Monday, October 25, 2010

If you hold something tightly enough, you will suffocate it


Cyclists like Fabio Parra (as well as Colombia's soccer players of the time) were one of the few things outside of music that held my attention during my youth.

On that day, the news spread like wildfire, albeit a small wildfire that no one outside my immediate circle of friends noticed. To us, however, this was a huge deal, and we were all in disbelief. Once I tell you what this bit of news was, you will either write me off as a lunatic (if you haven't done so already), or simply dismiss the event as the sort of overly dramatic interactions that are common among eleven year olds. I ask you not to do either before I explain.

Colombia in the late 1980s was, in some respects, culturally divorced from the rest of the world. When it came to music and literature, the effects were more acute due to severe restrictions regarding importing goods into the country (in an effort to boost Colombia's economy). To most kids, these trade restrictions only meant that buying American clothing and tennis shoes was a difficult affair, one that usually involved buying smuggled goods in a potentially frightening business district known as "San Andresito". But for me and my friends, these restrictions meant that accessing the music we loved and lived for, was nearly impossible. Like many other kids in other parts of the world at that time, we had become obsessed with metal in all its forms and iterations, as well as punk rock and hardcore music. We lived and died for that music, and our bond to it was (in retrospect) very clearly derived from the difficulty of obtaining the music itself.

At the time, absolutely no music store in the city carried anything beyond Colombian folk music, and english-speaking artists like Pet Shop Boys. There was no mail order, no publications, no clubs, no radio shows, no underground record stores. The few cassettes that we had of bands like Agnostic Front, Slayer and Venom were usually tenth or fifteenth generation dubs, which we guarded like treasures, and often used as badges of honor, since getting anyone to let you dub their tapes was a coup in and of itself. You had to be deemed worthy of borrowing a rare cassette, since dubbing it would mean that you too would now be in on the secret club.

If "underground" music was indeed underground in places like the United States and Europe....I can't think of a word to describe what it was in Colombia in the 1980s. Live performances by the few local punk rock and metal bands that existed were themselves extremely rare and hard to much so that an entire movie was made about it in the late 80s. The film correctly depicts performances going on in abandoned buildings in Medellin's shanty towns. These bands were often made up of teenage assassins who lived in the poorest neighborhoods of Colombia's cities (Medellin in particular), so simply buying a ticket and showing up was not an option. These were neighborhoods that the police wouldn't dare go into back then, and they were usually designated among the most dangerous places on earth by the UN. This was beyond underground, it was beyond dangerous, and it soon became my hobby, my pastime, my everything.

Short clip from the movie Rodgrigo D No Futuro. The movie used actual street kids from bands in Medellin as the cast. Sadly, since these were not actors (but kids who made money as assassins for the Cartels), almost the entire cast was killed during the filming of the movie, and the entire thing had to be re-shot multiple times in order for it to have some continuity.

As a result of how difficult it was to access this music, my friends and I developed a bond to this subculture that was far beyond what teenagers usually develop when they are introduced to certain subcultures. In our eyes, our club was a secret club. Knowing about the bands that we knew about, or having ever actually heard them was a complicated and difficult accomplishment. It's for this reason that the news that morning in school seemed so huge to us. How on earth could it be that a kid in our school had suddenly showed up wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt under his uniform? Who the hell was he? Where had he gotten the shirt? How did he even know about the band? We were all surprised, angered and anxious. We had to find out, and quickly.

Our secret club was secret no more. The secret was out, and we were pissed.

As I've grown older, I continue to think back to that day in Colombia. I think about how ridiculous it is to claim ownership of an idea, of a movement, a musical style, or a way of thinking. While I understood then—as I do today—why my bond to this idea and to that music was so strong, I still can't help but laugh about the whole thing. Why is it that when we find something we like, we enjoy, and perhaps love, we want to hold it so close that we risk suffocating it, and killing it? Why is any musical style or activity so sacred, that only a select few should be allowed in? Is cycling that sacred to you? Do you laugh at other people's bikes or attire? Do you laugh at the new guy? Do you laugh at the guy with a bike that's "too good" for him? Does it seriously matter that much to you? Is your secret club less secret today? Is cycling the new golf? Does it matter?

If the relationship you have with your bike and riding it is so personal, how can it be disturbed (if only minimally and for a second) by the mere sight of someone else riding a bike in a different manner? Is that the equivalent of seeing someone wear an Iron Maiden shirt? Do you hold cycling so stubbornly close that you are choking it, by virtue of becoming irritable, unkind and unwelcoming? If that's the case, I suggest you let go, and that you do so quickly.


  1. Funny you chose Rodrigo D and that PeNe song to illustrate the movement we were a part of in the 80s... My friend Heinrich was the one who dubbed the movie soundtrack for us. He'd gotten his dub from his cousin, who, upon hearing he'd dubbed it for us, stopped talking to him. That's how protective we were. If we had a tape we would let our friends listen to it, but we wouldn't tape it for them.
    A similar story with my friend Juan Manuel who lent me a Cryptic Slaughter tape and our friend Max was so pissed that "his" band had been shared, he actually fought JM over it. Sure, it may seem silly now, but we took it very seriously.
    Well, if Lucho and I were the ones who took the 2 hour bus trip to a shit neighborhood, risked getting jumped or killed, just to go to a shady store to bargain with a scary-ass dude to finally get a dubbed copy of Venom's Black Metal, why should a friend who stayed at home and didn't "work" for it get to dub it?

    About cycling, I'm just happy to see people on a bike. The less fat people we have, the easier it is for the health care system and the cheaper my health insurance will be.

  2. If you wanna see a bad-ass Colombian metal band, che ck this out and have in mind that a lot of people were probably stabbed during this show for being posers...

  3. Interesting. When I first read "almost the entire cast was killed during the filming of the movie", I initially thought you were joking (you do that sometimes). But sadly I'm pretty sure you weren't (based on the entire tone and content of the post). Geez, I though selling "Grit" (crappy newspaper) was a tough job for a kid.

    Concerning the subject of being "protective" of ones love/interest, I have found the track racing scene to be difficult to enter. It sorta makes sense because the track can only hold so many riders and they don't like outsiders generally as a result. Also some mountainbikers don't want others to know about their favorite trails for the similar reasons.

    Persistence and stubbornness can get you in though.

  4. David,
    Thanks for the comment. Yes, many in the cast were killed. The protagonist, who was a kid from the streets but not really involved in heavy crime, was kept safe during the filming, while many of the other actors were killed. The director would later make another film (Vendedora De Rosas) where the last scene shows the main character robbing and killing a taxi driver. Only months after the movie premiered at Cannes, the actor was arrested for doing the same thing in real life. She's now in jail. Colombia is a wonderful place where crazy things happen. Garcia Marquez said it best, when he stated that artists and writers like him who deal in fiction, have had to ask very little of their imagination, because Colombia provides more material than they can ever deliver.

  5. compadre, this blogisito is a real nacho!

  6. sub-arctic cyclingOctober 29, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    SkullKrusher when was that Parabellum? show? That song is bad ass

  7. Lucho, I'm sitting here enjoying another fine ice cold Sapporo and your verse. Keep it real for the posse in toronto


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