by Kevin Burton
And now, a departure.
This is my sixth post in response to the album challenge. I’m writing about the records that meant the most to me as a younger person.
It’s not possible for me to do this without talking about my Mexican interlude.
Short version? My all-time favorite tantrum saw me frustrated by not getting a newspaper job out of college, solving that by going to Mexico to teach English.
That’s a story worthy of its own post (so come on back Friday). For now I’ll just say music played a huge part in my enjoyment of that short time.
Officially, the album I am honoring is “Luz Y Sombra” (Light And Shadow) by a girl group called Flans.
But I won’t treat you to an exegesis of their songs, the way I have for Billy Joel and the others, since I am sure nobody reading this post has heard of Flans or their music.
Instead I’ll talk about how I got there and the music I was inspired to write after my time there.
From the encampment in my mother’s basement, I could reach radio station XEK in Monterrey, Mexico. I listened to improve my Spanish. The station played “ranchera” music, or Mexican country music, you know, the kind with all the accordions.
I stupidly thought that’s all the music they had in Mexico. Happily, I was wrong.
My first exposure to honest-to-goodness, Mexican rock and roll, came during a late summer trip to Mexico with three college friends. I would later write the song “Four-Part Mexican Band” about that trip.
The tantrum came a year later. My clueless idea worked out gloriously well, thanks be to God only. I got a teaching job at the third school I visited, even though I lacked certain niceties, such as teaching experience or training, letters of recommendation and permission to work in Mexico.
I was far from the best teacher but far from the worst. My teaching persona was a cross between my college sociology prof and David Letterman. At the monthly dances the school had, my job was to select and play the music.
The music was a double blast for me, since getting my groove on also helped me learn better Spanish.
And, there was a girl, Rosa.
My song “Kisses And Keys” sprang from my time in the classroom and remembrances of Rosa. Here’s how:
Spanish speakers learning English as a second language tended to pronounce “kiss” with the Spanish “I” and it would sound like “keece.” The word “keys” came out sounding exactly the same because students didn’t know to buzz the “s” to give it that “z” sound. That’s where I got kisses and keys.
Additional symbolism? In some cultures, as a greeting, a person will lean toward somebody and make the sound of a kiss but not actually kiss them. This is done on both sides of the face. Without really looking into the custom, I always took it as somehow phony. A key, of course, represents responsibility.
That’s my chorus, “Oh Rosi please, there must be more than kisses and keys…” “Rosa” became “Rosi” because it’s easier to sing.
After reading my lyric, “You wear your red shoes, I’ll wear my confident smile and we’ll dance till three…” Rosa said, “I don’t have any red shoes.”
“That’s OK, I don’t have a confident smile,” I said. “It’s just rock and roll.”
Flans, by the way, is a bit like The Monkees in that the band was put together originally as part of a TV show.
I was in Mexico less than a year. But it was long enough for that music to find a permanent place in my heart.
Where does Flans fit in my pantheon? Not sure exactly. I love them less than Steely Dan, but more than Pablo Cruise; less than the Beatles, more than The Guess Who.
I love them enough to include them in the story of my early musical life.