Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Juan Garcia Esquivel Cult In Southern California

My little family and I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. Our goals in doing so were many. The goals for my wife and me anyway, my first son was five at the time and his goals were still very simple. We moved for the better weather, of course, but there was more too it.

We moved to get away from our parents, for one thing. My father-in-law was an almost inoffensive man, but the other three were perfect devils. Moving three thousand miles away from them was like taking off tight shoes. I had my own reasons for moving, reasons unstated at the time. In New York, I had too many friends that reinforced my bad habits. It was way too easy to buy just any old damn thing that we fancied. There were too many distractions, and my friends and I were weak to temptation. I had a nice little family, so why not try to cooperate with that good fortune? Maybe devote more time to that enterprise, instead of wasting it on frivolity? That was the idea anyway.

My only marketable skill at the time was a deep familiarity with the entire catalog of commercially available recorded music. Rock, pop, jazz, classical, the entire Phonolog. Prices, labels, the ways of the business, the whole thing. So I ended up working in the central warehouse for a chain of twenty-nine record stores. It's defunct now, so I can give you the name without endangering anyone's privacy or peace of mind. It was the Licorice Pizza chain. They had the most generous “no hassle” return policy of all time, so there was a constant flow of returned records. I bounced around the place for a few months and then ended up in returns to vendors.

It wasn't a bad job. The turnover was high, so within a year or so I was running the department and supervising about half a dozen guys and girls. It was fun, actually, way too much fun, you could say. All of a sudden, I was working with almost fifty people who all shared my bad habits. Free access to the main rock and roll clubs every night, with two free drinks no less. Hippies parked their vans outside during our breaks to sell us things. My wife and I got away from our parents, we got our terrific weather, we got a much better school and neighborhood environment for our son, but frivolity was still my middle name. It worked out okay, so no worries. In fact, a lot of good came of it.

My musical tastes at the time were a bit off center. I was already listening to the full range of German free rock and trance music; I enjoyed computer music (yes, there already was such a thing); I owned some soundtrack records; I was buying and listening to music from several African countries; the English and American acts that I loved were considered odd and had, with few exceptions, little commercial potential; I was in the process of discovering Japanese rock; and to my the amazement of my friends from coast to coast, I also loved ABBA and Dolly Parton. In New York I was considered a weirdo; in Los Angeles it was all socially acceptable.

All of a sudden I had friends who liked most of those things, and who also enjoyed listening to sound effects records; old stereo demonstration records; Italian pop music; and that strange electronic lounge jazz that was in the mix during the late 1950s and early 1960s. I had two friends who loved Juan Garcia Esquivel, and those records appealed to me as well. I got hold of a couple at a used record store and played them back at the house.

In the meantime, two friends from New York had also migrated to L.A., coming to rest in an apartment in Hollywood. They were over one Saturday, and I casually put on one of the Esquivel records. One guy knew immediately what it was, and he went into shock.

Where did you get that?”

I told him about my friends, and purchasing the record locally. “So,” he marveled, “there's an Esquivel cult in Southern California.” He made it sound like a terrible prospect.

The three of us were trying to figure out this new culture that now surrounded us, so at first my friend tried to make sense of it by making it a California thing. We were trying to understand Californians, who appeared to us in many ways quite sophisticated and in other ways extremely naive; sometimes having a well developed ascetic sense and other times seeming mentally deranged. Then I broke the news to my friend that the offending Esquivel fans were transplants from Cleveland, Ohio.

Ohio! Round at the ends and hi in the middle! I explained to them that it was not so strange. It was common knowledge in the record selling business that the Ohio/Ann Arbor axis was where the biggest fans and purchasers of Kraut Rock lived. The local bands could also be distinctly odd. How big a leap is it from Destroy All Monsters! and Pere Ubu to Esquivel? Especially for guys who were already deeply involved with Ennio Morricone and Henry Mancini?

The world is often a strange place, and connecting the dots can be interesting. Thank God, I suppose. It would be a deadly dull place otherwise. Second moral: it's good to have interesting friends from whom you can learn new things.

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