By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
The stench from the prison kitchen woke him in the mornings. Inmates were given vermin-rife bread for breakfast and sooty rice and watery beans for lunch, "with a side of bloody ground beef." The highlight came once a month: chicken day. Sometimes they'd get soft-serve ice cream — so melted it would inevitably trigger mass diarrhea. "I loved it. I didn't care about all the shitting," Gorki says. "It was the only thing with flavor they gave us."
That same year, Gil arrived in Miami. On a Fourth of July, no less. He headed to Kendall, where his wife had family. From the car, Miami looked like a neon-lit world full of promise. The fireworks, he thought, could only be a good omen.
Those blue-and-red-colored lenses soon wore off. Kendall "was very 'Welcome to the Jungle,'" he says. His wife's family pushed him to get a job.
Before the year was over, he split from South Florida and his wife, and headed to Las Vegas, where a friend lived. For a year, he worked as a prep cook at the Mirage Hotel & Casino. "It was a tough experience," he says. He didn't speak English. Nobody knew him. In that big town, he felt as anonymous as a chorus girl. Dreams of making it seemed to be dissipating, even if he carried his guitar everywhere.
"I thought, If this is America, I prefer Havana," he says. He stayed out West only a year.
In his dungeon, Gorki didn't write a single song for Porno Para Ricardo. He couldn't find the inspiration. His early songs seemed cruelly naive, and he didn't know how to write seriously about the depravity around him. "I didn't have any creative time," he says. "My head was too stressed out, too distraught with other thoughts." For one, his 6-year-old daughter, Gabriela, visited him only once during his sentence.
She appeared in her Sunday best — a mirage in that Dantean underworld — ran toward him, climbed onto his shoulders, and sobbed. "It's hard for a little girl to understand where I was or why," he recalls in one of several conversations from Havana, this time his voice breaking up not because of bad reception. "I broke out in tears. I still don't like to talk about it."
Instead of writing, Gorki sang Willy Chirino from his cot until lights out, while a fellow inmate banged on buckets they used to shower. The sound echoed through the stone-gray walls, and other prisoners sang along in unison, drowning out the screams of torture emanating from the basement.
Gorki's time in prison warped him, but not the way his jailers intended. Aside from murderers, political dissidents were also held at 5 1/2. In December 2002, Óscar Elías Biscet, who would receive George W. Bush's Presidential Medal of Freedom in absentia five years later, began a 25-year sentence for "counterrevolutionary activity." When the dissidents walked in the afternoons, the punk singer talked to Biscet through the peephole-sized window in his cell.
"They were very conscious of why they were there and had the strength of their convictions, and that fed me, gave me perspective," Gorki says. When he was released early two years later, the 35-year-old emerged eager to "assault those who screwed" him, he says.
"Politics trumped sex, what I used to write about. I got out hating the regime more and wanting to do something about it."
Biscet, meanwhile, is still serving his quarter-century sentence.
Alberto Alonso sets aside a glass of cheap Palo Viejo rum and lumbers toward what he calls el cuartico. He walks through a dirty kitchen where unpaid bills lie piled on the countertop, steps down into a dank laundry room, and then maneuvers into a converted utility space more confined than Dee Dee Ramone's stinky Converse sneakers. The walls are adorned with Ramones and Clash posters, tattered Cuban flags, and skull stickers. One frame holds a photo of a half-naked biker chick who resembles Bombshell McGee.
This is where Gil and the three other members of G2 rehearse Mondays and Wednesdays, usually after 9 p.m., when they've gotten off work. Alberto is the drummer, and his set occupies half the room. Beside it stand Javier Hernández on bass and Cesar Rios on the second electric guitar. They can hardly move without hitting one another, so the keep their feet planted, bobbing back and forth like dashboard hula dolls. If they weren't middle-aged, you might say there was some glamour in their struggling-musician look.
Near the entrance, Gil stands in full punk regalia. He pulls it off. Mostly. Where Iggy Pop has big blue eyes to set off his cubist face, Gil has a goofy grin he pulls as indiscriminately as punks spit at their audience. "Check, check," he says into the mike, where a beanie baby hangs loosely, and then flips a page of the lyric notebook spread open on the floor. "This is going to be enpingao, fucking dope."
Alberto closes the door. Outside, this late at night, the only sounds are of planes taking off from Miami International Airport and dozens of TV sets turned to Telemundo. He sits at the drums and taps his sticks twice. The effect is atomic — deafening silence followed by cigarette smoke, which the ceiling fan slowly circulates around the room. As the four tear into their instruments, the room shakes and the lights flicker bug-zapper-like from all the equipment plugged in.