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Monday, January 31, 2011

MEXICO SIX: The Devil Inside

[Note: Blogspot lists these chapters in reverse order. To read earlier adventures, scroll to the bottom or click here to go to the beginning.]


Note 1: This column is a bit out of order... a jump ahead. The reason is that it was partially written as a column for Maximum Rock'n'Roll. Then I found out I was supposed to be writing my April Fool's column... and this one is true! So I'm editing it and posting it on the travel blog. I'll fill in the missing days later.

Note 2: Another version of the character introductions has appeared in this blog. Sorry, but I like this version better.

Nursing is great, Mykel.” Donn tells me.

He turns to Gwera. “Should we tell him the bowel story?” he asks before going ahead anyway.

This is so wonderful,” he continues. “We had this guy... an old guy... street crazy... really just a poor street bum... never saw a doctor... no teeth... scraggly gray beard... came in screaming. Stomach pain... Horrible nausea. Later we find out he has an obstructed bowel... like a knot in your lower intestines. The shit can't get through. It builds up... then backs up.”

I nod like it happens all the time.

Course, the guy has to eat,” says Donn. “And if you eat, the food turns to shit. And the shit goes down the large intestines. But it can't come out... it just piles on the old shit already down there. The guy eats more. That turns to shit and piles more on the old shit. Pretty soon it backs up into the small intestine... like traffic in front of a bridge toll... in rush hour.”

Uh oh. I think I know what's coming.

That small intestine is pretty long... about twenty feet... big as a house... still, there's a limit. It fills up...after the small intestine comes the stomach... This guy is there...on the gurney... dressed in hospital drag. He starts to gag... rumbling from the stomach... neck muscles tighten... relax... tighten again... gray flecked cheeks bulge... I get the puke tray... put it next to his head... Then it comes out. This huge brown turd... solid... like a junkie turd... right from his mouth... he's puking shit... backed up from his stomach...”

I feel like puking shit myself.

It's not only one turd,” he continues. “It's a series... each more viscous than the last... mixed with more stomach juices... digested... redigested... Gobs of brown coming from this guy's mouth.”

I begin to taste my just-eaten tortilla... again.

The speaker is Donn, drummer of Sin Arte. He's a also nurse here in Arizona. Donn used to live in Connecticut. He's an old timer from the 80's hardcore scene.

He tells me we met at The Anthrax, before you were born. I forgot his band then. Citizen something or other I think. He's a funny guy, with my kind of sensibility. Besides being a nurse, he's a punkrock drummer in Tucson.

Before we get to the plot, you'll need to know some other characters in this adventure.

Gwera's real name is Berenice, The spelling of Güera, Guera, Gwera, forever flabbergasts me. 

Add to that, she looks Irish and comes from Northern Mexico where the “GU” sound is pronounced like a W. (Like Where a?) Add to that, she's a great guitar player. Add to that she's smart and attractive... and what do you get? Gwera or Güera or Guera, I donno! She works as a nurse with Donn. She's the Sin Arte guitar player. And she's really cool.

Then there's BEEF

I meet Beef while he's cooking ribs in a small grill in Gwera's back yard. He stands to greet me. He's a giant of a white guy, with big meaty hands, and a head full of black hair.

I'm BEEF,” he says.

I think he's speaking quaint Arizona talk, meaning something like “I like eating beef.” Every place has its dialect, and I can imagine the other citizens of Arizona introducing themselves as I'm spaghetti. or I'm Egg McMuffin.
I'm Peking Duck,” I tell him, trying to sound like a native.

I know who you are, Mykel,” he says. “I'm Beef. You're Mykel.... like Tarzan and Jane.”

Which one of us is Jane?” I ask him.

He laughs. Then he brings the grillings into Gwera's kitchen, spices 'em up, serves 'em to us on tortillas! Ah heaven. Almost Mexican.

Beef is not in Sin Arte, my band for this trip, but he plays a part in the story. You'll see later.

Ivan  is not Russian. His real name is something like Ivan Restokovich, but he's Mexican. More than one immigration agent accused him with the legal equivalent of “you're fucking with me,” when he gave his name.

Ivan is the bass player for La Merma, maybe the most famous band from Sonora... the North Mexico county where the Sin Arte tour did not take place. You can read about why somewhere in this blog... or in a future one.

I met Ivan several months ago in New York. He told me how much he enjoyed reading my columns “when I was a little boy.” Yeah Ivan, thanks.

Still, I like the guy a lot! He's funny, expressive, and a fuck-up. He used to live in Nogales, on the American side, right at the Mexican border.

I woke up to the sound of a hand grenade, just on the other side of the wall,” he tells me.

While I was in Mexico, Ivan got kicked out of his Nogales place and had to move in with Gwera. Not a bad had to, if you ask me.

The original plan:

My Mexican friends have decided to put together a tribute band. The tributee? Me! Or at least my old band ARTLESS. They'll learn ARTLESS songs. We'll play half a dozen shows in Mexico and a couple in Arizona.

The new band, called Sin Arte, will tour with Cojoba, a Puerto Rican band based in New York. Together, we'll play with a buncha Mexican bands, many of them on the revival circuit. They're getting back together just for us. Yowsah!

Having encouraged a boycott of Arizona for its ethnic cleansing law... requiring the police to stop and ID anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant... I'm a little hesitant to play in Arizona. My image is a place filled with intolerance. Anyone a different race... ship 'em to Mexico. Different ideas... ship 'em to California. (Turns out I'm right.)

Gilberto assures me that I'll be playing with Mexicans, so it's okay. AND, in Southern Arizona I'll be playing FOR Mexicans, so it's even better. In the tug of war between ego and morals... morals loses. I agree to do the tour.

Actually, Sin Arte listened to ARTLESS songs “once or twice,” and never rehearsed them. Also as it turns out, every show in Mexico is canceled.

That leaves two shows. One in Tucson. One in Flagstaff. The Tucson show is at The Dry River Collective. The one is Flagstaff is at The Infoshop. Both spots are alternative.
Being alternative, I figure both places will be pretty intolerant. That means I'll have the first chance to really piss off a live audience since Artless quit playing in 1998. I wonder if I can do it. Do I still have my chops? Maybe I lost the devil inside... like Mick Jagger in Performance.

We have time for one rehearsal. Four ARTLESS songs: Aahrg, We Want Nuclear War, Do the No, and Beer is Better Than Girls Are... The last is our “hit.” It's a satire on those poor guys who can't get laid and drown their sorrows with the sorry excuse beer is better anyway. I took the words from an old poster/t-shirt... been around for years... I just made it rhyme. That one, the PC folks should actually like.

I figure I gotta change the other song names. Make 'em more offensive. It's punkrock and nobody can understand the lyrics anyway. We Want Nuclear War becomes Bombs, Not Food. Aahrg! (that's the only word in the song) becomes Mata Los Gringos (apologies to NOFX). Everything else stays the same.


We enter DRY RIVER. It's empty... except for a not-so friendly women at the door. She's tall and skinny... died black hair and a severe Nurse Ratched face. I'm surprised to see that Beef is also here... hanging outside... having a smoke with some locals.

Yo Beef!” I say. “Wachu doin' here? Come to see us play?”

Mykel,” he says, “I'm playing tonight... with Pop Gestapo. We're opening for you. Same band... only me singing instead of you.”

Walking up the street is Cojobo. Javier has a shopping bag full of beer. He hands me one. He hands one to Beef. He hands one to this sixteen year old kid with a skateboard. He hands another one to this attractive boy in very short shorts.

Nurse Rached comes to the door and taps him on the shoulder. 

“Sorry,” she says, “but we can't allow drinking here. The police will shut us down.”

Javier stops... for a minute or two... then starts handing out the beer again. Aaaaaoooogah! It'll be a club full of drunken' 16-year olds. Yeah!

Inside, I set up the merch table, then look around the crowd. There are a couple femmy white boys in short shorts with skull make-up on their faces. I wonder if it's a local fashion. Then I remember today is Day of The Dead. They sure look good... could make a necrophiliac out of me. Let's hope Javier can get them drunk enough.

There's no stage, just a floor area for the band to play... marked off with amps at one end and a drumkit at the other.

Slowly more people come into the club. Another guy with a bicycle and skull make-up. Several girls in wool sweaters... torn at the sleeves. A group of youngsters: a girl with a short purple dress over bright red tights, a muscular blond boy, and the only colored guy (not in a band) in the place... a good-looking skinny boy about 18.

By now there's about 50 people inside-- not a Mexican among them. At the door waits a jar for contributions. People pay (or don't) what they want for the show. I don't see much going into the jar.

Ok, it's time for Pop Gestapo... a buncha noise and Beef. Beef sings between sips from a glass of water. There's a little moshing. Then come the fire crackers... then the smoke bomb... rolling along the floor... spewing gray smoke... some people run... others laugh... there's shouting.

A guy... scraggly beard... long hair... young Jesus type... comes up to Beef and shouts at him.

Okay,” he says, “the shows over. Pack up. Go home.”

Beef begins to argue with him. Then Nurse Rached joins the fray.

You're jeopardizing the space,” she screams.

It's only a smoke bomb,” says Beef, sipping out of his water glass. “It's harmless.”

YOU'RE JEOPARDIZING THE SPACE,” she screams louder.

Beef pours the remaining water, about half a glass, over her head. Then he walks out.

Next up is Cojoba.

The Dry River Gestapo is already pissed at Javier for giving away free beer. But seeing as the band sings in Spanish, and has Hispanic (and one Negro) members, the Dry River politburo lets them play. They do a fine set. And then it's us, Sin Arte.

Mata Los Gingos has the crowd moshing, as does Bombs, Not Food

Then it's time for Beer, the paean to guys who can't get laid.

No matter how cunning their stunts... with a girl there's that time of the month... the difference of course with a beer... it's good every day of the year...

The crowd stops dancing. Over on the right, the young moshers are standing and smiling. Nurse Rached and her pals stand, arms folded, just listening.

Beer is better than girls are... I don't care where their little curls are... when you're out with the boys at a bar... a beer will wait in the car... yes a beer will wait in the car.

The cool thing about this song is that it's orchestrated so you can hear all the lyrics. No music during the verses, light Omm Pah Pah, German bar music during the chorus.

A beer will give you good head... it goes down easy in bed...

Screaming comes from somewhere. I can't make out the words, but they don't sound very friendly.

Handle it, it won't say Stop it... You know if you're the first to pop it...

Stop the song. Stop the song now!” comes the screaming voice. It is not from Nurse Rached, but from another girl, tall, skinny, wearing a black and white knit sweater and a tuke.

I continue, The label comes off with no fight... it doesn't say headache tonight.

Stop it! Stop the song!”

Some politico guys look angry. One of 'em gives me the finger. He's very serious.

I hand the screamer the microphone. Creatively, she screams into it.


Then, the same guy who talked to Beef walks up to me. “Okay,” he says, “the shows over. Pack up. Go home.”

He must say that a lot.
I think, “Yes!! I can still do it. I can get us thrown off stage.”

Donn has it even better.

Wow!” he says. “Thrown off the stage twice in less than two hours. Wadda great night!”
As we pack up, the three young moshers come over. The colored guy says, “You guys were great. Too bad those people can't put up with another point of view.”

Each of them shakes my hand and tells me what a good time they were having. I'm thinking maybe not all Arizona non-Mexicans are bad.

We're from Utah,” says the colored guy. “We want you to come and play. We won't throw you off.”

They came special to the show... to see us. From U-fucking-tah!! I love 'em!

But Arizona? Arizona is fucked. If you go there (you shouldn't!) hang with Mexicans... or Donn or Beef. Other whites are... I donno... just bad. Flagstaff will change my mind about the place... a bit. But I don't have time to tell you about that show... yet. You'll have to wait for the another blog entry.

The bottom line:

DO NOT PLAY at DRY RIVER in Tucson. They are worse than a bunch of Christians in their censorship. With the sense of humor of a cancer patient, they prohibit what they don't like... without even understanding it. If you play there, you will support intolerance as bad as any xenophobic Arizonan on the street.

DO PLAY at THE INFOSHOP in Flagstaff. Although in Flagstaff, I think of it as a kind of Navajo reservation. It is NOT really Arizona. The Navajos who run the place have a punk band of their own, Let The World Die.

They are as open-- and friendly as a box of puppies-- terrific people. See 'em! book 'em! And if you're passing through Flagstaff, play at their club. Then get the hell out of the state.

More later.

[This is part 5 of Mykel's Mexican adventure. To read the rest, click on the right spot:

The story of the Yellow Chili Pepper is here.

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