  I, on the other hand, repeatedly embarrass her by asking for whatever I want, no matter how much it might inconvenience others.  Fortunately, MaryAnn and I are indeed soul mates, and her peace-keeping tendencies include keeping peace with me, and uncomfortable as it may make her feel, she lets me forge on and challenge the status quo.  So she stood on the corner while I walked back to the restaurant and asked, “Would it be possible for us to order pizza here and eat it over there, at that Greek restaurant right on the Plaza?  I mean, we really want to sit over there!”  The owner didn’t seem particularly surprised by this request.  In fact I always found Mexicans to be most friendly and accommodating, as if how people felt and what they wanted were actually more important than rules, regulations, and above all, efficiency.  Well, we couldn’t sit in that particular restaurant, but how about another one near it?  Sure!  All we really wanted was to be on the plaza.  “Ok, follow. me.”

I waved to MaryAnn to come with us.  All was well.  “Trust me!”  And having been spared the embarrassment of actually making the request, she relaxed and smiled as she followed us to who knows which of the fifteen restaurants.  We ended up, amazingly, at the one plaza-situated restaurant we had been to before, one evening a year ago when we absolutely had to have ice cream.  In my world, as you have probably surmised, this was a good sign.  Seems that the owner was a friend of the pizza man, and we could sit here, order our beer, and he’d bring us our pizza when it was ready.  The God(s?) who had evidently been watching over us all day were right on top of things, and this apparently extended to the gods of Greek mythology, for when I went into the sanitario to pee, I spotted a poster advertising the 1998 Olympics in Athens.

At first glance this poster gave me a moment’s pause, since I didn’t recall the Olympics having taken place in Athens that year—or ever in modern times for, that matter.  Was my memory actually in such a bad state?  But when I looked more closely, I saw that the poster had actually been produced by the Greek Olympic bid committee, probably the same committee that actually snagged the bid for the 2004 summer Olympics which were, indeed, scheduled to be held in Athens.  With that bit of confusion resolved, I could now freely interpret the Olympic sign as one more blessing intended just for us—actually for me, in fact, since I doubted that there was a similar sign in the sanitaria for “Damas”.  And it was a blessing just because I had recently indulged myself in a marathon of Winter Olympic experiences in Salt Lake City during which I had experienced far more than one perfect day.  So, then, the poster was the Gods’ own way of letting me know that, in fact, we were all connected and that being one with the universe actually meant something.

The beer was at the table when I returned from the head to tell MaryAnn about a my latest connectionist theory of life and pump up the experience of our day—and evening—to even greater dimensions.  But a little voice in my head warned me to be careful!   You know, the bigger they are…, etc.  And when you start to pat yourself on the back, that’s when you lose the high.  But, I’m telling you, this was no ordinary evening, and even the demons of meta-thinking weren’t powerful enough to derail this train.  And look!  There was a stage right next to us.  Wonder what was happening?

Evidently something was about to start, because a number of people were setting up for some sort of musical performance.  Among them was a woman in a long, white, flowing robe; she was the lead vocalist.  This was intriguing, because it suggested that we probably were going to get something different from mariachis and/or folk dancers; not that I had anything against either of them—it was just that I was having difficulty making the connection between that kind of entertainment and pizza and beer.  And as much as I appreciate the enthusiasm and energy of a good mariachi band, I often find my mind wandering, thinking about other things.  And I had thought so much, indeed talked so much, about the ever increasing wonders of our plenary presentation earlier in the day that I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to milk it for any more conversation and, even worse, that I might get bored (God forbid!).

With this shadow of doubt on the horizons of my mind, I turned to what I knew I could generally count on to amuse myself: the technology of music.  I could check out what instruments were being used, and more importantly, what manner of electronics would be used to provide the obligatory amplification.

I actually wasn’t expecting much of interest, some microphones (if I was lucky there might be a vintage Shure mike, or an old Astatic), maybe some Crown amps from the States, or maybe some Ramsa self powered speakers produced by Panasonic, the same company that had so impeccably provided all of the audio-video support at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.  And if I really concentrated, I could look for details:  did they use Cannon or TRS connectors?  Were the lines balanced or unbalanced?  And, by the way, where did that cable snaking to the back of the stage lead?  Was that to a guitar amp?  My God, it was!  And even from where I was sitting I could see that it was no ordinary guitar amp;  it looked like a tweed Fender, and it looked old.  But, of course, it could be a new Fender reissue of an old tweed amp that had just been battered around and just looked old, and though sonically fine, it might still be nothing to get excited about.

I had to know The Truth, so I put on my 1.25 power reading glasses and headed over to the back of the stage to get a real good look.  I studied it from the front and the back, and up close it sure did look old.  I could make out the name, “Fender Tremolux,” on the scratched face plate and spotted what looked like vintage tubes, old RCAs, Mullards, and sacred Telefunkens, tubes not even produced for the past twenty years. These devices were so rare, so mystical in their ability to distort just so, to provide that all important connection from the guitar to the soul of the listening devotee, that a matched set of New Old Stock tubes from some dusty shelf could drain your wallet to the same extent as an entire new amp.  I had to be sure of what I was seeing.

A thin fellow, his long graying hair in a pony tail, was standing behind the stage looking somewhat unapproachable, as is typical of lead guitar players, but the worst he do could do if I tried to talk with him would be to tell me to get lost.  Nonetheless, I wasn’t eager to find out.  But as I have been saying, this was no ordinary evening, and apparently not only were the Greek Gods managing things from on High, but the Virginally robed singer was right there, and she spoke perfect English.  Spotting me, she called out, “Hey, you look like a real connoisseur”.  “Yes, I am.  I love these things.  This looks like really special amp.”  Thus blessed—after all the Virgin had actually spoken to me—I turned to Top Gun and asked, “Is that an original Tremolux?”

“Yep.”

“What year?”

“Late 50s.”

Late 50s?  If I had been a priest, this would have been like suddenly being transported back to the year one, when the very religion that somehow indirectly spawned this magical plaza got off the ground.  It was during the 50s when the temple of tone was built, when Leo Fender in his attempts to build a appliance-level amplifier on which he could make a buck, picked from the simplest public domain circuits, the cheapest off-the-shelf parts, the most basic construction techniques, and gave birth to a besouled device that was absolutely terrible from any objective point of view, since it was better at doing what amps were not supposed to do—distort—than what they were supposed to do:  increase the level of a signal without changing any other of the properties of that signal.  But as is often the case in this mysterious world, a world in which the laser was invented as a result of an accident, electronic experimentation often yields shockingly unexpected, yet wonderful results—just like when back in the mid 50s, at the beginning of time, some guitar player jacked up a Tremolux to levels beyond what it was ever designed for in defiance of a warning label not to turn the thing up beyond “5,”, and out poured a thick, furry, harmonically rich, distorted tone that would forever connect the guitar to the heart.  I rushed back to tell MaryAnn of this miracle, but unable to contain myself I returned to look some more.  What kind of axe was this guy playing?

The guitar wasn’t as easy to spot.  In fact, it was still in its case, which, bless its soul, was lying near the edge of the stage—and wide open.  I leaned over and stared in.  Could it be?  It was!  A Fender Telecaster with a maple neck that was more worn than anything I’d ever seen.  It was a kind of tan color that looked had to be the result of aging, not of creation.  You don’t make something look like that, even when you try.  I risked disturbing the Guitar Czar one more time.

“Hey, what about that Tele?  What year is it?”

“It’s a 1952.  Look, here’s the serial number on the neck.”

A chill ran through my body.  A ’52 Teli?  Madre Dio!  Even an old agnostic like me felt like crossing myself.  This was even better than transporting back to the year one.  I had actually landed at that first Christmas Day, I was looking at the first Cross, and I was, in my own personal way, witnessing the birth of Christ!  Without boring you with more details of my halucinations, let me simply say that like presumably non-virginal women who in simple, well-known ways give birth to human beings, whose intricacies they as mothers—or even the most dedicated of psychologists—cannot fathom, Leo Fender in his own workman-like way created the Telecaster, in whose components experts 50 years later are still trying to untangle the most basic elements of cause and effect.

OK!  Without even hearing a note, without knowing if in some horrible misuse of history’s most perfect tool the band would end up playing a program of punk rock, I knew I’d never see or hear instruments like these again.  After all, in my years of listening to and playing music in the United States where these jewels were created, I’d never seen anything remotely like this.  I was looking at maybe $30,000 worth of vintage guitar and amp, once-upon-a-time entry level instruments that you could have picked up for less than $500 when they were new.  But even if the music was absolute trash, at least I would be able say that at one magical evening I’d actually heard these instruments, which are still only spoken of in prayerful tones on bended knee.

I ran back to the table where MaryAnn was patiently munching on her pizza.  God only knew what she was thinking about while I, dervish-like, whirled from amp to guitar to blessed Virgin.  I never found out, because the band was about to get started, and I steeled myself for what could be the first disappointment of the day.  What if the music were in Spanish?  After all, in view of the fact that I was in Mexico, I had to concede that they did have every right to sing in their native language to an audience who, other than us, was entirely Mexican.

I held my breath as Eric Clapton picked up his guitar and the first luscious ground-loop-induced 60 cycle hum throbbed from the ancient amp as the Virgin caressed her mike:

da da da da Dum . .  . .

da da da da Dum . .  . .

da da da da Dum . .  . .

da da da da Dum . .  . .

Gypsy woman told my mama,

On the day I was born

Oh you got a boy-child comin’

Gonna be a son-of-a-gun

Gonna make these pretty women,

You know he’s gonna make ‘em jump and shout

The whole wide world gonna wonder

What it’s all about

Yeah, you know I’m here

And everybody knows I’m here

I’m the Hoochie-Coochie man

Oh Lord, everybody knows I’m here

I didn’t know whether to jump up and cheer or to cry.  It was the Blues.  The BLUES!  This Mexican band, in this quaint, small-town-like plaza, for an audience who probably wasn’t expecting anything remotely like it, on what was presumably some sort of religious holiday, was playing my music.  I had to be the only person, other than the musicians and the occasional dilettante, who knew what in God’s name they were playing, and with what holy instruments.

I held my breath as the music went on and on.  One rockin’ blues song after the other, Buzz’s top ten..fifteen…twenty!  The pizza abandoned, I scurried around to listen and watch from different vantage points and to rock out to the extent my inhibitions would let me—given that the only other dancers were three small children who, surprisingly, picked up the rhythm and moves right off.  But how could they not?  This music was so special, so primal, it surely had to be genetically encoded in the DNA of all mankind.  Luckily these kids were uninhibited enough to let it out.

Back at the left corner of the stage sat a short, ordinary man at a small Roland keyboard (it couldn’t have been more than four octaves) on a wobbly little stand.  By any standards, the equipment was basic at best, and in the shadow of Lord Leo’s Saints it was downright primitive.  The beggars in the presence of Christ and the Apostles must have felt like that little keyboard.  And when I could finally tear my eyes away from the guitar player and singer, it began to dawn on me just what I was hearing.  It started when the keyboard player ripped off some classic blues piano riffs, short fills behind the lead guitar.  Hey! this fellow could play!  But damn!  It was only piano stuff.  And the keyboard was so primitive that the synthesized piano sounded only vaguely piano-like.  In fact I couldn’t figure out what it sounded like, but I had to watch this guy play.

Apparently I was the only person in the audience interested in the miracle we were observing on stage, and the audience must have been wondering what on earth I was doing, walking around by the edge of the stage and peering at the musicians.  I got to the keyboard player at the moment, that moment in fact, when the music shifted from guitar driven to keyboard driven.  And we’re not just talking about any keyboard, this guy was actually an organ player, and not just any organ, the King of Organs, the mighty Hammond B-3, a magnificent collection of spinning tone wheels, stops, paddles, and two manuals of black and white waterfall keys.

Somehow, this little guy managed to make that primitive Roland wail, the orgasmic throbbing of a synthesized B-3 driving a synthesized bidirectionally whirling Leslie speaker evoking sounds somehow coaxed from the electronics which the patient Japanese, God bless them, had managed to get to impersonate Heaven’s Own Choir.  I think the keyboard player must have picked up on my ecstasy, since as the concert continued, he rocked out more and more in a frenzy of smears, wipes, glisses, and counterpoint jabs of left and right hand which married tonality with percussion and nearly rocked that Roland off its skinny little legs.  My wife MaryAnn, our wild successes at the plenary, the thirty-minute shoe shine, even the tea—all were forgotten.  How could these musicians know that I was learning how to play these instruments at home, that I actually had my own 1957 vintage B-3 despite the fact that they had not been manufactured for over 25 years, that I worshiped this kind of music, and that I would have given anything to have a smidgen of the talent and the dedication it had taken the performers here to ascend to these heights of musicianship!

The more the band played, the more I tried to burn this evening into my mind.  It would never happen again!  Each note was precious, and  I nearly went nuts trying to figure out where to stand to devour every delicious morsel from this sumptuous banquet.  I finally ended up behind the sound mixer to one side of the audience where I wouldn’t interfere with anyone else’s view and I could indulge in a limited bit of solo dancing, which I actually preferred since I didn’t have to focus on anyone else but myself.

You know, it was strange, but in the midst all of this music I never paid much attention to what specific guitar the lead guitarist was actually playing.  In fact, he was facing somewhat away from where I had been sitting, and I couldn’t really see it.   Now I realized it wasn’t the Sacred Telecaster, which was still in its case.  But for some reason I assumed what he was playing had to be just something ordinary.  What could compare to the cloistered Tele?  After all, when you’ve seen Jesus Christ, you know you’ve seen The Man.  You’ve climbed the mountain.  And when you’ve heard the blues you’ve actually been handed God’s own sheet music inscribed right there on the Golden Tablets.  But something wasn’t quite right here.

Buzz!  Focus, you idiot!  That’s no knock-off Sears and Roebuck special he’s playing, that’s a Stratocaster!  Just listen to it, that cutting nasal tone hammering the front-end preamp tubes of that brown Tremolux, overdriving the output tubes, saturating the output transformer, and practically shaking that old (trust me, I’m not making this up) Celestion speaker right out of its basket.  (It must have been replacement for the original Fender speaker).  This was the guitar for rockin’ blues.  Now of course the Tele was, itself, in the music hall of fame.  It ruled in country music circles, it could certainly hold its own in blues clubs, and it had actually been played by some of the Blues Gods, including the mighty Muddy Waters himself, who immortalized “Hoochie-Coochie Man..  But for every Tele blues player, there have been ten Strat players.  It was just a simple, statistical thing.

But then what year Strat was it?  Those things had been made since the mid 50s, the dawn of modern civilization, and there had to be millions of them out there.  I went around to the other side of the stage to get a direct look, risking looking like a dork by once again putting on my hokey reading glasses.  At times like this, clarity meant even more to me than my self image, if that was possible.  The Strat snapped into focus.  It looked like at one time it had been a two-tone sunburst, but it was now more the color of coffee that had sat for days, kind of muddy and old.  You know, if don’t wash your cup for long enough, like I don’t, the dregs of the coffee dry out and crack, exactly like the finish on that Strat.  And look at those cracked ivoroid single coil pickups with the rounded cases.  Priceless!  Either this Strat was heavenly old or it had been beaten to Hell, but there was no way to know right now.  I simply had to be patient.

MaryAnn (who had long since had faded into the background) and I sat and listened, thrilled beyond words by what we were hearing.  I never did mention that MaryAnn’s brother, Bob, is a superb Blues guitar player and has been a professional musician his whole life.  In fact, he could easily hold his own with the lead guitarist in this band.  So I drew solace in the thought that my hard-on self absorption was not entirely at my Sweetie’s expense.  She had to be enjoying this too, in her own lonely way.  But we knew that there would be an agonizing, inevitable moment when the last chord would die away; and indeed, so it came to pass.  We just stared at each other and shook our heads.  But I had one last mission to accomplish.  I had to know the vintage of the Strat I had heard.

Having obviously demonstrated the depths of my devotion to the music and the musicians, I felt like I had earned the right to a bit of attention, so confidently this time, I strode up to the stage.  First, I thanked the keyboard player.  These guys were so under appreciated.  It took a connoisseur like me to really give them their due.  Then I thanked the Diva—and it was all I could do not to hug her, but I realized that in doing so I could be on shaky ground, this being Mexico, and this maybe being some sort of religious holiday.  I was in unknown territory here.

Finally I approached the lead guitarist.  He seemed to have mellowed a bit, basking in his own high from which even us plebes deserve a bit of attention.  “What an amazing band!  What music!  I can’t thank you enough!  And, by chance, what year is that Strat?”

“It’s a ’57. “

“No way!”

Now a ’57 Strat is even rarer, even more worshiped by blues musicians than that ’52 Tele.  Guitar factories even seal these jewels in an inert nitrogen atmosphere just to preserve them so that they can try to duplicate their tonal characteristics in modern reissues which they sell at five times the cost of top-of-the-line, new, non-replicas.  I’d never even seen an original ’57 before, not to mention heard one for an hour and a half.  No wonder I was higher than a kite!

“I lived in L.A. for 15 years and I got the Start there.  It’s just the thing for rocking blues.”

Just the thing?  Now that was the understatement of the century.  It would kind of be like looking at the face of God and noting, “Hmm, this would be just the thing for a Christian.”  But this experience went far beyond merely seeing God, if such a thing was possible.  After all, hippies around the world have been doing so for years.  No, this was, in fact, the whole divine show, the Trinity itself:  a late fifties Fender Tremolux, a ’52 Tele, and a ’57 Strat.

I let out a deep sigh of relief, for I was finally safe now.  I’d made it to the end of the evening, and it was absolutely perfect.  I had seen all the faces of God, and I’d seen them right here in Guadalajara, in this gorgeous old plaza, before an ancient cathedral, in the ethereal glow of neon, blessed by the cosmic blues belted out by Mexico’s own savior, the holy of holiest of holies, the Virgin Mary.