Friday, August 12, 2011

L is for Los Lobos

What?!!! How could L possibly be for anything other than Led Zeppelin?!!!

Hey, Zeppelin is obviously the greatest rock band of all time. No arguments there. But when I heard the theme from the Disney Jr. program Handy Manny the other day, I remembered just how criminally underappreciated Los Lobos have been for the last few decades.

I'm not even sure these guys are even "that band that did 'La Bamba'" any more... they might have disappeared from the general consciousness completely. I once drunkenly called The Wolves the "quintessential American band of our generation" (God, I used to love saying shit like that!). I mean, they had their paws (get it?) in the L.A. punk scene, roots rock, trad/Chicano, country, straight-up songwriting, textural production, you name it! These guys could, and did do anything and everything.

Up until the early '90s (I say "up until" because they were a full-fledged working and recording band in the fucking seventies!) it looked like LL might end up in the "great band, good records" file. The Neighborhood was pretty great, but Kiko is absolutely brilliant. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more rock solid record (minimum 50 min.) in the decade. No fat at all on this fucker. At least four songs can bring a grown man to tears, and a few might even inspire you to actually make something out of your life. "Short Side of Nothing" is the one of the greatest songs about the American experience, fuck that, the human experience ever written.

Don't get me wrong here. Their first couple of records (and EP) are great, and might actually document their live sound even better than their production-oriented stuff. But the fact that they took a chance and made Kiko, Latin Playboys (sort of), and Colossal Head was extraordinary. Tripping out to the beautiful "Ten Believers" and then getting your ass destroyed by "Mas y Mas" is the musical equivalent of jumping out of a jacuzzi and into the Arctic Ocean. No, they're not even on the same record, but I used to love doing this anyway.

Me and my music buddies (all huge fans) went to see Los Lobos play at some damn amusement park in Rhode Island right after Kiko came out. We were fucking corndogs-- smoking bad weed on a roller coaster, chugging big cans of beer, generally having fun. The band kicked ass, and we got so excited that we decided to "sneak backstage" after the show. We basically just walked into their dressing area, sat down, and started drinking their beer and eating their food. I think someone from the club followed us and was waved off by one of the band members, for reasons I still can't comprehend. Maybe we rattled off enough trivia about their discography to stay? Maybe they wanted to hear more about our band (doubt it!)? Maybe they were just plain bored (yep).

Regardless, we hung out with Los Lobos for what seemed like hours, and managed to keep what I remember to be actual conversations with these fine gentlemen. Steve Berlin was talking about early '80s Los Angeles, Louie Perez revealed recording secrets involving Pete Thomas, Conrad Lozano gave some tax advice (I'm not kidding!)... they really seemed comfortable shooting the shit with a bunch of drunken strangers. The only guy that wasn't interested at all was Cesar Rosas-- he had his headphones on for the entire ordeal.

Eventually it was my turn to sit alone with David Hidalgo, which was probably the most exciting "celebrity experience" I've ever had. This guy is one of the best songwriters, vocalists, and guitarists I've ever heard. Period. He sat there and listened, then looked me in the eye and said, "Just play music." Fucking amazing.

In other Mexican-American music news, "Low Rider Madness" by A Lighter Shade of Brown was my very favorite song for a few months. That was a weird period for me.

Let's salute Last Exit, Large Professor, Labradford, the Libertines, Lighting Bolt, Suede, Love, Nick Lowe, and Skynyrd while we're at it. And Led Zeppelin, who probably wouldn't have let me and my friends hang out with them backstage and drink their beer and eat their sandwiches.

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