Gustavo Arellano’s Weekly, Canto XXVI: Songs in the Key of Life Trips

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Gentle cabrones:
If you really, really, REALLY know me, you’ll know that I love, love, LOVE music.
The earliest memory I have—even earlier than of my parents—is of listening to Del Shannon’s “Runaway” in my dad’s old jade-green Thunderbird. One of the few things I’ve stolen in my life was The Beatles’ Past Masters Vol. 2 from some random warehouse store off Orangethorpe in Anaheim/Fullerton, when I was in eighth grade.
I started my journalism career writing about rock en español (one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me: rockero god Enrique Lopetegui said that when I came on the scene, all of the other rock en español writers at the time looked at each other and said the game was over—Clapton had arrived).
Hell, I still buy CDs. Hell, I still listen to radio stations.
I like most genres, and hate none. And I love to affix meanings to songs at different points in my life.
Hence, a listicle for this canto.
Just came back from a fast road trip—SanTana to Denver to ABQ to Tucson to SanTana in five days (if I didn’t tell you I was rolling into town, it’s because it was all WERK). And after I listened to all the Howard Stern repeats, Sternthologies, and wrap-ups (Benjy tries WAY too hard), I started flipping through SiriusXM: Classic Vinyl and 1st Wave and 70s on 70 and even Yacht Rock Radio.

And I began to think.

As I wrote before, I didn’t really start to travel until about 12 years ago—and I haven’t stopped since. And I can break up those years into five eras, each with their own theme song.

YouTube screen grab. Mexicans also generally like Sally Field. But Burt? Looks like mi Tío Gabriel…
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GUSTAVO HITS MANHATTAN

“I’ve Got a Feeling,” The Beatles

My earliest travels were to New York City, as I found my book agent, appeared on The Today Show and The Colbert Report, and got my book deals—about five trips in spring 2006, when I had only been on a plane once before. Folks still used iPods in those days, so I liked nothing better than to walk from Chelsea (where my agent had his office) to Midtown.

And I’d always start my jaunt with this song from Let it Be. It’s classic McCartney-Lennon optimism-weariness—hope and cynicism, then both mixed in the end. As I was starting a completely new life, I was wary but ready to take it on.

GUSTAVO HITS THE COLLEGE CIRCUIT

“Homeward Bound,” Simon & Garfunkel

From 2007 to about 2011, I was doing at least 20 lectures a year across the country for my former columna. I traveled everywhere from the University of Minnesota, Morris to SUNY Lake Oswego to University of South Carolina Upstate to every major university in Denver—even Johnson & Wales!

They were fun, and some of you first heard of me through them—but the invites dried up a long time ago. It happens. I eventually tired of all the plane trips and 6 a.m. flights from the East Coast back home. So I’d eventually play “Homeward Bound” to soothe my spirits. I’ve ALWAYS loved Simon & Garfunkel, and few songs capture a longing for home (as opposed to a homeland—“Rocky Top” and “Canción Mixteca” win THAT race) as this tune.

GUSTAVO HITS THE ROAD

“Personal Jesus,” Depeche Mode

I don’t particularly like this song—Depeche Mode in general to me is whatever—but I have an indelible reference point to this New Waver: around 3 p.m. on a Saturday in late July or early August, just past Clines Corner in New Mexico as my wife and I speed down I-40 to get to Amarillo by 9 p.m. CST.

The song means my mujer and I are on vacation, on our way to the South. And the song is so chugging that I actually feel like the Yukon I’m driving is an iron horse—or is it the fact I haven’t stopped driving since 3 a.m. that morning?

GUSTAVO HITS THE PEDAL

“East Bound and Down,” Jerry Reed

Real Mexicans LOVE trucking movies, car movies, campiness, Jackie Gleason and Burt Reynolds. That means we play Smokey and the Bandit on a loop whenever possible. This song ALWAYS plays in my head when I have to be somewhere by a certain time, and can you blame me? Bluegrass, a story, the Bandit—man, I should’ve been a trockero

GUSTAVO HITS THE FUTURE?

“The Circle Game,” Joni Mitchell

True story: I learned this song at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting when I was in sixth grade (my dad’s been sober for 35 years now!). Remembered it when I saw it on an episode of The Wonder Years. Then I didn’t think about it for nearly 20 years until this past year—I always liked “Coyote” better, anyway, because Joni jams on that one.

But damnit if “The Circle Game” isn’t one of the most gorgeous, wistful tracks ever created—two traits that definitely aren’t part of my wheelhouse. But I now play this one right as the 91 turns into the 55, minutes away from my P.O. Box of a casa. To ground me. What’s the future? It always changes, it’s always a bit melancholic because nothing is forever.

But, unlike what Joni sang (and like what Satchel Paige said), I never look back—because Buford T. Justice might be gaining on me.

**

Enough ranting. This was the semana that was:

READING: New York’s Flower District Is Dying”: I LOVE stories like this—deep dives into industries, complete with history, raw numbers, and mini-profiles. Too many people are removed from people outside of their particular chambas. Besides, Bloomberg generally kills it. Now, how to write for them…

GUSTAVO’S GREAT #TORTILLATOURNAMENT, ROUND ONE

Don’t forget, folks: My big project for the next month is a #tortillatournament with KCRW where we’re matching up 64 tortilla makers (32 corn, 32 flour) against each other. Round One is over, and here are the results. If you’re in Southern California, por favor RSVP to the finale on Sept. 16 at 3 p.m. At the L.A. River Center and Gardens in Cypress Park, where the four finalists will give out samples. The event is FREE—GO GO GO!!!

Gustavo in the News

“Coast Packing Co. to Sponsor Gustavo’s Great #TortillaTournament With KCRW’s Evan Kleiman; Will it Be Corn or Flour?”: A big thanks to Coast Packing Co, for sponsoring the #TortillaTournament. They make the finest lard around, folks—dump your Farmer John’s!

“No, Tucker Carlson, los tacos no son de San Diego: aquí la historia de su origen”: While I was on my trip, FOX News dweeb Taco Carlson ridiculously claimed that tacos aren’t Mexican. If ever there was a smackdown for me, that was it—but I had WERK. Here, Univisión cites my work to take on the pendejo.

Section from Sergio O’Cadiz’s legendary 600-foot mural in Fountain Valley, long destroyed by Orange County—stay classy, OC!

Gustavo’s Stories:

“Happy birthday, Pete Wilson. And thanks: You made California what it is”: My latest California columna for the Los Angeles Times takes a sardonic approach to the Pito that not enough people read because I think they thought I was being serious. KEY QUOTE:Gracias for inspiring two of the most hilarious death-metal songs ever: “Matando Güeros” (“Killing White People”) and “Raza Odiada” (“Hated Race”), both by Brujería. I certainly hope that you take their mock-assassination skit as satire at its finest, instead of a bona fide threat.”

“Murals under Siege”: My latest for Alta is a subject close to me: the destruction of Chicano murals. Did commentary on a photo essay based on the spectacular exhibit-book ¡Murales Rebeldes!—go see it, and buy the book. KEY QUOTE: “¡Murales Rebeldes! focuses on seven case studies from SoCal—all gorgeous pieces on their own that faced censorship, desecration or outright destruction for merely existing. The photos are simultaneously inspiring and stomach-churning. Who would want to sully such beautiful things?”

“When The U.S. Government Tried To Replace Migrant Farmworkers With High School Jocks”: My latest for NPR’s The Salt dives into the archives to unearth a bizarre federal program. KEY QUOTE: “But the one project that Carter regrets never working on is a script he wrote that got optioned twice but was never produced. It’s about the summer a then-17-year-old Carter and thousands of American teenage boys heeded the call of the federal government … to work on farms.”

You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc. And don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres!