Mexico City Blues: José Agustín

This talk was presented during the Hispanic Transatlantic Studies symposium that was organized by José Luis Venegas (WFU) and José María Rodríguez García (Duke U) on Wake Forest University campus in April 2012. My thanks to them and to the members of my panel: Manuel Gutiérrez (Rice U), Ignacio Sánchez Prado (Washington U), and Oswaldo Estrada (UNC Chapel Hill), as well as to all who came up afterwards to shoot the breeze about rock and roll.

Mexico City Blues: José Agustín and the New Classical Music of Counterculture

José Agustín (Cuautla, 1994) was Mexico’s original drooling fanatic, an elite category of music listener defined by Steve Almond as “wannabes, geeks, professional worshippers” who are driven by a Benjaminian compulsion for collecting new albums and a Pauline zeal for preaching the gospel of their musical preferences to other people whether they are interested or not.[i] At 23, having already established his credentials as a talented novelist, Agustín took a job writing three articles a week on music and literature for the cultural section of El Día. In so doing, he effectively became Mexico’s first authentic rock critic. While Agustín is most well-known for novels like La tumba, Del perfil, and Se está haciendo tarde (final en laguna), or short story collections like Inventando que sueño where adolescent characters filter their perceptions of urban experience through the lyrics of American and British music, this morning I want to address his nonfiction writing about rock ‘n’ roll. I have chosen this approach because critical appreciations of Agustín’s narrative works have almost universally used rock as a cypher for the holy trinity of 1960s counterculture—sex, drugs, and rock and roll—instead of studying his approach to music as an autonomous category of analysis which allows for the construction of an ideal space for reimagining Mexican culture.[ii] My study of Agustín’s rock journalism borrows from Paul Gilroy’s assertion that, because national culture and identity projects are oftentimes grounded in and constructed through the deployment of popular music and “the broader cultural and philosophical meanings that flow from its production, circulation and consumption, music is especially important in breaking the inertia that arises in the unhappy polar opposition between a squeamish, nationalist essentialism and a sceptical, saturnalian pluralism” (Gilroy 185). To this end, as Susan Manning and Andrew Taylor have suggested, we might appropriate a Deleuzian notion of the open-ended rhizome as the guiding principle for the study of transatlantic cultural transactions, as a place where lives and cultural elements flow across borders without necessarily adhering to the standard routes of trade and commerce that have shaped our understanding of the region. Such a perspective allows us to look beyond the traditional lines of cultural influence that flow back and forth across the Atlantic between Mexico and Spain in order to see other connections or to imagine a new series of spatial relationships that mediate cultural production, diffusion, influence, and reception in the Mexico. Continue reading Mexico City Blues: José Agustín