1653242287 Rockdrigo and the mythology of the voice of the street

Rockdrigo and the mythology of the voice of the street Mexico

His voice trailed off as the Federal District underground roared that September 19, 1985, when everything collapsed. The building where Rodrigo González lived collapsed with him during this traumatic earthquake, leaving thousands of bodies in the rubble and etched into national memory. And then, as they say, a legend was born that has a lot to do with urban mythology: the Rockdrigo; the busker who came from Tampico to eat up the capital; the poet who sang to the dogs and the streets and the loneliness and the alcohol and the subway and the employees and the smog. Raw songs accompanied by a crumbling guitar, a harmonica and his raspy voice. During his lifetime he only recorded Hurbanistoris (1984), a homemade cassette which he sold himself in the city’s markets and bars. After his death, his friends and family saved dozens of songs and released three more albums. The last one, I’m not crazy (1992, Ediciones Pentagrama), turns 30 in 2022.

– It was a different time and it was a different Mexico. Mexican rock forgets that we have roots: we lack self-esteem, sometimes we feel sorry for them. I believe that Rockdrigo is one of our most important roots.

Rafael Catana met Rockdrigo during a university strike, one of many in a hectic political age when the shadow of dirty war lurks around every corner. They hit it off and started playing together in bars on the outskirts of town. Together with other musicians such as Fausto and Edgar Arrellín, Nina Galindo or Eblén Macari, they were the germ of a musical movement that they called “Rupestre”. Rupestre for his rudimentary mentality, for his directness, because they kept the song in their bones and appealed to a Mexico without glamor, in black and white. Rockdrigo wrote the manifesto. In November 1984 they made their major public presentation in a series of concerts at the Museo del Chopo. Over the next year, they continued to play all over town and make a name for themselves.

—And suddenly life ended with the earthquake.

The musician Rodrigo González, 'Rockdrigo'. The musician Rodrigo González, ‘Rockdrigo’. Paul Demeyere

I’m not crazy

Nina Galindo was one of the few women in the rock art movement. “What I spent with Rodrigo was very little, but what we experienced was very cool,” he recalls over the phone. “I couldn’t start a conversation with him because he was talking to me about five different topics at the same time and I was choking.” One day he visited Rockdrigo at his house. At that time he recorded new songs. Galindo fell in love with one of them and asked for a copy to cover it. But he only had one cassette. “He told me, ‘I’ll lend it to you to copy, but you take care of it like it’s the apple of your eye.'”

A month passed. Galindo called several times to meet and return the tape, but Rockdrigo never answered. The last call was the day before the earthquake. “I kept this cassette as a treasure for many years. His departure hit me hard. I kept and hid the material I didn’t deserve.” Five years later, Mireya Escalante – Rockdrigo’s now deceased ex-partner – asked him to edit this recording. This is how the last published Rockdrigo material came to be: I’m not crazy.

The chiaroscuro by Rodrigo González

His death left his friends mostly with pending conversations. The feeling of something unfinished. Calls that never came through, arranged concerts, drunken binges that didn’t happen. Roberto Ponce, one of the cave artists, says that Rockdrigo appears to him in his dreams, but that he doesn’t speak to him, just laughs. Perhaps it’s because Ponce remembers most of all the joints his old partner used to smoke all the time, always in the most inappropriate places to provoke. He recognized Rockdrigo’s body in the morgue and he recognized the musician’s partner at the time, François Bardinet: “They were both naked. He beaten and half pale. I saw that he had more beard, I saw him very ugly. It was a Dantesque show, I didn’t want to go back.”

Rodrigo González was a complex character. “He was a lonely guy, he didn’t open up too much. He also had a very dark side,” Ponce points out. He had an only daughter with Mireya Escalante, cumbia singer Amanda Lalena Escalante Amandititita, to whom he did not give his last name. The family defines the relationship as “tender”. Consulted by EL PAÍS, Lalena Escalante has declined to speak about her father, but in a text published in the Proceso weekly in 2015, she recalled him with bittersweet words: “Without fear of being wrong, I will say that I am not, thanks to Rockdrigo , but in spite of him (…) From the first years of my childhood I clearly remember a sweet man with glasses, a loving father”.

He also had a lighter, lighter, satirical side. “He was rude, but he was quite a funny person, very playful, even rudely rude. Very scatological. He liked to joke and fool you,” Ponce continues. He could also be observant: “My son was about to give birth when he died and he kept talking to me to see how the pregnancy was going,” recalls Eblén Macari.

He grew up in a house near the port of Tampico (Tamaulipas), where his father had a shipyard. From a young age he had contact with people from all over the world. He was an alert and nervous guy. “His youth consisted of three things: books, guitar and motorcycle,” says Genoveva González, his sister and executor of his songs. He remembers his brother touching him or arguing whenever his father found his marijuana.

Rockdrigo was an educated person who studied psychology and read Sigmund Freud and science fiction novels. “There was no TV in my house because my father said he got us high… We had a library of 5,000 books. We have always been very steeped in culture and art,” adds González.

Manifesto of the Cave Movement written by Rodrigo González 'Rockdrigo'. Manifesto of the Cave Movement written by Rodrigo González ‘Rockdrigo’. courtesy

Heavily influenced by Son Huastengo, a style that mixes African, Spanish and indigenous Huasteca roots, he soon learned to improvise over melodies. Years later, whenever someone pulled out a guitar, he would be the center of attention at parties. He never studied music, but he had great hearing. “A tango could move you just as much as a milonga,” says Fausto Arrellín. “He was a very unique musician: creative, imaginative, ironic, fantastic…” adds Jorge Pantoja, Rockdrigo’s representative.

“A myth has been created that is an impressive madness”

On September 15, 1985, the newspaper La Jornada celebrated her first year of life with a concert where Rockdrigo played. It would be the last for him. “We wanted to go inside to record the day of the quake. We made an appointment for the following Thursday, but we didn’t see each other again,” Arrellín recalls. A few days before the earthquake, Rockdrigo tried to contact Catana to invite him to play in a prison. “I was on another matter and I told him I can’t go. I called him at night and couldn’t find him. The day of the earthquake was terrible. I called him, I called him, I called him and the phone rang. He never answered.”

'Rockdrigo' González, on the roof of the building where he lived in the Juárez neighborhood of Mexico City in 1985.“Rockdrigo” González, on the roof of the building where he lived in the Juárez neighborhood of Mexico City in 1985. Paul Demeyere

There is a big gap between numbers 6 and 10 on Brussels Street, where building 8 is supposed to be: the house of Rodrigo González. Today it’s a parking lot: a memorial to nothingness, with no plaques or tributes to indicate that one of the most important composers of Mexican countercultural rock lived there. The only monument to him that exists in Mexico City is a statue in the Balderas metro station, to which the artist dedicated one of his most famous songs. Catana went to Brussels Street on the day of the earthquake.

— When we looked for him in Colonia Juárez, we thought it was a war zone. At that time an era came to an end.

The Arrellín brothers were also with him. Fausto ventured through the rubble of Rockdrigo’s house. There he saw the remains of the shipwreck: the coffee-colored guitar, the round glasses, his song-scribbled notebooks. “Everything was there, but I never found a script where I had typed more than 300 songs,” he regrets.

Fausto was one of the first musicians to accompany Rockdrigo. He knows firsthand what it was like fighting for the public when they started out in funky holes and party rooms. “Then a myth has already been made, which is impressive madness. There are three myths in Mexico,” he laughs, “that everyone has gone to [el festival] Avándaro, all founded the Tianguis del Chopo [un mercado contracultural] and the whole world met Rockdrigo.” “After his death, a lot of people showed up who said they knew him and were basically mythomaniacs who wanted to get closer to his work,” agrees Catana. “The Rockdrigo myth was invented. He wasn’t very famous in his day, he became famous later,” concludes Macari.

The statue honoring The statue honoring “Rockdrigo” González in the Balderas metro station, Mexico City Francisco Rodríguez (Cuartoscuro)

Her circumstances at the time were precarious. Fausto Arrellín explains it with the guitar used by Rockdrigo: “It couldn’t be tuned, the pegs were swept, held with rubber bands”. To electrify it, Edgar Arrellín placed a violin pickup on it: “The adhesive on the pickup came off and they stuck chewing gum to it at every concert.” Despite everything, Macari believes the musician’s work has transcended time: “We came from a Latin American era full of protest songs, and he started playing the blues. He was like a freak. It was necessary to reshape Latin America, but it was also important to draw a different vein from a Mexico that wasn’t given much importance at the time.

From Rockdrigo there are still 18 songs that have not seen the light, in the hands of the music journalist Pepe Návar. Both Návar and Genoveva González have confirmed to this newspaper that they have reached an agreement to publish them after years of disagreements and rights struggles. Návar hopes it will be sometime this year. The final legacy of an artist with the aura of legend: who began with a guitar through the streets of the federal district and ended with popular tributes in the rubble of one of the greatest disasters in Mexican history.

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