(Note: This is part two in a series. If you haven’t read part one go back and read that first.)
Last week’s story ended with me getting kicked out of the house in the summer of 1993 and scrambling to find a car and a job and a place to live, using the little bit of money I’d saved for my second year of college. I found a 1990 Ford Festiva in the front yard of a nearby mechanic’s house and bought it for $1000. It didn’t have a lot of frills, but it had the all-important thing: a tape deck so I could have control over my own music. This was the era of CDs, of course, but I had a stereo with both a CD player and a recording cassette deck in it, so I was able to copy new music onto tape to play in the car. Two albums that I wore out on tape during that time were Elvis Costello’s Brutal Youth and Bjork’s Debut.
In the fall of 1994 I left Rochester and drove across the country to Tucson to work at my aunt and uncle’s Coffee Etc. restaurant in Park Mall. On the way across the country the tape deck broke, so I listened to a lot of AM radio and then whatever else I could find. I particularly remember listening to a swap meet program on the Navajo reservation that seemed like a show from another era entirely.
Tucson opened me up to an entirely new world of music. Shortly after I arrived I got hired to play latin jazz and latin dance music with local guitarist Ismael Barajas. I knew absolutely nothing about this music. On my second night on the gig, the conguero, Roberto Moreno, gave me a CD of Cachao’s Master Sessions Vol. 1 and said, “Start listening to this.” I did, and that led me down a rabbit hole to the music of Tito Puente and Chocolate Armenteros and Celia Cruz and Luis Miguel and Selena, to name just a few. There were some great record stores in Tucson back then and I was able to find so much music that I’d never heard before. It was also around this time that I started my first professional job as a DJ, hosting jazz and classical music on two local stations.
I got married in 1996 and my wife introduced me to some of her favorite bands, including Los Lobos and Bruce Springsteen and The Band. Springsteen didn’t really hit me until many years later, but I immediately fell in love with Los Lobos and The Band. Speaking of The Band, if you’ve never seen The Last Waltz, you really should. And if you’ve seen it already, watch it again.
In 1996 my wife and I moved to Japan. My second time, her first. We got to see some great acts there. We saw Los Lobos two nights in a row. We also saw the most expensive concert, in terms of cost per minute, I’ve ever seen. We paid $60 each to see Doctor John, who played a 60-minute set. A dollar a minute (in 1997 dollars) still seems pretty steep to me.
Next week: New York City and beyond!