Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Monday 7 March 2011

The Incomparable Don Coyote

     While I was living in the Yucatan, I was exposed to a lot more surreality on a daily basis than I am in Ontario. One day while lounging naked under the fan, I heard a shouting outside my door. I threw on some pants and saw a scrawny hobo at my front gate.
     I went down the steps to meet him. He was holding out a length of filthy blue rope. It was about three feet long, frayed at both ends, and looked like he had found it in the ditch, which doubtless he had. He asked me if I would like to buy it.
     "No," I said.
     He accepted my decision magnanimously. People often thought we were rich because we lived in a giant concrete A frame, coincidentally called the Canadian House, which belonged to the ex-wife of the former mayor. But we were only renting the upstairs bedroom. I turned to go back up, but hesitated to watch as the hobo knocked on my neighbour's door. Chucho came out and leaned on the gate. I did not hear what was said, but Chucho took out his wallet and handed the hobo two hundred pesos.
     "Are you that desperate for rope?" I asked. The hobo moved off down the street.
     Chucho looked shocked. "No sabes quien es? Es Don Coyote!"
     Apparently, that hobo had an illustrious past. He had once been the greatest musician in Valladolid, perhaps Yucatan. These days he drank cane liquour from a Pepsi bottle and sold objects he found in the street, but he was still accorded a great deal of respect. So much so that it instantly rubbed off on me, and whenever I saw Don Coyote in the street I experienced a sensation of awe and deference.
     Once, while on my way to work, I saw the Don drinking in a doorway. He filled the bottle cap and extended it. "Toma!" he implored me, but I was riding my bicycle and I didn't stop. Another time, while I was walking to rehearsal with my band Los Tomates, the Don saw the guitar on my back and held his hands out greedily. He was tiny, wore a moustache, and had the longest fingers I have ever seen. His nails were long and ragged, he played with a shambling rasgueado but when he opened his mouth his voice was sweet and endearing.
     He played three songs. All traces of rhythm were gone, but he had retained his charisma. It was fascinating to see how his talent had obviously decayed, but the burning will to play still kept audiences rapt. The essentials, whatever they were, were intact. As luck would have it a cement mixer was running in the background, and a construction worker stepped down from the truck and took up the cry: "Es Don Coyote!"
     I paid the Don fifty pesos for the recording I made, and was much aggrieved when two of the songs didn't turn out. Los Tomates went to rehearsal and carried on with their day.
     Leaving Yucatan was hard to do. By the time our last week came around, I felt more familiar with it than the province where I grew up. I also fancied myself more extroverted, more adventurous and therefore luckier than ever before. It meant there was something I had to do before we left.
     We got in our friend Tey's car and cruised the town looking for Don Coyote. I had two days left and I felt that if I didn't find him today, I might never get to give him my guitar. It was given to me by another Canadian passing through and only proper that it stay. From the passenger's seat I spied Don Coyote at the licoreria getting his Pepsi bottle filled.
     I leapt out of the car, addressed him with the formal usted, and presented him with the guitar. He did not seem at all surprised. In fact, judging by his reaction you would think it happened fairly often. He took it graciously, strummed it once, and tuned the D string.
     He said that he would be honoured to play for us, but he was having trouble with throat and would need a drink. I said I understood and waited as he wet his whistle. Then he launched into Summertime Blues by Blue Cheer, in Spanish translation. It was better than the original.
     After the customary three songs, and posing for a few photographs, Don Coyote thanked me again and wandered down the street. The guitar had a strap made of twine, so he could sling it over his back. The chances he pawned it that same day are good. Someone will give him another one. He will play great lurching music until he is dead, and his legend will grow.

     The recordings I took do not give an accurate impression of Don Coyote's genius. The photos do a better job conveying the soul of Don Coyote, and I have attached them below. Enjoy, -M

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