Backstage at the Casino de Viña, I’m introducing myself to some of the touring band members, “Have you been introduced to the Maestro?..the Monster,” asks the cellist jokingly.
The “Maestro” he’s referring to is no other than Latin American rock legend Charly Garcia. For the 95% of you who have never before heard that name, Charly (Charlie, the Y is an artistic choice) is widely considered by critics as one of the most influential rock artists in the Spanish rock scene. Or, to put it into context, he is essentially the Bob Dylan of Latin America.
A close family friend of mine plays violin in Charly’s touring band and has invited me along for the evening, imparting me with a front row seat at the concert and backstage access—an unmerited opportunity for someone like myself, who’s entirely unfamiliar with Charly’s music.
Tonights concerts is rather intimate as the casino banquet room only seats a few hundred. Once Charly takes the stage the audience irrupts in screams and cheers.
The crowd is a bit older, rock ‘n’ roll moms and dads in their 40s, as well as some young classic rock enthusianados, but that’s to be expected for an artist of Charly’s generation.
Born in 1951 in Buenos Aires, Charly was a protégé pianist by his twelfth-birthday. At thirteen he was introduced to the world of modern rock n roll via The Beatles and thus the Argentinian legend was born.
While Bob Dylan was riffing on about Civil right and anti-war in the 1960s, in the late 1970s Charly Garcia was making bold accusation at Argentina’s military dictatorship (1976-83), songs like La grasa de las capitales (“Grease”, or “Fat”, “of the Capitals”) almost had him thrown in jail.
What’s most notable is the creative effort Charly made to conceal the political message of his work from powerful state censorship. “Canción de Alicia en el país” (“Song of Alice in the (Wonder) Land”) drew an uncanny analogy between Lewis Carroll’s story and the Argentine military government. “Encuentro con el diablo” (“Meeting with the Devil”) is a reference to the band’s meeting with Albano Harguindeguy—the Security Minister during those years who gave talks to Argentinian artists, ordering them to tone down their work or leave the country.
Today Chary is 62 years old, which for any rock star is over-the-hill, but factor in his extensive history of drug and alcohol abuse and mental issue and he’s nearly 90.
Throughout the 2000s Charly’s has fought mental illness and drug addiction, bottoming out and going through rehab in 2008. This show is evidence of his big come back.
These days Charly tours with a ten-piece band, a bit excessive for a solo artist, but they’re there to fill in the gaps whenever Charly skips a cord or misses a note—which these days seems to be happening more and more.
Watching Charly on stage is a bit like seeing your grandpa slap on a pair pleather-leggings. He’s tall, lanky and hunched over with a fro of tired grey curls.
His fingers are curled and crooked from years of piano playing, his voice raspy and his mumbled words incoherent to most.
During the concert, Charly strays from the prearranged set several times, playing whatever song occurs to him and throwing off the rest of the band. His voice is patchy and the backup singer pulls out most of the lyrics.
More then twice, a stagehand appears to pull up his skintight pants, which are sinking down to his twiggy thighs.
More then a few times, while talking to the audience Charly pauses mid-sentence with, a long “uuhhh” having lost his train of thought.
Midway through the show, Charly takes a bow and leaves the stage, assuming incorrectly that it’s over, only to be escorted back on set for an “encore” that lasts another hour.
Watching an aged rock star is both surreal and depressing. But Charly’s jumbled mind is forgivable—after all it’s hard for any one person to survive the awesomeness of being a rock star.
Los Dinosaurios/ The Dinosaurs
“Los dinosaurios” (“The Dinosaurs”), a nostalgic but defiant remembrance of those who were kidnapped or killed in Argentina during the 1970s when more than 10,000 suspected left-wing sympathizers, journalist, trade unionist students, Marxists, were disappeared by the Argentinian government.
Here’s a video of Charly playing Los Dinosaurios on MTV, back when he was a bit more animated.
Los amigos del barrio pueden desaparecer,
los cantores de radio pueden desaparecer.
Los que están en los diarios pueden desaparecer,
la persona que amas puede desaparecer.
Los que están en el aire
pueden desaparecer en el aire.
Los que están en la calle
pueden desaparecer en la calle.
Los amigos del barrio pueden desaparecer,
pero los dinosaurios van a desaparecer.
No estoy tranquilo, mi amor,
hoy es sábado a la noche un amigo está en cana.
Oh, mi amor, desaparece el mundo.
Si los pesados, mi amor,
llevan todo ese montón
de equipaje en la mano.
Oh, mi amor, yo quiero estar liviano.
Cuando el mundo tira para abajo
es mejor no estar atado a nada,
imaginen a los dinosaurios
en la cama.