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Elvis Presley — Revolutionary Hero

10 October 2007

Wow… I’ve actually had almost 24 hours to myself for a change. I’ve been trying to finish up Gods, Gachupines and Gringos, and have been typing away for the last few hours.

Hot off the computer (and not yet edited), this is the first draft of some background on what happened to Mexico — and the student movement — in 1968 after the 2 October Tlatelolco Massacre:

In 1958, UNAM students staged noisy street protests over a canceled showing of the new Elvis Presley film, Jailhouse Rock. It was a minor incident and quickly settled (the Party, and the theaters arranged for extra showings and student discount tickets), but it was the start of something bigger. Elvis’ role as the non-conformist, lower-class Vince Everett resonated with the students. Even the middle and upper class students recognized that, as heirs of the Revolution, and part of the Institutional Revolution, Ironically, because of the successes of the Institutional Revolution, the students had access to the wider world, and, as Mexicans, saw themselves as active participants in that world.

While Rock-n-roll would not be forbidden over the next twenty-five years, the government’s attitude was, at best, ambivalent. “People are strange,” as Jim Morrison of the Doors, sang. With radio stations unwilling to play the disturbingly new (and potentially revolutionary) music in the U.S., Mexican stations just across the border set up powerful transmitters that broadcast their signals as far north as Iowa and North Carolina. On the other hand, the PRI used the excuse that they were protecting Mexican culture to limit Mexican access to the new music.

Several Mexican rock and roll bands developed and listening to – or copying — foreign rock-n-roll was seen as somewhat more subversive than it really was – in the left-wing press, a reference to rock-n-roll indicated the writer’s anti-PRI attitude. The Beatles, who never appeared in Mexico, had a tremendous influence on literture and culture (one Mexican radio station played nothing but the Beatles, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for over 20 years) and Jim Morrison’s lyrics would – by 2000 – be considered an essential part of world literary culture, and widely studied in universities.

Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger of The Doors recently discussed their own band’s relevance to the Tlatelolco Massacre — and its aftermath — in Mexico City. Mark Stevenson wrote about it for the AP.

But first, Everybody, let’s rock!


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