I wouldn’t be here without Jack

Aged 15, I read ‘On the Road’, many of my friends had. We were a rebellious year at boarding school, into hashish and beer. I had a career of a long-distance lorry [truck] driver in mind – wanting the freedom of the road – what happened instead, was even more freedom. I hitchhiked everywhere, from Borneo to Africa nearly 50 counties, including Mexico.

Jack Kerouac first arrived in Mexico in 1955, the year of my birth.

‘We came to the whorehouse. It was a magnificent establishment of stucco in the golden sun . . . Behind the bar was the proprietor, a young fellow who instantly ran out when we told him we wanted to hear mambo music and came back with a stack of records, mostly by Perez Prado, and put them on over the loudspeaker. In an instant all the city of Gregoria could hear the good times going on at the Sala de Baile. In the hall itself the din of the music-for this is the real way to play a jukebox and what it was originally for-was so tremendous that it shattered Dean and Stan and me for a moment in the realization that we had never dared to play music as loud as we wanted, and this was how loud we wanted. It blew and shuddered directly at us. In a few minutes half that portion of town was at the windows, watching the Americanos dance with the gals. They all stood, side by side with the cops, on the dirt sidewalk, leaning in with indifference and casualness. ‘More Mambo Jambo’, ‘Chattanooga de Mambo,’ ‘Mambo Numero Ocho’-all these tremendous numbers resounded and flared in the golden, mysterious afternoon like the sounds you expect to hear on the last day of the world and the Second Coming. The trumpets seemed so loud I thought they could hear them clear out in the desert, where the trumpets had originated anyway. The drums were mad. The mambo beat is the conga beat from Congo, the river of Africa and the world; it’s really the world beat.’ [i]

35 years later I was on a bus in the Yucatan packed full with locals, cardboard boxes, chickens in cages, but we had tickets and seat numbers, so much better than the mad scramble in the US Greyhound stations. As we rattled along – probably rattling as much as Kerouac’s ‘rattletrap car’ (a 1937 Ford Sedan) – heading to what was then a tiny fishing village – amazing music was playing. When we stopped I asked the driver what it was, I couldn’t understand him, so he jotted it down. The first thing I did was find a store and buy this old cassette.

Pérez Prado Mambo Numero Ocho (Mambo No.8) – the ultimate dance music.

And here I am 16,852 km from where I was born (our bedroom view)

[i] Jack Kerouac, part 4, On the Road, 1957.

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