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RADIO NOWHERE

Day 8 - Curandera

You know how, when you’re in a tiny village high in the Sierra Madre, pounding shots of homemade mescal in a tiny tarpaper shack, and the witch doctor grabs your wrist and commands you to sing, to save your friend’s soul, it’s really hard to come up with something on the spot?

No?

Well, it was a first for me, too, and I’m not at all sure that I passed…but I did get a song out of it… 


Listen

Click the big orange Play button to get the song rolling, then read on for more about the song, lyrics, and extras...

About The Song

I was on a truly epic road trip with my friend K., driving from San Francisco, CA to La Ceiba, Honduras – a journey of more than three thousand miles – and it was not going well. (I know that you probably already read about this in Day 1 of the Road Trip, but just let me refresh your memory here.) So, a partial list of the trouble we ran into includes:

  • Having both our driver’s licenses stolen at the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez
  • Daily shakedowns by federales and law enforcement of every stripe on the highways and dirt roads of Central Mexico (our watches, Walkmans, cameras and boombox were sacrificed in the interests of international goodwill)
  • Running a Guatamalan army roadblock in the dark and fleeing through the night from vans full of teenaged paramilitaries with AK-47s
  • Total inability to find turkey OR cranberry sauce anywhere in Guatemala on Thanksgiving

To make matters worse, my friend was suffering from hepatitis-like symptoms, which had proven totally unresponsive to hospital visits and all the normal types of medication he’d been given back in California.

Which is why we found ourselves stuffed into a tarpaper shanty in a Michoacan village with the witch doctor, her assistant, two pigs and a bowl full of chicken blood. And a bottle of the strongest mescal you’ve ever tasted.

K. had been referred to this doctor (or faith-healer – “curandera”) in a last-ditch attempt at a cure. She took one look at him, declared he was possessed, and herded everyone into her “office”, where in short order, a chicken was killed and bled, non-optional mescal was prescribed to all present, and I was commanded to sing, to play my part in spinning the incantation that would drive the demons out of K.’s body.

What’s the appropriate type of number for that situation? A lullaby? Show tunes? Meat Loaf?

My memory is a little bit hazy (because mescal), but I think I vamped a little and then came out with sort of a mashup of “Doctor, Doctor”, by the Thompson Twins and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”…and then a little bit of “Jack & Diane”, by John Cougar Mellencamp. (Like I said, mescal.)

Whatever it was, I guess it did the trick, because the curandera abruptly stopped me and declared that K. was no longer in danger of keeling over before bedtime, but that he’d need to stay in the village under her personal care for an additional 30 days before he could be fully cured.

“How much will that cost?”, K. asked.

“Five thousand dollars, American.” – from the curandera.

K said, “How about 50 pesos?”

“Done.”

At this point, I think K. suspected that things weren’t quite on the up-and-up, because he abruptly stood up, grabbed the mescal bottle and walked out the front door. I followed, and that was the last we ever saw of the doc. We spent the night drinking fabulous mescal, which was actually what that village was known throughout Mexico for, and I guarantee that after a while, K.’s symptoms were definitely not bothering him anymore.


About The Recording

Not too long after this, I found myself back in Northern California, standing in front of one of the super-tasty microphones at Fantasy Studios with my little Sony digital recorder in my hand. We were about to cut the lead vocal track for the song and I was playing and rewinding and replaying my lo-fi demo of the song, reminding myself of the vocal approach I wanted to take. I took a deep breath and was all ready to cut the all-important vocal when my producer’s excited voice came through my headphones: “Wait - what is that? That’s fantastic!” He was all amped up about the way my little demo was sounding in the control room, and we decided then and there that it would make a great intro to the song - it’s that tinny little excerpt from the first verse that kicks off the track.

Other highlights from this track (in my humble opinion) include:

  • The propulsive, galloping beat from drummer Steve Bowman, a genius approach which none of us had even imagined before the recording sessions
  • Creamy, glowing harmony vocals from my good friend and all-star vocalist Tom Hamilton - check him in the duet on the bridge especially
  • More killer Wurlitzer electric piano from Jef Labes - he prefers to play acoustic piano, but I just love the way he plays the Wurly
  • Interesting synth programming from yours truly - all the weird sweeping noises at the beginning and end of the song were super-fun to design and play. I did all this stuff in my studio at home, then burned the sounds to a CD and brought them in to Fantasy to be added to the track.

Get The Audio

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Lyrics

​i've taken a lover into my bed
whispers of Spanish float 'round her head
and sometimes her skin smells like chilis and sunlight
and sometimes she wakes
in the middle of the night
she gets long distance calls from Barranca del Cobre
something about her always looks hungry
and i want her so much i'll follow wherever she goes
but i don't see the thorns here for the rose

and high up/in Mexico
Curanderas bought her soul
now i see shadows/at high noon
and my heart changes/with the moon

she went to say Hail Marys down at the mission
says she's on the hook for the sin of sedition
what union she's running from just her confessor can tell
but today i have not heard them sound the bell

and high up/in Mexico
Curanderas bought her soul
now i see shadows/at high noon
and my heart changes/with the moon

oh, mother of pearl/birds of paradise
Sierra Madre earth/Cuernavaca night
and i feel a burning through her skin
branded by her tears
like an animal she cries out
but i see nothing
nothing in her mirrors

i try to tell her the things i can't show her
she drops the needle, the music takes over
we dance until the blood flows and the saints intervene
and she prays for just one night without any dreams

and high up/in Mexico
Curanderas bought her soul
now i see shadows/at high noon
and my heart changes/with the moon

Today's Bonuses!

Curandera - Original Demo

Check out the original demo for "Curandera" - love the chair creaking at the very beginning. Very casual. You might notice that the drum sounds bear a strong resemblance to those in the "Cortez & Pizarro" Demo. Very strong. In fact, they're exactly the same. Just like every other bedroom producer, I stole a hi-hat, kick and snare from a James Brown record, and for a while I was using them on all my tracks. Funky! 

Curandera - Mini Concert

"Curandera" is my favorite song to play with the partial capo (that brass & black thing down on the right side of the guitar neck). The ringing open strings throughout the song really give the whole thing a lot more weight and resonance. 


I feel like I miss the band less on this song than on any of the others that I play solo acoustic. It's quieter, of course, but there's still a lot going on. Fun! 

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P.S.

If you had a good time on today's Road Trip and want to tip me (first of all, thank you!), just click the image, or this link: