Pretty much every night we were there, the large family would gather at a different house each night. There were more cousins and uncles and aunts than I can count. At these gatherings, one cousin would bring out his guitar and he and his sister would sing while everyone was gathered. My dad had a super 8 camera and most of this was filmed. These were, literally, my first concerts.
La Carcel de Sing Sing was a favorite of my teen aged cousins back then. It's not hard to understand why, since it's a dramatic song, filled with angst and tragedy, just what teens love. Essentially, it's a murder ballad, about a man in Sing Sing prison, on the eve of his execution for the murder of his lover. Once again it's Jose Feliciano, who captures the song best for me.
Over the years I've watched those home movies and tried to track down those songs. Beyond La Carcel de Sing Sing, there was this other song that I only recently (thank you, Internets) was able to identify. Pueblo Blanco, by Joan Manuel Serrat, talks about a village lost in time, which makes this footage moving in a way that could never have been planned. I don't even care about other versions, because at this point, even though this is just an excerpt, it won't be topped in my mind, heart and soul as the one legitimate version of the song.
And my cousin on the guitar was not the only star. The only complete song I have from that time is sung by his sister. The song is called No Espero Mas, a bolero that I know next to nothing about, which makes it that much better.
These are obviously not professionals, but the imperfections are exactly what I love about it. It's raw and, sure I have a personal connection to it, but I'm sure it carries an honest emotional impact that translates to outsiders as well. I'm not entirely sure what my cousins lives are like today, but I do know in most cases, the years have been much less than kind and there has been tragedy. That's not something I will go into, but I think the fact that music is able to anchor these memories as a happy moment for me, and allows me to paint lives for these people that are different from what the truth might be, is indicative of the power of music.And these home movies, these memories, have influenced what I look for in all music since that time.