14ymedio, Nestor Diaz De Villegas, Los Angeles, 27 March 2016 — Crouched down in the last row of a sweet potato farm deep in the Cuban countryside, a student of first year of high school listened to the Dóbliu (WQAM, 560 AM). It was the end of 1973 and the foreign radio station was broadcasting the Hit Parade. It was the velvet voice of Casey Kasem in the potato field. It was the School in the Countryside in the Cuba of Their Satanic Majesties, the Castro Brothers.
The boy fiddled with the antenna wire. Stations as far away as Barquisimeto, Fort Lauderdale and Little Rock (Beaker Street, KAAY, Underground Rock) came out of the old portable radio. What he had captured was “The Lives of Others” and the student was a spy. If he was caught listening to what came from the other side of the wall, he would be expelled from high school.
There is no sledgehammer that will ever tear down the wall separating Cuba from the rest of the world. It is the Wailing Wall and the Berlin Wall all rolled into one, but without stones, reinforcing rods or cement. The ocean is a sea of tears and a natural barrier: the “cursed circumstance,” whose circumference is everywhere and whose center, blah blah blah… We will have to invent a water music, an lachrymose Mass, and a Paulina’s Bidet that commemorates and curses this metaphysical isolation. A task for the hydraulic engineers of the next century.
Out there, beyond the yams, something big seemed to be going on. The Soviet receptor collected coded messages and the young spy could only decipher a few phrases: There’s a new sensation / A fabulous creation / A danceable solution / A teenage revolution…
The Beatles had been left behind, they belonged to the older cousins. His was psychedelic rock. His idols were Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, and Brian Ferry and Brian Eno of Roxy Music: Tired of the tango / Fed Up With fandango!
He went mad for Led Zeppelin when, four years earlier, Leandro Soto took him to his house in Punta Gorda to listen clandestinely to a 45 his brother, the merchant marine, had brought home: A Whole Lotta Love on side A; and the punchy Communication Breakdown on side B.
The “Revolution” was, for him, only 33 “revolutions per minute,” and the one from ‘59 remained in remote antiquity.
Once, a Jamaican diplomat gave him a pack of Dunhills with two cigarettes left, and a recent copy of the magazine Circus, where he collided for the first time with Bowie. A student from Amsterdam, passing through Havana, let him choose between Eric Clapton’s Goodbye Cream, and the first Pink Floyd record he heard in his life, Ummagumma, a music that upset him and that he didn’t understand.
He kept the Cream. He danced to The Sunshine of Your Love with a skinny mulata woman in the room of an apartment on Aguacate street, designed for a family of five, where forty dancers were crammed.
He lived as a hippie in the room of Eliades y Colchón, on Lamparilla Street. He went out hustling in the docks and came home with the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street under his arm. He learned to speak broken Portuguese with Cypriot sailors. His coreligionists were initiated into the mysteries of rock: Beningno, Digna’s son, Pedro el Fabuloso, Alejandro el Pelú, Tony el Alemán, Silverio, Cocacola and el Foca.
One night in the darkness of La Zorra and Cuervo he saw The Plastic Flowers. They kicked him out of an apartment where some unknown girl was celebrating her quinceañera for having sneaked in. Inside Los Kents were playing.
In Manuel Antonio Ureña’s living room he listened to the last album by King Crimson – smuggled by Manuel Antonio’s aunt in a diplomatic pouch – drank black tea and asked permission to use the bathroom. That day they had cut the water off and he was kicked out of this party, too, and they humiliated him laughing at him from the balcony, while he slouched down B Street.
At the end of the year party, in the home of Raul Chaveco on the Prado – that house that in 1971 was more important for Cuban culture than Lezamas’s on Trocadero Street – he was able to see Las Almas Vertiginosas live.
At the corner of San Lazaro and Genios he discussed endlessly with Julito Buendia, bassist of Nueva Generación, about the relative importance of Slade. In the wee hours of a morning, accompanied by Pedrito Campos and Carlos el Gago, he was assaulted by a delinquint who sought to grab his portable cassette player, while listening for the thousandth time the long version of Iron Butterfly’s Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida.
And yet, Fidel Castro was, even then, the real rock star. His satanic scenario was the ruins of Cuba, a Havana converted into Dresden that served as background to his one-man Apocalypse. The culture that created the music we listened to on a remote Villa Clara sweet potato farm originated in Cuba, like the idea of the revolutionary that underlay the iconoclastic impetus of rock’n’roll.
Today we know that the beards and the long manes of the rebels gave rise to the hipsters. But, our hero in Flogar* camouflage and Dorticos* glasses ended up gobbling up his own epigones! Like the chameleon David Bowie, Fidel Castro changed, mutated, shed the extraterrestrial fatigues he had worn coming down from the mountains and assumed the heavy metal disguise of the Great Dictator.
Bowie has said that Hitler was the first rick star. In successive transmutations, Fidel Castro would become Prosecutor, Torturer, Poet, Father of History and World Doctor. He would then become Believer, Despot, Sportsman and Convalescent Judas. He still exists, through the mediation of his doubles: his inverted star hovers in the false transvestitism of Mariela*, in the brutalism of Raulín, in the radioactive beard of his firstborn.
We can divine them also in Armando Roblán* and in Armando Pérez Roura*, in the black flags of ISIS, in The Clash’s album Sandinista!, in Woody Allen’sBananas, in the havoc of the penultimate Michael Jackson, and even in the caprices of “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” (“His beard is registered on his organ donation card.”)
And perhaps we should admit, finally, that we enjoyed rock’n’roll in the ideal conditions of terror and persecution in which this revolutionary music should be listened to. Perhaps only we, among all the rockers of the world, really understood it. The Rolling Stones song that discovers Satans in every moment of horror in universal history is a secret ode to Fidel Castro. If we understand it like that, who knows if at some point we will come to feel sympathy for the Devil.
Editor ‘s note: This text was originally published on the blog of Néstor Díaz de Villegas and has been reproduced here with the permission of the author.