A Repertoire for the Imperfect

Jose Vilson Jose

El Cantante

Last night, my fiancee and I watched El Cantante, a first-person retelling of legendary salsa star Hector Lavoe’s life of music, drugs, and suicide through the eyes of his wife Nilda “Puchi” Perez. For anyone who caught the movie and knew anything about the music and times in which the movie takes place, you’d agree with Willie Colon’s assessment that the creators of this movie “missed an opportunity to do something of relevance for our community. The real story was about Hector fighting the obstacles of a non-supportive industry that took advantage of entertainers with his charisma and talent. Instead they did another movie about two Puerto Rican junkies.”

As I started looking at all the so-called heroes from the histories I can remember, my first assessment could be that no hero in the generic sense has their flaws. Upon further inspection, these flaws and afflictions create the hero, setting the foundation for the layers we see in their products and giving an entry for those less talented / exalted to examine their lives. In spite of our human inclination to grasp for our heroes’ divinities, it’s their humanity which we ought to examine further. In Hector Lavoe’s case, the drugs, death, and ghosts that haunted him made the music as powerful as any trombone or drum set could.

In our search for some moral purity, we often miss out on those from whom we can learn something. Cultural purists would have us believe that great people only come from a certain breed or strand of individual. They jump on their high horses, never knowing that the higher the horse, the easier to shoot them down.

That’s why people like me and you, mainly you, need to embrace that which makes us fallible, erroneous, or sullied to a degree. That’s why I watched El Cantante with such fascination, knowing the factual loopholes in the story. No one condones the cocaine abuse, the lasciviousness, the abandonment of his first one, the neglect of his second, or his constant tardiness for shows that people paid their hard-earned monies to watch, his faults only gave his music texture, which is why people still proudly play his music everywhere from Spanish Harlem to Zaire.

As a society, we ought to have laws, and admonish those who make egregious mistakes in character, but our judgment should have limits too. Every human being has potential. Whenever or wherever they find inspiration for their contributions to society need examination, but so do we. At the heart of the matter is whether we can still make connections, even when the person makes our moral compass spin out of control. Control doesn’t make much in the way of innovation.

Or kicking ass.

Mr. Vilson, who has more ass to kick this week …