Corazon Del Rocanrol

Under a zinc-colored sky, a block away from the railroad tracks and next to a buzzing electrical substation, a young man with hair immaculately slicked back, in black baggies with fob swinging low, oversize gray suit, starched white shirt, and a fat Forties tie takes giant strides as he leads me down the asphalt corridor toward the crowd ahead, and I am doing my best to keep up with him.

"Now you're going to see the true history of Mexican rocanrol!" he calls back over his shoulder, flapping along through the warm, smoggy breeze.

We dive into the marketplace. Throngs of Mexico City youth in all manner of rockero regalia surround us: chavas in leather miniskirts or torn jeans and chavos wearing Metallica T-shirts, James Dean leather jackets, or Guatemalan-style indigena threads. We walk past stall after rickety stall, scraps of splintered wood and twine holding up faded blue tarps over cassettes, CDs, LPs, and singles, bootlegs and imports, posters, steel-toed boots, and skull earrings. Boxes blast New Zealand's Pestilence, Mexico's El Tri, Argentina's Charly Garcia, and U2.

"Tenemos punk, tenemos heavy metal, tenemos en espanol y en ingles, tenemos al Jim Morrison y El Tri!" yells one young vendor, exactly as any one of Mexico's army of street vendors hawks elotes asados, rosaries, or Chiclets. It's but one voice among hundreds at El Chopo, the largest, most eclectic rocanrol swap meet in the universe.

It is a Saturday afternoon, some ten years after this institution was born, and the vendors - a collection of young punkeros or trasheros (thrash fans), leathered heavy metaleros, Peace and Love veterans, and "chavos de la banda" (the working-class followers of Mexican raunch-rock heroes El Tri) - tell me this crowd of about 3000 is on the light side.

"What's chingon is that there's no divisions here between the different rockeros," Ricardo, a high-school kid in a LARD T-shirt, a beret, and hip-hop high-tops tells us. "It doesn't matter whether you're hard-core or trashero."

Mexican authorities haven't distinguished between styles, either: all are equally suspect. El Chopo is often raided by police eager to club skinheads and longhairs alike, Ricardo and his young punk friends say, as a Peace and Lover strolls by with a gleaming white Fender Precision bass, telling everyone that he'll let it go for one million pesos.

It isn't long before my zoot-suited guide is recognized. "Don't you play with la Maldita?" kids inquire, before asking for autographs. Roco, the lead singer of Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio, greets all comers effusively. "And don't forget to make the gig tonight! At Lucc, about midnight! ­Ahorale, hijo!"

We're hopelessly late for a meeting with Maldita's manager clear over on the other side of the city, but Roco is intent on getting me freebies. Already I'm loaded with copies of the magazine La Pus Moderna, home to the city's underground artists and critics, and more than a dozen LPs and cassettes by groups with names like Atoxxxico, Sedicion, Psicodencia.

All the while, Roco talks about the endless possibilities for rockin' across the biggest cityscape in the world. "It's the craziest city, hijo," he says, words spilling out rapid and vowel-twisted, in classic Mexico City slang. "Anything can happen here.

"We've received influences from all over," he adds, as he stands in place for a rare moment, before a stall featuring a lithograph of Marilyn Monroe hanging next to one of Che Guevara.

"From the North, from the South, from Europe. It might be true that rock began in the North, but now it's all ours."

Since the mid-Eighties, in Mexico, Argentina, and Spain, rocanrol has been billed as the perpetual Next Big Thing. Record labels - mostly the Spanish and Latin American subsidiaries of majors such as Sony, BMG, or WEA - signed dozens of bands. Stadium gigs drew huge crowds at most of the big capitals in Latin America.

The adjectives from the record industry spell out what they call a revolution: "Rock en Espanol," reads BMG's slogan, "Music for a New Generation!" Key groups have lived up to the advance publicity - Mexico's Los Caifanes, a dark pop band, sold a respectable 100,000 copies of its first album; a subsequent cumbia-rocksingle, "La negra Tomasa," sold more than a half million. Other acts, such as Radio Futura and La Union from Spain, Los Prisioneros from Chile, and Miguel Mateos and Soda Stereo from Argentina, have also sold well and garnered airplay both in Latin America and, occasionally, on U.S. Latin radio.

But while pop-rockers such as Menudo have become megastars, the heavier rockeros are still on the margins - and not because they necessarily like it there. Roco and the Chopo crowd want to shake Mexican culture right down to its very roots. Only thing is, they might never get the chance to do it. As one veteran of the Mexico City rock wars puts it, "The joke here has always been that this is the year rocanrol is going to make it - and we've been saying it for 30 years."

The Eighties found Mexico City on its knees again (ever since the conquest, this city's suffered), enduring the worst economic crisis since the Revolucion of 1910. A profound malaise contaminated all areas of life - until September 9, 1985.

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