Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ask me what's on my mind this afternoon (it's Tuesday, my day to post, so I'll just assume you're asking), and I will tell you it's my recent discovery of the work of María del Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza de Rasten.

Like all too many prodigies, María sold out relatively early in life, choosing fame and big paychecks over her art. As a poor immigrant, she had a precarious place in American society, and money provided stability for herself and her family. Though she studied her craft under one of the all-time greats, and distinguished herself among his students, she did not believe she could make a career out of her true passion, so, for many years, she virtually abandoned it.

I'm talking, of course, about Charo.

Yes, the cuchi-cuchi lady, frequent Love Boat cruiser, Hollywood Squares dingbat and, most recently, Surreal Life punch line. Until recently, I had no idea she was still alive, let alone a real musician, and certainly not one of the most accomplished flamenco guitarists in the world. And she was performing in Boston!

So my partner, Michael, and I caught the late show at Scullers on Saturday night. We sat in the 2nd row, behind the family that owns the Central Square restaurant Cuchi Cuchi. Promptly at 10:30, Charo emerged in a skin-tight sequined red jumpsuit and, as she made her way to the stage, hugged and shook her prodigious breasts in the faces of the audience members (myself included). For the first half of the show, she danced, sang classics like, "Hot, Hot, Hot" and "Fernando," told corny jokes, sat on the laps of many a smiling man (myself included) and delivered a few of her famous and deliberate malapropisms, such as "Don't misconscrew me..."

But Charo has been misconscrewed, which she proved in the second half of her show, when she covered her shoulders with a tasteful jacket and took up the flamenco guitar. Michael and I were mesmerized. The crazy antics of the first half - and years of self-effacing TV appearances -vanished from memory as her (Maria's?) fingers danced across the strings, and she and the guitar became one. In every song, you could feel both her passion for her country's musical tradition and her pain in having masked it for decades. I've been listening to her cd, "Charo and Guitar," ever since.

What does this have to do with writing? With Grub Street? It's fairly obvious, I'm sure. For example, during the brief but exciting period I was deciding among editors interested in my first book, Ralph Lombreglia (one of my favorite authors and professors) told me: "Don't follow the money. Follow the art. If you do, you'll never regret it." I feel incredibly lucky that I get to "follow the art" every day - both at Grub and in my fiction - and that I won't have to wait decades to share it with the world.

~Christopher Castellani


Whitney said...

Ignore its terrible tagline ("In the tradition of Riverdance, one of the finest and most stunning performance films ever made") and check out the documentary called _Flamenco_. It's wonderful, and first got me into flamenco guitar, which we really should listen to in the office sometimes...

The Writers' Group said...

I've always loved Charo (yes, I spent many a Saturday night watching Love Boat, followed by Fantasy Island, okay and before that, Solid Gold). I remember seeing her play the guitar and it was clear she was a gifted musician.

It's tragic to look back over a lifetime and ask what if. Thanks for passing along such sage advice.