Thursday, November 13, 2008


The first time I heard this song was on shitty headphones in Nicaragua, in 1985. The cassette player belonged to the legendary Steve Krekel, a journalist out of Chico, CA, who was in the tropics making a documentary on the Sandinista revolution. Songs hook themselves to associations and live forever joined in our minds, and for me this song is welded to wise-cracking Steve in his baseball cap as well as corrugated tin roofs, ratty palm trees, soldiers in dark green, the Barrio Martha Quesada, gallo pinto, the sound of anti-aircraft guns mixing with fireworks, a wild parrot that wanted to kill me, a humorless german, a one-eyed blind man, and a bad case of amoebic dysentery contracted in Matagalpa.

I don't mean to trivialize the struggle and gravity of the situation--there was a war going on and people died and some became heroes and some became martyrs. My discomforts were trivial and I was out of harm's way--but there was a war going on and Reagan was sending guns and money and the CIA to undermine this tiny country that had the balls to overthrow a US-supported dictator. People had come from all over the world to help the Nicas rebuild, to show solidarity, to work for the revolution. Coming home that time, after six months in Latin America, I experienced a surreal sense of alienation when I discovered that the battle that captivated most Americans--North Americans, that is--was the war between New Coke and Classic Coke. It was like getting kicked in the head!

Strange how the mind works. Time, memory. Who would figure this song--and reaching across a wobbly card table to take a pair of headphones--would stick with me so long, and come to stand in for so many things? There's really no sense to it.

To truly appreciate this song you must experience it under similar conditions--or at the very least with a low grade fever. The first version is played by Pete Townshend, formerly of the Who, and the second is the original version by the English Beat, the song I heard a few lifetimes ago. Save it for later, like a memory.

Krekel, if you're out there and see this, drop me a note.

1 comment:

Bob Rini said...


I just came across your note on my blog post about Steve Krekel and I'm so sorry to hear that he passed away. Forgive me for taking so long to respond, but I just discovered your note five minutes ago.

As I said, I met Steve in Nicaragua in 1985. I was in Latin America--mostly Mexico--for six months on that trip, and in Nicaragua for a month. Steve was an unforgettable character. We stayed in the same tin-roofed ramshackle place in Managua for a while, a spot that looked like it was about to fall over any moment. Many "internationals" from all over the world stayed their, solidarity workers who came to pitch in on various work projects. It was an exciting time, as you must know having visited him there. They'd kicked out a dictator--and now were fighting the US-funded "contras,"and yet the whole country was extremely poor. Ronald Reagan and Ollie North were convinced the commies had run their revolution, but that was bullshit. Steve was making a film, I believe, about the revolution, and some kind of book.

Returning to the states was culture shock times a thousand, and I sent a letter to Steve and he published it in a little paper he worked on. I think it was called "Local Anesthesia." The shock of the two countries barely could co-exist in my mind, and I became a community organizer focused on Central America when I returned. Many of us would be forever changed by the experience, and I was no exception.

Sadly, Steve and I lost touch, but I'll never forget some of his antics and humor. In spite of a revolution--I remember one night after the fireworks of a local celebration died down we heard anti-aircraft cannons firing at planes--boom boom boom--a sense of humor came in handy, and Steve could sure tell a good story.