It starts with a song

Before starting this post, I’m sorry that I’ve taken so long between the first one and today. You can follow my blog to get an email when there’s something new or you can follow me on Instagram. Thank you – M I remember being newly seventeen in a Target in Anaheim, California and buying Brand New’s Deja Entendu in the summer of 2003. I got in the car, ripped the plastic off, and immediately started listening to it on my discman. As the second track began I started thinking that maybe I should’ve saved those thirteen dollars for my Barnes and Noble fund. But as the album continued to flow from my earphones something happened. I fell in love with the music. As that summer progressed it became my soundtrack and quasi BFF. A few months later, when I left school to travel with my mom, those lyrics roamed the Tube carriages and the tiny hostel room. But then six months after that I borrowed it to a friend where my CD met its fateful end. I used to accompany this story with a never-give-your-CDs-to-anyone-ever speech, but technology has made it so nobody has to suffer through the pain of handing out a beloved cared-for CD and getting back a scraped disc. So back to the album… When I saw the CD with the astronaut in the orange background I remember thinking about that one song I’d heard on an alternative music message board (at the time if you lived in provincial Mexico and wanted something other than what MTV had to offer this was how you found it). The song was called Guernica. I thought it was a cool name but had no idea what it meant. A few years later while overhearing two strangers I found out it was the title of a Picasso painting. It would not be until I graduated college and had to take Advanced Spanish for my translation degree in Arizona that I would know the story of Guernica. Being required to take Advanced Spanish when your first language is Castilian (the actual word for the Spanish language) is a curious experience. But when it’s the first language of 95% of the class I pray for whoever has to teach that course. Luckily not only was our teacher used to this situation, it was also her mother tongue (and don’t worry the other 5% were heritage speakers so no translator was left behind). Aside from the grammatical aspects of the course every week we’d see a piece of “El Espejo Enterrado” (The Buried Mirror), a documentary series narrated by poet Carlos Fuentes on Hispanic culture and history. It was during one episode where Picasso’s work filled the screen and then the story behind his inspiration was narrated. The title of a song I had heard and loved for almost ten years had been inspired by a painting that was inspired by the tragic bombing in 1937 of a town of that same name in the Basque Country. In 2011 I visited the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid and was overwhelmed by seeing it up close. There is an entire room reserved for Guernica not only because it’s one of the most popular works displayed but because it is so big. The canvas takes up most of the wall space. I found myself being enveloped into the painting á la Alice in Wonderland. The room was full of people and yet I felt as if it was only me and Picasso’s baby staring at each other. But it did not last long. Those few minutes I felt the pieces of asphalt crunching under my feet and heard the mother’s calling for their children. I looked away and left the room ashamed that I could not stand to look at it as the others. My friends were waiting in the hallway. They’d been in there even less than I had. We left without a word and walked a block or two in silence then sat on the stairs of a large building. I was thinking about the tragedy, the painting, and if I would ever be able to listen to that song again. I looked over at my companions and saw a faraway look in each of their eyes. I had met the three friends just a few days before at our volunteer accommodation and they had welcomed me into their group. They were from the same small town in Poland and had moved together to Warsaw when they went to university. Their Spanish was better than most native speakers’ and they broke into giggles whenever I’d accidentally answer in English. One of them finally looked up and said, “Sorry Maria, there was something in the gallery before the Picasso.” In my mind I retraced my steps to the hall full of people saying ooh and ah that I’d rushed through to get to Guernica. I looked at the map and understood. The room was dedicated to political propaganda artwork, specifically World War II. I looked at my feet and felt silly about not realizing that maybe some of the art hit too close to home to my friends. I looked up cautiously and saw the youngest one shrugged and smiled shyly. “The Prado’s free at this hour.” We got up and went to see the Flemish painters and The Countess of Vilches (one of my top favorites). As I stood looking up at the countess, Ola walked over and smiled up at the lady in the blue dress. “I could live here forever.” “Me too.” I answered.

Music takes me to unexpected places... Another awesome piece by Romina Becker.
Music takes me to unexpected places… Another awesome piece by Romina Becker.

I have heard Guernica, the song, since. It’s painful because twelve years after hearing it for the first time I have twice lived through the subject of the lyrics. I still love and respect Pablo Picasso as a painter and maybe one day I’ll return to Madrid and sit in the Reina Sofia for more than a mere five minutes. Who knows maybe one day I’ll even get to go to the Basque Country where I have since learned that my great-great-grandparents are from. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to visit Guernica but I can’t say that I will never go and pray for those who suffered and those who continue to suffer in other towns like it. That’s the magic of art I guess. You start with a song that leads to a mural which then takes you to a dark moment in history you can’t be indifferent to anymore. Next September I’ll be seeing Brand New live for the second time. Most likely I’ll leave the venue tearful, hoarse, and feeling like I’m still seventeen. Note: Until today I was unaware that there was a song with the same title by The Stone Roses. I will definitely have to look it up. Also thank you again to Romina Becker for this post’s artwork. Please follow her through Instagram or Facebook so you can check out all her projects.