Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gordon Lightfoot for Mexico; A Musical Exchange

Gordon Lightfoot -"Sundown"
This post was inspired by an off-handed facebook post I made.  This afternoon while I was working upstairs I heard Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" coming from downstairs; previously I had heard her humming the tune or putting on good old Gord when I was with her, but it had never occurred to me that she was actually hooked on Gordon Lightfoot!  Imagine that - a Mexican hooked on Gordon Lightfoot!  I would have never imagined it.

As I pointed out in that same Facebook we've had a nice little exchange of music tastes.  While I can't say I'm typically Canadian in my tastes, I do listen to Gordon Lightfoot (Youtube example - Sundown), Neil Young (Harvest Moon or Hey Hey My My for something more "raw" with Crazy Horse) and Leonard Cohen (Suzanne) (Canadians) as well as Bob Dylan - (his band a the height of his career was Canadian -  but I'm not sure if that really counts.) In any case I don't think these guys enjoy much of a following in Mexico.  When she first heard any of them, she didn't come away with much of an impression, with the exception of a slight interest in Leonard Cohen.  Now, she's completely hooked on Gord and Leonard, somewhat interested in Neil, but not much going on for Bobby, yet.  (Johnny Cash isn't Canadian, of course, but part of my musical "upbringing" if you can say that; she just makes fun of him.  It's not fair! - Ring of Fire) Gordon Lightfoot was the biggest surprise for me, since his style and thematic content is just so unlike what she listens to.

Armando Manzanero
She listens to Mercedes Sosa, Armando Manzanero and Julio Iglesias.  Although I could've known any of these before we met, I had know idea they existed, and only a budding of interest in very Latin American music.  I fell in love with Mercedes Sosa's powerful voice immediately.  Here's a YouTube video of one of her favorite tunes - "Gracias a la Vida" which has definitely grown on me as well. We were going to hear Armando Manzanero live at the last Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, but it was the day our baby was due, so we decided not to take any chances (he was actually born 2 and half days later.)  Julio Iglesias - well, if you ask me I think he's sexier than Enrique, but I'm not much of a fan of his music.  We also had a chance to hear Julio Iglesias live for the same event a year earlier but I forgot to tell her about it.  Of the three, only Armando Manzanero is Mexican, originally from a city pretty close to here (Merida.)  Mercedes Sosa is Argentinian.  Julio is from Spain. 

There are a few other examples of Latin musicians she's got me into.   There are very few examples of music we both knew and liked, such as Manu Chao (Clandestino) and Lila Downs (Paloma Negra); Manu Chao is someone I'm surprised hasn't enjoyed more success up north.   Just before I met her a friend had introduced me to Los Caifanes, but she has been a life-long fan - the belong to her generation from Mexico City, and beyond I'd guess (Hasta Morir).  A great Mexican band.  The lead singer currently has a restaurant here in Playa del Carmen - I guess it's really his wife.  (Slightly off topic, I've also heard a rumour that one of the Grateful Dead owns a condo in one of the nice gated communities.  Who knows if it's true.)  In a couple completely out-of-the-ordinary cases, I actually got my wife into a some music from mostly Latin traditions, like Bebel Gilberto and the Gotan Project, which I had become acquainted with only slightly before.

The funny thing is, our 3-year-old son has been able to identify who any given band "belongs to" fairly clearly for about a year now.  I first discovered this one day when I put on Pink Floyd while he was outside playing.  When he came in, he heard the music and complained; "Ai Papa!  No dad music.  Mom music."  He turned off Pink Floyd (something he had already figured out how to do) and asked my wife to put on something he could dance to - I think he was content with Black-Eyed Peas (that's definitely hers, not mine.)  The ones I mentioned in the last paragraph were the only ones somewhat confusing for him, but he clearly identifies "Amon Tobin" as mine; I
think he could understand musical distinction as early as linguistic distinction between his two parents

Our musical "upbringing" is on the whole fairly distinct.  I was raised sitting around a record player with my brothers listening to old country.   She grew up with her dad playing the guitar in a typical "trio" type band, who like to meet and play on Sunday mornings in Chapultapec - Mexico City's largest urban park.  (I randomly found him there once, wearing a nice suit, playing and singing.)  I think the style is called "bolero."  The only possible overlap in our early music exposure could have been the norteño music my dad loves - he grew up in Zacatecas in a Mennonite community.  But these records were, which my dad had gone to great efforts to find in Detroit's Mexican Village were rare exceptions to the usual Johnny Cash, Charley Pride and Marty Robbins (who, incidentally was heavily influenced by Gordon Lightfoot).  He could also play his favorite tunes on the harmonica.  The biggest coincidence is that one or two of these favorites of my dad's were also old favorites of my mother-in-law.  (The second very small overlap of about 2 songs in mine and my wife's musical backgrounds.)

Although neither of us is the kind of person who owns a thousand discs, and our musical discovery has been a little stalled as of late, musical exchange has definitely been a fairly rich part of the cultural exchange we've shared.  I think all couples share something like this, but we had the unique benefit of coming from two very distinct musical-cultural backgrounds.

P.S.  I didn't have time to put in a YouTube link for all of the musicians I mention, or even check if all of the links were the best one available, but maybe I'll check later.  I hope they're helpful.


  1. Jacob, when I was 20, Julio Iglesias became my favorite musician, long before I ever even considered coming to Mexico! I went to see him twice in Detroit and sat 2nd row, center stage both times. The tickets were $106 USD, and that was 20 years ago. I used to have ALLLLL his CD's. As a child we ALSO sat around listening to records by country people like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and folk singers like John Denver, Don McLean, and others that my parents liked. I'm on a BIG Pink Floyd kick right now, actually. My favorite songs seem to be "Mother" the live 1980 verson, and "Vera". Gotta love The Floyd!

  2. Wow. That's dedication. I guess I should have gone to hear him in person before drawing conclusions. It was free, after all.

    John Denver also figured into my childhood music, and still does now.

  3. If you passed on a chance to see Julio Iglesias in person for free, then you need to seek treatment. I forgot to mention my mom force fed us Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond, so of course now I love them. Funny how our parent's taste can influence us. Funny story, my dad caught me listening to a KISS record and the song "Hotter Than Hell", well, he didn't much like that, but he NEVER forbid us from listening to anything, so I guess in the end it all worked out.