Tuesday, July 10, 2012

South America to Scotland on a guitar string!

When I first cast eyes on my hubby he was singing A Hard Day's Night by the Beatles, strumming on his guitar and sporting a suit topped off with a red Santa hat. Well, alright, that's not strictly true.

The first time I ever saw him was actually earlier that same day, walking off in the opposite direction carrying a bulky guitar case (it's a standard size - it just looked overly large beside his small frame). I never saw his face until that night. I only remember seeing him earlier that day because of the blonde dreadlocks. They were hard to forget.

If you've read A Darwinian Love Affair, you'll know that my first impression of his Beatles cover was not most favorable. Admittedly I was in full Brit 'crit' mode at the beginning of his performance when he opened his mouth and a painfully slow version of the Liverpudlian band classic came crawling out. In spite of a somewhat sketchy start, it didn't take a second song to convert me. I was hooked before he made it through the opening cover. We now have a Beatles poster of that same track hanging on our bedroom wall.    

I was a wannabe groupy from the get-go. Half way through the show he came down to meet his audience. We were a handful of backpackers who happened to be hanging in HVH, Quito, Ecuador that night. I remember feeling thrilled when the vocalist with the dreadlocks looked me straight in the eyes and asked me my name. Like he even cared or would remember.

But he did remember - and it soon became abundantly obvious that he cared also. Our romance developed over the following five days in the Galapagos Islands - as did my groupie status - culminating in a seemingly premature invitation for me to move in with him in his apartment in Quito. The rest (as they say) is history.

I don't know if he's ever truly known or believed just how blown away I was by his voice and his performer abilities. To me he was simply incredible - like no one I'd ever met before. I knew if he'd really wanted it he could have been famous.    

He said he did want that - but he also wanted to do lots of other things too, like travel the world, learn 15 different languages, be a photographer - and a painter too. He described himself as a Jack of all trades, master of none. I begged to differ. He seemed pretty damn masterful at anything he turned his hand to (maybe not so much the painting). Singing was such a significant part of his life while we lived in Quito. I'm sad it's taken such a back burner since the kids came along. 

As it turns out he's a damn fine Daddy too ('Jack' my ass).

In South America he earned his living as a teacher, but he tried to supplement that living as a singer, although when I first met him he was little more than an on-stage busker. Other than earning a few dollars in tips and scoring a heavily discounted Galapagos cruise ticket in exchange for providing evening entertainment on our boat - he hadn't really reaped any financial rewards from his music.

Los Confundidos playing in H.V.H, Quito
In the few short months we lived together in Quito he formed a band Los Confundidos with an Ecuadorian Guitarist and a fellow American teacher who played the banjo. The band took him away from me a lot and I hated that, but the gigs got bigger and better - I absolutely loved that.

I soon jumped on the band wagon, promoting them by distributing fliers and pinning posters in various internet cafes and restaurants around Gringo-Land. We added a cover charge and I collected the dollar entrance fee at the door. All friends were free of course, so they still didn't make very much even though the bar was packed. 

His year in Quito was coming to an end, and he was yet to determine where his next 'long term' teaching position would be. 
There was, however, a vague interim plan to head towards his uncle's home in Sao Paulo, Brazil in the hopes of joining a band and singing for his supper for a wee while. 

Band groupies (I'm red eyes on the left)
It sounded like an adventure to me, as did the crazy (cheap ass) plan to get there - but that's a whole other story (gettin' on a boat). I was in. He'd had me at 'cheap ass'.

Before we headed across the continent
Los Confundidos stumbled across some affordable studio time. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so the hubs was pretty much missing in action for the best part of a week while they recorded their one and only album. It mainly consisted of cover songs, but it also had three original tracks on there - written by my hubs (Jack) of course.  

Head groupy - yours truly - was put in charge of the album cover photograph (see pic below). 
The band were pretty broke - my hubs in particular - so once they'd generated the master CDs, they only made a small number of copies (I think close to one hundred in total). I'm not sure how many ended up in good homes, or if they still exist today.

The hubs and I were further limited by how many we could backpack across the continent with us, so we only bought thirty copies or so, a handful of which t
he hubs shipped home to his family

A few CDs were punted - 10 dollars a pop - at the boys' final gig in Quito, and the proceeds split. The rest of ours went with us in the hubs' guitar case, in the hopes we could sell them along the way.

Los Confundidos posing for album pic!
From unpaid on-stage busker to small scale sell-out professional lead singer/songwriter of Los Confundidos - with one album release under his belt - my fella had come a long way. From rags to..... well he was still in rags, but his musical accomplishments in such a short time - in a far away land - was incredible to me. He was my guitar wielding hero and I would have followed him across the world - which I did.  

Unfortunately my hero didn't have much moolah to show for his masterful skills. Before I met him he pretty much flew by the seat of his pants when it came to earning a living. Getting across South America on a shoestring budget would have been a luxury for us.

He wasn't supporting his groupy girl - I'd just ditched my career in the dirty oil industry, remember - I had plenty of my own cashola to cruise around the continent with, if I'd wanted to. Instead, I was hell bent on sharing my hippy hobo's lifestyle, so we made my stash 'off limits' from the get-go, agreeing that I would match my man dollar for dollar along the way.

We made it to the Brazil coast via the Amazon and stationed ourselves in a backpackers paradise called Jericoacoara. In 2003 Jeri - as we fondly dubbed it - was a fairly unknown location, somewhat off the beaten track. You didn't just happen across this place along your travels - you made it there via a raft crossing and a jeep ride through the sand dunes. We were led there by a traveler in the know and it was worth the trek. We rented a beach house for a month. We should have stayed a year.

It didn't take long to secure a few paying gigs in a beach bar. The hubs had a little hostile competition from a local entertainer, who begrudgingly befriended us once my man proved himself to be a worthy adversary - keep your  friends close keep your enemies closer. There were only 5 or so bars in the 'resort' and before long we managed to sign the hubs up at all of them.

At some point along the way I had promoted myself from groupie to manager. My fella didn't seem to mind. I neatly wrote out a kickass playlist then taped it to the top of his guitar so that he could follow it live. He was on fire at the beach in Brazil - literally (but I'll get to that in a minute). I could hardly believe he was mine and we were fulfilling one of his dreams together. The hubs' mantra:

 Better a life of dreams fulfilled than dreams of fulfillment.

At some point earlier in our travels - perhaps we'd been in Peru - I'd been wowed at the beach by a fantastical fire show put on by some local performers. My guy had stood up and asked for a turn and the hippies didn't hesitate.

I watched in fear and fascination as he spun those burning coals magically around his head. 'Jack' my ass -  he was the bomdiggy! The coals were attached to the end of chains with leather strap handles. They were called fire poi, and it appeared my hubs was proficient in this also.

In Jeri he made me a set of 'girl' poi to practice with. Although his intentions were admirable I was pretty pissed at the gesture. After a few hours swinging my 'girl' poi around (unlit of course), he soon admitted he'd underestimated me, and he made me a set to match his own.

I soon became a familiar figure at the beach turning my hands and making my poi dance, mastering as many moves as the hubs knew. It was quite a work-out. My enthusiasm for poi rekindled the hubs' passion and he invented a unique and dangerous move all of his own, which included a forward roll. All well and good, unlit and on the soft sandy beach.    

Finally, after weeks of practicing, we set our poi on fire! After dark, we waited - just the two of us - until the sand path behind our beach home was deserted, then (with our buckets of water on stand by) we lit up the night sky with our fiery circus act.

Final gig in Jericoacoara . My hubs is the one on the left.
The night sky wasn't the only thing that was lit-up that night. As the fire balls flashed around us, I was lost in the flames burning bright in my singer's eyes. I could have gotten stuck in that moment forever.  

Toward the end of our month in Jeri we were approaching local celebrity status. We planned a final concert inviting our frenemy the local entertainer, and some other local musicians to perform alongside the hubs, or take their own set if they wished.

It was a knock-out gig. The best I'd seen him yet. He'd already voiced his intention to light-up his poi during the show. I wasn't ready to join him in front of an audience. I begged him not to try and wow an already sufficiently psyched audience with his fiery forward roll maneuver - of course he didn't listen.

I could barely look as he took on the tricky tumble on the small concrete slab, which served as the stage - at least his dreads gave him some head cushioning. 
I had visions of patrons throwing their alcoholic beverages over him to douse the flames. Of course he nailed it. The man was on fire - in more ways than one - how could I not melt around his heat?

Celebrating a successful final gig. Jeri, Brazil (hubs far right,
his frenemy in the middle) 
It's always good to leave on a high note. That's not why we left though. We'd made plans to be at the uncle's in time for Christmas. That could only mean back-to-back bus rides, from the quiet balmy beach in the North, to the gargantuan over-crowded city in the South, Sao Paulo.

I knew nothing of the Brazilian capital save for its record population and its notoriety for muggins and gun crime. I wasn't really looking forward to the upcoming phase of our adventure, my hubs', however, had his aspirations of fame and fortune pinned on this next leg of his life journey - at the very least he hoped to find a band and be earning an honest penny by New Year...

Christmas was wonderful, and we found ourselves included in all the gift giving and celebrations. My hubs wrote two songs for me - one fast; Rollercoaster Blue, and one slow; Little Lullabye - the lyrics of which are branded across my heart. He surprised me with these on Christmas day. Those days he wrote and played all the time, and even though we lived in each other's pockets he somehow composed these tunes without me noticing.

Unfortunately searching for a paying gig turned out to be like searching for a needle in a haystack, and my superstar was suddenly the tiniest fish in the biggest pond in South America. Like Bugs Bunny, we'd definitely taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. There was no quick fix to replenish the travel kitty which was being fast burned up by our living the high-life on the wrong side of town.

I think we both harbored regrets for leaving Jeri, especially after sharing humdrum fantasies of setting up shop at the beach, whilst snuggling together in our hammock at night. Neither of us wanted to go back though. The Gentle Winds of Change had brought the hubs' to his knees once again. We needed to keep moving onwards and upwards.

Wanting to knock Jeri from our pedestal the hubs' uncle hospitably took us to their holiday home in Ubatuba - a Sao Paola beach resort, which was nothing short of paradise. But it was no place for a backpacker band hopeful attempting to make a few bucks for bed and board - at least not the upend part where these fancy folks resided.

As we were forced to fork out 'only' 10 bucks (ONLY 10 BUCKS would have covered two nights for the pair of us in our usual class of accommodation) for a basket of calamari that neither of us had really wanted, we knew it was time to say our goodbyes. Free digs was turning into a mindless money pit, the extent of which the hubs' high class uncle could not begin to fathom.    

The first step was to escape from the bosom of our Brazilian family without causing offence. We couldn't stay in Brazil then - unless we fibbed of courseWe played with the idea of staying in Brazil for a while, and finally thought better of it. While we still had enough cash to make the journey, we purchased bus tickets to Iguazu Falls. Our course was set for Argentina.

As soon as we arrived in Iguazu we hit the streets looking for a suitable bar for my singer to shine his light in. We soon found one. He demoed a few songs for the bar manager and between themselves they worked out a fair gig price.
Our digs were basic, but we were much happier being hippier. Especially as the hubs was back to being breadwinner.

The hubs and bar manager, Iguazu Falls, Brazil
On the border of Brazil we chopped off his dread locks. They'd been dreaded by a dreadfully amateur crew of teachers back in Quito, and his regrowth had never taken to dreading properly. The roots were somewhat stale and rotten from being permanently water logged by salty sea and sand. Any attempt at washing his scalp was causing the top of his head to fuzz up in a mass of frizz. Not the look he'd been going for.

Sadly for the hubs - just like his dreadlocks - his days of singing for his supper were numbered. I sometimes wondered (much later) if chopping off those locks took away his mojo...

Once we reached 
Buenos Aires, Argentina his veritable vocation became abundantly clear: He'd tried his hand at busking, but a close brush with the law left both of us feeling vulnerable and exposed. Working in a teaching establishment (or a bar for that matter) was illegal but it wasn't quite so obvious a misdemeanor as busking without a permit. We didn't need a second warning. With the musical career taking a bit of a nose dive, the resourceful hubs turned his talents back to teaching. 

I worked on the reception at a hostel in exchange for free digs and I tried my hand at teaching too, but b
etween us we earned peanuts - barely enough to get by, let alone enjoy our time in Buenos Aires. After struggling for 6 months we finally let go of our brutal budget and our break-even aspirations. It was time to dip into my sordid stash...

For our last few months in South America we became budget backpackers like everyone else - a little more bohemian perhaps, and the hubs' still sang for his supper whenever he got the chance. 
Our last night in Argentina we basked in 5 star luxury before taking to the air Texas bound. It was time to meet the hubs' folks.

The hubs put down his guitar, and we dallied in his home town for a while, before crossing the Atlantic to meet my folks. He brought a much littler guitar with him. 
Christmas came and went once again, and with our International romance stunting my hubs' travel capers, we needed a mutual plan. Spain and the sun beckoned, but in Barcelona the same sticky problem arose; the hubs' couldn't legally work in Europe. 

I was back on the 'game' - the dirty oil game - with my sights set on a Petroleum Engineering gig in Houston. Spurred on after reading Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand), I'd started the application process while we'd been 'dallying' in Texas. 

To me it was the obvious solution to all our problems; we'd be rich and legally allowed to live together - well, at least in the same country. Living together 'legally' - and not over the brush - required a contract of a different sort.

It didn't pan out, the location that is, not the dirty oil gig - that I got. 
The hubs, however, had a more permanent solution in mind. Beneath a fluorescent star spangled ceiling, he pulled out his more proportionate guitar and sang to me a song I'd never heard before. The best part went something like this...

I've got stinky feet, a bad memory, and I'm particular about how I like my rice,
But I'm still hoping you'll be willing to be my wife...
So I propose, how many times must I ask you to marry me - before you know it's true?
How many times must I ask you to marry me, before you finally say "I do" ooh, ooh
Do do do do do do do do....
(Getting onto his knees, putting the guitar to one side)

"Will you marry me?" asked my Jack of all trades - master of my heart.
"Of course!" I didn't hesitate. That's all I'd wanted for quite some time.

I still accepted my dirty oil gig, and as man and wife we semi-settled in Scotland. Later that same whirlwind year, out of the blue, my hubs was contacted by a film maker who wanted to use one of his original songs
Disculpame in a movie... IN A MOVIE!

It was a low budget, gay flick, with the only proffered form of payment being possible prestige and a warm fuzzy feeling. Of course he gave them the rights to use his song - who in their right mind wouldn't have?

The moment we watched the movie East Side Story was a true triumph. His song plays for such a surprisingly long time over the most moving scene. I was stunned and so incredibly proud of my husband. That studio time in Quito had been worth every penny.

The hubs recently stumbled across an Ugly Betty montage on YouTube which uses Disculpame as background music. How cool is this?

After this brief glimmer of stardom, our lives took on a semblance of normality in Scotland. I worked for a large oil and gas corporation, and the hubs taught English at the college. He rarely picked up his guitar anymore. Instead he flexed his hidden acting muscles. Would this man ever cease to amaze me?

The hubs playing Fleet in Titanic
I watched in wonder as he sang his hauntingly beautiful Titanic solo center stage in his His Majesty's Theater, Aberdeen. It was a packed house.

During our last year in Scotland, an established local rock band Sanctuary lost their lead singer. My hubs auditioned for the gig and of course they snatched him up. It was during this rockin' time that I got to witness the full force of his performance prowess.

Guitarless, with a stand-up mike as his only prop, his talent for wooing the audience knew no bounds. I was shocked, impressed, embarrassed and brimming over with pride all at the same time! I was a groupy again along with my best friend. We were Sanctuary's  fledgeling following - and we rarely missed a performance!     
Lead singer in Sanctuary, Aberdeen
Some of these Aberdeenshire gigs were the biggest and headiest I've seen him do - especially when Sanctuary performed within Aberdeen city limits. They made pocket change, which paid for the beer - and band expenses. They all had their day jobs, so the money didn't matter - much. Profiting from a performance was a splendid slap on the back though - and I think they'd have all dropped their day jobs to play professionally if some music label had signed them up. Alas, it wasn't to be. 

Sanctuary in full swing and our feet dangerously starting to take root, we took flight once again. We left on a high note - musically speaking. Scotland had run its course for us, and for the next few years we set our sights Across The Pond, to a small Texas Hill country town, just outside of Austin; the music capital of the world.

I could have been a contender George....

Old band buddies of my hubs are now a headlining rock group in Austin, pulling in massive crowds in the larger venues. With frequent radio airplay and their music featuring in various box office hits, they're starting to make their presence known worldwide. 
The hubs can't help indulging in a wistful dream of how it could have been him...

I've no doubt it could have been if he'd stayed put. Instead he chose to travel and see the world. Then he found me. With our third baby on the way, most of his time and performer skills are monopolized by being 'The Daddy'. He may only have the littlest audience in the world but he's a hero in their wide and wondrous eyes.

I know the urge for center stage still burns inside of him  - and he's managed to satisfy his itch with the odd local play here and there. His most recent role as Jesus certainly laid to rest a few demons for the past year or so. But I can hear an ominous beating of a drum. It's only a matter of time before once again the performer breaks loose.

It's bound to happen and when it does, the kids and I will be ready for him.