Cuentos, Música

Perfect songs for imperfect moments

Spotify Playlist

“This song?”

“Not this song, this song is perfect.”

We were on our way home from school/work and for once we weren’t arguing over who got to choose the playlist. The previous day Xavi had asked me to play Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” after hearing the cover by The Bird and the Bee. Since he was showing interest in old school favorites, Sean and I ran with it. You mean we got to play our old school favorites? Yes.

Xavi’s phrase has stuck with me. There are so many perfect songs and songs that are perfect because they take me back to a very specific moment. I like to think of them as the songs that have altered my brain chemistry because I can’t hear them without instantly being transported 20 (or 30!) plus years to that moment.

El Noa Noa by Juan Gabriel

It’s really hard to pick one life-altering JuanGa song because his music is omnipresent. He died on the day before my second son was born and I listened to a playlist through most of my labor, at least the early part before I realized the epidural wasn’t as effective in blocking pain as it was during my first time giving birth. (Aside: that one knocked me out and I took a glorious nap in active labor.)

I don’t associate El Noa Noa with that hospital room. Instead, I’m taken to the Kern River (always known as just El Río) in the Mojave Desert. Growing up, it seemed that we’d go to the river every long weekend and were always accompanied by 4 or 5 other families, both our relatives and compadres. There was no shortage of kids. We spent all day in the river because it was too hot outside. At night I’d still feel myself being pulled by the current as I laid awake trying to get the ghost stories out of my mind. Really, whoever decided to tell the story of La Llorona as we camped beside a river was just cruel.

A calm river surrounded by a rocky bank of white rocks. in the background are leafy trees, shrubs, a mostly clear blue sky and grey mountain. A few people wade in the water.

When I hear El Noa Noa, I can still see my cousin Eric standing on a boulder dancing and singing along with El Divo de Juárez. Eric was fully dressed instead of in his swim trunks like the rest of us because he had the bad luck of stepping on some glass on our first day. We hadn’t even set-up camp when my tío and tía had to leave and take him to the ER. The cut was bad enough that he had to get stitches and couldn’t swim with the rest of us, but dancing and singing on a rock was fine.

It’s hard to know if I remember this moment so well because of how we laughed or because my tío Chuy captured it on home video. Who knows, but it’s fitting that I think about my cousin singing in a desert along to a song that’s an ode to an El Paso bar.

Teenage Cindy posing with her brother Danny. Both are dressed up and smiling at the camera.

Soul to Squeeze by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Summer 1996 was the first summer Danny had his driver’s license. We also signed up to host a Spanish exchange student, Esteban, for a month. Esteban had come with a group of students to learn English and his peers were also hosted by families we knew from church. During the day, they had class, but afterward they had excursions around LA like the beach or Disneyland. On this afternoon, Danny drove Esteban, his friend Sergio, and me to Guitar Center in West Covina. I don’t remember the reason for the trip. We had the radio tuned to KROQ, as always. Soul to Squeeze came on and I found myself singing together with Sergio to the chorus:

Where I go, I just don't know
I got to, got to, gotta take it slow
When I find my peace of mind
I'm gonna give you some of my good time

It was just a moment but it was the first time I remember that tingle of a crush acknowledging me in a flirtatious way. Nothing came from it and it was all probably in my head. Despite that, Soul to Squeeze always takes me back to my mom’s minivan with our Spanish exchange students.

1979 by the Smashing Pumpkins

This will forever be associated with my alarm clock radio. I can’t remember the exact morning in tenth grade this happened, but I do know Billy Corgan woke me up and I was probably late.

La Bamba by Los Lobos

La Bamba is the first soundtrack I became obsessed with. My siblings and I would play it over and over. Los Lobos’ version of La Bamba ends with the traditional son jarocho style. When the jarana starts in the outro I think of standing in our living room near the clunky stereo and dancing in a circle with a silly zapateado with Adrian. Writing this now it’s funny that I recall Adrian dancing like he was circling the sombrero in El Jarabe Tapatío because he was the only one of us kids who never danced ballet folklórico.

So Fresh and So Clean by OutKast

This is the song that inspired me to rack my brain for other songs I associate with indelible moments. When I hear the opening line, “Ain’t nobody dope as me, I’m just so fresh, so clean” I’m instantly back at a house party in September 2001. I had just turned 21 and went to a party at my friends’ house. When I arrived I didn’t know anyone besides the host, Chris and Lamont (shoutout to #thatsite), and remember walking through to the back yard. That’s when I saw D walk through the sliding doors singing.

Note: I used the El Noa Noa section for my takeover of this week’s Leave it to Leonor newsletter.

Cultura, Música

Lindas Canciones

I was 7 or 8 when Mary came over and excitedly shared a must-listen new tape, Linda Ronstadt’s Canciones de mi Padre. I’d never heard of Linda Ronstadt and was a little confused by her name. Ronstadt didn’t sound Mexican. I soon came to learn that she was US-born and didn’t speak much Spanish. My parents didn’t care. Linda could sing the hell out of some rancheras and soon they were playing the tape constantly.

The music was as beautiful as the woman on the cover of the tape and I loved it. I already had been introduced to rancheras through José Alfredo Jiménez classics like “Volver, volver”, “El Rey,” and “Caminos de Guanajuato” thanks to my Guanajuato-born father. While Linda Ronstadt was not my introduction to mariachis or rancheras, she was the first woman I’d heard sing backed up by a mariachi. It would be many years until I found out about singers like Lola Beltrán or Chavela Vargas. Until then, Linda was the pinnacle of female rancheras songs in my eyes.


I wasn’t strong enough a singer to emulate her as a kid — or even as an adult — but Danny gave it a shot. He learned to sing “Y ándale”, a song about not caring that your fianceé´s parents will see you as a drunk when you come over to see he. Danny practiced with dad and gave his big performance at tía Nelly’s wedding backed by a full mariachi. His performance was a hit. Ironically, dad quit drinking soon after.

In college, I bought my own copy of Canciones on CD and listened to it countless times. I’ve learned the songs since then and sing along… or try to. Five years ago, I went to a concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall by Linda Ronstadt and Mariachi de Nati Cano on the bill. I was so excited to hear live versions of the songs I grew up listening to with my dad, but came away feeling confused and let down. Linda didn’t sound like the woman on the albums I’d come to love. It didn’t make sense how her voice could have changed so much as she aged.

Mexicanitos al grito de guerra

Now I understand that at the time she was already dealing with the onset of Parkinson’s, a disease her grandmother suffered from as well.

As the Parkinson’s news broke out last month, I realized I couldn’t name any of Ronstadt’s hits in English. All I knew was Canciones which I still sing on the regular. In fact, all I could think about was the songs I loved on the first album and the follow-up, Más Canciones.

I sing Hay Unos Ojos frequently to Xavier. I hold him in my arms and sing as we walk around the apartment. He stares up at me with eyes that seem to get brighter and wider. When I got pregnant, I was a little sad that I never took the time to learn how to play the guitar. I wanted to be like my dad who would entertain us for hours with the guitar and a short list of pop and children’s songs. I may not have the guitar (for now), but I do have my voice and a love for singing. Hopefully Xavier will remember the songs I sing for him with the same fondness I think of songs like Cri Cri’s “Los Tres Cochinitos” or the Cascades’ “Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain.”

If I had to list 10 albums that changed my life, Canciones would definitely be on it. I’m grateful Mary introduced my parents to Linda Ronstadt. They played the album and actively sang along. I don’t think dad ever expected that 25 years later I’d follow his example and would sing the same songs to my son.


This side of the road

Note: This post has been sitting in my drafts since mid August. The first show was on Friday, August 10th, then second on Monday, August 13th.

Hello, friends. It's been too long.

My year always feels off when I don’t get to see Café Tacuba live. They’ve been my favorite band for ages and I always go to see them whenever they’re in town or close enough for a quick flight up to San Francisco or Oakland.

The last few years have felt a little off (music-wise), but this past week has made up for it. I blew my summer concert budget on tickets for Super Estrella’s Reventón. Well, I planned to blow my budget, but the better/pricier seats were already taken by the time I got to the Ticketmaster website. (This summer’s budget was a lot less than in recent years thanks to other big costs coming up.)

staples for reventón super estrella

On Friday night Sean and I met up with Anel — a new tumblr/twitter friend with great music taste — for the LA radio station’s quinceañera (15th anniversary) concert.

[Sidenote… It blew my mind that Super Estrella 107.3 was celebrating its quinceañera. That seems like a lot of years, but then I think that was only 1997. I clearly remember tuning my radio to 107.3 and doing my AP stats homework while listening. That was the first time I heard classics like “Lamento Boliviano” by Enanitos Verdes, “Oye Mi Amor” by Maná, and “Como te Extraño” by Café Tacuba. I loved those songs immediately. Super Estrella was my first real introduction to the rock en español genre. I’d grown up listening to Mexican music, but was unfamiliar with the rock music that would blow up in the late 90s/early 00s. It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to the radio station regularly, but I’m thankful for the introduction to my favorite band.

Also, fifteen years! Yeesh. That was the second moment that day I felt a little old, relatively speaking, of course. The first was when I was talking about the 1994 Northridge Quake and was surrounded by college juniors and seniors who didn’t remember it because they were toddlers in 1994.]

The Reventón lineup included some of my longtime favorites I’d seen several times (Julieta Venegas, Kinky, Café Tacuba) and some bands I’d never seen (Hombres G, Beto Cuevas from La Ley, Moderatto). I’d seen the headliner, Enanitos Verdes, once at another arena show in 2000. Who remembers the Watcha Tour?

Café Tacuba is down there somewhere. We had crappy seats.

Our seats sucked, as warned by the tickets, but it was still fun to be there and hear some of my favorite songs as well as some of Cafeta’s new stuff. The show started at 6, way too early to get home from work, eat a quick dinner and take the new Expo Line to Staples Center. By the time we had arrived, we’d missed most of Beto Cuevas’ set and all of Julieta Venegas and Kinky. I’m not upset about Kinky, but missing Julieta made me sad since she’s one of my favorite singers.

As usual, I wrote down Café Tacuba’s lineup:
El Baile y el Salón
Las Flores
La Ingrata
La Locomotora
Volver a Comenzar
Déjate Caer
Chilanga Banda
Este Lado del Camino (single from new album)
La Chica Banda


Lucky 13

On Monday night I got another chance to listen to some new Café Tacuba and enjoy my favorites. The show was held at the Observatory in Santa Ana. The venue was very hot and I didn’t want to go on the floor in front of the stage. I got enough of the crowded, sweaty, pushy concert experience when I was younger.

Café Tacuba at the Observatory

In between “Déjate Caer” and “La Chilanga Banda” Rubén Albarrán, the lead singer, led some chants agains the recent election results (“el que no grita es Peña” and “el pueblo se cansa de tanta pinche transa”) as well as claiming support for the recent youth movement, Yo Soy 132.

I know it’s only been a couple of years since the last show, but this time around the guys seemed much older. They’re all still energetic, play solid shows and do the goofy choreographed dances, but their age shows simply in their appearance. Even from the back of the room I could see Joselo’s grays and laugh lines.

I caught up with my cousin Rene and his buddy Edgar briefly before the show. They were dry and excited. Rene’s clothes were soaked through. He said it was worth it as he’s never been up that close at CaféTa show and he got some great pictures (above). Still, I don’t know if it was as cool as the time we briefly met them at a TV show taping (2003).

Café Tacuba

Café Tacuba’s setlist from the Observatory on August 13th:
El Baile y el Salón
Como te Extraño (versión despacio/tempo slowed down)
Las Persianas
Las Flores
La Ingrata
Cero y Uno
El Ciclón
La Locomotora
Volver a Comenzar
No controles
Déjate Caer
La Chilanga Banda
El Fin de la Infancia
La Chica Banda
Este Lado del Camino

Bar Tacuba
El Puñal


Café Tacuba’s first new album in five years, Objeto Antes Llamado Disco, comes out Tuesday, October 16th!

All close up photos of the band are by Rene U.

Historia, Música

This day in Chicano history: Louie Pérez (1953)

January 29, 1953
Louie Pérez, of Los Lobos and Latin Playboys, was born in Los Angeles and grew up in East LA

I’ve been to many concerts over the last 15 years. Few moments stand out from the others. One of those was the 2005 UCLA Royce Hall concert featuring Los Lobos and Perla Batalla. I went to that show alone as I found about it last minute and just had a chance to buy a discounted student ticket. Overall, the show was pretty amazing. I wished dad and Danny could have been there too. They would’ve loved it. I’m glad I wrote about that show while the memories were still fresh:

Last night, Los Lobos primarily stayed away from their blues-rock repertoire and focused on classic Mexican tunes. They played boleros like “Gema” and “Sabor a Mí,” as well as son jarocho, rancheras (“Cielito Lindo” and “La Pistola y el Corazón”), cumbias, blues-rock (“Saint Behind the Glass” and “Kiko and the Lavender Moon”), and songs from other Latin American countries (“Guantanamera” and “El Cuchipé”).

At one point, all of Los Lobos sat on stools in a half-circle. They recounted a story about playing the same tunes at parties for friends and families when they were just starting out as a band. At that moment, I thought of you [Dad] and was reminded of the dozens of times throughout my childhood when you did the same thing at a party or around the campfire.

That performance definitely made me emotional. I probably cried as Louie Pérez sang “Saint Behind the Glass,” my favorite Los Lobos song. There’s something magical about the opening jarana and the soothing nature of Pérez’s voice. In this live version, co-songwriter David Hidalgo sings along. I like it because Pérez explains the song’s biographical roots. It hits home, especially since my dad grew up in the same area. Some of the places he drives by in this tour of East LA are quite familiar. [Listen to the original version of “Saint Behind the Glass” with only Pérez’s vocals here, right-click to download.]

Over the years, Pérez has played guitar, jarana and drums for Los Lobos. I believe now he primarily plays drums. He’s also the principal lyricist. Original Los Lobos songs are frequently credited Hidalgo/Pérez.

In an interview with Six String Soul, Pérez describes the songwriting relationship with David Hidalgo that has evolved since they were teens: “Ideally I would sit with David and work lyrics and music together. But since time is so much a premium for us these days, we’ve chosen to split the chores between us. But to say that David is the music and I’m the lyrics would hugely discount us. We’re songwriters, top to bottom.” Pérez goes on to say that the starting point for lyrical inspiration comes from his East La roots.

Today marks Pérez’s 59th birthday. I hope he has many more birthdays and continues to write meaningful songs for a band that’s way more than just another band from East LA.

To celebrate, listen to your favorite Los Lobos album. Might I suggest Kiko and the Lavender Moon?

Photo credit: LA Times.

Historia, Música, Mexico

This day in Chicano history: José Alfredo Jiménez (1926)

January 19, 1926:
José Alfredo Jiménez, one of México’s most well-known singer-songwriters, was born in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato

Yeah, yeah, I know Jiménez is not technically a Chicano. He’s as Mexican as you get being born in Dolores Hidalgo, known to all Mexicans as La Cuna de la Independencia Nacional. For the Spanish language challenged, the Cradle of National Independence.

While Jiménez wasn’t around in the 1800s and didn’t contribute to the fight for Mexican independence, one can argue that the dozens of songs he’s penned have influenced Mexican identity on both sides of the border.

As a kid, I listened to a lot of Jiménez. I remember watching my dad sing “Camino de Guanajuato” at the top of his lungs with various other family members. I’d sing along too, even though it was probably inappropriate for a kid to sing a line about life being worthless. In my 20s, “Camino” began to mean more as I explored my roots in Salamanca, Guanajuato and actually traveled and visited the roads and landmarks mentioned in the well-known song. One of my most vivid memories of being on my uncles’ ranch just outside Salamanca was singing “Camino” with about 40 other family members, with such pride and joy. It was pretty amazing.

One of the best songwriters that ever lived

For Chican@s, knowing or singing some of Jiménez’s most popular songs may show you’re not too much of a poch@. It might be a fun way to bond with the older generations or make you look like a badass at mariachi-oke (yes, that’s mariachi + karaoke) night when you don’t need the words to get through “Ella” or “Que Te Vaya Bonito”. Or it just might make a good buzz even better.

Six ways to celebrate José Alfredo Jiménez’s birthday:

  1. Drink some tequila, but not too much as you don’t want to end up with JAJ-like liver issues
  2. Sing your favorite Jiménez-penned song, if you need an idea for something else besides “El Rey”, check here.
  3. Request the roaming musicians play a romantic song like “Serenata Sin Luna” or “Si Nos Dejan” while out on a date
  4. Make a playlist of JAJ songs interpreted by old school artist and re-imagined by newer artists. Example: “Te Solte La Rienda” by Maná
  5. Watch one of the movies he acted in. [IMDB]
  6. Try your hand at writing a torch song.

It’s a school night, so no tequila shots for me. Plus, I’m all out lime. Instead, I’ll make a playlist of the four versions of “Camino de Guanajuato” and put them on a loop while going through my photo sets from trips to the motherland. As always, I’ll ignore Jiménez’s warning to avoid Salamanca, mi pueblo adorado.

¡No te rajes Guanajuato!

[Thanks to Think Mexican for the heads up about Jiménez’s birthday.]