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And now for something a little different

Stan Gotlieb

The main gate of the central cemetery of Oaxaca decorated for Dia de los Muertos. "Eternity starts here; worldly aggrandizement is dust" Photography by Diana Ricci.

For me, "The Last Waltz", Robert Altman's film of the last concert by "The Band", is only partially about music. Philosophically, it is a discourse upon change: when to recognize the need for it and how to accept it; and limits: how to test them and how to celebrate them.

All through the film, Robbie Robertson talks about the impossibility of surviving life on the road indefinitely, and why his group had decided that they had run out their string. As often happens when I watch a good movie (I am an almost totally indiscriminate movie watcher, requiring only lights, camera and action) this film spoke to me.

This particular documusical had lots of hooks for me: my connections to some of the performers; to the Winterland Arena where it was made; to the Bill Graham organization that produced that concert, which I did not attend, and thousands more of which I caught at least a hundred; to the city of San Francisco where I worked and cavorted for years. All are intertwined in my life and consciousness.

As Robbie tolled the names of the fallen - Janice, Buddy Holley, Bo Diddley, Hendrix and others - I added my own list, of friends dead by their own hand and others', of compatriots imprisoned for good causes and bad habits, of just laws expunged and victims blamed for the crimes committed against them. I reflected on how curious it is that I, a child of the Second Great War to End All Wars, an Eisenhower-era, crawl-under-the-desk A-Bomb teenager from a middle class family in clean living Minnesota, have thus far survived drugs, sex, rock-and-roll, Watergate, Iran-Contragate and (more than one) Billygate, to find myself, nearly ready to collect social security, living as a stranger in a strange land.

Curious or not, here I am, these three years and more, and here I am likely to be for some time to come. Oaxaca is home. So is Diana, my compañera, who shares it and our friends with me. These, insofar as anything can be, are the constants in my life at the moment, as is the urge to write (which thankfully is stronger than the impatience I have with the quality of my writing, else I would have long ago given it up). What is about to change is the focus and the content of my Letters.

When I first started writing "Letters From Mexico", they were just that: letters to a friend in Minneapolis who happened to publish a small neighborhood newspaper. They were meant to be personal, somewhat intimate, very much in the moment. Unbeknownst to me, he published them, an act that put me on the path to becoming an institution: I am read (in small numbers) all over the world (thanks to Dreamagic guru Willy Chaplin); my maunderings are available in book form; I write a twice-monthly newsletter; I teach a class purporting to orient newcomers to the wonders of Oaxaca; and I bear with little ill will beyond a wince or two, my friends' teasing label of "Mr. Oaxaca" (ugh!). Well, as the Zapatistas say, "Basta Ya!" (enough already). Time to move on.

Letters there will be, as long as my long-suffering and unpaid publisher supports them, but it is unlikely that they will include "c'mon down". News of Oaxaca there will sometimes be, but not "give me a call". Ideas and proposals and arguments there will be, but in print, not in the sidewalk restaurants. I am bringing my show in off the road; my top hat and tails are put away; no more Mr. Oaxaca.

I am hoping that the results will be pleasing to the reader, if less "pigeonholed" to one place; engaging and sometimes provocative if less "booster"; revealing if less public. As you can see, I don't have the whole picture of where this is going, but stick around if you like, it's been interesting so far.

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Published or Updated on: September 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2008
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