Thankful, Shakira

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Shakira came into my life in Cancun, Mexico in the mid-90s, though I did not know Shakira was Shakira then.  What anglo would?

First trip to Mexico, the whole family, Roxanne and the kids, a midwinter break in the balmy Caribbean.  We stayed at the DoubleTree — ocean view.  It was the time I insisted we take a taxi into the old town, to see how the real Mexicans lived.  After a while of meandering a few shabby blocks near an old bull ring rodeo stadium and some shops of meager everyday merchandise and not finding a cantina where we all might take lunch, daughter Michel implored we get out of there and go back to the hotel zone.

“We don’t belong here,” she whispered.  “We’re invading their privacy.  Dad, we get it, let’s go.”

My intent was to share experience of a foreign culture with my kids, expose them to life beyond the resorts and the mall.  That was the time we also took a bus trip tour to the temples of Chichen Itza, and a ferry boat tour to Cozumel Island.  It was touristy but we rode a bus deep into the Yucatan and visited towns of adobe and Spanish stone and learned about the Maya at the places they actually live.  We climbed up and down the great pyramid and saw from above the altar of Chac Mool.  At Cozumel we snorkeled amid neon fish and vibrant coral and took a tour after lunch at a little family factory that made coral jewelry, where a lady gave me a little sample twig of black coral.  Except for our venture into old town Cancun our contact with Mexican Mexico we kept within a comfort zone.  At old town Cancun — nobody I asked could recall what the little town was called before the 1970s when FONATUR established what is now the famed and iconic Riviera Maya — the four of us stood out like neon fish out of water.  No one approached us and asked us what we wanted, everybody just eyeballed us and seemed to stay out of our way.  Some smiled, and that’s about all.

“I’m with Michel,” confided Vincent, putting a hand on my back.  “We should go.  These people don’t want us to see them this way.”

From nowhere a taxi came round a corner and Roxanne hailed it.  I felt bad.  Once again Dad risked everybody’s lives pursuing some kind of social adventure.  They persuaded me their discomfort and paranoia was really about us encroaching on people’s space and crossing boundaries unwelcome, and I felt bad about that too — impressed with the wisdoms of two young teenagers, and their mom of course.

We probably ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, where Michael Bolton and Kenny G were the gold record icons.  We sunbathed at the beach at the Hotel Presidente because the beach along the DoubleTree had been consumed the previous season by a hurricane named Roxanne.  The beach will come back, a concierge told us.  “The sea always gives back it’s dead.”

I have never met Shakira, and this story will not end that way.  However, the first time I heard a Shakira song was in Cancun.  Down below and next door to the DoubleTree was a big tent like a quonset hut where a night club pounded dance music from a live band.  With the hotel balcony glass door slid open to feel the night air off the sea the music put everybody else to sleep, but the pulsating Latin beats and rhythms rocked me more awake.  With Roxanne’s permission I got up, put my clothes on and left my wife and kids to go down to check out the club.

“Don’t make me worry,” she said.  “Don’t stay out too long.”

There was no cover charge but the guy at the door said there was a two drink minimum.  I lucked into a seat at a table at the front by the dance floor.  The waiter seized on me as if to chase me away and I ordered a pair of rum and cokes.  The band ended its second to last number and went into its finale.  They were tight, featured horns and a wicked drummer.  I was sorry I hadn’t arrived sooner to see more songs.  When the band quit and started to pack up, the sound system played recorded music that sounded to me like Latin disco.  Even if some of the crowd thinned out at the tables after the band stopped, more people came to the tables to dance and filled the dance floor.  In my early 40s, I was maybe the oldest man in the room.  I may also have been the only anglo man.  The sound system was state of the art, and the music coming out of it impeccably produced — the hi fi delivered these sensational dance songs in Spanish with a hyper Latin beat, the likes I never heard before and I loved it.  The songs got faster, more people got up and danced, and a song came on everybody recognized and everybody got up to dance, so I got up and danced too.

It was a woman singer with a voice of authority and conviction, and the chorus went Estoy aqui!  It’s imprinted in my memory because so many of the clubbers sang along as if it were their anthem, and I knew enough high school Spanish to know what it meant, I am here!  And it seemed so appropriate to me a rum and coke and a half into dancing alone with a club full of young Latinx closing down the club.  The song ripped into its final verse then chorus and confetti and balloons dropped from the ceiling.  Dancers raised their arms to catch the confetti and stomped the balloons as they danced and chanted.  To me the words of this song sounded like she was singing, Estoy aqui en creme brulee, which is not right but that’s how I tried to remember it.  I had never seen one song incite and impassion a whole room of people that way before.  When it ended most people picked up their jackets, purses and belongings and meandered out.  The sound system played a slow dance and a few couples lingered, collapsed together on the dance floor.  I knocked down my remaining rum and coke.  Tried to get another but the guy — same guy as the guy at the door — said I missed last call.  The end of this slow dance was the last dance.  Time to go.  I came away thankful I somehow found an authentic Mexican experience.

Back at the DoubleTree I whispered to Roxanne, “Estoy aqui.  Daddy’s home.”

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About ten years later I was browsing the CD racks at Target at a place called Eden Prairie.  Roxanne went all the way to Eden Prairie to get her hair cut and styled by our niece Kelly Kelly.  To both me and Roxanne the Eden Prairie mall by freeway from Minneapolis is located in the Bermuda Triangle of suburban mapping.  We travel together to help each other navigate, and it seems we never seem to find the mall the same route twice in a row, much less the way out to drive home on the first try.  But Roxanne likes to support family, and niece Kelly Kelly has a flair for comb and scissors, so every month or so Roxanne made the effort to get her hair cut at Eden Prairie, and I would browse the mall.  One day at Target, waiting for Roxanne, I felt inclined to find some music.

Specifically some Latin rock.  This was maybe a dozen or so years ago, back when CDs were still mass merchandised, and at the time Target stocked a Latin section, even such an anglo market as Eden Prairie.  I just didn’t know what to buy.  After Cancun and then Punta Cana and a bunch of stays at Ixtapa Zihuatanejo I developed almost a craving for Latin music and was trying to find artists beyond Gloria Estefan and Juan Secada.  I bought a couple of hits anthologies, and they were interesting, some catchy, but not as good.  I lucked into Duo Guardabarranco and a kickass Mexican R&B band called Inspector, but mostly things I picked left me discouraged, as if my benchmark expectations might be too extravagant.  Ricky Martin seemed inauthentic.  Marc Anthony failed to inspire.  I tried the original Selena (not Gomez) but couldn’t fathom why she was supposedly so popular.

At Target that day, not just in the Latin section but across the whole pop CD section they were promoting a two-CD package deal from a singer named Shakira for only $12.99, Fijacion Oral vol 1 and Oral Fixation vol 2, with a DVD video included.  It was packaged like a boxed set.  One side, vol 1, against a vermilion background a radiant blond woman with luminescent skin in a white lace wedding dress holds a baby pulling at her necklace.  On the other side, vol 2, a tanned muscular naked woman with her private parts obscured by a tree and a vine holds an apple in her hand in an athletic stance rather like Michelangelo’s David, and looking down from the boughs of the tree is not a serpent but another little baby — maybe the same baby as the cover of vol 1, maybe not, even the two Shakiras don’t quite resemble the same woman, which made me briefly consider Shakira might not be the name of a person but a band or orchestra.  I had never heard of this Shakira.

At $12.99 it seemed a clearance price, which made me the more suspicious, but I bought the package anyway.  Almost reluctantly I played it a few days later, alone in my loft on the big stereo, time I reserved to catch up on my correspondence.  Vol 1, from the top, volume lower than average in case what I heard sounded sour.

Stop!  What is this?  Turn it up and start over.  The song starts as if in mid conversation, like a high school girls choir singing in French.  Acoustic guitar strings guide a narrative, now Spanish, in a voice vaguely familiar and infinitely unique.  The song progresses as this beautiful voice torches the heart and falls back knowingly wistful, and it doesn’t matter I don’t understand most of the lyrics, something beguiled me to trust her voice, the most beautiful voice on the planet.

Gradually I upped the volume on the old Utah speakers.  Her voice song to song carried each progressive melody, she the lead instrument within a band impeccably arranged and exquisitely produced.  The album was a wonder to listen to.  The third song had me in tears.  A duet with some guy named Alejandro Sanz, call and response, imploring and rebuke, it was the best Latin rock and roll song I ever heard.  And I couldn’t understand the words.  It was all music, the voices, instruments in the band.  What a frikken band, I thought.  And wept.  I played track 3 again just to be sure I wasn’t halucinating.

She sang, “Ay amor…”

It was the most beautiful album I ever heard in ages.  Executive produced by Rick Rubin, who I later learned was a recording maestro at Columbia records.  Better than Moondance.  Better than Silk Degrees or Songs of Love and Hate or Layla and Other Love Songs, Tea For the Tillerman or Court and Spark.  It approached A Hard Day’s Night and Rubber Soul.  An exquisite recording.

The first three songs celebrated new love, lamented lost love, and said good bye to love unreliable and unfulfilled.  One called “Dia Especial” was guitar band like the early Beatles, I could imagine Shakira with an electric guitar and singing into the mic wearing wraparound shades, both Lennon and McCartney.  The song “No” — about halfway through the CD — she escorts you to the seams of depression, an aria so full of pity Gene Pitney would have cried.  Then next she’s smirking and teasing with another rocked-up disco dance piece about las mujeres son las de la intuicion.  Next thing it’s the voice of innocence and barefoot naivete.  She rips into the blues on a song she calls “Lo Imprescindible” which I think of as Bleibe, Baby Bleibe, Baby, so eurotech and nasty, so persuasive and commandeering.  Then the disc ends with a reprise of the second song, titled “La Pared Acoustica”, a version accompanied only by her pianist, and in Spanish the torch of her voice could be a cello, a string quartet of instruments.  I was beginning to believe Shakira could sing more than one note at the same time.  The album closed with a different version of my favorite, track 3, “La Tortura” (the torture), remixed without the duet with the Alejandro guy and stripped of the band, instead set to the beat of a techno military march.

Oral Fixation vol 2 was in English and I compared the contents to see if maybe it might be a straight translation of vol 1, but it was not.  Actually “Dia Especial” turns up as “The Day and the Time”, and the enticing, enchanting opening track of vol 1, “En Tus Pupilas” which opens so abruptly like you’ve happened into a conversation among a high school girls choir, finally shows up as the 11th track of 12, called “Something”.  And a reprise of “La Turtura” with an English dub of a few lines is the bonus track.  All these match the Spanish ones on vol 1 note for note.

The rest of vol 2 is fresh and includes the one hit single by which she is mostly known, “Hips Don’t Lie”.  In English her lyrics challenged the sanctity of her own voice.  There was no excuse to pay no attention to the story, and if the story didn’t add up there were no Spanish poetics to bail her out.  “Illegal” yearns for romantic truth and justice — “It should be illegal to deceive a woman’s heart” — guided by aching guitar interludes by Carlos Santana.  “Don’t Bother” is as American hard rock as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  Songs mock show business, reminisce old times (when she was, what, 20?) and call out God.  The album ends, not counting the bonus track, with a rousing dance beat anthem accompanied by a children’s choir about political attitudes and references to the 2004 tsunami that hit East Timor — “What about the people who don’t matter anymore…”

Who is this Shakira?  How did anybody this good get past me?

I asked around.  People laughed.  Seriously?  Either people knew nothing or said she was a jailbait tart singer like a latter day Andrea True, like she’d be a Stormy Daniels with a record contract in her day.  My son Vincent didn’t respect her because she was a product of the starmaker machine.  Daughter Michel cringed to think “Underneath Your Clothes” might get introduced to her baby girl Clara on grandpa’s stereo — I didn’t even know what that song was until I researched Shakira’s backlist.

I’ve had crushes on female singers since I was 13 with Dionne Warwick and Mary Travers.  There’s been Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Dido, Carole King, Dusty Springfield, the Heart sisters, Bonnie Raitt, Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Delores O’Riordan, Stevie Nicks, Kim Carnes, Sarah McLachlan, Gloria Estefan, Om Kolthoum, Jennifer Warnes, Enya and Roberta Flack, and over time each more or less broke my heart and moved on, all except maybe Bonnie Raitt.  After Shakira came Neko Case, Adele and Lady Gaga.  Be it said Buffalo Kelly crushes deep with female vocals, and it was hard for me to accept Shakira existed without my knowing, even conceding I hadn’t listened to Top 40 radio since about 1987.

It was a meager trail.  At Target in the S section of pop/rock CDs I found Laundry Service, her first album sung in English, released 2001.  I was looking for Pies Descalzos, 1995, and Donde Estan los Ladrones? from 1998, Shakira’s earliest available work, and I found them along with Grandes Exitos (greatest hits) in a Latin CD and video shop on E Lake St.  I now had enough Shakira going back enough time to convince me if she’s for real.  Or not.  Her body of work was already a dozen years old, she had a greatest hits anthology already and I just learned she existed.  “Hips Don’t Lie” was already an oldie.  As they say in Spanish, Ya!

First of all I learned she is not Mexican.  She’s from Colombia.  I saw pictures of her as a young teenager, hair all teased and frizzed with lopsided ponies, black lace scrunchies and wristies like Madonna’s “Borderline” and “Lucky Star”.  The cover of her first album, Pies Descalzos (bare feet), is simple and austere.  Sepia tone photos suggest a long haired hippie girl in bell bottoms and peasant blouse, barefoot with acoustic guitar.  Her expression is moody, petulant perhaps.  She was 18.

This is the album of “Estoy Aqui”, the anthem of the dance club at Cancun, and listening to it again was a solemn formality to confirm what I thought I remembered.  Still, I listened through the whole album and decided she wanted to debut a folk singer.  I promised to revisit.

The second album, called Donde Estan los Ladrones? (where are the thieves?) presented a problematic album cover of Shakira in tight long sleeve leotard with her face very angry while her eyes spark, her dark hair in dreadlocks and her hands filthy with dark tarry oil.  Now she’s 21.  Her band sounds fantastic.  Like Descalzos, Ladrones is all Spanish, so again her voice is the band’s lead instrument, no lyrics to distract.  Measured to Fijacion Oral it was delight to listen to Ladrones end to end.  It was a Blood on the TracksDeja Vu (CSNY).  From the first track, “Ciega, Sordomuda” (blind, deafmute), a mariachi vaquera caballera anthem, through “Ojos Asi” (eyes like yours), a Latin Arabian rocker with power chords so sharp they slice your ears, the album astonishes.

A power ballad called “Tu” breaks your heart with a melody so familiar it’s like you heard it Americanized on a country western jukebox but you just can’t place how.

Reading up on Shakira there’s a story about her instruments and notebooks getting stolen from the Bogota airport ahead of recording this album, setting her back to start over from memory with the songs.  I guess this might be why she looks so depressed on the back cover.

One song on this album convinced me beyond any doubt Shakira was for real.  “Sombra de Ti” (shadow of you).  It’s a tender torch song rendered as if backed by a trio on a sultry corner stage in a steamy cellar club of lovelorn expats.  The song, buried deep as an afterthought, second to last track, a simple moody testament in whispers and full throat anguish, spare accompaniment, proved to me she was a genuine authentic singer songwriter.  No starmaker machine could ever manufacture such a voice.

I realized I was late by ten years.  Four albums — five if you count Fijacion Oral/Oral Fixation vol 1 and 2 separately — six if you count her Grandes Exitos.  In her early 20s she already had a greatest hits anthology which predated the releases of Fijacion Oral (which included “Sombra de Ti”, so somebody noticed) and “Tu”, and I learned later, she won some Grammy awards.  Not so odd, even the Rolling Stones had a greatest hits anthology (High Tide and Green Grass) a mere three years into their career.  Matter of fact, at the time I found Shakira music I really didn’t have any fresh hobbies, so I devoted some spare time looking her up as I kept replaying her songs.  I came to Laundry Service deliberately in chronological order.

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It came out in November 2001, about three years after Ladrones and six since Pies DescazosLaundry Service was designed as a glam album.  On the cover cute face close up Shakira is blond and curly with a tattoo on her naked shoulder that reads the title of the album.  The music inside verges on classic rock.  This album, like Ladrones, was produced by Emilio Estefan, the Miami Sound Machine.  It was Shakira’s first releases in English.

Still, some of the best work on the album is in Spanish, and that I guess will ever be so.  Even songs she sings in both languages seem to sound a little better en espanol, maybe because they sound exotic to my anglo ears and I wonder if there are clues to hidden meanings within idioms I need to listen to over and over to understand.  Her band picks up right off Ladrones in its exploration of Latin rock and roll.  “Objection Tango” (or “Te Aviso, Te Anuncio” the Spanish version) rips into the traditional Latin dance vocabulary, rocked up fast like a wedding reception band with Shakira nonstop pleading and scolding breathlessly.  “Whenever, Wherever” (called “Suerte”, lucky in the Spanish version) is a word for word translation, I have found, and in the right markets could have been a big radio hit.  It goes, “Whenever, wherever, we’re meant to be together, I’ll be here and you’ll be near, and that’s the deal, my dear.”  And then she sings, in both versions, “Le lo la le lo le,” whatever that means — it just sounds so cool, folk rock with an Andean flute, super cute.  Among the Spanish songs not redone in translation is a kickass rocker called “Te Dejo Madrid” that captures the band’s incorruptibility.  Indeed, like “Tu” from the album before, a ballad called “Underneath Your Clothes” clearly crosses over into country pop radio as she sings of possessive entitlement to her lover’s body.

There’s a lot of sensuality to the album, but it could be expected.  It was the new millennium and she was a pretty girl of 24.  I looked for evidence of integrity.  I wanted to know if the star machine corrupted Shakira.

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alternate album cover

Who is she?

Born 2 February, 1977 in Barranquilla, Colombia, Shakira Mebarak.  Shakira means thankful in Arabic.  Her father was of Lebanese descent, which may explain why her name is spelled with a K instead of Shaquira.  The family seems to have been fairly well off.  They moved to Bogota, the capital city, when she was a child.  Her father was a jeweler.  A story tells that when Shakira was a little girl her father brought her to a place in el centro, downtown Bogota, to show her crowds of beggars, homeless people and barefoot children, and he told her to look at all their faces and always remember she had the grace of privilege and to be ever mindful of these who were not so gifted and be grateful for what she had.  From the success of her first album and the single “Estoy Aqui” she established Fundacion Pies Descalzos, Barefoot Foundation, an NGO charity devoted to building schools and providing nutrition for children of poverty in Colombia.  She was named a United Nations goodwill ambassador to UNICEF to promote political initiatives to end no access to education.  US President Barack Obama named her to an advisory commission on educational excellence.

For a little while late at night on weekends on TV when the ad rates were low the local stations would run a black and white PSA (public service announcement) of Shakira in jeans and a chambray shirt representing a charity soliciting funds for an international effort to feed children so they would be nutritionally fit to learn in school.

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Unicef

There used to be a Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Minneapolis (it’s now at Mall of America) and one time my employer held a quarterly rally there, and I was disappointed (but not surprised) there was no Shakira memorabilia displayed.  (The collection understandably was heavy with stuff from Prince.  There was, however, a garter belt from Madonna.)  I was surprised when I inquired, however, to be led to the gift shop by one of the servers where there were t-shirts for sale designed by rockers like Bono with proceeds going to UNICEF.  There was a black shirt designed by Shakira with a pink guitar with white angel wings.  The inventory tag called it number 23.  I bought the smallest one they had and gave it to my three year old grandchild Clara.  It was big as a dress.  Today she’s 13 and has passed it on to her sister Tess, who is 10.

I am disappointed Shakira was skipped off U2’s concert tour montage of women they call Herstory.

Autumn 2001 was not a good time to release a glam rock album unless it was a remastered remix of Sophie Tucker — Kate Smith, I mean, just kidding — belting out “God Bless America”.  9-11 jinxed all civilized psyches.  It rendered all social contracts absurd.  Everybody revealed the plain truth about ourselves, none of us are to be trusted in this world.

Even so, a pretty blond of 23 with an Arabic name had one of the top ten most popular songs in America going towards Christmas that year nobody likes to remember.  “Whenever, Wherever” got as high as number 6.  It’s possible Shakira sang at that year’s local KDWB Clear Channel Radio Jingle Ball, I wouldn’t have known or cared about American Top 40 radio at that time.  These were serious times.

A war with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, possibly Iran and more than likely against Saddam Hussein seemed as likely as any pathway to the end of the world.  I was 50 years old that year.  Not a Top 40 demographic.  Almost too cynical to hear Springsteen’s call, “Come on up for The Risin’…”  Deaf to Shakira singing, “I’m ready for the good times…”

My bad.  When I finally heard Laundry Service it was about six years late.  Some of the songs seemed quaint and canned like Pepsi.  Even the best songs hark back to pre-Fijacion production values like vintage retro records.  Laundry like Ladrones was produced by Emilio Estefan.  Track 11 (of 13) is in fact “Ojos Asi” note for note from the Ladrones album except sung in English as “Eyes Like Yours”, including the cryptic electric violin and Egyptian surfer guitar power chords so sharp they slice your ears.

“Ojos Asi/Eyes Like Yours” turned out to be Shakira’s very first bellydance song.  I learned this about ten years ago when I special ordered a video DVD at my favorite music store the Electric Fetus, “Shakira MTV Unplugged”.  It’s a quality video stage studio performance of essentially the album Donde Estan los Ladrones with some “Estoy Aqui” thrown in.  She wears jeans and a jersey like her cover for Ladrones but her hair is loose, brown, no longer in dreads.  Hardly any make up.  She plays a blue acoustic guitar sitting in with the guys on “Antologia”.  For the grand finale she belts up a chain of bangles and jangles around her hips and the band goes into the Arabian intro and surfer guitars and Shakira bellydances into “Ojos Asi” power chords and electric violin and all, bangles jangling around the hips of her jeans.  When it was done the studio audience applauded and cheered and Shakira stood there looking around the set with the look of somebody who realizes a dream.  It is not a smug look.  It’s a naive look of wonder at being a place you always wanted to be.

Philadelphia music writer Tom Moon included Donde Estan los Ladrones in his book 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die (2008) and in correspondence with him about Shakira’s legitimacy as a rock artist, we differed on the merits of the Oral Fixation albums for consideration among 1,000.  He thought it was overproduced, too souped-up.  I thought she was using all available engineering tools.  He also thought “Toxic” by Britney Spears was the greatest song ever recorded, whereas I stand by “La Tortura”.  Maybe he had a thing against Rick Rubin.  Tom Moon did acknowledge as if it was a warning, Shakira is swimming in deep water.

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The Oral Fixation albums engendered a world tour, and a concert video recorded in Miami came out in 2007, which means I first saw it in maybe early 2009 — catching up to real time.  It seemed a great leap from MTV unplugged to an American arena concert.  Again the production values don’t disappoint.  The band fills the room.  The voice of Shakira resonates and reverberates every note and phrase.  It’s obvious she never lip-syncs or employs autotune.  The cameras bring the visual dimension from an excellent audio performance anthology recording.  You can see her face grimace and smile.  Her eyes dash.  She dances around the stage with the microphone like she’s compelled to be multiple places at once, but the thing is she doesn’t have to, she can stand still five seconds and still make everybody watch every move, to read her lips, see her eyes look at the audience, pump her fist to the bass and the drums.

The audience knows the words and they sing to her phrases like le lo le le lo le.  There are thousands at this Miami arena.  Mostly women, mostly young, mostly Latina.  The video’s so good I wish I was there.  She does a lot of her early stuff in Spanish and the crowd roars its recognition.  Usually I take a pass at most live recordings because they usually don’t match the studio musicianship, it’s not a worthy example of the artist in person, doesn’t offer a prize outtake or rare performance, or only serve as vanity plaques with lengthy applauses.  There are exceptions, of course, from the Allman Brothers to the Little River Band, and Shakira’s live recordings are exceptional, even when the crowd intervenes.

I remember Jon Landau’s famous words, “I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”  I want to trust Shakira with the future of rock and roll.  In the words of her song “Dia Especial”, “Quiero creer” — I want to believe.

It’s the video that woke me up realizing rock and roll ain’t all audio anymore.  Hearing is what I’m seeing.  Shakira is a strikingly beautiful young woman putting herself out there deliberately, sensually, sexually.

Before the #MeToo movement and the Man Up doctrine came along the sensual dichotomy was hard enough to navigate but it’s no easier.  Shakira may draw from Arabian culture or even genetics but she appears to be no Muslim.  She likes to show her tummy.  Bare arms and legs, oh yes.  Hair.  A free woman of the 21st Century, these are her prerogatives.  I look at her early images, album covers, the MTV Unplugged video, modest and naive, and then the glam blows up, there’s pyrotechnics in the arena and the lady offers herself all of a sudden as a sexy babe of desire and passion and a reasonable man has to stop and ask who is getting played here, me or she?

I’m having Camille Paglia momentos overthinking the sensuality and sexuality of art, worrying about object vis a vis subject and who may be victimized, who’s zooming who.  Catching up with Shakira’s videos after Laundry Service did not make me worry she was being exploited by a cartel of ruthless pornographers.  She looked like she was having too much fun.  She looked like she was boss.  I think I read about Donna Summer, that she was somewhat held hostage part of her career, forced to sing bad girl naughty songs to make money in the disco days.  I looked and above all listened for any hint Shakira might be acting out with a gun to her head, but there was no other force to blame than a young woman proudly flaunting her sexy.

As I recall there was once a photo book of Madonna hitch-hiking along a New York throughway wearing no pants.  At all.

Shakira’s questionably inappropriate behavior is almost quaint by comparison, piquant.  Never nude, always implying nakedness.  Bawdy dancing.  Lewd and lascivious gyrations.  Bobbing her tiny pechas.  Flirting piteously.  All the while singing.  All the while possessed of grace.  She loves to slow down a concert to sing “Underneath Your Clothes”.  It’s a ballad about possession of a lover’s body, in her words, “all the things I deserve for being such a good girl…”

I could see my daughter Michel’s uneasiness with my exposing Shakira videos to Clara and Tess.  Some scenes are not appropriate for children, boys or girls.  I respect Michel’s wishes not to grow her children up too fast or too soon.  I let Michel grow up at her own speed.  I was not strict and I also never made her wear a hijab.

I was introduced to belly dances and the voice of Om Kolthoum in the 1970s by a friend of my family, Azzam Sabri, an  entrepreneur of Palestinian descent who established a middle eastern restaurant in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis, where the Oblivion record shop used to be, next door to Theater in the Round.  He featured live belly dancing three nights a week.  Cannot remember the restaurant’s name, but it burned down in the late 80s.  He never reopened.  Too bad, the food was delicious.

Shakira’s Oral Fixation video offers not one but two bellydance songs, both “Ojos Asi”, the concert closer, and “Hips Don’t Lie”, the encore and grand finale.  She is dressed in arabesque silks, full regalia, like one of Azzam’s dancers.  In some ways she has come a long way from MTV Unplugged, and some ways not really, there is something very essential, fluid and organic about her moves, a confidence that only comes from enduring devotion to something.  I’ve read she took up the bellydance as a young child, about the age my grandkids took up gymnastics.  On the video Shakira entrances the screen in the interlude of electric violin, breaking the trance for the final chorus and electric guitars.  The encore reintroduces Shakira in her skimpy silks — Shakira, Shakira — with trumpets and tributes by special guest Wyclef Jean, who banters lyrics with her about the CIA and how refugees — Fugees — run the seas because they own their own boats.  The show and the song ends with “No fighting, no fighting.”

I really truly wished I was there.

I wrote fan letters.  I asked questions like what inspired the lyrics “le lo lo le lo le” and how she might describe her process of creative flow, her ten thousand hours of practice.  To me she was a genius like Springsteen or Prince.  She was the most beautiful voice on the planet, and I told her so.  I said she didn’t have to prove she was sexy.  I said I was worried she might end up a Las Vegas porno cliche.  I caught myself on the verge of almost committing stalking, the guy in the Smithereens song “Wall of Sleep” rationalizing his obsession with the woman in the band who played bass like Bill Wyman only he’s not like them, all the other fans.  I wanted to protect Shakira, be her grandfather.

Was she influenced by Pablo Neruda, Federico Lorca, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Raymond Carver, Leonard Cohen?  Isabel Allende?  Let it be said, the subject did not make herself available for an interview for this essay.  I thanked her for the joy her music gave me, and for the Spanish lessons.  She never answered, not with letters.  I would mail them to her talent agency.  I tried to be transparent and sincere, disclosed I was an awkward older married man, grandfather of girls, not trying to hit on her at all, just a fan profoundly affected by her work, that’s all.  Some letters I wrote longhand.  I kept asking her to play a concert in Minneapolis-St Paul.  She never replied.  That’s okay.  I understand.  Textbook case is what happened to a crush on Jodie Foster.  With me and Shakira it’s like if Larry David had a crush on my daughter.  Who do I think I am, Arthur Miller?  Henry Miller?

Call me Abuelo Don Miguel de Cuchichear.

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One summer I came home after a gorgeous time at a cabin way up north at the boundary waters wilderness to learn while I was gone Shakira played a private show in Minneapolis for an audience of certain selected employees of Target Corporation, whose world headquarters are located here.  Not only first I was bummed I wasn’t around and knew in advance so I could find someone I knew who worked for Target who could get me into that show — the boundary waters are always there for me but seeing Shakira sing live was like a comet, at least the aurora borealis — and then I realized I really didn’t know anybody who knew anybody who worked for Target — then stories about the show came out in the media describing some reactions from the audience to Shakira’s lewd and lascivious dancing.  And it was not the bellydances.

Shakira’s label Epic records released the album She Wolf.  Target offered a deluxe edition CD featuring six bonus tracks and a yellow album cover, not green and just four bonus tracks you get at other stores.  Word went around Shakira squirmed on the floor like a slut dancing to the title song at the Target show, according to attendees who said they were offended by the show and Shakira’s writhing She Wolf dance.  Disgusting.  Voices suggested Target sever its ties to this product.  The video for the song didn’t help, reviews hyping the pink vaginality of the imagery of Shakira getting all slinky to the new song.  Critics got after her for pushing the limits of free speech, drawing undue attention to the boundaries of censorship, now several years past Janet Jackson’s wardrobe.  Free speech won in the end along with the invisible hand of the marketplace because She Wolf was a music epiphany.

On the album her big band downsized morphed into a small island synth acoustic jam.  Her lyrics chased after images of corridors and windows, sabotage and wishes of revenge.  A suicide waiting, then gibberish.  Lycanthropy and lunar cycles.  “Mirala, caminar, caminar.”  It’s a sober and stripped down album, almost unfinished.  The cover shows Shakira in a hands on hips stance, hair all tangled, her face all mad.  Like angry mad.  Like crazy mad.  Like maybe what she later called “Rabiosa”.  She’s wearing a sleeveless snake print dress and her eyes say she’s the boss.  La Jefe.

The graphics of the back cover suggest blunt force trauma.  The music barely exceeds the fundamentals.  Fade out endings give songs inconclusion.  Bonus tracks amount to live alternate versions or Spanish versions.  Again Shakira’s voice proves sometimes the Spanish versions are the best because the words don’t intervene.  On this album she again duets with Wyclef Jean and also collaborates with Kid Cudi.  Then Lil Wayne crashes the scene and does Shakira no favors with his creepy rap.  Oh well.

Still no concert in Minneapolis or St Paul.  Saw her on SNL hosted by Ricky Gervais.  Wore black long leotards and her hair tight in a pony.  She did three songs, including “She Wolf”.  Didn’t seem that lewd to me.  Did the very song Lil Wayne wrecked only without Lil Wayne.  Saw her on David Letterman backed by Paul Shaffer, a simple drum and bass dance to “Why Wait?”, in Spanish sung as “Anos Luz” (light years).  No Shakira on my local radio though.  I did hear “She Wolf” one time on the streaming soundtrack at a local Walgreens.  The CDs seemed to be selling down when I checked at Target.  $9.99!

For Barack Obama’s first inauguration Shakira performed at the Lincoln Memorial.  Wanda Sykes saw her and commented to Jay Leno, “Shakira sings.  Who knew?”

Browsing at Best Buy when Best Buy stocked rows and rows of CDs I found a Shakira live album from just after the Laundry Service era called Live And Off The Record recorded at a concert at Rotterdam, Netherlands.  Included for $5.99 was a DVD of the show, subtitled Cobra and Mongoose.  Again the audio is exceptional and brings out just what an exquisite band backs up her gorgeous voice.  What makes this performance oddly remarkable for the Shakira canon is the exact repertoire.  Like Miami it’s an arena concert, albeit in Europe.  Recorded before the Fixation era, there’s no Tortura and no Hips.  It’s all material from the first three albums.  She opens with the Arabian “Ojos Asi” and that’s it for the bellydance.  She closes with “Objection Tango” and encores with a grand finale of “Whenever, Wherever” — le lo lo le lo le.  Two songs elevate this show beyond excellent documentary.  One is from the Ladrones album, called “Octavo Dia”, here rendered not unplugged but plugged in.  In Spanish it’s about what God did the eighth day, the day after the seventh day of Genesis.

The other song from this concert is a significant recording from Shakira’s career for several reasons establishing her bona fide standing for the rock and roll hall of fame.  It’s a song with searing critical lyrics from the Laundry album I passed off as the band sounding canned and the words just snide and clever.  It’s called “Poem To A Horse” and it makes no allowance for a horse’s literary comprehension.  First of all, on this concert album the band courses into the intro hard and heavy from a surprise buildup and goes almost heavy metal.  Her voice is calm and fluffy, then wicked and accusatory.  She calls out her boyfriend for having an empty brain on hydroponic pot.

“So what’s the point of wasting all my words,” she sings, “it’s just the same or even worse than reading poems to a horse.”  Her attitude gets more and more nasty.  “I hope you find someone like you, there’s a foot for every shoe,” and as she sings the word shoe she makes her voice like she’s kicking someone’s tailbone, “I wish you luck but I’ve got other things to do.”  And at her bluesiest grittiest, a preview of bleibe, baby bleibe, baby, she belts out her chorus, “I’ll leave again ’cause I’ve been waiting in vain, but you’re so in love with yourself.  If I say my heart is sore it’s just a cheap metaphor, so I won’t repeat it no more,” bad grammar and all.

And then she screams the most wailingest rock and roll scream in the universe.  Her scream by itself could qualify for the hall of fame.  But the third thing besides the lyrics and the scream that sets this song off from anything else Shakira and this band have done is the guitar solo that ensues from Timothy Mitchell, a torturous, arduous treacherous hard rock stanza shredding the air.  And if you are listening to all this on speakers or headphones you might think this is glory, but if you’re watching the video you see Shakira dancing to the guitar solo, writhing on the stage, squirming in her lacy leather chaps and halter top, the fourth reason this concert recording is important, she’s inventing the She Wolf dance.

When she started out she wanted to be a folk singer like maybe Om Kolthoum, the Egyptian superstar.  Soon she wanted to be a dancer like Isadora Duncan or Josephine Baker.  All I asked was someday Shakira might play Minneapolis-St Paul.  In 2010 she released a single called “Waka Waka”, the theme song of the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa that year, but it got no airplay in the Twin Cities.  We weren’t that kind of football town I guess.

Then when I wasn’t looking she released an album called Sale el Sol.  “Cuando menos piensas, sale el sol.”  When least you think, out comes the sun.  Mostly Spanish, the album was a delight.  Strong songs.  Tough songs.  Songs tender as butterflies.  Dance songs.  Escape songs.  Rock songs.  Songs sexy and pink.  The band is back!  Every track could be a hit single.  But not in my home town — no airplay.  I found the CD by surprise on an endcap at Target — $9.99!  It featured collaborations and duets with Latin hip-hoppers and the future Pitbull.  We almost could have seen her in Dublin when we were there September 2010 — she sang there December 16, near my birthday.  Roxanne and I considered getting tickets and flying down to see her world tour concert in Costa Rica, but that spring Roxanne needed surgery for an ovarian cyst.  It was benign.  It paused our travel plans and rebooted our world.

It’s not that I forgot about Shakira after that because I couldn’t.  Life had given me too many mementos.  All those CDs, DVDs and MP3 recordings.  Lyrics and translations.  Sparkles and Kitty, my singing grandkids knew her songs by heart.  In Mexico they play her songs on the radio, at bodegas, tiendas and cantinas, in taxis and at the hotel swimming pool.  In Europe, not surprising after seeing her audience reception in Rotterdam, we occasionally heard Shakira songs on the radio, streaming at cafes and train stations, airports, even overflowing from iPod earbuds, when Roxanne and I went over there to visit the kids living in Switzerland.  Once in a while she might make a guest shot on TV — sing “Gypsy” with Rascal Flatts, make a cameo on Disney or “Ugly Betty”, or shiver through an awkward, demeaning “Santa Baby” on new year’s eve from Times Square.  Along with a boodle of other artists she contributed to the Haiti benefit telethon in response to the devastating earthquake with a song of steadfast loyalty backed by the Roots, an anthem respectfully parodized to this day in a Flo advert for Progressive Insurance.

Shakira popped up in Paris on kiosks on Rue St Michel showing her happy tummy promoting yogurt.  In the Sunday supplement her smile promoted tooth whitening products.  She made the cover of Cosmo —  white lace, this time Stella McCartney.  Her stint as a coach on The Voice on NBC didn’t add to her credibility despite host Ryan Seacrest’s assurance her IQ was above 140.  This was not the Shakira who verbally sparred with Dave Letterman.  It was hard to watch.  She was an awkward coach.  Her protege who made it to the semifinals determined herself to go down paying respect to Aretha Franklin.  Tepid, rote homage to the Queen of Soul in critical competition might have satisfied her family but showed off no originality.  I wished Shakira would have made her sing Bleibe Baby Bleibe Baby, full tilt boogie with the NBC orchestra, “Lo Imprescindible”, in Spanish (and German, the one word bleibe, stay) full throated, and let her still wear her chosen gown, not that Shakira’s kid had a chance in the blond-blue-eyed country-centric milieu anyway, but at least the kid would have gone down singing something unique even if ultimately in flames.  It was embarrassing to watch Shakira demoted from coach to cheerleader for the finals.

Again browsing CDs at Target I found without advance notice the CD/DVD Shakira made of the tour for Sale el Sol.  Titled En Vivo Desde Paris it’s recorded live at Le Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in mid June 2011.  Still in stunning voice she brings forward her old stuff (but not “Estoy Aqui”) woven among the She Wolf era and dyed or bleached within songs from El Sol.  It’s a milestone for Shakira because she’s 33 years old and as she proclaims in the intro to the song “Loca” it’s Dance or Die.  The band never better, they give the heavy metal approach to “Why Wait” (Anos Luz) and the hard rock treatment to disco “Las De La Intuicion”.  She holds the classic long note of “Inevitable”.  She gets two bellydances with “Ojos Asi” and “Hips”, delivers a slinky writhing “She Wolf” dance, and dances rapido through “Loca” (“I’m crazy but you like it, loca loca loca…”) and “Gordita”, sitting or standing relatively still torching her ballads, “Underneath Your Clothes” and “Antes De La Seis”, she knows when to move and when to rest.  She gets the Parisians to sing along.  Out of nowhere she covers Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and the audience all knows the words, and the she’s off dancing again, Flamenco this time, making it a medley with her moaning “Despedida” (from the soundtrack of the movie of Love in the Time of Cholera, it means farewell).  Later she gets them going in French with a cover of frenchman Francis Cabrel’s “Je L’Aime A Mourir” (I love her to death).  She closes with Hips.  “Waka Waka” is the grand finale encore.

Her birthday is the 2nd of February.  I remember that because it’s alongside Roxanne’s birthday and we are always in Mexico.  Shakira is a year older than our daughter Michel.  They do not celebrate Shakira’s birthday in Mexico but they celebrate Roxanne’s.  Shakira shares her birthday with Groundhog’s Day, the North America six week mark towards the end of winter, or if you are Bill Murray a day of deja vu all over again.  I’ll usually drink a Modelo oscura under the palapa and toast the weird chick from Barranquilla on the far side of the Panama Canal who was exiled by the nuns from her grade school choir for singing too loud.  Kids made fun of her voice, said she sang like a goat.

Thankful for all the songs and all the video history, it would seem this wise old grandfather might mosey along and let the girl be.  She made it clear early on she was ready for the good times.  She wasn’t passing up the good stuff.  She knew what she’s gotten into.  Way back with “Estoy Aqui” she sings about the photos, notebooks and memories.  She is la jefe, la loba.  It’s not for me to worry about her legacy.  Cyndi Lauper got it right, girls just want to have fun.

Coming from a macho culture, striving in a male dominated business, outside her songs you never heard Shakira complain or dodge responsibility.  One of the best songs on the She Wolf album is called “Lo Hecho Esta Hecho” (it is what I made) or sung in English “Did It Again” that speaks to patterns of mistakes.  On the same album on “Men In This Town” she wails, where are all the men in the LA skybars who are not hustling projects?  “It’s a suicide waiting, yo no se.”  On the Laundry Service album she sang about seeing nine-legged cats.  On Oral Fixation vol 2 it was “Animal City”.  Even before the hindsight of the #MeToo and the Man Up, I watched after Shakira’s career, worried if she got harassed or victimized because she asked for it.  Swimming in deep water.

I admire her so much I am hypersensitive to any scent of scandal.  And it’s weird to see yourself awestruck by a person you will never really know, who will never know you, and even so share tangible, fungible insights and experiences.

Shakira has influenced a generation of female singers like Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Rachel Platten, Adele, Meghan Trainor, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, and nobody gives Shakira any credit.  No acknowlegement.  See Reese Witherspoon on the cover of Elle magazine, February 2012, she’s the She Wolf album cover only nice faced, deja vu all over again, unattributed.  Even contemporary Jennifer Lopez owes thanks for creating for her a template to find relevancy on the Top 40 and TV at such and such an age.

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I think the more I liked Shakira the less I wanted to know about her, like she’d given so much to me the best I could return (besides the $9.99s) was her own privacy.  I’ve never joined her fan club or registered at her website.  Maybe I’m being agoraphobic.  I’m not a joiner usually.  Thus like an accidental tourist I catch news about her in random bits and pieces like a fleeting horoscope or a burst of I Ching.  After the Sale El Sol tour I heard she mused about having children.  I thought, oh great, she’ll retire and take care of her kids and never go on tour again, never come to Minneapolis-St Paul.  And why bother?  Shakira was modern day grown up Infanta Margarita of Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” just the way Picasso saw she would be.  It turned out she had boys, two of them in  a succession of years, with her man Gerard Pique, a futbol star of Europe who plays center-back for Barcelona’s professional team and also played for Spain’s national World Cup teams.  The ultimate soccer wife and mom.  Her sons are named Milan and Sasha.

A little while after she left the Voice show she released an album named after herself.  Shakira.  She got a new talent agency, Roc Nation, and a new record label.  She went from Epic records, label of Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, the Hollies, the Yardbirds, Dave Clark Five, to the label of Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Hall and Oates, RCA Victor.  What it really means has to be totally symbolic because she’s still distributed by Sony.  This all means Shakira doesn’t politically correctly qualify in the music world as “indie”, or independent.  She’s all establishment now.  It’s the music business.  She’s part of the starmaker machine.

So in the market where I live she gets no airplay on the hot hits radio because she has no name recognition, no fan base.  There are a lot of Latin people in the market but no Latin radio.  The hipster radio stations don’t consider Shakira serious music but rather like a novelty act, Latin Ke$ha.  Indie rock stations, classic rock, alternative folk rock and current rock stations don’t consider Shakira’s body of work suitable for their audiences.  She’s not country.  Not Americana.  Not hip hop.  Not public radio.  No Twin Cities radio format plays Shakira.  She’s a radio orphan.

And that’s why she never plays Minneapolis-St Paul.

The day her self-titled RCA Shakira album came out I went to my neighborhood Target.  There I met a very tall skinny blond woman in her young early 30s named Shelly who also came there at the same time to get the new Shakira CD, when we both arrived at the endcap where it was displayed in bulk.  Shelly was excited to meet another person on this earth who loved Shakira so much as to come to get the album the first day.  She hugged me when we exchanged names.  She was so skinny but put so much into her hug I thought she might snap.  So friendly.  Took a selfie of us together in front of the cardboard cutout of Shakira at the endcap display.  She tried a selfie of herself alone and didn’t like it, so I offered and took pictures of her and the full endcap.  She said she’d heard some of the songs and they were good.  She showed me where on You Tube I could download a live version of “Hips Don’t Lie” in Spanish, “Que Sera”.

At home I didn’t play it very loud, at least not all of it the first play.  I wouldn’t so much call it canned as maybe a little overwrought, overproduced, an attempt to be too perfect in the way She Wolf took itself too lightly.  There’s a recording style I call Dreamtime, named for a 1986 single by Daryl Hall, a recording so buttressed with overproduction it sounds so too loud at soft volume and seems to be blaring from the walls, like music in ALL CAPS.  People talk about Phil Spector being some genius with his wall of sound, but I never liked the wall thing, I thought it was too one dimensional.  I liked hearing instruments spatially apart horizontally and vertically, soundless places between them, not a solid wall.  “Dreamtime” by Daryl Hall to me was the epitome of the 1980s wall of sound.  And it seems every trend in music builds upon itself and gets more and more loud, fancy and full of itself until it hits Dreamtime.  Shakira’s Shakira album was living in Dreamtime.

Not a bad album, what I’m saying.  Daryl Hall’s “Dreamtime” was a good song, it was just so dramatically hyped like an epic Hall and Oates aria made up like a Pink Floyd anthem, it was literally incredible, lost its credibility.  Shakira thrusts songs into overdrive and where you’re in for a penny she’ll give you a pounding.  It’s not as simple as the band crashing heavy metal with synth power chords.  The song “Empire” is a classic example of what happens when a goddess sucks up so much power.  Leadoff single “Can’t Remember To Forget You” is a way way better song than the clever title might make you think, and the collaboration with Rhianna produces some sisterly giggles from two — wink — girls gone bad.  The Spanish version is more authentic, less pressure packed, “Nunca Me Acuerdo De Olvidarte”, a classic polysyllabic Spanish rock aria, buried deep in the back of the album, not a language overdub at all but a fresh take.  “La La La”, or “Dare” as it’s titled for English dancers, could have been a worthy submission for the soundtrack of the Lego Movie.  Most of the songs could be post cards from maternity leave saying save her a place at the table, she’s working from home.

I wouldn’t call my love for Shakira platonic, though it isn’t erotic.  It’s not agape.  It’s somewhat familial in its unconditional loyalty.  I would be astonished and horrified if she were to shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York, contrary to some people’s blind affection for a blond public figure perfectly inclined to do such a thing, and I’m not talking about Lil Wayne.  My love is not like the opposite of a grudge, unyielding and unforgiving, but a positive force entwined within my soul’s modus operandi.

“Waka Waka” has turned up at least three times at gradeschool choir concerts I have attended since Clara and Tess repatriated from Switzerland (with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” a close second).  It’s a soccer anthem that says when you get knocked down you get back up, go for your goals, persist with life.  “Waka Waka” is supposed to mean “go and do things”, or “walk while you work” in some unspecific African tongue.  The chorus goes “Zaminamina Zangalewa” (wherever you’re from).  One critic called it the stupidest pep song he ever heard.  I figure if third graders like to sing it, fifth graders and seventh graders, Shakira must have succeeded.  The only complaints I have heard are from parents who are growing waka waka weary, not that it’s a Shakira song per se.  Nobody accuses anyone of forcing Shakira music on a new generation, though I fervently support influencing the kids as long as it is age appropriate.

Everybody loved her in the movie Zootopia playing the rockstar Gazelle at the end.  That same movie opens with the song “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift.

When Shakira turned 40 I knew I was really aging because it meant my daughter would turn 40 the year after.  Inevitable, as the song goes.

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The album El Dorado came out last fall without any advance hype or anticipation that I could tell, but who am I, not the hippest guy in the Twin Cities.  No reviews or mentions in the mainstream media.  No news, fake or otherwise.  Just a release date notice with a bunch others in the StarTribune.  I found the CD at Target on a shelf of a new release endcap as if it had been there all year, somewhat rifled through, in disarray, so I shuffled the jewel boxes back in order before I left with mine.  I looked around for a minute in case that skinny Shelly lady might show up, but then what were the chances.  I noticed El Dorado dominated the Latin bin.  $9.99.  The store selection of CDs consisted of a meager aisle.  I browsed the $4.99 bin for some backlist I might not have yet — Journey’s Greatest Hits was in there, but I have it already.

El Dorado is an exquisite album.  It does not care if it is reviewed or prized.  You get 13 tracks, no bonus and none bogus.  Mostly Spanish, not enough English, if that’s a dealbreaker you won’t be happy.  She is in gracious voice.  The band is simple.  You wouldn’t call it rock so much as Latin skiffle.  Understated.  There’s a beat underneath every song, every ballad, but the pulse never pushes blood pressure into dreamtime, the production is just so.

When I was young there was a radio format called Easy Listening.  As different from Rock and Roll.  Contemporary Pop.  Jazz.  Country Western.  News and Information.  Classical.  MOR — middle of the road.  Top 40.  I used to think of Easy Listening as the Old People’s Radio Network.  One thing that could be said about the Easy Listening station, it was on FM and it was stereophonically perfect.  Mantovani.  El Dorado is today’s FM stereo Easy Listening station.  Shakra has her own Deep House going.  This is an album of the future.  An album to grow old together.  Gracefully.

Princess Margarita all grown up for Picasso sin meninas.

El Dorado will be one of those albums to revisit in ten more years.  The time will pass too quickly.

No sooner I learned Shakira scheduled a world tour for El Dorado I learned it was postponed.  Rehearsing for the tour she blew out a vocal chord.  A  hemorrhage.  Oh God.

She needed treatment.  She needed to heal.

I could only imagine how difficult it was for Shakira to not sing, not use her voice.  Be quiet.

She rescheduled her tour.  Instead of opening in Cologne, Germany in November she would begin there in June.  A bunch of dates across Europe into July and then North America in August.  The Chicago concert scheduled 23 January was rescheduled for 3 August.  No, there was no Minneapolis-St Paul.  It was the night before the night before the night before Christmas.  The website said all tickets to the 23 January show would be honored 3 August.  I found two seats at an angle on the second deck at a price I knew I wouldn’t get yelled at.

“Bebe,” I called out to Roxanne coming down the stairs from the loft to the room where she was reading and watching TV.  “You want to go to Chicago August third and see Shakira at the United Center?”

“Sure,” she said.  “I always wanted to see Chicago.”

There’s a refrain in a song on El Dorado that goes, “Personne ne t’aimera comme moi.”  It’s a song in French sung by a guy with break-up verses by Shakira in English.  The French phrase above means “Nobody will love you like me.”  However, there is an all-English version of the song and in place of the telling French line above it goes, “And this is what we’re stuck with now.”  One has to beware of songs Shakira offers in different languages.  It may be the same music but it doesn’t always mean the words identically translate.

This what I always liked about Shakira’s love songs, things could always go either way but they always work out for Shakira.  I now held two tickets to Shakira the 23rd of January 2018, good for Friday, August 3rd.  Good thing, too, because the 23rd of January we were booked at the Krystal hotel on Playa Palmar in Ixtapa, Mexico.  It would be like almost seeing her in Dublin and missing her in Mexico City too.  Looking at her original tour schedule, we would have been in Mexico most of her time in all of North America except Mexico City.  Only because she got injured could we see the Chicago show.  Only if she healed would we ever see her at all.

Classic Roxanne booked our hotel and air just as smooth as if we were going to Paris.  I anticipated it like a trip to Paris.  It was nine months from getting tickets to the day of the show.  I remembered Adele needed vocal chord repair about the time her 21 album took off and she went overnight from clubs like First Avenue to civic center arenas, and she healed.  If Shakira could not heal then where was hope, justice and charity?  Karma?  Modern medicine would guide her.  It must have been very difficult for her to be quiet, but she would have discipline for the greater good.  I kept checking the website every month or so, and the tour was still rescheduled to begin in June.

Heal, Shakira, my winter mantra.

I suppose I could have followed her progress through her social network.  I never joined.  Seriously.  I’m not on Facebook, or Twitter, which means I have no friends or followers.  Y’all probably think, what a lonely, backwards, pathetic guy.  You might say, hey, that’s why he writes like he does, to alienate as many people as he can.  In my experience most people who read stuff like this are trolls.  You’re welcome.  My expressionism, my graphomania is best channeled here where no one is obliged to care.

You don’t get paid for clicking me and no expectation you will forward or retransmit any of this.  Your only reward is my thanks you are reading this.

I on the other hand, despite my compulsion to write, am not a lonely guy, someone who people who mix up archaic and arcane would use one of those words to describe me, not at all.  I have ten siblings, I being eldest.  Connecting outward to a social world has never been a deprivation issue in my life, I have been blessed with connections to keep me informed of what’s going on, enough to get along.  I have a land line.  Roxanne has a cell phone.  I get postal mail.  Subscribe to newspapers.  Got cable.  A library card.  DVD player (not Blue Ray, not yet — the regular one still works).  I play CDs, and iPod too.  Computer literate, both office and home.  Screen, pad and app savvy enough to correspond and find answers on the fly.  I’m not a hermit.  In fact I rely on people like my kids and Roxanne to inform me of stuff they learn from social media, so in a way I cheat, I eschew — literally a word I eschew but it really literally fits here — as much social media as I can get away with as a challenge to keep finding things out some other way.  In this way I find my life greatly enriched and have to admit I benefit from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter vicariously.  And where without the search engines like Google would I be?  In my work career I got addicted to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Email (not so much Bluetooth) so I’m no Luddite (just an eschewer) keeping a low profile on the worldwide web.  Eschew and swallow.

Month to month I checked to make sure our Shakira tickets were still good.  We Googled points of interest in Chicago.  I mapped routes from MDW airport to the hotel, and the hotel to United Center.  Millennium Park.  Grant Park.  The Art Institute of Chicago.  Concert on a Friday.

People asked, are you taking any trips this summer?  We would talk about our planned family road trip to Wisconsin Dells after the 4th of July.  And we’d say we planned to go to Chicago in August.

Chicago?  Not Paris or Amsterdam?  You going to see Hamilton?

Roxanne said she always wanted to see Chicago.  All these years just driving through on the Eisenhower and the Dan Ryan on route somewhere else east.  I’d say I wanted to see the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Roxanne would say, and Buffalo got tickets to Shakira — it’s on his bucket list.

Really?  I’d say, “Really.  Lo que mas.”  And as long as that person asked, I’d go as far as I could to explicate in elevator format the lyrical and musical charm of Shakira’s body of work until the enquirer said sure and changed the subject.  Sometimes they would suggest we visit the old Sears tower, or Hancock tower, and the Magnificent Mile, and be sure to go to Navy Pier.  Or they asked to hear more about what we planned to do with all the kids at Wisconsin Dells.  I always got the impression my fascination with Shakira’s music evoked to most listeners a core skepticism like I was trying to say I really did read Playboy magazine for the reviews, the essays and the fiction.  I actually read Billboard magazine every week when I was in high school.  I remember reading in Springsteen’s autobiography he said his daughter was a fan of Shakira, and Springsteen’s daughter is an equestrian.  She could speak to reading a poem to a horse.

My son Vincent’s mother in law gave us a tip to take an excursion boat tour up the Chicago river to get an appreciation of the architecture.

Along with fun at the Dells, this July had Le Tour de France, the FIFA World Cup, the litte kids had no school, Vincent’s wife Amalie was eight months pregnant, The Minnesota Twins sucked but the weather was gorgeous, the Minneapolis Aquatennial fireworks over the Mississippi river astounded even inveterate viewers and Boz Scaggs played the State theater.  Another great summer in paradise.

Starting with the June debut, in Hamburg now ahead of Cologne, I followed the setlists of Shakira’s tour and noted from sources like Billboard the tour was going well.  Saw she added a gig in Turkey and wondered  how that would go.  Took a hiatus after the show in Barcelona, where she is said to reside with Pique and her boys, her own sagrada familia.  Chicago would be her opening night in North America.

It would be a hot summer weekend in the Second City, Carl Sandburg’s city of broad shoulders.  Like Roxanne I had very little experience with Chicago, so this was an equal adventure.  We took the L from Midway to the loop and rode the underground to about Michigan and Superior.  We could have guessed better which direction to go at first but corrected ourselves fast — we’ve made wrong way guesses in Munich, Paris and Vienna before and figured it out — found our hotel and checked in.  Nice place.  The Cambria.  (Not pre-Cambrian but the Cambria.)  First rate service.  Accessible to everywhere we wanted to be.  We walked to the lakefront.  Browsed Navy Pier.  Ate hearty.  Wildberry for breakfast, Cafecito for lunch.  Bandera dinner (upstairs).  We tried two different pizzas and Roxanne learned for us that Chicago style deep dish pizza is a myth created for tourists and Chicagoans themselves who love pizza love extra thin crust, God’s truth.

With thanks to Amalie’s mother Yvonne we took the excursion boat tour up the Chicago river and got a fantastic guided view of profound skyscraper history.  The Art Institute of Chicago blew me away a little but I should have known the moneyed collectors of this American city would have been competitive with the Met, MOMA, the National galleries in both London and DC, and what became the Uffizi, the Orsay and the Vatican museum.  In Millennium Park there is a super-reflective monumental sculpture of stainless steel mirror shaped like a kidney bean — selfie nirvana.  Nearby is an open air amphitheater called Pritzker designed by Frank Gehry, renegade architect who designed the Weisman in Minneapolis.

Grant Park was closed off, so we could not go to Buckingham fountain, which is supposed to be Chicago’s Trevi fountain, because the Lalapalooza music festival was going on just south of Millennium Park.  Bruno Mars, Jack White, Arctic Monkeys.  Lots going on in Chicago.  Lots of young people, and that refers to people in their twenties, thirties, early forties, hanging out in public.  Navy Pier the night before the festival started was jamming with the blues and the giant ferris wheel.  We walked the grid between lakefront and the hotel checking out the skyscrapers from street level.  The Water Tower.  We rode the bus.  Saw a little of the campus of Northwestern University med school.  A lot of the tall buildings in the Loop are residential, which means of course the locals have means.  There is evidence of homeless people as in great cities everywhere — if you are homeless you might look for someplace to live in a great city more than some little town.  And everywhere sophistication of the air of epic self appreciation among everybody self conscious about being in Chicago, living there or visiting, with all the cool savvy of hipsters who know where to go and where they’re going.

Roxanne and I settled on a building we wanted to buy, a skyscraper with a Swiss clock tower style roof.  We tracked it down on foot by gawking on our way to lunch Friday.  There was upscale retail and eating on the main floor, occupying a block, all local brands, no chains.  A uniformed guy at a desk near the elevators didn’t know jack about the history and wasn’t there to dish with walk-ins, and he directed us to the brass plaque on the marble wall by the elevator, that the building was called the American Furniture Market once upon a time.

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The hotel called us a taxi to the concert at the United arena.  We arrived early.  Showtime was 7:30 and I wasn’t going to risk missing a minute.  Arrived at the arena before they shut down the street.  There was noplace to hang out outside the arena, but that was okay, once inside there was food and drink and spacious lobbies.  We found our seats so early the usher checked our tickets twice to make sure we belonged, even if it was up some stairs on the second deck.  Neither of us were very hungry from lunch but we shared a beer and checked out the scene.

The arena is home of hockey nemesis the Blackhawks and NBA rival the Bulls, and there hung across the ceiling the banners of championships.  Down below there was a stage with a long runway up the middle of the main floor leading to a round stage.  Behind was a blank wall with two big round video screens showing animation of a rotation of credit to Rakuten, solicitation to Viber, identification of the El Dorado tour, and a cartoon face of Shakira giving the crowd the wink.

We arrived way ahead of the crowd, and that itself put us at ease knowing that if all else we made it to our destination without a hassle.  Gave me time and space to reflect a moment how important this event was to me while the stage roadies got the place ready.  In August 1965 I saw the Beatles play at our old Met stadium.  The show could be criticized from a number of viewpoints but it was in truth a significant event — I could feel it was a big deal and took it all in as much as I could, strained to hear the guitars and the words, looking at those guys down there on a stage at second base actually playing “I Saw Her Standing There” while girls screamed, just like on Ed Sullivan, just like A Hard Days Night, screamed their lights out and everybody was standing up to see because everybody in front all the way down was standing up, almost dancing, and it was real, the Beatles were playing live and you could hear, if you listened, they were a great band and would have sounded incredible if they had the sound equipment available to Shakira in the rock and roll future.

C’est la vie.

Waiting for Shakira the last hour, hour and a half, was a cheap metaphor for waiting my whole life for this show, never sure until that moment, waiting, that the tickets might be bogus or something could go wrong to stop the show.  I do not believe in jinx but we were in Chicago, home of Mother Murphy’s Law, so named after the lady who owned the cow that kicked over the lantern that started the Chicago fire.  No, Mr Kelly, the name was O’Leary, and there’s no absolute proof it was her cow, though there was a hell of a fire.

After eternity even the roadies run out of things to putz with and the recorded pop music plays on, some Coldplay.  Hardly anybody is in their seats and if I hadn’t seen the video marquees outside the arena with Shakira’s face I might have wondered if I got it all wrong.  Then a deejay takes the stage, all busy with his hands on his console, mentions Shakira’s name, the audience such as it is cheers, and he proceeds to play a long series of long dance cuts.  It’s really good at first but it gets old fast and still nobody’s in their seats but me and Roxanne, although the people coming in from the lobbies hung out on the walkways, took selfies and danced a little before they went to their seats and kept dancing.  Why should I act so impatient, wishing my precious life away?  I am here, I thought, estoy aqui.  Sit back, enjoy that beer, check out the people watch.

Seventy percent, maybe eighty percent of the attendees were female.  A high percentage were Latina.  Most of the men were Latinos escorting a date.  Ages ranged from a few teenagers with their moms to somebody Roxanne spotted who she estimated to maybe be 80.  The anglo women — anglas — and the African Americans were all ages too, but usually young.  Everybody was dressed up.  Hair done.  There was glamour and beauty in the audience.  Handsome men.  Roxanne wore a nice dress, looked fabulous, to all appearances she was the fan and I was the boyfriend.  I wore my best cargo shorts and my finest silk floral shirt of blue to accent my eyes.

Finally the deejay gave up the ghost.  The air went back to vague murmurs of pop music and the lights roadies played around with the lights, strobing people, and the video screens went back to Rakuten and Viber.  Go on Viber and win seat upgrades and prizes.  Cartoon Shakira winks.  The seats fill like a sink with low water pressure.  Some of the crowd gets restless.  They applaud and cheer at every shadow on stage.  Then the chanting begins, and ends.  Then out comes the Wave.

Really?  I suppose.  This is Chicago, where they invented the na-na-na-na na-na-na-na hey-hey good bye.

We learned on the boat excursion architectural tour that the term Windy City was given to Chicago not because of any propensity for the lake wind to chill the city but in reference to its loquacious politicians.

A block of seats across the arena that looked like it would never fill up finally took their occupants and the place went dark.  The crowd roared.  Video pictures of young Shakira played on the screens and a montage played on the wall behind the stage like a public service announcement while Shakira’s voice and a guy sang a duet in French, prerecorded.  An unfamiliar song.  About the time the arena barely fell silent wondering what was going on, there she was.

She opened with “Estoy Aqui” and the place lit up.

“Estoy aqui, queriendote…”  I am here, loving you.  The audience sang.  Shakira aimed the mic to the crowd and we always obliged, those who knew the words — especially her Spanish songs.  She danced side to side, up and down the runway, up the rampart stairs both sides of the stage.  When she stayed in one place she kept moving, kept pace, and the video cameras tracked her every move, every nuanced expression while she sang with all her heart, every note, pacing the band, and the sound was perfect.

Shakira can sing.  Everybody knows.

And after the songs ended and the applause roared, the crowd went quiet.  Before song two she expressed her thanks to Chicago for hosting her and for all the people who hung with her through good times and hard times.  Looking back I now find this funny: there was no Doctor Woo in the house.  Every other concert there’s always a guy who fills the silences between the crowd and the performer who, uncomfortable with silence or what, yells a cup handed Woo! into the peace.  Second place is Freebird and a shrill whistle.  Not with Shakira.  Not even on the video live albums, though they are edited.  Not in Chicago.  Nobody gets rude a a Shakira show.  People sing and dance — from the opening beats nobody in the house sat down more than a minute.  They talk and shout applause and jump up and down.  They clap and raise their hands and move their hips and laugh out loud, but at the Shakira show everybody listens when she speaks and when she sings and watches her every move.  There is no more fascinating entertainer.  She did everything but gymnastics.  No lip sync.  All real.

Song two came out of the dark and she gave permission to howl.  Instead of Dr Woo we now had an arena full of wolves, and so commenced the She Wolf song.  Owooo!  Lycanthropy Warren Zevon would admire.  She danced through it but no writhing, no slithering, no bellying across the floor.  In the hands of a basic four piece band with some strings and another singer the usual synth robotics of the music sounded like the solid rock band missing from the studio original.  Crowd pleasing three minute single.

Next they rip through “Si Te Vas” from the Ladrones album, and that reveals more of the long-timers in the crowd, people longer fans than me.  It’s another three or so minute allout rocker, maybe upped to four with a dexy guitar solo and a smash smash smash ending.

The crowd’s blown up ready for more but Shakira slows it down with a couple of new ones from El Dorado the new easy listening album.  Far from being still with slow dance poses, she and the band play plugged-in unplugged and get a fair hearing from a crowd raptly swaying to the sorrow of “Nada” as it builds to its crescendos.  I sense Roxanne’s reactions and she’s obviously taken.  She’s surfed along with my addiction to music nearly half a century but for her part admits general ambivalence to most songs and musicians.  She likes Chris Isaak, Cat Stevens and Leonard Cohen from seeing them live.  It’s hard to get her to dance, even tipsy at weddings.  She’s uncomfortable with loud rock bands.  Here Shakira made it easy for her, no earplugs necessary.  “You can hear her so well I wish I could understand what she’s singing,” she said sotto voce in my ear, bopping to the beat.  I think you basically get it, I answered.

Song five, as long as Shakira has our attention in Spanish, is the best song on the album, “Perro Fiel” — faithful dog.

And then she slows it down for real to render her country girl serenade for her man, the “Underneath Your Clothes” ballad.  The video cameras magnify her drama.  Then she returns to Spanish with cut one from Dorado, called “Me Enamore”, or simply, fall in love with me.

Then it’s back to the Ladrones days with her classic ballad “Inevitable” where she met the moment of truth, the point in the song where she holds the high note.  Yes!  Shakira is healed.

Next song “Chantaje” is a collaboration with a phantom named Maluma.  It means blackmail.  It was a single a couple of years ago I first overheard it playing in a cantina in Mexico and it stopped me in my tracks because to me it was new and unknown and I recognized Shakira.  In Chicago Shakira turned it into a call and response game with the audience with lyrics on the screen behind the stage.  By and large the stage was bare except for Shakira and her band and the twin video screens.  Now the back wall came more and more into the show as a screen of backup graphics.

An interlude illustrated an origin legend of the Andes in animation on the screen to the haunting song “Despedida” (farewell) pre-recorded.  And then came “Whenever, Wherever” and she was off dancing everywhere again.

Then another interlude, this time a movie of Shakira in a flesh bodysuit dress swimming in creamy murky water like lemonade set to a recording of another song from Dorado called “Trap”.

“What does she mean?” Roxanne murmured in my ear.

“She swims in deep water,” I guessed.

Then, still Spanish and playing to her lifelong fans she belted out her song of loss, “Tu”.

Then one from the newest album called “Amarillo”, a rousing color song for the kids, playing acoustic rhythm guitar with a picture of spouse and kids taped to the face of the guitar.

Next the song I came to see and hear, “La Tortura”.

“No pido que todos los dias sean de sol, No pido que todas las viernes sean de fiesta..”

Yes, we sang — way loud — at least the first verse through.  It means I don’t wish every day will be sunny, I don’t wish every Friday was a party.  It’s the scoldingest where-the-hell have you been song I ever heard since “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles.  It includes the lines, “No solo de pan vive el hombre, y no de excusas vivo yo.”  (Man does not live by bread alone, and I don’t live on excuses.)  And “Mejor te guardas todo eso, a otra perra con ese hueso, y nos decimos adios.”  (Better save that for yourself, take that bone to another dog and let’s say goodbye.)  “Ay amor, me duele tanto…”

Next she reached back to another sing-along ballad unplugged at the stage at the end of the runway with “Antologia” to close her faraway past.  Then she rocked up again with a perfectly scaled “Can’t Remember To Forget You” which included a pre-recorded piece by Rhianna.  The background graphics got exciting, computer images of a screenful of dancers modeled in real time effigy after Shakira, with a medley of “Loca” (“I’m crazy but you like it, loca loca loca…”) and “Rabiosa”, both from Sale el Sol.  The rest of the way it was nonstop Dance or Die with another medley of “La La La” or “Dare” (the Lego song) and then the closer, “Waka Waka”.

We wait in the stage darkness, our unending ovation weakening from near exhaustion.  “Imagine how she feels,” Roxanne says.  “She’s all over the place.  What I don’t get though is how… naughty…”

“Lewd, lascivious,” I volunteer, flicking my Bic lighter a few times just for old times sake.  “Shall we say inappropriate?”

“Yes, that’s one way to put it.  Some of her dance gestures are…”

“Racy?  Obscene?”

“No, not obscene.  We’re all adults here.  I don’t know.  They cross over the edge of innocence.”

“It’s not a gymnastics floor routine.”

“No.  But Clara and Tess are definitely too young for some of this.”

“Are you and I too old?”

“I wouldn’t say that.  She’s really amazing actually.”

“Awesome.”

The screen played a little movie about little kids encountering obstacles to going to school and overcoming.

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Just as the clapping ebbed Shakira appeared on a tiny round stage in the back of the main floor near the sound and light tables, where she sang the quietest song of the night, “Toneladas” (tons).  Accompanied by longtime favorite pianist Albert Menendez she hushes the crowd spotlit in a long gown.  It is the song which concludes the Dorado album, almost a lullabye.  Whatever it’s about will have to wait until I go home.  It’s in Spanish.  From the small island stage she steps down as the crowd cheers and she wades her way across the swelling sea of people who want to be close to her, and even with bodyguards guiding her there are people’s hands all over her.

Back on the end of the runway stage she sheds the gown and reveals the night’s bellydace outfit, a crazy pyramid shaped skirt just as triangular as the dress worn by Princess Margarita Teresa in the Diego Velasquez painting Las Meninas, so envied and studied by Picasso.  The big bustle skirt amplified all Shakira’s butt moves.  She showed her tummy a couple more times and sang “Hips Don’t Lie” along with the prerecorded banter of Wyclef Jean along with Menendez filling in with male vocals.  “No fighting, no fighting.”

Finally she closed with “La Bicicleta” with a dubbed Carlos Vives, another radio hit in Mexico I first heard in Zihuatanejo.  A smooth landing.  After Shakira said goodnight Chicago and thank you so much, she exited the stage but the band played on and finished the song.  Last to wave goodbye were the guitarist and the drummer, Tim Mitchell and Brendan Buckley, giving the crowd one last satisfied look, sort of how Shakira looked at the end of her Unplugged show.  The arena lights went up.

There was a kind of aura of shock it was over.  Closure, catharsis and a sense of unfinished business.  I asked Roxanne if we could just pause at our seats a while before leaving, to watch the crowd slowly drain out of the auditorium, looking at the blank, empty stage.  She said she’s in no hurry.  “Was it all you hoped and more?” she asked.

“Lo que mas,” I said.  “Best ever.”

We melted among the crowd lingering in the lobbies and flowing down to the main level concourse.  The lines at the merchandise stand was not a line or a series of lines but a crushing crowd, if an orderly crush, and I stood back not to block the next person and eyed the swag.  Roxanne assured me I could get anything I wanted, and I was tempted to spend the extra half hour or so to get to the front.  But I decided I didn’t want anything.  The t-shirts so elegant were way too elegant for me — I really don’t wear branded logos much anymore, however subtle, but this was a full frontal across the whole shirt portrait of Shakira in her El Dorado golden gold — I said to Rox when she said, “You can you know,” I know, but I would never wear it, and I would have to frame it.

I’m too old and used to rejection to try to get backstage to get it autographed.

On the way out I paused at the video billboard against the outer wall and looked at her picture one more time, and Roxanne took a photo.  She asked a security lady where we could hail a taxi.

Out in the muggy night the street immediately outdoors was still closed to traffic, the cops were directing cars and waving pedestrians across.  A surface parking lot on the adjacent block leaked cars.  We crossed with the crowd looking for taxis.  Our driver who brought us there implied the curbs would be lined all over with taxis.

Honestly I was in a mood to walk home.  To walk all the way to our hotel.  I knew I could find it by reckoning, especially once we reached the river.  I wanted to walk with Roxanne and talk along the way, like we did in Paris and Rome, and so many places together.  Like Ixtapa.  I wanted to talk about the concert.  I knew it would take an hour at least, it would be a couple miles, but it was a beautiful summer night in Chicago and we’d just seen the concert of a lifetime.

Instead we learned from taxi drivers we tried to hail a couple streets from the arena we would have to phone a request to get a ride because the taxis in the area were already booked to pick somebody up.  So on Roxanne’s iPhone we called a number in area code 312 from the side of a registered taxi company and within minutes got picked up in front of an apartment house address I read to a dispatcher.

The driver told us the traffic was a little crazier than usual because Lalapalooza was letting out by the lake.  He got us back to the hotel near the Magnificent Mile in time to get a thin crust pizza on E Superior St before closing time and a Goose Island before bed and a nice talk about the show, about Shakira.  I never mentioned walking home.  I wanted to be sure Roxanne had a good time.  She can be so critical of concerts.  I could tell she was impressed, not just shining me on.

I think she liked the Art Institute too.  She liked Chicago.  We say we’d go back.

I’d like to go again to Shakira.  Whenever, wherever.

Before I conclude I must say something about a song Shakira did not sing in Chicago, track #11 on El Dorado, the prettiest song on the album, “Deja Vu”.  It’s a duet with a guy named Prince Royce and it is the quintessential Latin/Latina song.  It’s magical.  You have to watch Shakira albums for what she buries at track 11, you’ll discover songs like “Deja Vu” — trust me, I’ve heard her sing in person.  I am eternally thankful for that.

Still trying to decode “Toneladas”, song 13 of El Dorado, she and her pianist, something critical she sang in Chicago to a hushed house, wearing that bustle under that long gown, body armor, I think of Shakira singing “Pienso en Ti” on her first album, her folk album when she was barely eighteen.  The ten thousand hours that got her that far fascinates me to ponder as much as the subsequent twenty three years of choreographing such spontaneity.  At 41 Shakira is young.  Vital.  There’s a lot more to come.  She averages an album every three years but she records when she recoreds.  She tours when she tours.  She doesn’t have to compete on the charts with either the young divas or the Eagles, los hecha estan hecha, she does what she does.  It fascinates me to know her back story and I would love to interview her collaborators she has worked with through the years, people I would expect to bear expert witness upon Shakira as a friend.  Wyclef Jean.  Santana.  Beyonce and Rhianna.  Carlos Vives and Alejandro Sanz.  Rick Rubin.  Kid Cudi, El Cata and Pitbull, Dizzee Rascal, Residente Calleiz, Maluma, Nicky Jam, Black M and this Magic! guy.  I want to talk to Tim Mitchell, Brendan Buckley and Albert Menendez, and the whole Estefan family.  Not just the array of cosingers and longtime band members but the dozens of people she acknowledges in her liner notes.  Her parents she credits for sculpting her character.  And the guy I would most like to talk to is named Luis F Ochoa, her earliest song collaborator on record.

I would love of course to meet Shakira herself and ask her about stuff.  I suppose if I met Gerard Pique we could talk sports.  It’s a little like that song on the album Pure Heroine by that young singer who calls herself Lorde, “Royals”, it’s never going to happen in this world no matter how many times I listen to “Give It Up To Me” on the She Wolf CD (bonus track).  I’m thankful for all the CDs, MP3s and DVDs and all the memories.  I’m thankful for all the associations Shakira brings to mind.

I am thankful for rock and roll.

I am thankful for love songs.

I am thankful for Roxanne.

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BK