Cuba Goes Full Circle with the Rolling Stones

By Martin Guevara

Mick Jagger during a visit to Havana in October, 2015.

HAVANA TIMES — There was a time rock music was banned in Cuba, just as certain romantic music stars like Julio Iglesias, Roberto Carlos and Jose Feliciano were. When I say “banned,” I am not referring to the sale of such music, but to its broadcast over the radio or to playing at a party or home.

In addition to holding get-togethers to boast of their anti-establishment virtues, rock music lovers met on the conviction that this music had powers ranging from healing attributes to the ability to make the sun rise. They would listen to a long-play record that had been brought from abroad, smelled the cover and looked at the photos and credits. Everything had come from abroad save for the fantasies one could nearly touch during these rock meetings.

Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Kiss, The Faces, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and, always, the Rolling Stones.

These bands combined the passion for music that had made the hips of the English move, respect towards the precursors of the blues world and a torrent of hearty irreverence, all externalized in a glamorous, vital, intoxicated and sexy fashion. What other banner could an unsatisfied and disaffected youth want to proudly exhibit?

Immersed in a haze of alcohol at a bar somewhere, one was Keith Richards, and, whenever one was blessed with the attention of the girls, one was Mick Jagger.

Those two words, Mick Jagger, are part of nearly every language. More than language, they are part of a sensation, a desire, the vague image of a way of life.

Cuba was one of the first places outside the United States where people danced to rock n’ roll music. Before 1959, there were local rock musicians competing with their counterparts up north. Havana welcomed no few stars from the American stage. One fine day, with the promise of the “New Man,” they swept the frivolous man off the face of the island, uprooted all carelessness, condemned volatile forms of entertainment, stifled the unruly young man and rid the country of disobedience.

The piece recorded under the EGREM label with the most electric guitar riffs was Cuba va (“Cuba Moving Forward”), a piece by the Experimental Music Band under the Cuban Film Art and Industry Institute (ICAIC). In order to see the light of day, however, it had to proclaim something as decidedly un-hippie as: “Killing out of love, so as to continue working, out of love.”

During several of his speeches, El Comandante himself dubbed these young men, who were only looking to have a good time listening to music or making love in a park, the ocean drive, outside a movie theater or across the Hotel Capri, as effeminate, disaffected, slackers and bourgeois elements. In a particularly heated speech, he accused these young men of offering shows reminiscent of the antics of Elvis Presley and “feminine,” attitudes the revolution could not tolerate.

Many of them went through terrible moments, others donned their “extravagant” clothes, faced with constant harassment and the unrelenting agents of revolutionary morale.

On any block, a meeting of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) discussed those who listened to rock music, referring to them as anti-socials, as scum.

Every six months at school, they held a Communist Morality Assembly, where any student in the class shamelessly stood and accused another of being a hedonist who enjoyed that subversive music, those unbridled swinging motions. Those who had let their hair grow over their ears, wore their uniform pants too tightly, their shirts too loose or their belts subversively glued to the hip, were similarly condemned.

They would then smear their cumulative school or work record with a readily recognizable label: “ideological diversionism.” This stigma accompanied these people along with other such stains for the rest of their careers.

Even The Beatles were accused of being scum that perverted youth, until the Soviet Union collapsed and Fidel Castro, in an effort to grow closer to the inventors of the blue jean, set up a statue of Lennon in a park in Havana.

This intolerance was not the exclusive hallmark of Cuba and its monarchs, it was characteristic of the Left that came to power in Second World countries and tried to take power in Latin America, where they proved as repressive as the most backward-minded Right, striking a naïve pose that was advanced as an esthetic phenomenon but today, in hindsight, strikes as pure moralism.

Cuba’s UMAP concentration camps: trucks loaded up with long-haired young men, homosexuals and hippies, military officers cutting people’s hair, sticking them in forced labor camps that taught them to be men through effort, prohibitions on entire music genres, the censorship of Almas Vertiginosas, Dada, Los Barba, Maggie Carles, following assessments conducted by the Ministry of Culture, which are still conducted today.

And, while the Rolling Stones continued to play in step with the times, they went from blues to rock, from psychedelic to funky music, from disco to Miss Your or Undercover, going through reggae to folk music, flirting with punk – they saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, Prague and Moscow and, there, they lit up the air, to change what was “forbidden” into what was “allowed.”

Like mythical birds risen from the ashes, the Satanic Lords will play in Havana following the visit of the US president. The world has yielded to the changes of the time, but Cuba, zig-zagging away from such touch-ups, continues to be governed, for more than half a century now, by the political Inquisition.

In 1968, a scrawny, glamorous and irreverent Englishman set up camp in front of the US Embassy in London during an anti-war demonstration. Some said that Jagger and Richards were becoming involved in politics for the first time. Today, they will step onto the stage at one of the last strongholds of the Cold War.

I hope that great concert on March 25 will be a feast for all the restless, fun and unruly out there, those from yesteryear, who are still on the island, those of today and tomorrow, and that this will not be like the infamous concert staged by Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Collidge and others at the Karl Marx Theater, held in 1979, under the strictest secrecy, attended exclusively by Young Communsit League members and obsequious government officials.

I hope it will be a party where Cubans, the Rolling Stones and visitors can have fun, and that those snitches, abusive officials and sycophants who are sure to attend under orders, to give the few shoves they still have in them, will have the decency to stay outside, to plug up their ears, to avert their eyes from the big screen, to feel kept out, that they know this concert is for people with positive vibrations and that it seeks to turn the “forbidden” into the “allowed.”

For decades, countless players lost a popular bet, saying “Fidel has a few breaths left in him,” and “this will be the last Rolling Stones concert.”

These two dinosaurs are still roaming the Earth.

The big bet is open again. Which of the two will finally claim a place in eternity?

10 thoughts on “Cuba Goes Full Circle with the Rolling Stones

  • Those chicks in the photo are really skanky. You could do better, Mick.

  • Both sides have made mistakes. The difference is that the people who make (made) mistakes in the West are dead or at least long out of power. Henry Kissinger comes to mind. In Cuba, the same egomaniacal despots who failed the Cuban people in 1966 are still running things in 2016.

  • I have visited Cuba 90 times and the most popular song in Cuba is Hotel California by the Eagles.

  • John, who has a better grasp of history, will likely remind you that as opposed to just having said stupid things in the past, as Fidel is guilty of, much, much worse has happened on our side of the Cold War fence. Are you going to ridicule the Chileans for renaming the Estadion Nacional after Victor Jara ?

  • No. The difference was quite stark. In Cuba the music was banned and the hippies and rockers were sent to forced labor camps.

  • I was in Cuba and havana many times in 90s and 2000- and, in reality, I remember well at pub, on the streets and on beach bar any type of music from occident. Rock, pop etc. Rolling Stones, Beatles, Elton John just to Jose Feliciano then was so much played. officlally banned (on radio, tv and record stores) but, like many other things there, not in real life of people.

  • He probably mention the “blockade” twenty times, free medical treatment, and free education, so the rest including this horror is ignored. The translation it’s not even that good I saw this on TV was on September 28 1968 just tree days after they swiped the street of the Rampa the closed de area with buses and arrest everyone that look “improper” gays, rockers, hippies everyone that didn’t fit the stereotype of new revolunary woman were included as well the ppl were send to working camp named Turcio Limas and Zena for 14 months. My younger brother who was 15 then was in there. How anyone justify so much injustice?

  • Around the same time the Southern Bible Thumpers were condemning the “devil music” of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, etc. (and, a few years later, that of the Stones and the Beatles), and even burning on pyres their albums. The difference being that, in general, the Revolution has been able to modify its attitudes, while for the most part many Southern folks have not (although there have always been indigenous Southern “hell-raisers,” like those who followed Jerry Lee Lewis, who never went along with all that Southern Baptist crap!).

  • I hope John Goodrich, a Castro bootlicker and frequent commenter here at HT, listens to this video. Maybe twice. For that matter, all those who have ignorantly claimed that Castro is anything near a great man. His comments in this speech disqualify him from claiming even his humanity. This is far from Castro’s worst. He has given speeches railing against US presidents, businessmen, professional sports, and organized religion. Isn’t it ironic that with one foot in the grave, the old fart is welcoming Popes, exiled Cuban MLB players, the US Chamber of Commerce, and even a US President. He must really feel stupid for having said all that ridiculous crap and living long to see it all unravel before his decrepit old eyes.

  • Incredible as it may seem, Fidel Castro’s mention at the University of Havana, in 1963, that the young effeminates who were abusing of the liberties he and the revolution had granted them had better get rid of attitudes which he called “elvispreslianas” did not make it past that particular mention, never becoming as it was usually the case with whatever Castro said, a part of the lexicum. Come to think of it, “Elvispreslianas” , would have been a nice addition to the Spanish language…

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