Stone Killer

Stone KillerStone Killer, All Day… The Watchman of Juarez…

This is a hooded crow, which is found nowhere near Juarez. I just loved the hungry look of this scavenger bird. I’ve written a lot about Juarez and Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666 which is, in part, about the epidemic of murder on the border. This piece is about the nearly 500 unsolved murders of women that occurred there.

It is said that the land itself possesses a memory. . . “el gente“– the Mexicans call it.

This piece is a bit about this idea.

Published in: on June 1, 2015 at 11:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Song of the Devil (El Canto del Diablo)

The Song of the DevilThe term “murder ballad” always sounded somewhat comic to me.  I’m not sure the first time I ever heard that term.  I’d known about “corridas,” which people tell me are different, though “murder ballads” are considered “Corridas.”‘  Huh?  Now you know how I feel parsing the English to Spanish dichotomies that are like night and day on the border.  Corridas are not unique to Mexico.  Almost every culture has them, including my own.  One needs to look no further than the lovely Irish weepie, The Long Black Veil to see what I mean. Death songs are not uncommon the world over.

Death songs by the murderer himself?   Bragging and justifying his actions?  The corridas of gangs and the criminal cartel culture started showing up some 20 years ago in the LA gang culture.  The Mexican Mafia and MS 13 were known to traffic and trade them amongst their membership, along with “ponyos,” sometimes beautiful drawings made on handkerchiefs by Hispanic inmates in prisons throughout the Southwest.

Law enforcement were horrified by the murder ballads; at least in America they were.  Mexican authorities, not so much.  They’d seen death cults and ritual as a matter of cultural course pretty much their whole lives.

The Day of the Dead, or as the Catholic religion calls it, AAll Souls Day,” is a big deal in Mexico and the dead come back and drink, fornicate, and dance over their own graves.  It is a colossal “fuck you” to the great beyond and, some will tell you, to the idea of a deity itself.  It is celebrated with tequila, skulls made of sugar, and dancing skeletons.  The corazon and calavera present everywhere in sight.  In Latin cultures, death is as important as birth and its visitation is sometimes viewed as the coming of an old atavistic friend. . .or at least this is what the folktales and old stories attempt to weave into the mythmaking.

The murder culture so prevalent in Mexico right now  is not part of any musical or poetic narrative.  It is a full-on war and the country is losing itself.  The murders of thousands of women, cops, citizens and witnesses that happen with utter impunity hints at a greater madness–a plague of sorts.  Years ago, the great Spanish novelist, Jose Saramago, wrote a novel called, Blindness, in which a whole city lost its sight at the same time; with one exception.  It was damn near the kind of thing that the great Stephen King has perfected in fiction; an arresting and somehow almost plausible fictional device.

This is what Juarez now brings to mind.  It is like something out of a Stephen King novel come to life, except it is all actually happening.  People calmly walk up to others on busy streets, in broad daylight, and blow their fucking brains out. . .and walk away.  In Juarez, it sometimes takes the cops two hours to show up and claim the body.  There are NO investigations.  In fact, there is know human count, no official record of the dead and the disappeared.  I overheard one law enforcement officer say out loud, “It’s mutts killing mutts.  It’s bugs eating bugs.  Who gives a fuck?”  This was a Chicago policeman, who are in fact known for the tender mercies they extend to the local citizenry here.

Can you imagine if this happened in Malibu?  Or Westchester county?  Or Lake Forest?  Of course you can’t. The reason it’s happening at all is because it’s happening to people of color, who happen to be poor.  And it happens within spitting distance of America.

I saw my friend Penn Jillette in the last few days.  Penn is the reason I was able to start my etching studio 20 years ago.  I’d just been famously ripped off by the dealer Vrej Baghoomian and was broke with a three-week old son.  I called Penn and told him if he backed me in Big Cat Press, I’d give him an etching every time I made one for the rest of my life.  He replied, “How much you need, Baby?”  I told him and the next day I had the money.  He now has one of every etching I’ve ever made and will get one every time I make a new one.

Penn and I are very different politically, but the one thing we agree on is we ought to just open the borders.  Anyone who wants to be an American should just come on over; we both believe this, as well as anyone who wants to leave, should do so.  Penn is more Libertarian than anything else, but not in a doctrinaire way.  I just believe what we wrote on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your poor, your tired, your hungry. . .”  I don’t believe there are words written about our country anywhere else that make me as proud to be an American than those words on that Statue.  Beyond this, Penn and I disagree on other principles politically, but on the big important issue of who gets to be an American, we agree completely.  I think if you can look at the Brooklyn Bridge or the Grand Canyon or the skyline of my beloved Chicago. . .if you can look at those things and see yourself as part of it, well, this is all of the birthright one need have.  Come on over, take our hand, make this stolen property we live on a better place for your fellow man.

What I’m getting at is we should give sanctuary and comfort to our neighbors from Mexico.  If we believe the words we wrote on the Statue of Liberty; then let the light of freedom shine.

Published in: on April 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bird For The Daughters of Juarez

Bird for the Daughters of JuarezShortly before his death in 2004, Roberto Bolaño, the great Chilean novelist, mailed off the manuscript for 2666, his sprawling, frustrating, multi-layered masterpiece about a world coming apart in many locations and time periods– all at the same time.

Central to this story–stories, actually–are the murders of women in the fictional St. Teresa, which is actually Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.  Authorities fear there may be as many as 5000 unsolved murders of young women and admit that there are at least 1200.  The Mexican government blames the outlaw Narco-Mafias, as well as members of  Los Rebeldes, a notorious Juarez street gang involved in drug and human trafficking.  Police have also arrested itinerant workers and bus drivers known to drive the routes where some of the women’s bodies have been found, all to no avail.  The murders continue as well as an eerie proliferation of corridos, or “murder ballads;” songs circulated about killings of unfaithful lovers, hookers  and “bitches.”  It is a horrifying phenomenon that has been going on since around 1993, with the indifference or incompetence of police forces too afraid of the gangs to adequately protect the young women, mostly from other parts of Mexico and Central America.

What resonates from all of the conflicting stories are ugly tales of sexual mutilation and violence accompanying each murder.  Rape is almost always a component of these crimes. Bodies are found in vacant lots and trash dumps as well as by the sides of the roads.  What is shocking is the cavalier nature of this brutality.  Women are murdered routinely and with impunity, with no fear of consequences.  At the center of Bolaño’s messy novel  is the idea that someone or something in the air suggests these are “sacrifices”  for a world devolved into a degenerate state.  There are lots of other ideas ventured as well, but the sickness at the center of the world’s heart is never more acutely rendered in this novel than the murders of these women.  That it is based in concrete fact gives the novel a chilling moral authority.

Before Bolaño died and his novels were published, he traveled widely throughout Mexico and South America and Spain for a time, embracing Marxism and then abandoning it, all the while bearing witness to down-at-the-heels governments unable (and in many cases unwilling) to help those they govern.  He seems to have adopted a mordant gallows humor about the condition of mankind.

I’ve read 2666 once and am re-reading it now.  I’m not now convinced this was ever supposed to be one book.  It’s always felt to me like a combination of books.  That Bolaño died before this book was ever in galleys tells us that he was not the final voice in deciding what exactly went into this book.  Of course, once  2666 was published, the posthumous Bolaño became a critical fetish-object; the praise being hurled from every quarter, for this door-stop tome full of digressions, contradictions and multiple stories;  some having very little or even nothing to do with the others.

The underlying thematic device, for me, seems to be the world’s rapid untethering from any idea of sanity.  The murdered women part of 2666 is where we hear Bolaño at his most ferocious.  the murder of innocents is still a thing of incomprehensible sadness; well-worthy of moral outrage even in an insane world.

I’ve heard people describe this book as “apocolyptic” or “millennial,” whatever the fuck that means.  I’m not so sure.  I’m not so sure about anything with 2666–even as to whether it was completed or not.  Oddly enough though, I was convinced I’d read a great book–in fact, a great few books.

I love the literature of Mexico and South and Central America.  As a young man, I felt as though books like Eduardo Galleano’s Genesis: Memory of Fire and Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold and One Hundred Years of Solitude kind of set me free with their magic and their shape-shifting.  In a lot of Mexican-Indian cultures, birds like sparrows, starlings and blackbirds are interlopers between worlds, often carrying the spirits of the dead from this world to the next, or in Haitian literature, to the “gray world”–a kind of way station between the living and the dead.  These authors and those stories warned us that the natural world stood witness to our evil and our folly; that in daylight or in darkness, to some living entity, we are always visible.  This thought used to give me comfort.  And now, I  am not so sure.

The ongoing murders of women in Juarez are still largely unsolved.  There have been many arrests for individual murders but better than 99 percent of them are still without resolution. Ciudad Juarez, in fact the whole state of Chihuahua and its governing body, stand as a black mark on the earth; unholy ground marked evil by its own inaction.

Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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