Jose de Molina Manifiesto LP (Nueva Voz Latino Americana, 1983)
A bit more than a month ago, I emailed my friend and Z Gun comrade Ryan Wells and asked if he wanted to go record hunting in Tijuana. I found really cheap flights from San Francisco to San Diego and from SD it is a five dollar trolley ride to the border and back. He gives the OK and I book the flight. A few weeks later, we are on a plane heading south, in a cab taking us to downtown San Diego, and on the trolley to Tijuana.
We got off the trolley at San Ysidro and walk through the maze that is the border crossing. Over the "Big Ditch", we head toward the arch at the base of Revolucion. The wind makes the cables stretched across the arch sing. I regret not having something to capture the sound (but someone else did). Since Ryan had never been, we walked down Revolucion. Revolucion is usually crowded with tourists, US Navy seamen & Marines, and high school/college students from San Diego. The drinking age in Mexico is 18, though unofficially it is "kinda look eighteen." Because beer and margaritas are cheap, Revolucion has a "spring break on the skids" atmosphere. Multi-story buildings that were built and added on with no mind to building codes or safety line the street. These are the discos. Most of them have balconies hoovering over the sidewalks, where young men can yell "Woooooo" as young women flash their tits to the passer-by. On the ground are hundreds of trinket sellers, dudes hawking Lucha Libre masks and cheap sombreros with Tijuana emblazoned on them, and tequila shops. There are at least three farmacias on every block, selling cut-rate (and often phony) viagra, xanex, etc. And let's not forget the poor Tijuana zebras, donkeys spray-painted with stripes and used as a prop for tourists and their cameras (for a price). Everything was there as usual, except the partiers, military men, and the tourists.
When we got off the trolley, I noticed that we were the only Anglos headed toward the border. Walking into town, we were alone in our lack of Latino blood. And on Revolucion, we were the only marks. Thus, every huckster was after us: "Hey guy, tequila shot, one dollar!" "Hey guy, new pair of boots, cheap!" "Hey guy, need a taxi to Zona Roja." "Hey guy, best food, cheap." "Hey guy, pretty girls" ""Hey guy, one dollar Corona!" I am pretty sure we could have countered with 25 cents and settled on a half-buck a beer. We get to the street with the record shop and round the corner. A squat guy follows us "Guy, guy. Pretty girl for you. Massage. Forty dollar. All legal. Very pretty."
The record store is great. It is about the size of a small living room. While there are only two small bins of vinyl, the stock is concentrated. The store specializes in Latin American psych, prog and hard rock - a few originals but mostly semi-legit reissues and bootlegs. We both find some good stuff and head off to Constitution.
Constitution is not like Revolucion. It is geared toward the locals. Unless they work on the street, Tijuanans stay off Revolucion, however they crowd Constitution. No one is on the sidewalk pitching their goods. No offers of cheap beer or whores. Though a couple young girls grab our shirt sleeves as we walk by, "Guy, guy..." Business must be bad.
We hit a store on the short list of "record stores" that I've compiled from tips and past visits. This one is from a tip and it turns out to be a CD store full of Rancheros, which is what 99% of Tijuana record stores are like. I remember a store from my last visit about 5 years ago. It is off a small passageway or so I recall. I tell Ryan about it and that I know I will find it. Ten minutes later we are looking through a pathetic couple of racks of records. On another wall are a bunch of dusty cassettes. Some tattered revolutionary posters are on the wall. The owner (?) is behind a desk teaching another guy how to play a song on the guitar. While the store has crap for records, the last time I was there I found three great disks. This time I score big time (though I don't know it at the time). I pay for my records and the owner tells us that he has another store. "Lots more records," he says. He tells us where it is and we are on our way.
It's about 2:30 pm and the sun is starting to burn. Trees do not exist in downtown Tijuana and the buildings are too squat to provide shade. We trudge down the street, every step brings dehydration. The buildings become shorter, smaller, and more spread out. Though we are still downtown, it has the feel of a semi-deserted suburban retail corridor. We find the record store. It is a middle-aged woman sitting at a table, a few shelves of drinking glasses, and a small rack of 25 records. Ryan half-heartedly picks up a Turtles album and asks how much. The woman walks to a room, pulls back a sheet, and mumbles a few words. A shirtless teen comes out and tells Ryan five dollars. Ryan puts the record back and we leave. As we are walking out the door, I tell Ryan that we've just experienced the world's most pathetic record chain.
We'd been in Tijuana for over three hours and had yet to run into another set of Anglos, It isn't until we stop to get something to eat that we see a family of three Euro/Asian American. On our way back to the border, through an outside mall (half abandoned, lined with farmacias, taco/booze stands and trinket shops), we pass our first Euro-Americans on the street. Two college-aged guys are walking into Tijuana as we are going out. I've been to Tijuana several times and this is the first time I've seen it so devoid of Americans. I know college is out, but there are usually still college aged and high-schoolers crowding Revolucion, not to mention dudes in their US Navy and Marines uniforms, as well as the tick-shaped tourists. This time nothing. Even the weak peso can't squelch American fears of drug violence and swine flu, as if the United States doesn't have its own problem with crime and illness (five people shot dead that weekend in the Bay Area, while none dead in Tijuana).
Now, as much as I know about music, the more I dig for records, the more I realize that there is a hell of a lot out there I am completely ignorant of. Take Jose de Molina. In Mexico, he is well known as an anarchist singer-songwriter and a pain in the government's ass. He came up through the student movement in the 1960s, surviving two student massacres in Mexico City 1968. Releasing records and playing concerts during the Seventies, he was routinely persecuted by authorities, often jailed and beaten. The oppression got so bad that he stopped playing regular concerts in the 1990s, only occasionally appearing at protests and labor actions. In 1997, he was kidnapped and tortured by the police. His injuries were so bad that he required hospitalization and resulted in peritonitis, which was pretty much a death warrant. He was sent back home, where he was soon found dead, the back of his head blown away via a gun in mouth. I am not sure whether this was suicide or assassination. Whatever the case - torture by the police or cops gunning him down - the government killed him for his rebel music.
These songs come from an early 80s LP called Manifiesto. I had no idea what I was getting into when I bought it. There was a drawing of Che Guevara playing a guitar on it and I knew it would be cheap so it had to be mine. Most of it is traditional Mexican music, often preceded by a minute or two of political invective. One song, La Rueda de la Historia, kind of has a punk/new wave sound that reminds me of several things (John Cooper Clarke, The Clash) without really sounding like anything I can peg right now. But it is a great song and worth a listen (there is about a minute and a half spoken intro so be patient). The other two songs are more representative of the album and other stuff I've heard of his. If anyone knows of more Molina like La Rueda... contact me.