Other Voices: Mark Guerrero

Mark Guerrero

Guerrero is a singer, songwriter, recording artist, and Chicano music historian who, like his brother Dan Guerrero, knew Almaraz since childhood. He recollects his motivation to write “The Ballad of Carlos Almaraz.”

When I was three years old, my older brother Dan took me by the hand as we walked up McDonnell Avenue in East Los Angeles to meet Carlos and his younger brother Ricky. The Almaraz family lived a block up the street from our family home. Carlos was my brother’s best friend and Ricky, who was my age, became mine. I remember clearly to this day the four of us standing around a fig tree in their front yard. Because Carlos was eight years my senior, a huge age difference between children, we developed our own friendship when I became an adult and my brother had moved to New York.

I have many treasured memories of Carlos. In 1968, when I was eighteen years old, I went to New York to visit my brother. While I was there, I visited Carlos in SoHo. I was still living at home in the suburbia of Monterey Park, California. In contrast, Carlos was living in a big loft surrounded by his paintings in a very hip artists’ colony. I remember him playing the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” at an extremely high volume at three a.m. with his windows wide open. Since he was in SoHo, no one complained. It blew my young mind that someone could live with such freedom.

A few years later, in 1972, Carlos invited my band to play at a small art gallery in East L.A. for the opening of an exhibition of his work. He didn’t have money to pay us, but since he was a friend whose work we supported, we came to play anyway. After our performance, he gave each of us one of his watercolor pieces. I still have mine—an image of a dog sitting by a magician’s table at night with a crescent moon above.

In 1992, after Carlos’s passing, my father Lalo and I were invited to write songs about Carlos for a memorial tribute event at LACMA. I wrote a heartfelt song called “The Ballad of Carlos Almaraz” and was honored to sing it at the event. To me Carlos Almaraz is unparalleled in Chicano art because of the originality, quality, quantity, and diversity of his work. He was a great artist, a great friend, and I miss him. However, with special people you get to know during your lifetime, some become a part of you. Carlos is still with me.

 

“The Ballad of Carlos Almaraz”

Sunset over Echo Park, L.A.’s winding down

A candy apple red horizon glowing on the town

An artist with a canvas a palette and a brush

Captured its magnificence and gave it all to us

 

Let us remember a friend forever

A brother además

Propose a toast and raise a glass

To Carlos Almaraz

 

Two mad dogs battle for a bone, an image of burning greed

Crashing cars on boulevards, the futility of speed

Pouring out his heart and soul in colors true and bold

Imagination brought to life forever to behold

 

Let us remember a friend forever

A brother además

For all of that I tip my hat

To Carlos Almaraz

 

He worked with gangs in East L.A.

With Cesar Chavez too

A man who cared, a man who shared

His vision with me and you

 

He cut sugarcane in Cuba, he always was a dreamer

Walked on the Great Wall of China, sailed to Europe on a steamer

Forever chasing windmills, searching for the way

He found his final resting place by the shores of Hanalei

 

Let us remember a friend forever

A brother además

Thanks for all of it, we won’t forget you

Carlos Almaraz

© 1992 Mark A. Guerrero. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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