Every year on his syndicated radio show “Country Classics,” DJ Rick Jackson compiles a playlist called “Creepy Country.” He claims to do this in honor of Halloween, but I know he’s really observing All Souls’ Day, since most of the songs are about death. And every year I’m amazed at the full spectrum of Death Takes available to country listeners: doomed (“I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”), hard-ass (“Delia’s Gone”), gleeful (“Goodbye Earl”), mawkish (“Paper Rosie”), legit heartswelling (“Riding With Private Malone”), campy creepy (any number of songs about people having conversations/dinner/sex with trucker ghosts), and just plain making fun of the whole enterprise (Steve Goodman’s deathless cover of “Strange Things Happen In This World” — “Undaunted, our hero plunges on!” — which, OK, wasn’t any kind of country hit, but Jackson still spun it one year). I shouldn’t be amazed. Death being even more universal than love, it makes sense that country singers would confront all the spectre’s faces, from sublime to ridiculous.
Same with norteño singers; maybe especially the same with narco singers. Narco singers sing about drug traffickers. Drug traffickers obsess about death for a living — how to avoid it, how to cause it, the value of lives and what happens when those lives end. Stands to reason that narcos, as depicted in song, would meditate extensively upon death and give varying answers to those questions. I won’t pretend this is anything other than a spooky coincidence, but the best songs on the U.S. hit parade this Día de Muertos capture several such meditations.
EL FANTASMA THUMPS CHEST FOR DEAD HOMIES:
NorteñoBlog first noticed “Vengo a Aclarar,” the second narcocorrido hit for man-myth-legend El Fantasma, when it entered the radio chart way back in June. It remains in the top 10 thanks to an irresistible tune, shaggy brass charts, and some vivid character study. El Fantasma rasps in the persona of someone named “El Orejón,” whom a Hasty Cartel Google reveals to be a real dude. As always, the Blog turns to corridos for life lessons more than factual exactitude or specific (Gulf) cartel allegiances. Our antihero’s hardscrabble origins have taught him that “el oficio no importa, solo la humilidad” — the job doesn’t matter, only humility. Pretty sure that’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.” I’ll see myself to the stake now.
Also like Jesus, El Fantasma’s narrator has love for the underdog — in his case, two cholo primos named Travieso and Slick — and finds himself singing among a great company of a thousand saints looking down on him from heaven. This is pop-bro spirituality in the vein of “See You Again” or “I’ll Be Missing You,” opened up to include a great cloud of witnesses. Of course, El Orejón might very well be responsible for killing some of those witnesses, so your sympathy may vary, but it’s a compelling portrait anyway.
VALE LA PENA
GERARDO ORTIZ CHRONICLES KILLER FROM HEAVEN: Continue reading “Desfile de Muertos 11/4/17”