Rockin' to the Hall of Fame
Pacoima's own Richie Valenz finally selected to join legendary rockers
As I sit here staring in disbelief at a "Tall Boy" can of Coors Light Beer with a picture of Police-sound-alike Man? on its cover, emblazoned with the words Rock En Espa?ol in red across the top, I wonder what has happened to the sincerity, unity, and originality of music created in this country by Latinos, Chicanos, Mexican-Americans, Hispanics or whatever we're called this week.
Published on LatinoLA: December 18, 2000
To begin with, there are complaints of sell out and exclusion everywhere you turn. Spanglish slang gets co-opted and co-written into song by affluent white industry corporate tunesmiths (Livin' La La Vida Loca) for Enrique Martin Morales, who dropped his real last name because it sounded too ethnic.
He shakes his butt and sells millions.
Others follow with success and they're calling it a "Latin Explosion", but if you close your eyes you couldn't tell the ethnic differences of Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez from Paula Abdul and Mariah Carey. Such is mainstream pop's corporate-directed worship: fluffy, easy listening and the same in any language.
In the rock area, Chris Perez' "Resurrection" CD caused a surprising flurry of hate and criticism for winning the Best Latin-Alternative category at the American Grammy Awards from members of the Latin music industry and its wing of mostly imported rock writers. (Ironically, the American public and press from Rolling Stone and People magazines to the New York Times hailed the debut effort.) The apparent reason for this all the negative ranting was Perez' recording done in Spanish AND English as well as his being an outsider to the cliquish Latin music industry (who tend to be very nationalistic and who coveted that category as a "Rock en Espanol Only" award).
This matter was to have been cleared up quickly but played out miserably when the first annual Latin Grammy's were held amidst finger pointing and accusations of favoritism and exclusion of musical acts and performers who were not aligned or associated with Gloria and Emilio Estefan's productions or, as some complained, "their politics" (with some major groups boycotting the event publicly) .
Maybe it's a Latin music "Implosion" instead.
We're experiencing a Sodom and Gomorra as a result of all this money and attention. All of it chaotic, disheartening and embarrassing, except for the success of Carlos Santana, who's been publicly calling for the recognition of other important artists including our own Los Lobos, who rode to fame on the strength of "C'mon Let's Go" (on their first LP) and "La Bamba" (from the movie soundtrack).
Which brings us to Richie Valenz.
In spite of all the typical jealousy, power playing and infighting by these relative newcomers to Latin music in the US, we have been vindicated by a positive step as our patrons saint Ritchie Valenz is finally to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This, after years of campaigning, phone calling, petitions, and mailings.
At 17 years old, San Fernando's Richie Valens -- less than seven months after the release of his first single, "Come On, Let's Go" and exactly 26 days after "La Bamba" hit the pop charts for the first time -- was killed in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, along with 22-year old Buddy Holly and 28-year old J.P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper").
His biggest hit, "Donna," was #2 on the U.S. pop charts at the time.
He has been eligible for induction since 1986 but had only three nominations in 14 years, including the last two years, which were hard fought losses despite organized efforts. But this year's efforts included a grassroots campaign comprised of radio stations, politicians and street level musicians that may have made the difference.
Willy Herron, muralist and de facto leader of the legendary Chicano Punk band Los Illegals stated: "It seemed like people forgot him or nobody cared that he was the first dude who broke down the barriers and invented the idea of a rock & roll that reflected his roots and his two languages. To him, it was not just Rock En Tu Idioma but Rock En Dos Idiomas. I mean, here was this Indio looking Vato we could all identify with, first by his look and then his music."
If ever there was a positive and unifying cross cultural icon, it is probably Richie Valenz, a Latino kid raised in America who loved his biculturalisim and played it well to the world at the age of 17.
One can only imagine the possibilities if he'd lived to have a career at least half as long as Carlos Santana.
His place in the American Rock and Roll hall of Fame is well-deserved (and much needed by our own bickering industry). This feeling was summed up by one of the Valenz' larger grassroots campaigners, Poet/Performer Lil' Rudy G., who stated: "Richie is now where he belongs--with all the Rock and Roll Immortals and next to Buddy Holly".
Still loco after all these years: Xiuy Velo works as an Editor/Producer for the World Entertainment Network and is currently hosting Radio Free Aztlan for the Mondomix Organization in Paris France at: http://www.mondomix.org