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Juanes At the Hollywood Bowl: How One Homeless Man’s Middle Finger Set the Mood

Juanes At the Hollywood Bowl: How One Homeless Man’s Middle Finger Set the Mood
August 21
11:00 2012
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
Los Angeles

I believe Woody Allen once said, “How can I be happy when I know so many other people in the world are suffering?” I couldn’t locate the quote, but I’m certain Allen said something like that. The chance he did is high, considering how much talking he’s done for the past four or five decades.

I fell into some free tickets to the Hollywood Bowl to see a Colombian singer named Juanes. Maybe I should say the tickets fell into me, or my open hands. My Libra had other plans, so I journeyed to the Bowl alone. It was my first time.

Grateful Dead’s live set from Detroit in 1973 played loud and wild on my car’s speakers. I inched my way forward in the four lines of traffic waiting to pull into the parking lot. As we waited there, our hundreds of collective engines running, burning fuel, a young drifter made his way along the sidewalk. He walked against the flow of endless families and college students, dads in polo shirts, and moms in flowery dresses and floppy hats. Some were pulling bulky coolers on wheels, which were no doubt filled with food and wine.

The young drifter, no doubt homeless and wandering, carried a dirty, torn black backpack. His khaki pants were stained and ripped. His shoes looked like they’d helped deliver him across the Mojave Desert. I wouldn’t have noticed him except I saw him raise his middle finger to all of us in our cars, waiting to park.

I thought I heard somebody in one of the cars shout an obscenity. Nobody likes the middle finger. For some reason. To me, it’s always been just a finger. It’s as prone to injury as any of the others. I didn’t blame him for the gesture, though. Life had handed him rotten lemons. You could see the unsettling hurt and anguish on his face. Life had handed the rest of us, or so it seemed, tickets to a concert in a beautiful bowl nestled in the Hollywood Hills.

I’d be pissed too. In fact, most days I am, except that this particular evening I had a free invite to attend. I was part of society that night. The ticket said it cost $61. The parking pass was $18. And concessions were triple or quadruple what they should have been.

It was almost show time when I found my seat. This was my night out, so I bought a bottle of beer and a package of sickly sweet and chemically-moist cookies. Blue and pink lights lit up the half dome covering the stage. Juanes strutted on stage with his band. The crowd screamed. Women shouted how much they loved him. You’d have thought Jesus Christ had returned with good news — don’t worry, people, we’ve got a new earth waiting, and we’re going to effortlessly switch it out with this one. You’ll have fresh resources, unstripped mountains, clean water, clean air.

But he hadn’t. Instead, it was just a man named Juanes, who had apparently sold 12 million records worldwide and won 17 Latin Grammy awards. While most people are afraid to trash a local Latin superstar, there are others of us who hear him for what he is. A Huge Voice jammed through a tight pair of nasal passages. The Hollywood Bowl orchestra was great, as was the YOLA children’s orchestra. But every time Juanes jumped in (which was most of the time), the music took a sappy downturn in quality. Like squeezing gobs of syrup into a perfectly good cup of Ethiopian coffee.

Juanes said that the night was about unifying people, whether they’re English, Spanish, or Chinese, through the universal language of music. Why he didn’t include Koreans or Germans, I’m not sure. While that logic about music is not entirely obvious to me, nor was it apparent to the folks directly behind me, who snickered when he said it, I had to agree that one thing unified the thousand or more of us packed into that Hollywood Bowl: we were all living inside of a paycheck.

That would be fine, if everybody on earth was invited to earn a paycheck worth living wages, but that’s not the case. There’s no way music’s going to unite those folks who fall on the wrong end of society. There are at least 30 million unemployed people in this country alone. Never mind the masses of Chinese and Russian peasants. The Iraqi refugees. The terrorized Yemen farmers. The radiated Japanese. The starving Somalians. And so on.

There was also that man who gave the finger to all of us trapped in the parking line. That action didn’t make me angry. It felt real. It felt necessary. Maybe this society shouldn’t have fun, and pretend the world’s peoples can be unified through syrupy Spanish music, until we all sit down, kick out the bad seeds in our government and major corporate offices, and create a fair system for everyone.

The first plan for worldwide relief of the enslaved masses should not include Jesus’ comeback. While that might be plausible, I imagine Jesus would be far more enthused about saving a human race that struggled and desperately attempted to save itself. When he drops in from the sky, perhaps into the heart of New Babylon, or New York City, we can say, we’ve completed twenty-five percent of the clean up, Lord, by hanging one hundred major investment bankers.

Christ, with hands on hips, might nod in approval. He might just shrug. What’s human life or death to a God? Hack the investment bankers to pieces, for all I care, Jesus could possibly say, but it is their souls that remain unaffected by your violence. It is their souls that will be dealt with by the Father.

Well, that’s a relief. Perhaps Lloyd Blankfein can become Satan’s left testicle. Jamie Dimon, the right. Let them create filth from that vantage point. Jeffrey Immelt could be Satan’s prostate. He’s got to be flexible in that position, as every time Satan has a bowel movement, it is the prostate that is uncomfortably squeezed. Immelt’s perfect for the job. Flexible as he was with shipping all of our American jobs to China, and then taking billions in American taxpayer money, and then his company GE, pays zero in taxes.

Either way, whether you believe in Satan or Jesus or electromagnetic waves, we sat, eating our over-priced hummus and guacamole and chips and popcorn and cookies and sandwiches and hot dogs, and drinking domestic or imported beers and sodas and hot or cold teas, and wines, while thinking, for a second or two, the solution to humanity’s problems — unifying all peoples — is wrapped up in music.

What kind of music could perform that miraculous feat? Gounod’s Faust? Maybe. John Dowland? He could instill sympathy into the teeming masses of human lemmings racing to hurtle themselves over the apocalyptic cliff. But Juanes? Maybe he’s just the man for the job.

The crowd was delirious with delight. They loved the slow songs, which I thought were pitiful. Every Juanes slow song was completely in Spanish, and that was the only part I really enjoyed because I don’t know that language, so I tried to pretend I did. With every line, I let my subconscious mind activate a crude translation. Almost like talking with a spirit, like your dead grandma. If you sit still enough, you can hear the chatter.

The crowd was also juiced. They swayed. They stood to dance. Wiggled their hips. Shook their fists. Waved their lighted cell phones in the air. Human beings, I thought that whole night, are the most peculiar type of animal. It’s refreshing to see everybody having a good time, but I felt out of place, always sitting, kind of lounging in my hard plastic chair. Holding my beer bottle and crinkling my empty cookie wrapper. Thinking about that homeless man beyond the palace gates. And the rest of the American story he represented.

All these drunken people, I imagined, pulling onto the freeway or Highland after the show. Pulling on their special driving gloves so to better handle the leather wheel in their Lexus cars. But that would come later. After every last drop of wine had been finished.

My favorite Juanes song went like this: Dah doo doo-we do we wah woo dee doo dee wah. Dah, dah, dee. If that doesn’t give you a good idea of what the music sounded like, I’d tell that homeless guy outside the Bowl, then I don’t know what else I can do for you.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous September 02, 03:37

    This doesn’t make any sence. I don’t know why someone that doesn’t even know who JUANES is, what he does, or even what his lyrics talk about, have the sinism to critic his work and his music. I was one of the millions of fans JUANES has around the world and I was there the two nights of the show. And the only pitiful about the show was the comments this person made about his lyrics and the way his music sounded. JUANES is and always will be one of the most influential people in the world. And that’s not just according to me, but the Time Magazine. Even Barak Obama the president of the United States is a big admirer of his music.

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