Mateo [2014)

Here is a perfect film.

After awhile, you wonder whether such will ever appear again.

To call Mattew (Mateo) Stoneman a white “mariachi” singer is somewhat misleading.

But that’s the gist of it.

The premise.

Of this documentary.

No, this isn’t the Columbian drama Mateo from about the same year.

This is Mateo, the priceless documentary directed by Aaron Naar.

Why perfect?

Why priceless?

Because it is true.

I can attest.

To the life of the musician.

Somewhere…I must have been dreaming…while watching.

But the life of a musician is really not even worth two dollars.

I know.

I know the life of a rubbish-filled room.

Sleeping on some pillows.

Or a mattress on the floor.

Bedbug man comes to spray.

Doesn’t know where to start.

I know the life of playing crap gigs.

All for the big payoff.

To leave a legacy.

I know.

Mr. Stoneman (Mateo) references Scorsese.

That’s rich.  And right.

Talking to the filmmaker.

Do we ever see him?

The man with the movie camera?

I don’t know.

But he more-or-less makes himself invisible in this pungent story.

We get Los Angeles.

Where I should be.

But I chose another path.

And yet, Mateo chose the right one.

For him.

Follow the music.

Not the money.

Follow your heart.

Play and write and sing until your heart gives out.

Until the apple juice and Subway sandwiches finally kill you.

Bukowski described it as dog food.

The life of a writer.

Or musician.

Alpo.

Post office.

But what Mateo does is scrimp and save.

Because he’s addicted to recording.

Or rather, he’s making his masterpiece.

A $350,000 album.

Self-funded.

No record label.

Fuck ’em.

This guy, Mateo, has cojones.

A white man in a brown man’s genre.

But he’s all love.

Love for the music.

And the kicker is Cuba.

Yes, dear friends…

Much of our action happens in Havana.

Over and over and over again…Mateo travels to Cuba.

To record.

It’s real.

Quantegy GP9 tape.

2″

I may be useless to most of the world, but I get this.

Reel after reel after reel.

And so it is mambo.

But so soft and subtle.

Like the bossa nova of 60s Brazil.

But Mateo succeeds in his aspiration.

And so his voice is feathery-light…like Billie Holiday on Lady in Satin.

Because Mateo Stoneman had to pay his dues.

Prison.

A thief.

Almost like François Villon.

Stealing to make music.

To afford to record.

I’ve been there.

Pawned all my best shit.

To make a record.

Nobody heard.

Or cared about.

But finally for me it came down to family.

And we get some of that too.

Matthew (Mateo) Stoneman.

From New Hampshire.

We wonder about Ernest Stoneman.

Virginia.

And we get Ernest Hemingway.

20 years in Cuba.

“Who was he?,” asks the novia.

Dead guy.

Shot himself.

Up in Ketchum.

Next to where Ezra Pound, his champion, was from.

Hailey.

These are the savant details which Stoneman, Mateo can rattle off concerning music.

And I can do the same.

But I had to diversify.

So from cornering the market in shit, I spread my tentacles into manure.

A bit too pithy a metaphor.

But just so you know.

The life of a musician.

One minute up.

Touring Japan.  Or Sweden.

Signing autographs.

Wads of money in your pocket.

Next minute down.

Catching hell from the two-bit valets.

Having to pull out the LA Times.

Look.

This is me, motherfucker.

…it ain’t easy.

Sticking to your guns.

Your dreams.

Through extreme poverty.

Duress.

But Mateo shows you what it takes.

Dream big.

You might be autistic.

You might have crippling anxiety.

You might have existential episodes…depression…woozy disorientation.

“What the fuck am I doing?!?”

So do the best of them/us.

And so if I am counted “in that number”…of saints…like Mateo…then I am happy that I have lived my life bravely and to the last drop of blood and courage.

Ars gratia artis.

But for real!

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 14 [1976)

I had a bad feeling coming into this one.  The credits listed Desi Arnaz as host and Desi Arnaz, Jr. as (I presumed) musical guest.

The whole idea sounded horrible.  A washed up TV funnyman trying to get some airtime for his son.  But oh how wrong I was.

First off, Desi Arnaz was 59 years old when he did Saturday Night Live.  And he comes off as everything any person of that age should hope to be.  Lucid, warm, funny, wise…a sort of survivor.

I Love Lucy was perhaps the first big sitcom which aged well.  Its initial run was from 1951 through 1957.

And so what had Desi Arnaz been up to for the previous 20 years?  One could say that this episode was a sort of ceremonial “passing of the torch”, but the cynics were probably arguing that the torch had long since been extinguished.

I, for one, love to see older people make good.  I like to see our elders recognized and appreciated.  In general, we underestimate the talents and abilities of our older generation.  This is not a sneaky way of advocating for an extension of the retirement age, but merely a thought to provoke debate about giving older people the opportunity to work and contribute longer.

Older generations shouldn’t be punished for deciding to work more.  They should receive the same social assistance which retired people get.

Ok, back to Desi!

Not only did the estimable elder Arnaz act as the SNL host on this night, but he was also the musical guest.

We forget these things.  Maybe we’ve caught a bit of I Love Lucy in reruns (I certainly saw many as a kid), but it never occurred to me that Mr. Arnaz was a legitimate musician.

Well, he was!  Great singing voice…magnetic onstage charisma…and real talent with the intricate Afro-Cuban rhythms necessary to pull off the music of his homeland.

Yep, the conga drum was not just a prop!  And, yes, Desi was from Cuba.

But let’s talk a bit about the rest of the show.

One senses that Chevy Chase was really coming into his own as a comic actor by this time.

The opening skit as President Ford (visiting a psychologist) is a masterpiece.  Chase deftly pulls off the brainless Ford caricature particularly in the “simple word association” section.

Something like:

I’m going to say a word and you just say whatever word comes to mind, ok?

Ok.

Right.  Here we go.  Apple.

Apple.

House.

House.

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Yes, the President (as Chase would portray him) was the most dense man on the planet.

But also, the Weekend Update section (likewise with Chase) kept getting better and better.

This is the portion of the show which really acts as a time capsule for us viewing in 2016.

Also noteworthy is the American Express spoof ad in which Garrett Morris plays Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

However, the bizarre highlight might just be Chevy Chase as Very White (a cipher for Barry White):  an extremely strange-but-enjoyable bit of oversexed soul/disco performance art.  Truly remarkable!

In general, this is a pretty fantastic episode!!

 

-PD