Saturday, October 9, 2010

How I came to love tango music...

El Caballero

I'm sitting here this morning, coffee and D'Agostino, reading a thread on a tango DJ list about dancers not knowing tango music. This is one instance where I'm talking knowledge versus knowing. There is a difference, but I talk about it elsewhere in this blog.

The writer, Joe Grohens, talks about how the vast majority of tango dancers don't really know tango music. They don't listen to it in their day-to-day lives, most likely because they don't own any. He posits that the only time most dancers hear tango music is at the milongas.

As a result, they hear it a few hours a week at best, but don't really know much about it. They don't know the orchestras, the song titles, or the names of the singers. They don't know the stories behind the songs, they don't know the history of the orchestras and the players. They don't know about the various recording companies and record labels during that time. I'm not suggesting that all dancers go to this depth. Some do, some don't, most are somewhere in the middle.

This was me six years ago. Not only did I know nothing of tango music, I didn't even know how to find any if I wanted to buy some. I had my one starter CD that our teacher burned for us to listen to outside of class.

Not only did I know nothing of the music, but I didn't like it. Yes, Alex the tango-purist-bordering-on-fundamentalist-milonguero-jihadist did not, at one time, in the beginning, even like tango music. I also didn't like the (men's) shoes, and took some cool Pumas to the cobbler to have the rubber soles ground off and leathers glued on. But that is another story. For another time.

I had a pretty good collection of interesting music on my computer & iPod, so I sifted and listened and listened and sifted to find songs with a four beat that my partner and I could practice to. Any songs. Borderline tango-danceable. Crap, really, as I think back on it.

I didn't "get" tango music. I couldn't find the beat. It was as if I couldn't...didn't hear the music when I was dancing. I was deaf, dumb and blind to the music - a fatal condition in tango.

Not just fatal as in a death-blow, but fatal as in squashed like a beetle on the pavement. Note that I didn't mean to squish him and I apologized to him after I took his innocent life. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust and covered him up with a bootkick of caliche.

I convinced myself I was a rhythmic retard. And I quit. Dropped tango cold turkey from my life. For six months.

When I came back to tango, I had six months of tangosmosis on my side. I somehow knew that I would have to wrap my head around this music. Wrap my head and my heart around it. And my soul. In that next year I figured out that it would take nothing less than absolute and total immersion in tango. I was determined to "get" this dance and its music. I had dis/misplaced dreams of mastering tango. I know better now. One never masters "El Tango". Anyway....

So I started doing the research on the internet. Quizzing my teachers and long-time dancers. Copping and copying CD's whenever and wherever I could. I ordered some CD's from Buenos Aires. I had people pick some up for me there and tote 'em back to the mountains. I saved up my money and bought tons of CD's when I went to BsAs. I searched the "World Music" sections of record stores every chance I got. I discovered some at the iTunes store.

I ended up with some garbage, some duplications of songs, but mostly good stuff. It was worth the effort. I have quite a collection now. For the past three or four years, I've been more selective in my acquisitions. I check the orchestra discographies online and do a little research to find the CD with the best (or my favorite) version of the song with the best sound quality.

Luckily, during that time in Aspen, I was in a position to do this "total immersion" approach. For three years. I didn't have a life. Tango was my life. I think there was a year in there that I listened, literally, to nothing but tango music. There were favorite songs that I would listen to over and over for hours thanks to the repeat setting on the iPod. Even when the iPod was off, the song was still playing in my head. Try it some time. Brainwashing by tango.

Another of my "total immersion" techniques was this - whilst I was dancing (and other times, too) I would transport myself, along with my partner, using pure-D abstract visualization, back to a milonga in Buenos Aires. Back to that time where an orchestra might have been playing live. I would visualize the milonga, the room, the decor, the other dancers, the clouds of cigarette smoke, the smells. I would transport us in my mind back to the 1930's or 1940's - reveling in the zeitgeist of that time. Imagining what it must have been like. Try it some time. It still works for me, sometimes inducing some strange and interesting feelings, for lack of a better word this early in the morning.

So that's how I came to love tango music. And I do love it. The good stuff. The real stuff. The Golden Age stuff. The Guardia Vieja stuff. "Old school" tango the youngsters call it now. Authentic. Vintage. Reclaimed. Historic. Whatever.

I realize the total immersion approach is not practical, and maybe not even healthy. There is a zone between that and zero. The productive middle ground. All it takes is one CD, or two, or five. You might get bit and collect 20 or 200. Find, buy, beg, borrow (but don't steal) or otherwise acquire some good Golden Age tango - from 1925 through 1955. Afterthought: Buy, buy, buy the music whenever you can. It's the right thing to do. Pony up your hard earned greenbacks - it makes the music that much more valuable to you.

And listen to it. Really listen. Hear it.

With a little knowledge of the music, you will be on the path to knowing tango.

Knowing versus knowledge.

And there is a difference.

Have a great weekend y'all. I'm back into carpintero mode. Closer to closing in the addition. Tango music wafting through the woods. Sawing and fitting and nailing and dancing tango and designing in my head.

More coffee. I need more coffee.


Elizabeth said...

Good one Alex. Good, true, with lots of images. I like it. I get it. Happy building today. Wish we could bring lunch and have a tanda.

AlexTangoFuego said...

Thanks Miss E and me too on the tanda...the deck has yet to broken in...y'all have a great weekend!

Jaimito el Zorro Gris said...

The DJing playlists Joe Grohens has on his blog suggests he doesn't know much tango music himself... awful awful awful

Tango Therapist said...

Alex, this explains why I love it when you DJ. Really, DJ classes should be a requisite since some new DJs really don't know what makes a milonga a milonga or why an alternative waltz is torturous (because of a slow tempo). Even at Festivals! I think that your knowledge would be well spent on a workshop for tangueros. Even as a musician I didn't get tango immediately as I did with salsa, son, bachata, cumbia, and chachachá. Tango seems to come up from behind you -- at least your and my experience. I hope you help out the community with a class sometime. Your description of getting the Zeitgeist of tango in one's mind is wonderful. I once was listening to Pakistani music and I tried to imagine falling in love at 14 years of age while listening to that music. I suddenly loved it, and this has never gone away. Great post, my friend.