Book Review: A Thousand and One Stories of Pericón de Cádiz
Back in 2012 I read the memoir A Thousand and One Stories of Pericón de Cádiz, which is about the flamenco singer Juan Matinez Vilchez, aka Pericon. This book contains a series of tape recorded stories that were compiled and transcribed by Jose Luis Ortiz Nuevo in Spanish. This volume has been translated into English by John Moore, and is being published at Invert-A Press by Aya Katz. Inverted-A Press has also published the novel Portrait of Lover by John Wheatcroft, and several other novels Aya Katz has written, such as The Few Who Count and the soon to be released Vacuum County. Inverted-A Press is the place to go if you want to read books written by independent authors with intriguing tales to share, and I get the impression indie writers with an undefined niche market might be motivated to pitch a manuscript there. In getting back to this book review, this volume about Pericon includes many fascinating tales, such as the story about the ship that delivered a mysteries bundle of cante flamenco songs to Cadiz in 1512. For some reason the people in Cadiz kept the best songs, and thus resulting in the assertion that the best flamenco singers come from this part of Spain. Pericon’s life story starts out when he is a child growing up in poverty, and how he did not really apply himself in school. Eventually he ended dropping out of school and playing illegal gambling games in the street, and he even had two hundred other kids who would obey his every command. Childhood was not a peachy lullaby for Pericon, but he seems to have had many adventures in his youth that he enjoyed immensely.
Pericon was a wayward and rebellious kid, but I found it inspirational when he talked about how people paid him not because of the candy he was selling at his first job, but because he sang about the sweets with such a sumptuous voice, which just goes to show sometimes we discover what are true life path is meant to be when we were going down the wrong one. People always want to map things out and have a life plan, but it seems in though lived in Pericon did not have grand aspirations in youth, yet somehow he enjoyed his childhood and daily adventures more than many kids who grow up with everything they could ever want or need.
Pericon talks about how young women swooned over him when he was singing at a dance hall, which just goes to show the mania young women had over Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, and now Justin Beiber is not a new phenomenon. One of the constants in different cultures and different eras is how women are often attracted to a talented singer or entertainer, and this was definitely the case with Pericon.
It was sweet to read about how Pericon met his wife, and how she would fib about going out to fetch water so they could spend time together. Also, it was amusing to read Pericon reminiscing about going on tour Marchena, and how this famous singer would leave Pericon and the other singers alone to deal with the details after large performances. Pericon becomes frustrated with Marchena’s shenanigans, and decides to leave the tour. However, the commissioner of Cadiz convinces Pericon to at least work with Marchena when he is in Cadiz at the threat of losing his performance permit, so he complies. Unfortunately, during the show in Cadiz, Pericon is forced to perform after Marchena, which he knows will be a disaster since this singer is so beloved. Pericon ingeniously turns a sticky situation into his favor by singing more of the traditional flamenco songs the performances had glossed over, which to his surprise, actually delights the crowd. Thus, Pericon is talented and clever enough to turn an awkward situation to his benefit on many occasions.
Pericon goes into hiding around the time of the Spanish Civil War because he sang a couple of verses that he believes got him in trouble, and there are several amusing tales revolving around that. Also, we hear about several tours that Pericon goes on around Spain, and these are not all that different that tours modern bands go on today. The pressure to perform and pleasing the crowd are all elements that every musician has to deal with, and Pericon definitely addresses these issues in his recollections.
The stories Pericon recollects are a bit disjointed, but there seems to be the theme of daily hardships and celebration with fiestas throughout his remembrances. Pericon recalls the story about how he wrote a song in honor of Cadiz after an explosion that occurred in this city, which at first I thought took place during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, but later in the story the year 1947 is mentioned. I actually had to Google about the explosion to found out what Pericon was referring to an incident where the Navy in Cadiz emptied leftover explosive devices from the Spanish Civil War off shore when many of these inadvertently combusted and hit buildings in the city of Cadiz. Many people died that day and this was considered one of the great disasters in Cadiz, which I only found out about from a Wikipedia article about it in Spanish. Thus, one thing I would keep in mind when reading Pericon’s stories is this are fragmented and disjointed, but the overall theme of this man’s love for singing, his concern for his family, and his affinity for his hometown Cadiz.
Around 1950 Pericon goes to Madrid to seek more stable employment with his singing career, and he eventually lands a full time gig at the popular establishment Zambra. During his time working at Zambra, Pericon also has the chance to go on tour in a few international locations, but declines to perform in New York after a turbulent flight back from Italy.
Reading about how people loved Pericon makes me remember why I love some of my favorite singers, such Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran. Even today when these bands perform the women still go wild screaming in the audience, and I just find it fascinating how this is one thing that never changes across time and space as Pericon recounts how he had many adoring fans. These days you hear a few elders shaking their fingers at the younger generation saying how “everything is going to the dogs”, but older people also said that during tenure of the Beatles in the 1960’s. The truth is there have always been wild and free spirits like Pericon, but at least he was living life according to his own terms, not condemning others for how they spend their days. There are many disjointed and mesmerizing stories Pericon shares in his memoirs of sort, and I definitely recommend checking this book out if you are at all interested in music in general, and flamenco and Spain in particular. This memoir is definitely a glimpse at a side of Spain I have never read about before. Even though I am not musically inclined myself, I am always enthralled by those who sing, and do it well as Pericon did during his heyday.