Erin d'Quincy Chats With Reinaldo García

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Erin d’Quincy MacLeod of Scene Magazine joins Reinaldo after his latest baseball game at Monterey’s Sollecito Field. Watching the next games from the stands, they discuss his new CD, the state of the world, and the world of the state.

Scene: No offense intended, Reinaldo, but your team really sucks.

RG: You think 10 to 7 is bad?Three weeks ago, we lost our opening game 26 to 1—it was, as they say, not as close as the final score would indicate!—and we’ve been losing our edge ever since.

Scene: But you went three-for-four, and handled some infield grounders nicely.

RG: It was a fluky three-for-four, Erin. Except for that sixth inning single down the line—WATCH OUT!

[Reinaldo barehands a foul ball just before it would have demolished my recently-lifted face.]

Scene: For a man of, what, 60, you’ve still got some reflexes, Reinaldo! [Beat] You played in various softball leagues for nine years. Why the switch to hardball?

RG: I was on a perennially winless co-ed team filled with slackers. One night I published a post-game report on my Facebook page in which I criticized the team for lack of hustle and attentiveness. A teammate saw it, and told our player/coach that he and his wife would quit the team because of my “negativity.” The player/coach ordered me to apologize to the team, face-to-face, in order not to be tossed off. I refused.

Three years ago, I was one of the original members of the team, and over time, as other players and their spouses joined, I saw the level of play decline. The dynamics of playing with women who were not college players—and I played with two Canisius all-league grads last year, and they were our team’s best players—that is, playing with women who don’t know the rules, and refuse to learn them, out of resistance to the “patriarchy,” is a total drag.

So I left playing with women behind for the time being and decided to join an all-men’s over 30 baseball league. Ninety foot bases; sixty feet, six inches from the pitcher’s mound to home plate; 360 feet to the fences; metal spikes, the whole kit and caboodle.

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Photo by Michael Mugan, age 8

Scene: Your player/coach chewed you out a lot during this game. What’s that about?

RG: There are few things more irksome in life than being condescended to by one’s inferiors. Except being chewed out by them.

Our coach is the wealthy son of a now-deceased TV legend, and I suspect he suffers from the syndrome that hurts many sons of famous fathers. Yet he has a sense of entitlement, and inflicts it in a bullying way. He considers himself a baseball genius, and he inflicts his ignorance on grown men by grousing at them like we’re idiot children.

Scene: Care to name him?

RG: No.

Scene: What was that all about today, in the second inning?

RG: Okay. The other team has a man on third, no outs. The player/coach—call him Hebrew Hitler—is at shortstop, and I’m playing third. The batter hits a hard two bouncer to me. I square up to throw the bolting runner out at home, and Hebrew Hitler’s screaming “Second! Go to second! Second!”

I stop in mid-throw and glance at second base. Not only is our second baseman not covering second, since there was no runner on first, there’s no runner to get out at second. So I throw the ball to first, too late. Result: a run in, a man on first, no out made.

I turned to Hebrew Hitler, and he said, “I meant to say go home with it. I don’t know why ‘second’ popped out of my mouth.”

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Photo by Michael Mugan, age 8

Scene: Later, you called out to one of your team’s batters to relax at the plate.

RG: And Hebrew Hitler yelled at me for that.

Scene: Why on earth?

RG: He said, “Our batters hate having negativity screamed at them while they’re at the plate. Also, it reveals a weakness to the other team.” Hebrew Hitler has also prohibited us from calling out to our catcher when a man is stealing, or advancing on a passed ball.

Scene: I’m not a baseball expert, but—

RG: Neither is Hebrew Hitler. He explained that we’re not allowed to call out to our catcher—who, by the way, specifically asked for us to call out to him on passed balls and stolen base attempts—because, according to Hebrew Hitler, “It gives information to the other team.”

Scene: But that’s insane. The other team already knows if they’re running.

RG: Go figure. According to this poseur’s Internet biography, he first picked up a bat when he was three years old. That makes him Casey Stengel.

Scene: Has your team won any games this season?

RG: No. Our average losing scores run something like 14-3. The other day, we were down 14-0. I’m at the plate with men on first and second. It’s a 1-0 count, and he calls out to me from the dugout. He gives me the take sign. The next pitch is right down the middle.

He calls out again. I’m thinking, “You better not give me another take sign.” Instead, he signals for a double steal.

Scene: With a 14-0 deficit?

RG: Yep. So I swing at the next pitch and foul it off. Hebrew Hitler’s glaring at me—his habitual demeanor—and I top a grounder to third on the next pitch. I thought I beat the throw to first by a step, but the umpire called me out. My teammates told me I was safe.

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Photo by Michael Mugan, age 8

I later asked the batter whom I’d advised to relax at plate if he’d heard me. He said no. I said, “If you had heard me, would you have considered it an offensive remark?” He said, “No, you were trying to help me, by reminding me to relax, because sometimes I get very tense at the plate, wanting so badly to help the team.” Then he said, “Look, this guy just needs to play ‘manager,’ and this is how he does it. Just ignore him.”

I’m hardwired to respect and obey my baseball manager, no matter the situation.

Scene: Describe your teammates.

RG: Well, this is an Over-30 league, and so my teammates are mostly middle-aged to late-middle-aged men who are established in life. We have a Japanese microbiologist, a recruiter for MIT, the ex-principal of my daughter’s charter school, a comparative religions teacher at an elite Salinas high school, a city planner for the city of Greenfield, an environmental scientist employed by San Benito County, an Air Force officer, an architectural designer for a major developer based in Gilroy, and the inkstained wretch sitting next to you. I apologize to those I missed.

My point is that I respect and love my teammates. They’re real men.

And let me tell you a happy baseball story. My daughter Victoria, then twelve, decided last November, after seeing how much fun I have on a diamond, that she wanted to play girls’ softball in the Spring of 2010. I inquired around town for a personal coach, and was given the name John Franklin.

I called John up for a lesson, and knew instantly that I was in the presence of a true master educator, in the mold of the late basketballl coach, John Wooden.

Scene: What’s so special about John Franklin?

RG: For starters, he begins at a player’s foundation. Not only that, he explains WHY he’s telling the player what to do, and he has a ton of perfect analogies and stories that illustrate to a beginner, on the beginner’s level, what is being demanded.

This includes explaining the physics of hitting.

Also, he’s extremely kind. John has two daughters who are athletes (one plays on his perpetual champion softball teams), and he has a sweet way with other fathers’ girls that most grown men are terrified, for good reason, to display.

John, who once was a Texas Rangers prospect, looks like the San Francisco Giants’ recently-acquired outfielder Pat Burrell, and he just turned 46.

Our first game, the one we lost 26-1, was against John’s team, the Seals. I faced him when he was pitching, and I’m proud to say I crushed his second pitch to me, hitting a wicked one bouncer to their shortstop, which he couldn’t handle. I ended up not on first base, but atop the world.

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Photo by Michael Mugan, age 8

My daughter’s been cursed with bad coaches in the organized leagues in which she’s played, and we’re praying that, somehow, she can be on a John Franklin-coached girls’ softball team next year.

Scene: You venerate excellence, don’t you?

RG: Yes, I do. And there’s so little of it around Monterey, that when I run into a John Franklin, I want to cry for joy, and to genuflect.

Scene: You get a lot of the big fish, small pond thing around here?

RG: Yes, and while it bothers me a bit to see local mediocrities treated like stars, while I’m basically shunned, I realized long ago that this is just one of the hurdles I’ll have to leap.

If I wrote in a way that was popular in Monterey, I’d be finished as an artist.

I cultivated a defiant stance long ago, due to family dynamics, and this has empowered me as a writer in a larger arena.

Scene: Speaking of which…

RG: Ah, the new CD!

Scene: The album title’s quite a mouthful.

RG: Everything Beautiful Must Be Broken. I debated lengthily over whether I should choose “Must Be,” “Will Be,” or “Shall Be Broken.” I like the stress of the chosen title.

Scene: Very Flannery O’Connor…

RG: Huh? [Beat] Oh yeah…Everything That Rises Must Converge.

Scene: But on hearing the song, I noted that it moves circularly, with the final message being “everything beautiful must be broken so that something new will emerge.”

RG: Yes, the Circle of Life, and all that.

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Scene: Shall we discuss the album as a whole?

RG: Sure. When I decide to do a CD, I go through my archives of voice/guitar demos and choose songs I’d like to hear with a full band approach. It’s nothing more than that. But later, when I have the songs in a group, and I’m thinking of sequencing them, a story always emerges, via simple juxtaposition.

I discovered this clever exercise in elementary school, when we’d have to put spelling words into sentences. I not only would put each word in a sentence, I’d make sure that each sentence connected with the following sentence, and told a story.

One time, I put each spelling word into a single sentence, and that single sentence wound around like a Mobius strip, telling a convoluted tale.

Scene: Garage, aardvark, lollipop.

RG: “In the garage, an aardvark ate a lollipop.” That was too easy, Erin.

Scene: Well, I’m properly known for feeding you softball questions.

RG: And so when I saw these songs in their chosen order—chosen for matters of flow and diversity, mainly—I saw a story, something similar to Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

Scene: I can’t grok that.

RG: Oh, please, Erin. Do we have to explain that to your readers?

Scene: Nah, they’re all aging baby boomer hipsters. They grokked it.

[Reinaldo calms himself with a deep breath. Then he counts to ten.]

RG: Anyway, I wrote the first song, Invitation, as a pre-1976 David Bowie song. I imagined Michael Rennie in The Day the Earth Stood Still

Scene: Wait, you mean of course Keanu Reeves.

RG: That was the feeble re-make, Erin. In the original, Michael Rennie and his robot Gort emerge from their flying saucer after it’s landed in, I think, Washington, D.C., and Rennie ends up addressing the people of planet Earth about our lowdown ways.

And that’s how I saw the first song, the opening of which I paraphrased from Rumi, the Persian poet: “Don’t look at my face. / See what I have in my hands. / I hold the key,” etc. Too often, spiritual teachers become fetishes of a cult of personality, and their message gets lost.

Scene: I’m intrigued by the last verse: “I was chosen for this task / By the Elders who tested me. / They never did ask. / Now I’ve come to set you and me free / On the stairway to the stars.”

RG: That’s a sly autobiographical insert that serves as a plot motivator. I was groomed by my family to become a plumber; this alien savior was groomed by his Elders to come to earth to educate us. Instead, he sees his chance to revolt, and to free humanity in the process. It’s as though he’s become a rogue agent.

During the process, he must endure the inevitable suffering that comes to beings on our planet.

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Scene: Next song: I Fall in Love (A Hundred Times a Day).

RG: The next several songs describe how our extraterrestrial savior—call him Jawa Caleb—encounters the pitfalls of earthly sensuality. I wrote these lyrics in Cuernavaca in 1989, then set ‘em to music twenty years later.

This song exactly describes what I felt when I, an alien, walked the streets of Latin America. The women were so different from American ladies, who’ve been damaged by certain aspects of feminism. You smile at Latin American women, they smile back, instead of applying for a restraining order.

Scene: This leads into Consider Me.

RG: I wrote this lyric about the same time as the previous song. I believe I was pursuing a Mexican filmmaker, and wrote it for her. It was set to music a year or so later, when I returned to America, by a New England composer named Mark Alexander.

Scene: Next up, The Miracle I Live With.

RG: This one is for my wife Alma Sandra, written while we lived above rural Felton, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in 1992. Fett, the Nashville studio owner who produced the song from my voice/guitar demo, surprised me by saying he heard it as a Cajun thing. I told him to go whole Mardi Gras with it.

What’s happening here in my improvised “story” is that our alien savior has discovered women, yearning, and now ecstatic domesticity.

The next song, Alive in the Kingdom of Infinite Space, composed in late 2008, was inspired by my designated muse, a local actress who agreed to let me write songs and a theater piece about her, before she returned to Seattle in the summer of 2009.

After she departed, I wrote Goddess, She Gone. This and the two previous songs, plus the first two on the CD, were produced by Fett, based on my voice/guitar demos. I absolutely adore how this one came out, and I’d love to make a video of it, using a drag queen as “goddess.”

Scene: Back When You Believed in Me is an odd piece of work.

RG: Sure is. I wrote the lyric as a kind of general lamentation about America’s diminished place in the world. But it can also work in this context of the alien savior’s disappointment.

The music was composed by my old friend Andrew Wleklinski, now living in Pittsburgh. I last saw Andrew in 1980, when he departed Gualala, California for Austin, Texas, where he met the singer named Lorenda who became his wife. They now have two daughters.

Andrew is a reed player and a disciple of saxophonist Ornette Coleman. His music for this song is interesting in the fact that the verse melodies don’t repeat themselves. And then there’s that nice coda, with the key change.

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Scene: White Trash in Your City sure comes out of left field.

RG: The previous song mentions “barbarians at the gate” and “flags of skull and bones.” The singer’s persona in White Trash is that malign presence. I imagine him looking something like The Joker from the Batman movies.

The song was not written for this context. I composed it to retaliate against the big city smugness I encounter when I travel to Los Angeles for the annual TAXI music convention. But I think it fits nicely in this sequence of songs.

Scene: Which brings us to Aida. This one clocks in at nearly six-and-a-half minutes, with bagpipes and an Irish harp. What’s the story here?

RG: While in Los Angeles at the November 2008 TAXI convention, I ventured to Studio City the day after the presidential election, and breakfasted at the Aroma Café, on its outdoor patio. This place is a dream. Not only is the food spectacular, they have a bookstore on the premises.

The patio was abuzz with exaltation over Obama’s victory. All these showbiz types were yapping into their cell phones, exclaiming that they’d gotten their country back.

I pulled out my legal pad and wrote some lyrics called Obamanation, which I set to music when I returned to Monterey. I have to say that my lyrics were prescient, given Obama’s current woeful predicament.

Here are the lyrics:

Obamanation

He’s the feelgood guy, the empty slate.
You’re half-asleep, you feel great.
You joined the mob, you shed your skin.
You lost your mind, you earned your win.
                       
            Obamanation

National health, it’s been worse.
Let’s spread the wealth. You go first.
Take a number. Take a seat.
Stand in line. Take a week. Or two.

            Obamanation

           
                        The seas will fall, the earth will mend.
                        It’s paradise, before the end.
                       
The seas will fall, the earth will mend.
                        It’s paradise, before the end.

Overseas, they love us now.
Wait a year, he’ll bow down.
He’ll bend the way the willow bends.
Our enemies, they’ll be our friends. For now.

            Obamanation

The seas will part, the earth will mend.
                        It’s paradise, before the end.

 

Copyright 2010  NADJA MUSIC  Reinaldo García
Lyrics: November 5, 2008  Music: February 25, 2009  Aroma Café, Studio City, CA

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After paying for breakfast, I went to the bookstore, and there at the cash register was a young Middle Eastern woman of unearthly beauty. I felt unworthy in her presence, and I couldn’t breathe.

There was some beautiful Middle Eastern-influenced music drifting from the bookstore’s speakers. I forced air into my lungs and asked her about the music. She told me the artist’s name, and asked if I’d like her to burn a copy for me. I said yes. She gave me her name, and said it would be waiting for me by the following Sunday, when I was driving back to Monterey.

Her name, she said, was Aida Chaldranyan. I later did a google search and found that an Aida Chaldranyan is an aspiring film director. But the photo I found didn’t resemble the young woman in the bookstore.

Scene: It’s possible she gave you a fake name. Women in public situations do that sort of thing.

RG: Anyway, the song fits our central character’s general sense of desolation on planet Earth. He’s fallen into the trap of the senses, and of biology’s imperatives. He can’t have the woman of his dreams. He’s crushed.

Scene: You sound here like Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band.

RG: Circa 1967! Thanks, Erin!

Scene: Which brings us to the title track.

RG: I believe I wrote these lyrics in 2008, and was trying, as I often do, to contain the entire world in a song. I love the grandiosity of it. Reminds me of Peter Townshend in the late 1960s.

Scene: Young Andrew Parker set this and the final song to music.

RG: Yes. Andrew told me he was seeking lyrics with a sense of majesty to them. I don’t write a lot of those, in the way that “majesty” is normally understood.

The recording of this song was torturous. For starters, I had a documentarian in the studio, videotaping the entire proceedings.

As luck would have it, the drummer, whom I’d used before when he played saxophone, was deep into a heroin addiction of which I became aware only weeks later. Take after take after take was ruined by his inability to play the song all the way through. The bass player, who’s always absolutely prepared and efficient, was disgusted, and nearly walked out. (He has since declined invitations to play on my recordings.)

Andrew Parker played all of the guitars. Richard Bryant saved the song by diddling with the drummer’s work via computer, and Richard added keyboards. Then Richard did an amazing job on the vocals.

When he mixed the song, Richard edited out the last verse, making the song go straight from the bridge to the final chorus. That was the right decision, and I endorsed it.

Scene: What’s the omitted verse?

RG: Here it is: “Live a lie just to survive.  / Keep the fading dream alive. / Truth’s revealed when truth is spoken. / Everything beautiful must be broken.”

Scene: That’s beautiful.

RG: Yes. The idea was to ratchet the song down from the high intensity of the bridge, and use this verse to take a breath, and rebuild to the climax. But it just made the song drag.

I was never satisfied with the mix. When Aaron Rauber returned from a recording school in Los Angeles with a degree in sound engineering, I had him take a whack at it, and Aaron was able to get the sense of depth and dimension I wanted.

Around that time, the drummer sent me a series of emails telling me what a no-talent loser he thinks I am. The drummer has since gone into rehab, and has made the usual round of apologies to people he hurt during his addiction.

I’m still waiting for mine. He cost me money and a lot of hassle. But that’s what addicts do, and I’m going to be more vigilant in the future about substance abuse in my co-workers.

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Scene: The Prince is like nothing you’ve ever done.

RG: That’s entirely due to Andrew’s Stevie Wonder phase. He was even able to procure the drum track for, I believe, Superstition, and we used that as our foundation. Later, drummer Tim Burke recorded live drums, and improved the track accordingly. Then Richard Bryant, whose first musical love seems to be rhythm and blues, and his old friend Joy Bonner, a plucky Arkansan, supplied the vocals.

I originally planned to have The Prince be the album’s opening track, since it’s about New Beginnings.

Scene: But it really works, coming at the end, because it serves as a kind of resurrection.

RG: Exactly, Erin. Our alien savior comes to earth, and instead of contracting human diseases, a la War of the Worlds, he contracts human longings, and suffers worldly tribulations.

But these sufferings only educate and harden him, steeling him for true leadership: “Decades of training have steeled him. / He’s harder than metal. / Spiritual training has healed him. / He’s mastered the devil.”

Scene: “Welcome the Prince, all hail the Prince. / Look at the gifts that he brings.
/ All hail the new king!”

[We watched the baseball game peter out. The players lined up at home plate and congratulated each other with high fives.]

Scene: What’s with the cover photo?

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Cornell University Magazine salutes alumnus Richard Fariña

RG: That Richard Fariña’s gravesite, in the Monterey cemetery across the street. Fariña was killed in an April 1966 in a motorcycle accident on Carmel Valley Road, the day he’d had a publication party thrown in his honor at the nearby Thunderbird Bookstore. His first and only novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, made its debut later that week. Richard Fariña, aged 29, died on his young wife Mimi’s 21st birthday.

Scene: Wasn’t she Joan Baez’s younger sister?

RG: Yes, indeed. She and Richard released two albums of original folk material before his death. Because of sister-in-law Joan’s close relationship with Bob Dylan, Richard and Robert were often thrown together, and became fierce artistic rivals. Fariña’s last recorded song, released posthumously, is called Morgan the Pirate, and it’s about his relationship with Dylan.

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Richard Fariña, reciting poetry at Los Angeles' Troubadour

Scene: Who himself suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident a month later, near Woodstock, New York.

[The next baseball game is commencing.]

Scene: You dedicated the CD to Yukio Mishima. Who was he?

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Yukio Mishima

RG: Born in 1925 in Japan, Yukio’s father apparently made him wear dresses and play with girls’ toys. (I’m speaking from memory, but do recall for sure that Yukio Mishima was a pen name.) He eventually married and fathered two children. A bestselling author and playwright, Mishima soon realized his bisexuality, and his belief that Japan had become too Westernized. He wanted a return to the days of the emperor, and he formed an all-male militia called the Tatenokai, or Shield Society, that met on weekends at a mountain retreat.

During this period, when he was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, he took up weightlifting, and Mishima posed for many dramatic black and white photos. In one, wearing only a loincloth, he’s splayed across a motorcycle; in another, he’s tied to a tree a la Saint Sebastian, pierced by arrows.

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Mishima as Saint Sebastian

Remember, this is pre-David Bowie—who himself was radically influenced by Japanese esthetics and rituals.

Scene: “Like some cat from Japan”!

RG: In November 1970, moving like tigers on Vaseline, Mishima and four members of his gang entered the Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan's Self-Defense Forces. They tied the commandant to his chair, and then Mishima stepped outside on the balcony and attempted to rally the troops to his cause. They jeered him.

Mishima went inside and committed seppuku. Then his men beheaded him.

In 1985, Paul Schrader made a biopic of Mishima called Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Philip Glass composed the music for this very unconventional film.

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Mishima poster, 1966

People often play a game called “Which Historical Figure Would You Like to Dine With?”  Yukio Mishima, who spoke wonderful English, is in my Top Ten.

Scene: I’d be careful when he picks up his steak knife! [laughing] I’m reminded of that scene in Annie Hall, when Diane Keaton tells Woody Allen that all of the books he ever gave her had death in the title. You’ve got a dead man’s grave on the CD cover, and you’ve dedicated your album to a gorgeous, suicidal maniac. And you’ve chosen to meet me at a ballpark named for a dead baseball player.

RG: Well, Erin, everything beautiful must be broken.

[Frankie Sollecito Park, Monterey, California    October 2010]

[Erin d’Quincy MacLeod is the Style Editor for Scene Magazine.]

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