SOUNDTRACK: ATERCIOPELADOS-El Dorado (1995).
One of the other Rock en Español bands I bought in the 90s was Aterciopelados (the hardest to pronounce). Aterciopelados come from Colombia and they play a variety of styles of music. They also feature a female vocalist (Andrea Echeverri) who has a great voice in a variety of styles.
The opening song “Florecita Rockera” is a heavy blast of punk. ”Suenos del 95″ is a kind of a lite pop song. ”Candela” is a latin-infused song that sounds not unlike a more psychedelic Santana track. And “Bolero Falaz” is a winning acoustic ballad. Meanwhile “Las Estaca” is a sort of county/cowboy song that breaks into a fun rocking chorus.
“No Futuro” starts as a slow balald and builds and builds to a heavy rocker. I would have liked this song to go a bout a minute longer to get really crazy. The rest of the disc works within this broad framework: ballads that turn into heavy rockers (“De Tripas Corazón”), hints of punk and latin accents. And then there’s a song like “Colombia Conexión” which reminds me a bit of The Dead Milkmen: simple sparse verses with heavy punk choruses. Meanwhile “Pilas!” is straight ahead punk. The final song “Mujer Gala” has some ska-lite aspects as well (and I have to say that it seems like No Doubt may have been inspired by them).
Although for all of the different styles of music, the disc is really a venue for Echeverri’s voice. She’s not a rocker or a screamer and she could easily sing pop ballads, but because she chooses to sing over so many styles, she really showcases the multifacted nature of her voice. She can hold a note for quite a while and although she never really shows off, it’s clear that she’s got a powerful voice. She even sings beautifully over the punkier tracks, never devolving into a scream, but never losing her edge either.
Aterciopelados is a hard band to pin down (especially with this one disc). Of the rock en Español bands, Aterciopelados had one of the longer lifespans. They released several albums with very different styles.
El Dorado suffers from weak production, some more highs and lows would really makes the listening experience better, but it’s a solid disc overall.
[READ: December 10, 2010] The Insufferable Gaucho
This is a collection of five short stories and two essays. Two of the short stories appeared elsewhere (which I read previously). This is the first time I’ve seen the essays translated into English. The fabulous translation is once again by Chris Andrews, who really brings Bolaño’s shorter books to life. They are vibrant and (in light of The Savage Detectives, this is funny) visceral.
“Jim” is a four page story which focuses very specifically on a man named Jim. As the story ends, we see Jim locked in an existential struggle. For such a short work, it’s very powerful.
“The Insufferable Gaucho” (which I had read in The New Yorker) was even better after a second read. I find this to be true for much of Bolaño’s work. He tends to write in a nontraditional, nonlinear fashion so you can’t always anticipate what is going to happen (quite often, nothing happens). In this story, a man in Buenos Aires, feeling that the city is sinking, heads out to his long neglected ranch in the country. He spends several years there, slowly morphing from a cosmopolitan man to a weather-beaten gaucho who doesn’t shave and carries a knife. But there is much more to the story. The countryside is virtually dead: barren, wasted and overrun by feral rabbits. The rabbits offer an interesting metaphor for the wilderness as well. His interactions with the few other people he encounters are wonderfully weird, and the ending is thought-provoking. It’s a wonderfully realized world he has created.
“Police Rat,” is that strangest of Bolaño stories: a straight ahead narrative that works like a police procedural. I assumed from the title that it would be something about a metaphorical rat in the police force. Rather, this is a story about an actual rat who works on the rat police force. Bolaño spends a lot of time setting up the story (details are abundant) making it seem like perhaps there would be no plot. But soon enough, a plot unfurls itself. And although the story is basically a police story, the underlying reality behind it is fantastic and quite profound. The story is beyond metaphor.
“Álvaro Rousselot’s Journey” was published in The New Yorker. This story was also better on a second reading. In many ways this story is a microcosm of Bolaño’s stories: a man goes on a quest for an elusive man. Unlike the other stories, he actually catches up to the elusive guy. But, as if Bolaño were commenting on his other stories, actually catching the guy doesn’t really solve the crisis.
This basic premise is that a writer believes that a filmmaker is stealing his ideas for his films (even though he is from a different country). But more than just the simple plot, when Álvaro Rousselot leaves the comfort of his homeland things change fundamentally within him.
“Two Catholic Tales” is, indeed, two tales. I had to read this piece twice before I really “got” the whole thing. There are two separate stories (each story is a solid block of text but there are 30 numbered sections (which don’t seem to correspond to anything so I’m not sure why they are there). The first tale is of a young boy who desires to be like St. Vincent, with designs for the priesthood. As the story ends, he is inspired by a monk who he sees walking barefoot in the snow. The second tale (we don’t realize until later) is about the monk himself. It rather undermines the piousness that the boy sees. On the second reading I realized just how dark of a tale this turned out to be. It’s very good.
“Literature + Illness = Illness”
This is the first non-fiction by Bolaño that I have read. It is a meditation about his terminal illness. The essay is broken down into 12 sections about Illness. They range in attitude from the realization that when you are gravely ill you simply want to fuck everything to the fear that grips you when you finally accept your illness. Despite the concreteness of the subject, the essay retains Bolaño’s metaphorical style. Each subdivision is “about” an aspect of illness. ”Illness and Freedom,” “Illness and Height,” “Illness and Apollo,” “Illness and French Poetry.” But it’s when he nears the end and he’s in a tiny elevator with a tiny Japanese doctor (who he wants to fuck right there on the gurney but can’t bring himself to say anything), and she runs him through his tests showing how far advanced his liver failure is, that the reality of his illness really sinks in.
“The Myths of Cthulhu” is the other essay in the book and I have to say it’s the only thing in the book that I’m a little frustrated by. About midway through, he reveals that this is a speech and I wish that an introductory note would have given context for this speech, or indeed, indicated whether it was really a speech or not.
One of things that struck me about it (and also about “Literature +Illness=Illness” is how frequently he is unspecific about his research (and just never bothered to go back and fix it). For instance:
For books about theology, there’s no one to match Sánchez Dragó. For books about popular science, there’s no one to match some guy whose name escapes me for the moment, a specialist in UFOs.
Because I don’t know his non-fiction and I don’t have context (and I’ve no idea who Sánchez Dragó is) I don’t know what to make of that unspecific recommendation. As for Sánchez Dragó, in the speech he’s noted as a TV presenter (Wikipedia confirms this). But why the uncertainty in a written piece? Laziness or deliberate commentary?
This essay has many elements of local information that are completely lost on me. However, by the end, he brings it back to folklore and literature. He also makes some biting criticisms of George Bush, Fidel Castro, Penelope Cruz (!) and Mother Teresa. Actually, I’m not sure if he’s mocking Penelope Cruz, although he is definitely mocking Mother Teresa.
The ending is general moaning about the state of Latin American fiction. Even though I didn’t follow all of what he was talking about, there’s something about his delivery which is so different from his fiction. It’s honest and fast and kind of funny and enjoyable to read.
This may be something of a minor work, and yet the stories are really wonderful and are certainly a treat to read. The essays definitely need more context, but it is interesting to finally have a chance to read the “real” Bolaño.
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