Aug 24, 2018


Reality broke down and fell on my head this year, but I'm finally coming out of the rubble. I was feeling really down for some months but instead of accepting that, my brain turned into survival mode and fueled me with manic energy. I didn't have much to hold on to, so like that Velvet Underground song says: "my life was saved by Rock'n'Roll." Now I'm back living in Mexico City, where I grew up listening to Rock'n'Roll with my dad (and learning english thanks to that!)
Anyway, these months that I was being battered down again and again by stupid situations and someone I used to love, I couldn't bear listening anything sad. All I wanted was RAW POWER... Rock'n'Roll has always been an escape from reality, and it now proved to be stronger and more effective for me than any of the drugs that inspired it. I started obsessing not just on the music, but on the whole scene and the real people behind it, in particular with 70's rock, the kind that is now labeled as "punk". And I put it that way because for the original "punks", what they were doing was just Rock'n'Roll. That's what always happens with movements: they start with people that are just there doing their thing, and then later on someone else comes in, gives it a name, packages it for mass consume, and as they say, "the rest is history." And history, just like life, isn't fair. It just remembers the "winners," it doesn't necessarily benefit the best, but those who were at the right place at the right time. That's what happened with the Heartbreakers, they were there first and made rock faster, tougher and better than anyone else in 1975, but faded into obscurity due to bad luck, or maybe because they were really just "born to lose." But perhaps it was for the best... Walter Lure (a surviving member of the band) mentions in an interview that if they had actually achieved the fame and money they were looking for, he would had probably died from an overdose a long time ago...

Waldo, tired of putting up with your shit!

The funny thing is how something that was born out of bored weirdos, junkies and other sorts of marginal bums, ended up being absorbed fully into the mainstream... so much that now even your mom wears a spiked choker! When freaks started dressing in that sort of trashy, punk way, they were shunned, ridiculed and persecuted, and now you can go to the mall and buy yourself a Ramones shirt and some torn jeans. At the beginning there wasn't even a uniform, it was just about getting creative and wearing whatever the fuck you wanted.
When Rock'n'Roll was born in the late 40s, straight out of our post-modern world. Camus had already written about suicide and alienation, Nietzsche had already talked about how god was dead, and still, the U.S.A. was booming with babies and consumerism. But even if the war was over, I think some of these kids knew there was something plastic and fake about that happiness even before learning how to read any of those authors. Then came more war and the hippies and we all know how that ended. All these "punk rockers" grew up in that time, the moment when youth culture started being a commodity. Before that, kids were pretty much like little adults, there wasn't much made specifically for them and many even worked regular jobs... which unfortunately, is still a reality today in many third world countries, but at least in the U.S.A., that was something that changed around the 20th century. So, these kids had every material need full filled, but they still had nothing to hold on to... kind of how I felt like living in Texas these past three years.
Jerry Nolan talks about watching Elvis for the first time when he was a kid and how it changed his life forever... Jerry was star struck with the performance, but the thing that amazed him the most was noticing there was a hole in one of Elvis' shoes. That was something revelating that would define the attitude of future Rock'n'Roll: If Elvis had a hole on his shoe, then any kid who worked hard enough on their style and music skills could pull off being a rock star. Elvis was so cool, that he just didn't give a shit about his shoe.

Unfortunately, Jerry couldn't get enough of those chinese rocks...

But what's the allure of being a rock star? Is it the money? The fame? The groupies? Yeah, I guess it's all of that, but I think there is something much deeper there too... something that has nothing to do with the material world. I think the real magic of Rock'n'Roll is that it is really all about living in the moment. I think about how these kids grew up watching some of the first colour cartoons... cartoons that even today remain as some of the best ever made. Yeah, I'm talking about early Disney, Tex Avery, Walter Lantz... and if you think about the characters that appear in them, many are actually pretty punk in attitude: Peter Pan, Donald Duck, Woody Woodpecker. These are characters that refuse to grow up and basically don't give a shit about anything but having their fun. And that's what Rock'n'Roll is all about. It's like nihilism, but with a rhythm you can dance to.

Donald Duck with spiky hair in 1947, two years before Richard Hell was even born

But what happens when you do, inevitably, grow up? When you have to deal with your hang over and your mess of a life? Just like death, reality is something no human, not even the most badass rock'n'roller can ever escape. And for some, it hit harder and faster than any of their own songs could... Pure Hell, a band that was in the NYC scene from the beginning, never got a record deal and has been almost forgotten thanks to the U.S.A.'s oldest friend: good ol' racism. As much as the original punk rockers despised their parents generation, they still had a hard time shaking off their values... it wasn't just that the system was classist, racist and misogynist, most punk rockers were, deep down, still also like that. It was all handled with humour and under the guise of satire, all done just to shock your mom, but it actually did affect the women and non-white musicians and enthusiasts that were part of the scene back then. I guess that's why punk and hard-core later took that extreme turn in the 80s to be super politically correct...

But no one can deny that the true origins of punk and rock and roll, come from African-American musicians like Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. Asides from rock, I'm also a big fan of ska and the original dub and reaggae from the 60's and 70's, and it's really interesting to me how many of these musicians came from a rowdy life in the streets and cultural alienation, just like the original punks did. Artists like Lee Scratch Perry, who grew up in that post-modern world as the grandsons of slaves in Jamaica. Their parents had already been stripped off of most of their original African culture, but there was something that could never be taken: the music. John Dougan writes in Perry's biography that plantation masters tried to erase as much as they could of African culture from their slaves, but they noticed that if they didn't let them play their instruments and have their music, they worked slower. So they let them keep drumming. And that remained, and they held on to it, and then decades later, their grandsons rebuilt and reinvented their culture based on those beats, now with the unifying language of the colonizer their new instruments.
I'm not sure, but I don't think anyone sat down with the slaves and asked them how they felt being taken from their homes, beaten, raped and forced to work for others. There may not be many books about the experiences of the oppressed from their own perspective, but you can definitely learn a lot about it from their music. And as sad as many of those songs can be, there's something hopeful about them. You can feel how by acknowledging the hardships they've been through, they still celebrate life and really just want to dance and be in the moment.

Being in that dark, tortured state, I felt inspired to stay alive thanks to music. And also because I wanted to keep making things. There is something powerful and ritualistic about creation. Art modifies reality and how we perceive its dimensions: music is built on time and visual arts are a reconstruction of space. The craziest thing to me is that, if you focus hard enough, you really could do anything (the most amazing piece!) with just a blank piece of paper. Yet something pulls you to invoke a certain image, to use specific words. You start to make something from nothing, destroying reality and creating your own world. When you're done, you share it with others, and invite them into that state of mind. And then they take it in, and make it their own by projecting their own vision and interpretation unto it. It's the most real kind of magic I know of. And no matter how absurd life can be, that kinda magic is a really good reason to keep living it.

If you like my writing, I recently had two articles published that maybe you would find interesting: "So... what's the comics scene in Mexico like?" for But... is it Comic Aht? #1 as well as something about Suehiro Maruo (one of my favourite cartoonists!) for The Comics Journal #303.