Cri-Cri, Mexican Independence Day, and Vern’s Sept. 15 Concert


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Okay, ordinarily I wouldn’t write a story about an upcoming concert of mine, except that it just turns out – serendipitously! – to have more to do with some of this blog’s recurring themes than I had noticed.

Here’s how it happened – when the Huntington Beach Library gave me the date of September 15 (Sunday, 4-6pm) I started figuring out what music I would play, what musical guests I would invite, and what the theme would be – I’d just recently done Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Non-Breeders’ Day, and a concert to Save the Fire Pits.  But what could September 15 be?  The best I could think of was “Beware the Ides of September.”

But then my buddy Victor Camargo, one of my oldest friends, a Mexican-American who I helped study for his citizenship when he became a US citizen, pointed out that it was the day before Mexican Independence Day, so I should do some Mexican stuff. Yes, it turns out that Mexican Independence Day, when the Mexicans kicked out the Spaniards, (not to be confused with Cinco De Mayo when they kicked out the French) is Sept 16 (Chemerinsky day here.)

So it seemed like a good excuse to get together Victor, Mary Perez, and some other Mexican-American singers I know, and do (along with my usual classical, jazz, and rock) a bunch of my Mexican numbers – Agustin Lara’s Granada, my arrangements of folksongs Cielito Lindo, La Llorona and La Zandunga (commissioned by Goldenwest College), torchy standards Besame Mucho and Solamente Una Vez, and a few songs by my favorite Mexican songwriter, Cri-Cri!

Who is This Cri-Cri of Whom You Speak?

Hardly any gabachos have ever heard of him.  Hardly any Latin Americans outside of Mexico have ever heard of him (I bet Ricardo hasn’t.)  But anyone who grew up in Mexico from the 40′s to the 70′s or 80′s grew up listening to Francisco Gabilondo Soler‘s radio show, where he pretended to be a singing cricket named “Cri-Cri” (which was absurd given his deep gravelly voice) , made humorous commentary, and sang dozens of great original songs, mostly hilarious, some poignant, mostly featuring anthropomorphic animals and teaching some kind of lesson.  Remember, most kids who grew up on this radio show had no TV, so this got their imaginations going.  (The animations in the videos below were added later.)

I learned about Cri-Cri from my second wife who’s a chilanga.  One of the few places I’ve heard him mentioned elsewhere was in Gustavo’s autobiographical “Orange County” (a big hit in jail) where he compares Cri-Cri to “Dr. Seuss with surrealism thrown in.”  I took exception to that description, since for one thing Dr. Seuss is already about as surrealistic as you can get, and it leaves out Gabilondo Soler’s great and prolific songwriting skills comparable to The Beatles or Schubert, his fun orchestrations, his three feisty female backup vocalists, and the staggering variety of gross animal sound impressions he throws in.

Here’s one of his most popular, more sentimental songs, which I perform frequently, and will tomorrow, of a kid asking his grandmother to open up her closet and show him all the nostalgic objects of her past (which since the song is from the 40′s, would be the Porfirio Diaz era of the early 20th century.)

Get your keychain, grandma, and show me your closet,
with marvelous things, so beautiful, which you keep hidden;
Get your keychain, grandma, and show me your closet,
I promise to keep quiet and not touch anything!
Ay! How beautiful the sword of my grandpa, the Colonel -
Let me hold it and tell me if I look like him.
Give me that doll with eyes the color of the sea -
Let me ask her what games she played with my mother.
Get your keychain, grandma, etc…
Show me that fancy dress of yours that makes so much noise when you move it,
And tell me again how you wore it in the carriage with your dad.
Give me that old book with the thousand pictures, I want to open it -
Kids these days like to hear those same stories too, you know.

*

But this next one is the song that made me think of this blog – El Raton Vaquero (the Cowboy Mouse) which Victor will be singing tomorrow.  Legend has is that this Gringo Cowboy Mouse is Gabilondo Soler’s portrayal of Walt Disney, who wanted to get his hands on Francisco’s songs.  Or as whoever wrote notes to the following video put it:

“One of the few things the Disney empire could not lay their hands on – the world of Francisco Gabilondo Soler, known as Cri-Cri, the Singing Cricket. This Mexican composer has some of the most imaginative children’s songs ever created in any language.  This song is his reply to Walt Disney when Disney threatened him with using all his power to destroy his songs and reputation because he refused to grant the rights of his songs to the Disney company.”

  (translation inside the video.)

So – a proud Mexican standing up to the greed and cultural imperialism of Disney – shades of this year’s Dia de los Muertos scandal – it’s the story of Anaheim!  Very Orange Juice Blog.  (I’m having a hard time verifying the struggle between Cri Cri and Disney, but it seems credible – we know that Disney did make an animation of his “Cochinitos Dorminlones“, and it’s impossible to find anything about the history of the two online, which is suspicious – it’s scrubbed clean!  Maybe Gustavo, if he’s still lurking around this blog, knows something about all this?)

Most of tomorrow’s concert, however, is not Mexican at all.

I’ll also be doing Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata and my arrangement of his 5th Symphony movement 1, always a great hit;  a couple of lively Bach Preludes and Fugues;  Debussy’s beautiful Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Engulfed Cathedral;  my young Croatian-American pal Johnny Herceg will sing O Danny Boy and one of our savage Balkan arrangements;  and as always there will be space for your requests.  And to me the musical high point will be the wild, feral 1919 Sonata by little-known American composer Charles Griffes, which you can hear some of here, although I do it better than this guy:

I think I’ll be doing a lot more research, performing, and writing about Cri Cri in the near future … now that I got this Disney angle.  See lots of you tomorrow!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.