Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Centromatic Incident

You'll have to bear with me on this post (or skip it) because it's a little convoluted in my head. But it's still bothering me a little so:

Setting: Monday night at Great Scott in Allston Rock City.
Background details:

1. The conversation - Earlier in the evening, I was talking to Gail and Rich about how ignorant many Americans are about Latino immigrants (Gail and I have both worked in kitchens where we met Latinos who quit their jobs as teachers and left their families to come to the US and work as dishwashers, where they were then treated like shit by idiot white kids who thought they were dumb because they didn’t speak English).
2. The band - Centromatic is an indie rock band from Texas with a little alt-country edge, that ranges from minimalist mellowish to rocky rock. I met the lead singer a couple years ago and he seemed nice.
3. The crowd - During the super soft sensitive opening band, I had to present written apology notes to little indie rock fucks who took issue with me whispering excuse me and trying to get past them to the bathroom.
4. The tequila – I was coaxed into 3 tequila shots over the course of the night to go along with a few beers, so I had a nice little tequila tinged buzz going on, but was by no means really hammered.

Centromatic was playing a pretty good show for about a hour. I was standing off to the side of the stage so I had a good view of the band and the crowd. Then these two young Latino guys stood in front of me to watch the band. They didn’t exactly fit in with the white hipster crowd (wearing a Houston Texans cap, dancing, not matching the cultural norm, I don’t know how to explain this I guess). Based on their appearance/behavior, I’d make an educated guess and say they were immigrants from Mexico/Central America. They were having a good time, not bothering anyone, just checking out the band. One guy turned to me and gave me the little head nod of approval and cheers clink of the beer. Then Centromatic played a slower song and they appeared to be into it and, in what appeared to be a pretty sincere move, the one guy went and put a dollar on the stage and when he didn’t get any response he said “hey buddy” (not too loud) and raised his glass up in cheers. Some people around him started laughing. I felt bad, so I tapped him on the shoulder and gave him a little cheers clink of the glass and gave the other guy a thumbs up. At the end of the song, some guy said “I’ve never seen that before in my life” and laughed. And then the band started joking about it, saying “someone just gave us a dollar. Someone just threw a dollar up on the stage. I guess that’s what we’re worth. A dollar.” Everyone laughed (most people, anyways). And the two guys stood there for a minute and then walked out embarrassed. Then I left in disgust and waited at the back of the bar for Gail and Rich. I wasn’t sure what to make of the whole thing, and I’d had a few drinks so I wasn’t going to say anything, but I also wasn’t about to stand there with the privileged class mocking the sincere gesture of the minority class (especially considering the minority class is currently being disrespected to historic proportions by the government of this country and the non-immigrant people that they’re pandering to with this new anti-immigrant legislation).

Did the band see him put it up there and just decide to make fun of him? If so, were they just clowning around and not being racist/classist/culturist/whatever? Was it all a misunderstanding where they thought he did it sarcastically and decided to throw it back at the heckler type of thing? And even if they were just clowning around, isn’t that incredibly crass to say “oh, thanks for your little dollar, I really want your one dollar” to a guy who likely valued that dollar more than they did? Or am I making prejudiced assumptions about the guy’s financial situation based on him being an immigrant (or at least a non-native English speaker)? Did they not see him put it up there or hear him say “hey buddy” and toast them? There weren’t that many people there. It’s hard for me to imagine, but it’s possible. I wasn’t on stage, playing a show.

When Gail and Rich came back and I mentioned it, she said she felt really uncomfortable about the whole thing too, so at least I know it wasn't all in my head. Rich didn’t see it and was therefore willing to give the band the benefit of the doubt. Which is fair. I still don’t know what the situation really was. I just felt nauseated by the whole thing because at a bare minimum, a bunch of white hipster Americans definitely saw it and definitely laughed at them and definitely did not seem to have any remorse about making these guys feel like shit and leave. Fucking pricks.


Brian said...

Uhh, no idea about the dollar bill incident, but heres my 2 cents (as I await seeing them next weekend): I can say that Will and the band are one of the more earnest and working class groups in indierockdom. They don't just play in the hipster set, they are bonafide alt-country too. And to say that they valued the dollar any less than the mexican youths at the show is pushing it. 1. You're assuming these guys are just getting by working low wage jobs (which remains to be seen) and 2. Last time I checked, Centro-Matic weren't burning up the charts. They're known 'cause they've been around for 10 years, but their fantastic new release hasn't even been reviewed by the hipster standard bearer (pitchfork). I've seen South San Gabriel shows at Emos with just a couple dozen people in attendance. And this is their backyard! Further, being on the road 150 days a year and managing to put out 2 - 3 cds a year under various names tells me these guys know the value of a dollar.
Giving a dollar to the band IS kinda weird. Regardless of ethic background. Do you think the crowd laughed any louder because the guy wasn't a hornrimmed-eyeglass-lowcut converse allstar-wearing indie rocker? At best, your amigo didn't know it was a national act playing and thought it was some local band (which at first site at the great scott, you wouldn't necessarily think any band playing there plays out outside of rt. 128).

If you want I can ask 'em about it for some closure here.

Dan said...

I tend to agree with your assessment of the band, which is partly why it was disconcerting. And as far as my assumption that the guys were just getting by working low wage jobs, I said that it was an educated guess and it may have been a prejudiced assumption on my part. But as a guess it was definitely educated - based on my experience working in kitchens with Mexicans in NYC and Florida, as well as the reality of the socio-economic status of the majority of non-white, non-native-english-speaking Mexicans (native central americans?) in major cities in the US. I don't think I was wrong on that one, but yes, it's possible. Also, giving a dollar to a band is definitely not weird for a Latin American. In fact, I would say it's a pretty common custom, especially since, as you point out, they probably thought they were watching a local band in front of a less than packed house. If the band didn't see them and thought it was some hornrimmed indie rocker, then their sarcastic response, makes perfect sense and would be perfectly appropriate because the dollar almost certainly would have been put up there in jest. So if they didn't see it and just saw or were alerted to the dollar, then they didn't do anything wrong. And that very well may be the case, which is why I just walked to the back of the bar, frustrated at the convoluted nature of the situation. Because even if the band did nothing wrong, the two guys did walk away feeling like shit, and the crowd did laugh at them. And if the band didn't see them, a good portion of the crowd in my area definitely did. trust me on that one. and I couldn't stand there around those people who were either culturally ignorant or elitist or too cowardly not to laugh at something that was (possibly inadvertently) at the expense of the genuine expression of these guys or too cowardly or stupid to realize after they laughed with good intentions but hurt someone's feelings and then didn't have a problem continuing to stand with all the other people in the area who were guilty of one of those things too. It's very difficult to explain this properly, but at the very least it was really fucked up of those people.

The fact that it's all set to the background of the super-degrading anti-immigration legislation passed in the house, may make it seem more egregious to me. The Mexican working class gets zero respect in this country and to see this extra disrespect happen to these guys bugged the hell out of me. It just sucked that it happened.