Guillermo Tell didn’t understand his son,
who one day he got tired of the apple on his head…
…Guillermo Tell, your son has grown up and wants to shoot the arrow
It’s his turn to prove his worth using your crossbow.
It’s been years since I’d listened to that song by Carlos Varela. I’d lost the few songs I’d recorded on old cassettes. Though over time I felt distanced from his lyrics and no longer identified with them as much, they’re still songs that shroud me in a halo of pleasant feelings. They move me.
I came across a recording of his live April 29, 1989 concert at the Chaplin Cinema. Once again I heard the rebelliousness of the CD Guillermo Tell, the nostalgia in the cut “Jalisco Park,” my fondness for “Espantapajaros,” the irreverence of “(Soy un) Gnomo.” Those were compositions that captured the 1990s, stirring within us longings for freedom. They were pleasant and at the same time quite sad.
They were pleasant because as I listened to them my mind was transported to the euphoria of those years when many of us thought something would happen. We expected a great change in our lives that wouldn’t be limited to running to try and jump on a bus, to “inventing” something to eat or simply dreaming that someday we’d live better.
We turned to his performances, we sought out his music with the security that we youth were at a turning point in the monotonous history that the country had long experienced. Through his songs we were in contact with our desires, our dreams.
The most intimate songs become universal. The street was not a simple street, but the country. William Tell’s story reflected — in addition to the generational conflict — a confrontation between youth and the government’s statism. The gnome wasn’t a mere caricature of the singer-songwriter, but the representation for many of us as to how we felt alien to reality; a tourist lent itself for making a comment about the differentiated treatment that foreigners received, and a children’s park served to narrate the story of a generation. The joy was contagious as the cassettes passed from hand to hand.
Twenty-two years have passed since that concert, but when I hear the whistles, the screams and the audience’s euphoric ovations on the recording, I can’t contain the questions: What happened? Where did all the energy go? What happened to the longings for freedom, the rebelliousness, the irreverence?
Those of us who screamed and shouted that day at the Chaplin Cinema or at any one of his concerts of the ‘90s are today dispersed around the world, each in their individual vortex. Those who left as well as those of us still on the island continue to see that nothing has changed in our country. We continue to hold up the fruit threatened by the arrow of William Tell, who doesn’t let anything change. And us? We quietly obey.