Sunday, December 28, 2014

Writing for The Washington Post and how Hialeah's Humbert helped


Hialeah's Humbert and lead singer (and good friend/justice-of-the-peace-at-my brother Juan's-wedding) Ferny Coipel's marketing antics at South by South are partly to blame for landing my first gig at The Washington Post.

Here's how the story goes: I was about four months away from getting out of the Navy. Looking to kick start my too-long-dream-deferred of being a music journalist, I went to South by Southwest primarily to make some contacts and, as a nice bonus, to enjoy what can only be described as an ass-ton of live music.

Armed with a shoulder bag full of resumes and a hit list of people to meet, I was on my way. The people on my hit list who were on some kind of panel were easy enough to accost. I simply waited until the panel was over and made my move.

But then-Washington Post pop music critic Josh Freedom Du Lac - number one on my hit list - was a different story: it was like finding THE needle in the haystack mosh pit. With about 12,000 to 16,000 registrants to the music conference alone (the Film and Interactive portions draw about 32,000 registrants), finding Du Lac was borderline stupid ambition. Even so, I knew what the dude looked like and my Myers-Briggs-certified, introvert personality was ready to make a concession and approach a total stranger.

I arrived in Austin on a Tuesday, checked into my log cabin a few miles away from the convention center. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: no luck running into Du Lac. By Saturday, I had given up hope and decided to enjoy my last night without trying to give my 30-second elevator speech or hand off any more resumes (all terribly draining for an introvert type, you see). I had mapped out my strategy for who I would go watch on the last night - you have to do this, what with literally hundreds of bands playing simultaneously and all vying for your attention.

Among the must-see for me were Humbert, if for no other reason than to support my brother Juan's good friends. Early in the evening, I ran into Ferny and the other members of Humbert and their elaborate marketing contraption, which involved a generator, some speakers, a projector and a Red Flyer wagon. They were blasting their music and projecting videos on just about any flat vertical surface they could find along Austin's famed Sixth Street - ground zero for the SXSW concerts.

Their marketing ploy along with learning that they would be playing the not-ideal Blender Balcony Showcase at The Ritz, requiring coming off Sixth Street and going up stairs to a loft-type venue, only reaffirmed my commitment to show up. Despite their heroic efforts to promote themselves, there were only a handful of people by the time Humbert came on. Despite this or perhaps because of this, Humbert delivered a blistering, intimate set.

As I'm lost in their psychedelic candy grooves, I look over and notice a guy with a reporter's notebook taking notes. Holy effen hell, it's Du Lac! Of all the places and just about at the 11th hour, I found the dude. After their set, I approached him trying to keep my enthusiasm somewhat in check, so I don't scare him off. I gave him my spiel about being this guy getting out of the Navy trying to pursue this crazy dream, yada, yada, yada. I asked him what brought him to see Humbert. He was captivated by their marketing tactics. I handed him my resume. He gave me his card.

Long story short: A few weeks later, he assigned me my first concert review for The Washington Post, which led to getting hired by The Post and four-year residency there as a communications consultant and an on-and-off freelance music and now travel journalist. To this day, Du Lac's card, along with my first published article for The Post on Juan Gabriel, hang in my house framed. This is a little Christmas gift from the Humbert boys - their rendition of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The still immortal Chespirito: Roberto Gómez Bolaños dies at 85

Comedic genius? Absolutely. Perhaps, second only to the legendary Cantinflas. A renaissance man? You judge: Roberto Gómez Bolaños was quite an accomplished screenwriter, actor, comedian, film director, television director, playwright, songwriter, and author. Nicknamed "Chespirito" an easier-to-pronounce modification of "Shakespearesito" (Little Shakespeare), Bolaños, for me, achieved the seemingly impossible task of eternal youth on screen. When so many actors resort to botox and other "physical modifications," Chespirito was all about the delivery. He remained convincingly young and energetic in many of the roles he played: Chapulín Colorado (a sheepish superhero), el Chavo del Ocho (a little orphan boy who lived in a barrel), Chompilas (an incompetent but endearing petty burglar). His mannerisms and physical comedy made you forget there was a grown man behind the characters he played even though he did little to conceal the growing wrinkles, laugh lines and facial creases. In this regard, he was and will always be like no other. In this regard, he, his work and his legacy will remain immortal. "¡Síganme los buenos!" - one of his many, many catchphrases: "Good people, follow me!" Even though this report is in Spanish, you can still get a glimpse of Chespirito's brilliance in his physical comedy:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Exhilarated in Ecuador: The Photos

These photos somewhat correspond with my travel piece about our recent vacation to Ecuador, published in The Washington Post, titled, "Exhilarated in Ecuador, with time on his side" on Nov. 23. It's an article about how cathartic and liberating travel can be when you stop vacationing in a rush and slow down to take it all in. In my case, it even made me a better parent. Enjoy.

Weekly Music Recommendation: King Krule

Someone’s finally done it or at least no one's done it so convincingly: this self-appointed Brit monarch mixes elements of jazz and punk (and hip-hop and electronica) with a stiff-upper lip sneer. Anarchy in the U.K., indeed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Haochi Waves release "Peggy"

Miami art rockers Haochi Waves released their second album "Peggy." It's available now. In full disclosure, my brother Juan Oña is the drummer and his wife and my sister-in-law Farina Mackliff is the bassist, along with their friend Didi Aragon on guitar. So I really can't praise it or slam it. Listen at your own peril, but know if you download the album, you're supporting hard-working musicians trying to make a few bucks to support their passion. Here's a youtube clip of the title track:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Weekly Music Recommendation: Leonard Cohen

What God’s voice would sound like IF he were a man… A cavernous baritone able to rattle mineral deposits off stalactites and stalagmites. At 80, he’s never sounded better on his new album “Popular Problems.”

Friday, November 14, 2014

Weekly Music Recommendation: Benjamin Booker

Though his blend of hyperkinetic blues and soul is more Sex Pistols than “Blind” Willie Johnson, he’s equally indebted to both. Based in New Orleans, Booker’s hurry-up guitar offense is giving a city already known for its rich musical heritage something else to call its own.