I spent the summers of my 11th and 12th years in La Romana, Dominican Republic as the guest of my neighborhood friend Danny’s abuelo and abeulita. I learned how to dance the merengue in open air squares with his cousins. It was 1976, and I was 12. I took a pair of platform heels for the dancing nights. Of course I did. We ate street food, arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), paper dunce cap cups of shaved ice with treacle-sweet ”flavors”, mangos. We swam in the ocean. We chased chickens around the streets. We went to matinees and watched crazy Cantiflas movies (the Mexican Jerry Lewis) and I howled even though I spoke almost no Spanish. I met amazing friendly people who kissed me and hugged me a lot. His grandparents were well off relatively, which meant that we stayed in a 1200 square foot house and slept in tiny rooms with fans blowing all night.
My friend Danny brought over his two best of Beatles albums: The Beatles 1962-1966 (red album jacket) and The Beatles 1967-1970 (blue jacket) with the four looking over a balcony at the camera. I listened to those records until I could sing every word. One of my first memories of rock and roll is the tiny record player in La Romana and ”You’e Got to Hide Your Love Away” teaching me that it was not ok for a man to show the pain of losing. ”While My Guitar Gently Weeps”– I look at the world and I notice it’s turning…so beautiful. I felt all the songs like they were poignant treasures and I was an expatriot (didn’t know that word, but it is the feeling, you know?) preserving an American (British, but who is going to rob a 12 year old of heroism?) treasure while overseas. I was melancholy, and I knew this music would be the soundtrack for love in my life, but I didn’t know any girls yet. Something was waking in me–”All My Loving” had a meaning I was started to get a handle on, for instance.
Today I bought some Beatles music on iTunes (finally available there this week), and hit play and let it run all day. I wrote to a friend that the Beatles are the alphabet that makes up the language of pop music. Everything references them. This is not news. For me, the listening took me all through my growing up years, but especially those two great summers in the Dominican Republic, eating chicken and rice, dancing the merengue, and falling in love with a girl who did not yet exist.