Music saved the life of Richard T. Rodríguez.
The first time Rodríguez saw Boy George in a TV music video, he was in awe. The androgynous figure dressed in a flamboyant outfit immediately caught the eye of a then-adolescent Rodríguez. Other British musicians such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam Ant and Soft Cell, among others, helped create a sense of belonging – and acceptance – as he explored his own Mexican American identity and culture in the 1980s.
Punk music of the 1970s and 80s was associated with rebels and anti-establishment attitudes in the United States and the United Kingdom. It’s that same sense of displacement, of not “fitting in,” that has allowed young Mexicans and Mexican Americans to connect with such high-profile bands as the Clash, Sex Pistols, Cure, and Smiths. .
Now Rodríguez, 51, a professor of English and media and cultural studies at UC Riverside, has taken all that historical context and put it into a 264-page book that seamlessly blends music, Latino lives in Southern California and his personal memories of growing up in the 1980s. The book, “A Kiss Across the Ocean: Transatlantic Intimacy of British Post-Punk & US Latinidad”, published by Duke University Press. This is Rodríguez’s second book.
“Each of us has a different relationship to music and to the artist. For many of us who grew up marginalized because of our sexuality, our class, our ethnicity, that resonates even more,” Rodríguez said. “Growing up you gravitated toward what gave you a sense of empowerment and that’s what music did for me and so many other people. Music saved my life.”
“A Kiss Across the Ocean”, whose title derives from the Culture Club’s Long Hammersmith Odeon concert in 1983, focuses on what he defines as post-punk. For Rodríguez, the “post” in post-punk “heralds the survivals of punk that form a genealogy” that embraces a stylistic hybridity in sound, fashion and politics.
Through musical anecdotes, Rodríguez tells his own coming-of-age story, sharing some of the harsher realities of family life and social discrimination and his gigging adventures with friends in Santa Ana, Los Angeles. and beyond.
“Yes, music has helped my identity and beyond. When I first described the scene where I watch Boy George on TV, I didn’t have to dress like that, but it helped to find who I am, who I was,” said said Rodríguez, who has a passion for teaching. His dedication to mentorship has earned him awards in recent years, including the UCR’s Charles Weis Service Award and the Richard A. Yarborough Award.
Before the pandemic, Rodríguez participated in a faculty-run education abroad program, or FLEAP, in Scotland. FLEAP students learned about the development of punk and post-punk music by visiting museums and accessing official and unofficial archives, while meeting scholars, journalists and musicians.
His students encouraged him to become a DJ at UCR’s radio station, KUCR 88.3FM. Since 2020, he’s been “Dr. Ricky on the Radio” every Thursday from 3-5 p.m., bringing listeners a repertoire of hits from the 1980s. Ocean”.
Rodríguez was one of thousands of Southern California Latinos who became lifelong admirers of post-punk music and artists such as Depeche Mode, New Order and Siouxsie Sioux. The connection came from many angles; he argues that artists such as Siouxsie resonated with Mexican American youth because of his middle-class upbringing, feeling inadequate because his family home was the visual pollution of the neighborhood or because no one could pronounce his Last name.
Siouxsie also gave Latinas an out, Rodríguez said. The hair, sharp eyeliner and bold lipstick gave them a sense of self-assurance. His music and personality created a force field that helped fend off the racial and homophobic slurs that many marginalized children encountered in school.
Another tie is Kid Congo Powers, a third-generation queer Mexican-American born in La Puente, California. He was guitarist for the Cramps, the Gun Club and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The child grew up listening to everything from oldies to Mexican rancherasand admits that although he didn’t speak Spanish, his Latin features always made him feel judged and unaccepted.
Referring more to the post-punk musical connection between the UK and Southern California, Rodríguez recalls an interview in a British magazine with John Lydon, lead singer of the Sex Pistols. The interviewer asks Lydon what people in America think of him and how he spent his free time in Los Angeles. “I hang out with Chicanos who love anything that rides around in ’50s cars. I have a ’57 Caddy…so I go into the races now – serious stock car stuff. I love it.”
Lydon’s comments in that 1984 conversation provided validation Rodríguez said he had to rise above it when other bands, their fans, and reporters asked why the Chicanos were interested in post-punk music. , Rodríguez said.
At one point, reporters became obsessed with why Morrissey had such a large Latin following. Rodríguez wrote this book partly to answer this question.
“I’ve been frustrated and annoyed many times. The answer is, ‘Why not?’” Rodríguez explained why he decided to continue writing this book. I wanted to debunk the myths and show that this music appealed to children of color, people of color, there was this difference in the music that drew us in. It allowed us to express our originality.
Music was also a transatlantic driver of social change, Rodríguez said. In the 1980s, the United States experienced political conservatism, a recession, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, etc. Social protests were happening all over the world.
One of the songs that resonated with young people was The Specials’ “Ghost Town”:
“This town (town) is coming like a ghost town
Why do young people have to fight against themselves?
The government leaves young people behind
This place (town) happens like a ghost town
No jobs to be found in this country
I can’t go on anymore
people get angry
This town is coming like a ghost town…”
“Music brought us together,” Rodríguez said.
Book Talks with Richard T. Rodríguez:
Thursday September 15
Dr. Ricky on the Radio: Tune into KUCR 88.3FM on Thursday, September 15 from 3-5 p.m. when Dr. Ricky discusses his book and delights listeners with a playlist from the 1980s.
Saturday, September 17, 4 p.m.
LibroMobile — Bristol Food Court
1180 Bristol Street S.
Santa Ana, California
RSVP: https://www.libromobile.com/events. The event will be a conversation with Dr. Marlén Ríos-Hernández.
Thursday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m.
San Francisco, California
Thursday, October 20, 7 p.m.
Bookstore Women and children first
5233 N. Clark Street
Praise for “A Kiss Across the Ocean”
“It’s a book written from the heart. Read it, learn and feel. I’m voting for Richard T. Rodríguez, a subject close to my heart. — Holly Johnson, artist and lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood
“In this part-memoir, part-ethnography of England and SoCal in the 1980s, author Rodríguez, a professor of media and cultural studies and English at UC Riverside, explores what seemingly binds these two cultures Fandom of Boy George and the Culture Club, Rodríguez plumbs the depths of the passionate, sometimes tainted love affair between British post-punks and Latinos who worship at their altar.” —Suzy Exposito, Los Angeles Times
“This scholarly yet personal book is a moving tribute to the escape and comfort that music can bring to the most marginalized members of society: Rodríguez provides an in-depth analysis of influences on and from post-punk bands, in areas ranging from racial politics to ethnic cultural dynamics, and also writes about his own experiences as a young fan in search of belonging. Rodríguez’s book successfully balances an intellectual understanding of the cultural ramifications of post-punk music with poignant and compelling background stories appealing to scholars and fans alike.” — Lisa Henry, Library Journal
“Breathtaking and medicinal, this is one of those surprise books you didn’t know you needed until you read it. And after reading it (in a glorious page-turning session!), one feels more satiated. It makes it possible to remember with heart the abundant creativity of people of yesterday and today who have done everything to make minority sensitivity and practice unsuitable. In its luminosity and its particular atmosphere, A Kiss across the Ocean gives readers the tools to question themselves with precision on the intuitive attractions of sounds and their environment. This book is a mighty force for good. — Alexandra T. Vazquez, author of The Florida Room