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NOBODY TOLD ME NADA: Latin Pop, Llama Poop & Other Unexpected Writings Cover Image

NOBODY TOLD ME NADA: Latin Pop, Llama Poop & Other Unexpected Writings

Enrique Lopetegui

March 2022 978-1-7353457-2-7

Endorsements

"I enjoyed working with Enrique Lopetegui tremendously. He was a great addition to the Los Angeles Times pop department. Enrique is filled with the passion and dedication that you always want to see in a critic. He doesn't just write about music, but thinks and cares about it in ways that help him explain the role that music plays in our lives and culture.” — Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times critic/music editor (1970-2005)

“I’ve admired Enrique’s work since his days as music writer for the LA Weekly and Los Angeles Times. He’s always stood out as a singular, unique voice – the rare journalist who artfully tackles just about anything you put in front of him, and does so in Spanish and English. No wonder I was excited when I learned about this compilation of his work! Enrique thrives in the busy intersections between pop music, sports, politics and film. His passion for cross-cultural criticism is palpable ... and contagious. Happy reading.” — Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times

“There are people who can write in a very scholarly and substantiated manner, but they lack that punch, that edge I love so much both in music and the written word. His personal moment [at the Los Angeles Times] and the era itself [in the ’90s] achieved a phenomenon that hit me hard and was a great influence on my own professional development.” — Gustavo Santaolalla

“The first thing you notice about Enrique Lopetegui is his passion. He doesn’t think of music as a trendy lifestyle accessory or treat it like decorative aural wallpaper. For him, it’s as essential as oxygen and as deep as an ocean. You always get the sense that he resents music that fails to live up to its spiritual potential. I first asked Enrique to contribute music pieces for the San Antonio Current because I was impressed by his knowledge of rock en español. His command of the music’s nuances were/are formidable, and I always found myself understanding the form better after reading his work. But it didn’t take long before I realized how eclectic and unpredictable his tastes were and how adept he was at writing about a wide range of musical genres. When he loves something, he fully immerses himself in it. He showed that with Juanito’s Lab, the 15-year, labor-of-love documentary he and his wife, Guillermina Zabala, created about San Antonio virtuoso musician Juanito Castillo. Enrique's passion for the music — and his need to share that passion with others — permeates all of his writing. And he has a way of making you care just as much as he does.” — Gilbert García, San Antonio Express-News

"In the 1990s — a time of searing upheaval, of riots and reaction and a pandemic, sound familiar? — Enrique Lopetegui shows up at the doors of the Los Angeles Times armed with a critic’s pen and a rocker’s heart. From impossibly distant Uruguay, he was able to listen to the sounds of L.A. as an outsider’s outsider and reveal us to ourselves, without pieties but with honesty and the ruthless passion of the young writer. There is no art without the critic — that lonely soul who doesn’t play in the band but who pushes it along its journey into culture and history — or sometimes, oblivion. Lopetegui makes his own kind of music on the page — celebrating and commiserating, pleading and needling, wrestling and protesting a scene he was an indelible part of. ¡Que viva el crítico! And long live rocanrol! — Rubén Martínez, author of Desert America: A Journey Across Our Most Divided Landscape.”

“Lopetegui is the absolute first journalist outside of East Los and indeed the USA, with the insight and temerity to coin the now extensively used phrase ‘A Triple Identity’ in defining how to look at, separate, perceive and understand what it is to be Chicano in a monolithic Latinx universe.” — Jesus Velo (bassist for Chicano band Los Illegals)

Excerpts

“I started when I was 15. I’m 57 now (58 by the time this book comes out), old enough to realize it’s time to step aside and let the young kids take over. Don’t get me wrong; I wish I could continue, and all power to those dinosaurs who do. I just can’t. I enjoy the absence of deadlines and the abundance of time to read, watch films, and really listen to music too much. I also know that I would have to write about that atrocity known as reggaetón if I wanted to continue working as a journalist. Forget it. I ain’t gonna do that. You can go ahead and talk all you want about the “cultural significance” of a bunch of Puerto Ricans (and their imitators) who turned their backs on the island’s marvelous rhythms and settled for the most idiotic sounds and lyrics they could come up with, but keep me out of it. (I don’t mind Voltio, Tego Calderón, and sometimes Bad Bunny, and Calle 13’s Residente and Visitante are true artists who transcend the R-word). Simply put, there are only two groups of people nowadays who can make a living as a journalist: the very best (usually people my age) or the very cheap (usually young kids into the R-word… some of them very talented, I must admit). I consider myself to be somewhere in between.” ("Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like This," Intro)
Your sexual orientation? I was about to
get into that…
I wouldn’t like it.
Why not? I couldn’t care less about your private lifestyle, but I find the Juan Gabriel phenomenon fascinating, considering the still rampant homophobia in Latin America and, especially, Mexico. You’re loved by everyone, even the big “machos.” But you’ve never talked about your
sexuality.
I have four sons. That’s No. 1. Second, in show business, if you’re male and cute and gracious, people assume you are blah, blah, blah. But people don’t understand that art itself is female — it is full of graciousness, cadence, color, rhythm. It’s full of love and grace. No. 3: Nowadays, the important thing is to be careful. That’s what people have to worry about, not whether one is or isn’t. Watch your “bird” and watch your butt. Especially in the U.S., where there is, or there is supposed to be, so much respect for all peoples. (Juan Gabriel, Los Angeles Times, 1993)
For some, your criticism of Cuba helps obscure the achievements there in the areas of health, education and housing, something unparalleled in Latin America.

Nobody is arguing with that. I’m against the embargo and against U.S. intervention in our domestic problems, but I’m also against the Marxist-Leninist government in Cuba. I’m against the beating and jailing of María Elena Cruz Varela, who won their National Prize of Poetry, because she signed a paper demanding reforms in Cuba. She wasn’t even holding a grenade or something like that. And I think it’s a big mistake of most of the Latin American intellectuals to put under the rug the obvious human rights violations in Cuba in order to “protect” their achievements in medicine, housing or education. Let me rephrase that: An education without different opinions. That’s indoctrination, not education. As an artist, I can’t remain silent about that. (Rubén Blades, Los Angeles Times, 1993)
“Cuba has always had great musicians and athletes. The fact that I don’t support their cause doesn’t mean that I’m going to deny how great they are. It’s them who always say that they have 25,000 singers like me. I’ve never heard Silvio Rodríguez, but I do like Pablo Milanés’ voice and the group Irakere. Of course, I listen to that when somebody gives me a
record. I don’t buy their music, just as they don’t buy mine.” (Celia Cruz, Los Angeles Times, 1993)
Those Cuba-based orchestras seem to be
miles ahead of everyone else.
Way up! They sound like Weather Report! When things get solved in Cuba, the Cuban musicians will scare a lot of musicians from here. I always tell everybody: As soon as the Cubans come, a lot of people are going to have to go back to school all over again. In Cuba it’s different — there they really study music. If you are a musician in Cuba, that’s all you do. Brazilians also play a lot of jazz, but I think Cubans are the most
advanced in both jazz technique and rhythm. (Tito Puente, Los Angeles Times, 1994)
So when is he making his crossover move? The ever-calculating singer
isn’t losing any sleep over it. Not in the near future,” he says during a
recent break in rehearsals for his shows tonight through Saturday at the Universal Amphitheatre. “It does interest me, but sometimes you have to pay too big of a price. My language and my world [are] Spanish, and I’m very comfortable with that. If I’m going to do something else it has to be at the right moment, when I feel very confident it’s going to be good for me and my music. That time is not coming yet.” (Luis Miguel, Los Angeles Times, 1995)
“I sing English rockers even better than my Spanish ballads. If I’m going to succeed, I’ll succeed in any language at any time. But now I was inspired to do this record in Spanish. Then we’ll see.” (Enrique Iglesias, Los Angeles Times, 1995)
“We spent three months in the caves of Granada listening to the cantaores,” Olvera says. “But not at the tourist sites — the real fucking thing! We were right there with the fucking gypsy sons of bitches... You go in and smoke a puff of hash, because that’s your admission ticket, and [when] you enter the cave they’re playing raw flamenco, cabrón — not the Gipsy Kings’ stuff.” The memory clearly excites Olvera; he’s practically yelling. “And then we went to Istanbul and got some more hash, and nourished ourselves on Arab music, and brought a huge pile of records... I mean, five years like that, at our speed ... it was like being on a bullet train. It all became like a huge musical diarrhea.” (Maná, Dallas Observer, 2002)
Make no mistake: The Phenomenauts are dead serious. When this Hare Krishna-turned-devil’s advocate writer reminds Commander Nova that science is always changing, that the scientist’s imperfect senses suggested 50 years ago, for example, that smoking was good for you, the Commander comes back in full force. “Science is always correcting itself,” he clarifies. “While religion, you just have to trust, without ever questioning it. Science means there is a bunch of people all over the place making sure it’s accurate.” Oh, okay. Still, science is supposed to be cold and calculating. To some ears, there might be more science in the pipes of Eddie Vedder than in the funbot Phenomenauts. “Oh, please," says Commander Nova, at the mere mention of angst-shriveled Vedder. “There's a lot of people always whining about stuff. But really, life is not so bad, at least [in the U.S.]. There are people in the world who are making a dollar a day. Just be yourself and have a good time. And yes, we're fun, because science is fun, just like rock ’n’ roll. Have you seen Bill Nye, the science guy, on TV?” That's a salient point, commander. (The Phenomenauts, Phoenix New Times, 2002)
Contrary to popular belief, the Spanish word puto doesn't mean “fag.” Only a homosexual who also happens to be an asshole is a puto. But puto is anything that’s bad, or wrong. For example, if you accused Molotov of homophobia for its 1997 hit “Puto” (which repeated a “Puuuuuto-Puuuuuto” chorus dozens of times), well, that automatically qualifies you as a puto — the song was a favorite in gay discos in Mexico City. See, according to Molotov — the Mexican bilingual hardcore rap and metal quartet that sold over a million copies of its debut album, Dónde jugarán las niñas? — Bush and Saddam are putos, the Border Patrol gringos are a bunch of putos, and those who hold suspected terrorists with no charges and no lawyers are putos as well. (Review of Molotov’s Dance and Dense Denso, Miami New Times, 2003)
However, in El sonido de la calle (The Sound of the Street), a book by Uruguayan author Milita Alfaro, Roos humbly described himself as a “consolidator” of different streams of Uruguayan popular music rather than an “innovator.” But after 12 critically and commercially successful albums (not counting rarities, compilations, and his productions for other artists), there’s just too much water under the bridge. “True, I’ve always considered myself more important as a consolidator than as a creator,” says Roos, “but after so much music I must raise a little flag and say, ‘Hey, I've also done something, haven’t I?’” (Jaime Roos, Miami New Times, 2003)
“Besides the blues, there are a lot of people in other styles that are exceptional. There was a Spaniard called Andrés Segovia [1893-1987]. To me, he’s the father of guitar. Nobody is better than him. And within the blues tradition, in my opinion nobody is better than Muddy Waters and others on that level. A lot of people think Robert Johnson was the best. I don’t argue with them, but I don’t agree. I think [Alfonzo] 'Lonnie' Johnson [1899-1970] was the best blues guitarist in history. That’s my opinion. But when people say Whites, Hispanics or people from other countries can’t play the blues, that’s a myth. It’s not true.” (B.B. King, personal blogs, 2004 and 2005)
“For a long time, the First World thought it was saved from the problems affecting the Third World. But now, even in the First World, paradises are falling, it also rains there. Problems are global and the tragedies caused by the First World in the Third World are sending their feedback. … We have to remain optimistic. What other choice do we have? But it’s very clear: if we look at the world with a little bit of lucidity, for the next 10 or 15 years there’s going to be a storm.” (Manu Chao, San Antonio Current, 2007)
“In terms of countries, I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘freedom.' There are too many circumstances that don’t allow us to have freedom, and they’re always cheating us with that so-called ‘freedom.’ The only freedom we can aspire to is inner freedom. And the United States,
supposedly the great nation of freedom, has one of the most abused and slave-like peoples in the world.” (Café Tacvba’s Rubén Albarrán, San Antonio Current, 2007)
“I mean… merengue is horrible, man. The only person to me who is playing merengue the way it should be played is Juan Luis Guerra. I’m a fan of his, and I’m honored to have recorded on three of his records. The merengue I grew up with in the ’60s was good, but the merengue other people do now is kind of obscene and so un-musical.” (Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s Oscar Hernández, San Antonio Current, 2008)
Starting in 2010, the Grammy Awards will merge the Rock and Hip-Hop categories into a single new slot: “Best Rock/Hip-Hop album.” For example, you’ll have, say, Bruce Springsteen, competing against Eminem. Weird, huh? Of course, I’m only kidding. Who would think of such a thing? There’s no way the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which organizes the Grammys, would do that. And it didn’t. What NARAS did do was merge the Latin Urban category (which includes hip-hop, urban regional, and reggaetón) into the Latin Rock/Alternative category, thus reviving the “Latin Rock, Alternative, or Urban Album” category (the urbanos earned their own category two years ago, when the reggaetón craze was too big to ignore, but the low number of Urban entries put things back to where they began). So now we have Daddy Yankee versus Maná. God save us. (The Incredible Shrinking Grammy, SA Current, 2009)
“I never felt I was a rock artist. I never felt that defined me in any way, shape, or form. I never tried to sing any song that I didn’t hear growing up in Tucson before I was 10 years old. And most of it was stuff that I heard before I was five. I didn’t even hear rock and roll until I was about six. So the Mexican style, the standards, that was more who I was. And even the operatic Gilbert & Sullivan, my mother used to play some of that at the piano when I was growing up. Rock and roll I came to rather late in the game, and I just never felt that’s how I wanted to be defined.” (Linda Ronstadt, SA Current, 2009)
Yes, Chaplin was an artist. But so was Keaton. And
the best way to enjoy and honor both is by receiving their art without any preconceived notions or denying either half of the story. While your personal tastes may lead you to decide for yourself who is the “best,” I recommend you embrace both.
Me? I’m a Chaplin man. But I couldn’t live without Keaton. (Chaplin vs Keaton, SA Current, 2011)
Again, another question you’ve probably heard before: What’s the true story about Mitch Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix? Was Hendrix ever going to join ELP and thus give birth to “HELP”?
Hendrix was never going to be part of ELP. That was a complete fallacy, basically put together by journalists who wished it would happen. Hendrix never played at the rehearsal, never came down to see the band, and I never saw him once during my existence in the band. Mitch Mitchell was the first drummer to be chosen for ELP, but he didn’t pass the audition and they decided to get rid of him and call me in, and I got the job.

So, all that about “HELP” is just a myth.
You got it: It’s all rubbish. None of it is true. You’re speaking to the man, Enrique, this is the story. (Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Carl Palmer, SA Current, 2011)
Another cliché: Now that you’re older, you’re wiser. Can you see things more clearly now?
Oh, yeah, of course! I guess that’s true to a point. The other cheeseball cliché is that “some things never change,” and that’s true too. We’re older and wiser, but we’re still fucking retarded. You know what I mean? (Tommy Lee, SA Current, 2011)

When Julio Iglesias’ PR people told me he would only answer questions in writing due to the fact that “he’s traveling in different time zones,” I was disappointed. In my 32-year career, no interviewee was ever funnier and crazier than Julio. I knew I had to ask him something that would force him to call me.

“Are you aware of the fact that most touring acts I interview call me from different time zones?” was my first question, followed by “Do you promise to be as much fun in writing as you are in person or on the phone?”
A few days later, my phone rang.
“I know you, but my PR people didn’t have the slightest fucking idea,” Iglesias said in Spanish from Punta Cana in the Caribbean. Despite his clean-cut, suit-and-tie look, Iglesias is a prankster at heart and never worries about “protecting” any image. “When I saw your questions, I told my wife, ‘Look, this is Lopetegui, the little fairy.”
That was my Julio. So, as usual, he starts by taking over the interview, asking me all sorts of questions, from the most personal to the most banal. He talks about soccer, family, and housing (“I was going to buy a house in San Antonio, but then I realized I don’t even have time to live in my own house.”). He finally asks, “What do you want to know?” and, for a second, I thought he was serious. I ask him whether this tour is more of the same (him singing the hits that allowed him to sell more than 300 million albums worldwide) or if there would be some new stuff.
“No, now I come out on stage naked,” he says, without missing a beat. He was on a roll. “The first half of the show I’m all dressed up, and the second part I’m naked.” (Julio Iglesias, SA Current, 2011)
“Ninety-nine percent of my music comes from Africa. Sorry, Puerto Ricans, and sorry Cubans, who think they invented it. But those are lies. They didn’t invent chicken broth. Chicken broth was invented in Africa. Danzón, cha-cha-cha, mambo, bolero, cumbia … I can name 1,000 rhythms — they all come from Africa. The only thing that doesn’t come from Africa is Riverdance. Even polka can be integrated with ska. A lot of people get mad at me and say, ‘Why do you give so much credit to the negros?’ Because it’s their music! If I play at all, it’s thanks to them!” (Santana, SA Current, 2011)
“Take a look at Judge Judy's eyes. I tell you, man, she has the most beautiful eyes, and they are utterly ferocious. It’s like trying to stare down a puma.” (John Lydon fka Johnny Rotten, SA Current, 2012)
“Everybody calls Selena La Reina del Tex-Mex, or La
Reina del Tejano, but what did Selena do?” asks A.B. Quintanilla III, Selena’s brother, bassist for Los Dinos and leader of Kumbia King All Starz. “She did mostly cumbias and some norteño and mariachi, and pop in English. My father is one of the first ones who would say, ‘Tejano is what made your sister!’ and I’m like, ‘Dad, ‘Como la Flor’ is not Tejano, it’s cumbia!’” (How Colombia Made Selena a Star, SA Current, 2013)

“Long ago, my friends, giants and monsters walked the Earth,” he yells loudly, delivering each line in sync with the band’s backbeat. “There were Beatles, there were Stones, the Who, the Where, the Why, and a Zeppelin of Led, and the faithful worshipped at their feet. But, in time, giants grow old. And the people asked, ‘Who shall join their company? Who shall climb up and take their place on the mountain?’ Four lads pushed their way to the top of the mountain and said, ‘Let us try to go up the mountain.’ And the wise among us laughed, ‘Ha!’”
Costello then jumps to the song’s “It’s alright, it’s alright” chorus, but before the “she moves” part, he goes right back to the intro.
“Were they brave? Were they blessed? Or were they simply barmy? Because they kept on climbing, even when their fingers slipped on the dark and howling night, they kept on climbing … Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to the last rock stars … Bono and The Edge!” (Elvis Costello's Spectacle, San Antonio Current, 2011)
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