The flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires is maybe two hours, definitely not as long as three. Enough time for Ziggy to sleep through pretty much the whole thing. Enough time for me to make a couple more passes by the galley to refill my pocket with teeny bottles of booze. Just in case. I didn’t think of it as going behind Flip’s back. I thought of it as being self-sufficient in case of emergency. We arrived before midnight.
So did a few hundred fans. Or maybe a few thousand? I’m not sure how to gauge the size of the crowd. The policia had them corralled. It felt like something out of a Beatles movie. We walked down a set of stairs from the plane to the tarmac and then paraded past a lot of girls screaming. There were guys in there, too, but you only really hear the high-pitched screams. When I emerged at the top of the stairs the cheers definitely got louder than they were before I’d come out.
And then Ziggy came behind me and the screams went into orbit.
It’s a powerful thing to make people that excited just to lay eyes on you. No matter how deep I had dug my downward spiral of the past couple of days–or, if we really want to be honest, the slide that had started long before that, before the tour itself, but more about that later–no matter how far up my own ass my head was, I still was struck by the intensity of the experience. What a rush. And quite unexpected. The other airport stops had been uneventful. Maybe Argentina was different.
Vans brought us to the hotel, but when we first got there I wondered if they were taking us directly to a state visit or something. But no, it was just a very palace-like hotel. It had wrought-iron fencing all the way around it, which seemed a good idea if they wanted to keep the fans out of the topiary.
I wanted to hide in my room once we got there, but Flip convinced me we should check out the place a little, especially if we might have to–I dunno–make a quick getaway from a crazed mob or something.
It really was like a palace, with garden courtyards and art that looked like museum art more than hotel art. There weren’t a lot of other guests out walking around at midnight, so we kind of had the place to ourselves. Occasionally a staff person would breeze past us silently with a nod of acknowledgement; they’d obviously been briefed that the vagabond-looking guys in jeans and leather jackets were not riff-raff.
It was odd.
We ran into Lorne going the other direction. “Found the bar yet?”
“Back that way,” Flip answered, pointing. “But the guy at the desk said if we want better drinking, to go out. I got the impression they’d rather have rowdy rock stars do their partying in another establishment.”
“Who do they think we are, Gun ‘n’ Roses?” I asked.
“If you want to go out for a real Argentine experience, we should find a tango bar,” Lorne said.
I opened my mouth to say I wanted to go back to my room, but I stopped myself. What would I do there? Obsess about everything I had been obsessing about for a couple of days now. So when Flip said, “Know any?” And Lorne said, “We can probably just ask a taxi driver,” I made agreeable noises and tagged along.
Lorne stopped off at his room to get a jacket and picked up Mitch on the way. Soon the four of us were in a taxi trying to communicate what we were looking for. Lorne’s Spanish was rusty, and Argentinian street Spanish is really different from what we were used to. So the driver could mostly understand us, I think, but we couldn’t really understand much of what he said in return.
He ended up dropping us off in a neighborhood that had plenty of bars. We went into one and ordered a round of cerveza, but there didn’t seem to be much going on in there, so we left after one drink and made our way to the next place. This one had tango dancing going on, although it was a waltz when we walked in? I guess they did some other dances, too. I don’t really remember much about that place other than Lorne actually went between sets and tried to interest a woman in dancing with him, but she laughed shyly–like, hiding behind her hand shy–until he gave up. We didn’t stay long after that, and wandered out onto the street again.
We had been walking for a block or two when I heard something coming echoing off the walls of the buildings. The sound of two guitars chugging along together.
Flamenco. It was coming out of an alley. Inside the alley was the doorway into the bar.
An honest-to-god flamenco bar. A group of maybe five guys were trading off playing guitar and cajon. No one was dancing. Everyone was just drinking heavily and nodding their heads with the music. I had a feeling there weren’t many tourists in there, at least, not from outside Argentina.
The next thing I knew we were at a table by the musicians. A pitcher of sangria and a few plates of tapas appeared. I had flashbacks, like someone I knew might walk in at any moment.
When they took a break I went and tried to talk to the musicians. At first they were kind of standoffish, like, oh, the drunk tourist wants to see our guitars. Don’t let him puke on them. But I knew all the flamenco-related words that a random American wouldn’t know.
The one guy who hadn’t played guitar, only cajon, also knew a smattering of English and I got the feeling he was the closest thing to a manager or band leader they had. We got talking a little while I ordered a round for the musicians, which made me suddenly a lot more popular with the others. Where’d you learn flamenco? he wanted to know. I told him Seville, but that I’d been there for less than a year. Oh, how’d I end up there? Well, I met this guy at Guitar Craft camp… The guy was hip. He wanted to know if I had met Robert Fripp. Well, I not only met him, I got my posture critiqued by him.
So what are you doing in town? he eventually asked.
Oh, I’ve got a gig.
Of course he wanted to know where.
Um, not sure. The soccer stadium, I think.
He then said something to quick for me to follow (or in local slang) to the bartender, and next thing I knew another round of tapas and another pitcher of Sangria appeared.
They had figured out who I was. The guys started to play again, and a short while later yet another guy showed up. Manager-guy introduced him as Ernesto, and I think might have said they were brothers. Or maybe all the guys in the band were brothers and this guy was a cousin or a friend.
At any rate, Ernesto spoke the best English yet. He shook hands with all the other guys, too, Flip, and Lorne, and Mitch–all of whom had been kind of hanging back just enjoying the food and drink and being my posse, I guess, without having to do anything.
I ended up telling Ernesto the whole story again of going to Spain and playing flamenco on the street and in the bars. (I left out the part about fleeing the country after assaulting Orlando’s thug-cousin with a guitar.)
Then came the inevitable invitation. They wanted me to play with them.
And I, having had two beers and countless cups of sangria, and having forgotten momentarily about what happened to my hand, said yes. Thinking about Orlando had me thinking about the farruca, so I asked if we could do a farruca and they all knew that word. I took that as a good sign, even though by then it was sinking in to me that I’d just agreed to play, hand injury and all.
They handed me a fat-necked, wide-bodied classical guitar. Compared to the Ovation, which was like a Ferrari, this was like driving a Cadillac. That was okay, though, given that I quickly realized I needed the extra space between the strings to make up for my right-hand fingers being rusty.
I couldn’t keep it up for long. I kept throwing the solo back to one of the other guys so I could just strum. They were excited. It sounded great, and of course my posse were whooping and cheering every time I took a turn, and pretty soon everyone in the bar was into it.
But I couldn’t keep it up. I didn’t want the song to end, so I stood up and strummed and danced to it while strumming. I never learned to do any of the dances properly. Just a few steps here and there. Hell, I barely was competent at the clapping by the time I left, to hear Gloria tell it. But I was feeling no pain–other than in my palm–and I was performing. I handed the guitar to one of the other guys and finished the song dancing and clapping. I think I even got the claps right. This one’s for you, Gloria. Ha.
They were suitably impressed and wanted more, and then I had to explain why I couldn’t play more.
Well, maybe I didn’t have to explain. I showed them all the scar on my palm. Two them them crossed themselves when they saw it–I’m not sure to ward off whatever ill luck had caused it to happen to me or maybe because it looked like a religious stigmata. “Did you do that to yourself?” Ernesto asked.
Lorne jumped in with a half-Spanish, half-English telling of the story of me saving the life of a “bebé.” Ernesto grilled us on that for a while, growing more and more amazed as we filled in the details about whose baby it was and the circumstances of the tour,. He translated it bit by bit for the other musicians.
I’ll be honest. I don’t remember a lot about the rest of that night, because we sat there drinking and listening to them play until the bar closed. Possibly long after the bar should have been closed–I’m not sure. We went back to the hotel and I thought, well, okay, I guess I have a cool story to tell someday about how I wowed ’em at a seedy flamenco bar in Buenos Aires.
What I hadn’t realized was that Ernesto was a writer for Clarín, a big daily newspaper in Buenos Aires. By the time we hit the stage at Estadio River Plate for the first of two shows, I had talked to half a dozen reporters from half a dozen more magazines and newspapers. And that’s how I unwittingly became Argentina’s flamenco-playing, baby-saving guitar hero.
Note from ctan: Two quick things today, folks! One is my new gay romance, Watch Point, went live yesterday everywhere! Warning, it’s highly erotic with graphic kink, but if you want to know more about it, check it out on my home website. The other thing is a note for patrons and would-be patrons. We’ve made the switchover from charging $1 weekly to $4 monthly. This means if you’ve got a $1 pledge in the patreon system, you need to go change it to $4; a $2 pledge has to become $8 to give the same amount as before. So go into Patreon to change your settings. Thank you!
(Today I knew I wanted to share a John Lennon song with you. I’ve talked before about being really affected by his death. This week I tweeted a link to an article in Vanity Fair about how Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, became a confidant of Lennon’s and how he destroyed his relationship with him. I recommend the article even if it made me incredibly sad. This song is probably one of the most raw, autobiographical songs Lennon did. God rest his soul. -d)