Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Twenty years after

In the summer of '92, while Spain was beginning to delude itself thinking we were something we're not, I was down and out in the streets of London. Not that I was skint. I wasn't rich either, but I'd rather spend my cash in records. Just in Oxford Street there were two HMV and two Virgin stores, four multi-storey record shops in just over one mile. Add to that Tower Records and another HMV in Piccadilly Circus. On top of all that there were the specialized shops, like Ray's at the time still in Shaftesbury Avenue, with jazz on the ground floor and blues in the cellar. In those four weeks of August, I did do all my touristy sight-seeing, but even though I had my eyes on the attractions, my mind was working out what to bring back home, how much to spend, and where. I'm not really proud of this. I say it like addicts tell things to other addicts.

I came from a small village, and I hadn't really experienced Madrid or Barcelona, and so London was Xanadu, Ali Baba's cave, cornucopia. A paradise from which I took fruits that will stay with me forever. A 2-CD set with live recordings by Charlie Christian; the early CD issue of Benny Goodman's 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall; Stan Getz's live set at Storyville '51 reissued by Giants of Jazz in Italy; T-Bone Walker's complete Imperial recordings; plus others that have dropped from memory. Things I knew existed. Things I didn't know existed.

The hangover from such feast resulted in an unprecedented exercise in stream of consciousness writing, which ended up being an article over four hand-written pages about everything I had seen in London. Telling everybody I knew wasn't enough. I had to put it on paper. What I cannot recall is what on Earth made me send it to the main newspaper in my province.

In the autumn of '92, the only options for me to send a text from A to B, were the post or the fax machine at the nearest photo shop. It went by post. Things you do on impulse. At the end of the day, my addiction to recorded music was a serious matter, and I had just come back from Paradise, I had just got proof of its existence. My high is easy enough to explain. Even so, what was I thinking when I sent a hand-written text to the main paper in the province, a paper that, OK, was the first one in Spain to carry a magazine for youths on Friday, but still was quite conservative. 19th century-style conservative.

A few day later the phone rang. It was the paper. They were interested in what I had sent. They weren't going to publish it, but they were interested in my working for them.

At the time I was just a little old perpetrator: I was perpetrating a relationship with a girlfriend, I was perpetrating a university degree, and I was perpetrating attacks against musical order with a guitar. I guess I was just busy perpetrating stuff, because it took me a few months to have an idea for my premiere. One day it came to me, I sent a proposal, and they agreed.

In my case, digital binary technology consisted in typing with my two index fingers. We didn't have a computer at home, so I started on my Olivetti Dora, but I ended up using my dad's Lettera. It was noisy, it was tiring, but did it look good! I perpetrated the article several times, I'd rather write full versions and revise them instead of changing things as I went along. I finished on time, and I sent the text. By post.

The paper was El Diario Vasco, from San Sebastián, the youth magazine was DeVórame (eat me), and my editor and mentor, Iñaki Zarata (real name: Zaratiegi, "zarata" means "noise" in Basque). Many have criticised him along the years, but besides building DeVórame (the model for other Friday magazines) and keep it going for over twenty years, he taught me how to be concise, to be brief, to remain in the background in interviews (“questions can't be longer than answers!” “I'm interested in what the artist has to say, not you!”). What few people know is that he was, or is, brilliant at cropping texts. I used to compare what I had sent with what was published. A considerable part of what I know today stems from those lessons, and I was getting paid for it. Like my mother used to say, “at least you're getting something for all that”, pointing to my record collection, which, oh, wonder of wonders, kept expanding without her ever seeing me bring a record home.

After that article, there would be others, interviews, record reviews, and a small reporting job during Jazzaldia, the local jazz festival in the summer. One day I left all that behind, quite hastily with hardly any goodbyes, for which I'm sorry. Mistakes of youth, I guess.

Today it's Tuesday, April 30th, but twenty years ago April 30th was a Friday, the day when DeVórame came out. It was also the 10th anniversary of Muddy Waters' passing, the perfect occasion to remind everybody why he was such an important musician. That's what I thought anyway, Zarata agreed, and it took a whole page, tabloid size.

And thus did all this begin.

1 comment:

Chris Albertson said...

Wonderful piece, Fernando, one that I really can relate to. I used to spend money on records that ought to have bought me a new pair of socks, or a shirt. To not be reminded of that by my mother, I sneaked my new purchases into the apartment and only played them in her presence after about two weeks. That way, I could truthfully answer "no, I've had it for some time" when she predictably asked, "is that a new record?"

I lived in Copenhagen, but also found myself perusing the goodies at the original HMV on Oxford Street. As far as the first printed article, I sent mine to a Copenhagen newspaper and was truly surprised when I found that they had printed it!

I very much appreciate your blog.