After years of repression under Franco, the youth of Madrid are talkin’ ‘bout regeneration
June 6,1985

THAT FIRST NIGHT IN MADRID proved to be one hell of an eye-opener. You know, like when you bump into someone on the street who you could've sworn was dead? Well, that's how it was when the train pulled into Chamartin Station. A city rumored to be long dead was shimmering out there in a frock of allnight neon glitz, like a whore on the move. You could feel it, too. The heart of the city throbbed in time to some kind of infinite energy. It was something, you couldn't quite put your finger on, but it was out there. Man - was it out there!

Outside of the station, a caravan of cabbies was killing time by the curb. Holdovers from another era, they looked like old men who'd been turned out of their own homes, neglected by a city that appeared to be jumping all around them. The cabby who snatched my bags quickly flipped on his radio to check out the score of the local futbol game. After a moment, however, he tuned into something instantly identifiable: Spanish rock & roll. A cross between Bruce Springsteen and Desi Arnaz. The man's face lit up as he glanced at me in his rear-view mirror. “You like?" he asked, putting the finger on me as a tourist.
"'Rock & roll," I said, nodding.
“Ah, rock & roll,” he purred, shaking his head with a kind of detached, moronic wonderment. He listened for a few blocks, then said, 'Ten years ago no rock & roll."
I asked him what he meant by that.
“The government say it bad influence, so no see it anywhere." His English was almost as bad as my Spanish, but I had no problem getting the message. He cocked a thumb and forefinger at his temple and made a gesture that transcended the language barrier. "That's the way it was in whole country”

Third world war's Alberto Rojas at home with parents

GENERALISSIMO FRANCISCO FRANCO IS STILL DEAD. THE son of a bitch kicked off in 1975, paving the way for King Juan Carlos and the establishment of a democratic order in Spain. Since then, Madrid has been having itself one ongoing coming-out party. The kind you like to have when the folks are away for the weekend. Only this time the Old Man isn't coming back.

“When Franco died," Diego Manrique says, it was as if our souls had been set free." It's not easy to understand the concept of freedom until you look into the eyes of someone tasting it for the first time. I sought out Manrique not only because he is one of Madrid's leading disc jockeys but because he came recommended by someone in whose eyes I recognized the same burning look of intensity. The night before, a young girl I met on the street told me he was someone she and her friends listened to in order to help sort things out .."Diego understands what happened here and what we're all about," she said. Now, sitting in his recordcrammed apartment, listening to this lumpish little guy in his early thirties, I began to get an idea about the fired-up look everyone had and where it came from.

“We had been denied freedom for so long that many people didn't know what to do when they finally got it" he continues, “but the young people here had a field day. They sensed that this was an opportunity to take over the city, to reach out and make their voices heard - which is how La Movida was born.”

La Movida. It rolls off his tongue like the name of an unforgettable lover. Lammmo-veeeeduh. The Movement. “It is," he explains rather obliquely, “a call to arms...without arms. A fight to the finish...without fighting...or ever finishing. It's a way of thinking and feeling and being that we've never experienced before.” Buried under all his rhetoric lurks an enviable situation called revolution. A peaceful, cultural revolution that encourages former political captives to take all the energy they put into fighting for freedom and invest it in experimentation with new art forms and philosophies. Consider the possibilities! To much of the rest of the Western world, that opportunity came and went with the Sixties, but the Madrileños are only now inching themselves out of the cocoon.

Club cultured: Inaki Fernandez (center) of Glutamato Yeye

"La Movida begins with democracy,” he says, lighting the butt end of some home-grown crap that smells like dead woodchuck. 'When democracy began in 1976, all social order collapsed in Madrid. Young people began hanging out together, living together - all of which initiated a very liberated lifestyle. And the voices of La Movida - the musicians and poets and teachers the believers - kept it alive. Every night you can go places here and find people with your same attitudes and same tastes. New music is everywhere, but La Movida is less important for the music than for the social scene it created."

Madrid has been transformed into a cultural oasis, where new music, crafts, intellectualism, drugs, free love, all-night clubs and boundless idealism have all become part of the daily scene - much like San Francisco in the Sixties. A city reborn to run.

"When Franco died, those of us with 'ideas' set the stage for the explosion that was to come,” Diego says. "Now, in Madrid, all the doors are wide open. It's fantastic. Anything goes. So much so that we have to live twice as fast in order to make up for lost time.”

"YOU KNOW A SONG BY TALKING HEADS CALLED 'Burning Down the House'?" a kid in a record store asks me. 'Well, that's what happened when La Movida took hold," he says. 'We began burning down all the old houses where evil took place, replacing them with our own. And the old-style music just held too many memories for anyone's good. So it was more or less banished."

More or less. But what replaced it was a far cry from anything that might be construed as gen-u-wine La Movida-inspired rock. From the start, the Spanish new-music scene was merely a reflection of the English Top Forty, with a smattering of technorock thrown in.

Pop singer Alaska

In the U.S. and England, rock & roll is a vehicle for poor kids to strike it rich, but in Spain that didn't hold true at first.”Back then, most kids had no idea how to play rock & roll," says Ferni Presas, the bass player for Gabinete Caligari, one of Madrid's emerging supergroups. They had no electric guitars or amplifiers or places to play.” Consequently, only the wealthiest kids - the ones who could afford to go to England and buy the latest records- became Spain's earliest rock stars. Presas recalls, The most important group in the early days of La Movida - Kaka de Luxe - was made up of members of the city's social elite, including the son of our foremost movie director. The earliest punks on the scene were from the Barrio de Salamanca, one of the richest neighborhoods in Madrid."

Music eventually flowed into the surrounding slums. More recently, it has taken on a distinctively Latin flavor - rock mixed with a touch of flamenco, which served to heat up the music. And the Mádrileños finally have themselves the makings of a musical identity.

Shocking Head: synth player Andrews Wax of Mar Otra Vez

“Rock & roll is more of a passion here than it is in English-speaking countries' a performer at a local club tells me. Nobody makes money from it; it's not a sophisticated business. We play because we have to."

At first the new scene faltered because the major record companies in Madrid - the multinacionales, as the Spaniards refer to RCA, CBS, Polygram and the like - favored making distribution deals with successful English and American bands over signing local groups. So various independent labels formed. Then a group of resourceful kids launched a bastard label called Discos Radioactivos Organizados (DRO), to preserve Madrid infant sound. The music industry had finally fallen into the hands of La Movida, but more important it was to be shaped by young people who seemed willing to explore new musical frontiers and explode the illusions left unattended by the first wave of democracy.

Marta Cervera, an elfin twenty-two-year-old woman who runs the label with her husband, explains that they formed the record company three years ago as a cooperative, of sorts, to provide their artists with a greater cut of the royalties; that placed them near the top of the list of labels sought out by new acts and served to irritate their competitors. She says DRO refuses to play ball by any given set of industry standards. We're still scoffed at by the multinacionales?' She pronounces the word the same way Reagan says liberals. "But the people in those companies know nothing about rock & roll, much less music. They might as well be selling shoes. DRO is selling its soul. We grew tired of the complacency that began to set into the music scene in Madrid and decided to put out records that made people angry enough to think. Our policy is that we're saying something now to the young people of Spain. And when we're old, they will have the responsibility of saying something to us."

Biding their time: fascists observed the anniversary of Franco's death November 20th.

DRO'S roster of acts - a crazy quilt of New Romantics, punks and New Wavers (las siniestras) have declared open season on all sacred Spanish institutions: God, the Catholic church, the army, sex, the family and the old right. The most surprising aspect of DRO'S initiative, however, is the reaction from the groups attacked, which is to say, there hasn't been any.

“Right now, we still have freedom of speech,” says Diego Manrique, who notes that only the king remains strictly off-limits to satirists. The church has remained curiously quiet so far, even regarding a hit song that openly mocked the clerics. It implied that the priests were cockroaches. And I thought, Uh-oh, now we're going to hear from the church. But nothing happened."

MADRID'S MUSIC SCENE THRIVES IN MUCH THE SAME way that Hamburg flourished during the Beatles' tenure there in the early Sixties. A string of hole-in-the-wall rock clubs and bars that sponsor live music dot the city and spill over into the streets every night of the week. For the most part, Madrid rocks harder than almost any other European capital. And as anywhere else, the heart of the city beats fastest on Saturday night. Marta Cervera drags me to Rock-Ola, the city's hot-club-of-the-week (it has since closed), to see one of her acts and to check out the locals.

Members of the Youth Corps

A group of familiar-looking kids is hanging out in front of the club, leaning on the hoods of cars and grinding against one another in darkened doorways. Elvis is blasting over the loudspeakers – “Too Much" and for a moment it strikes me as just that. Too much, I mutter, making my way through the crowd into what looks like your customary club scene: dark walls, inverted mirrors, sticky, beer-stained floors and smoke -plenty of smoke.

Inside, a gang is gathered around a beat-up TV monitor, watching what looks like Madrid's version of MTV. The clips aren't very imaginative - one reason being that state-of-the-art video equipment is rare because of high import tariffs. Even the sync is terrible -so bad, in fact, that for a moment I'm fooled into thinking the clips are dubbed versions of American songs. A Chilean band is also on the bill tonight, and I wonder about the political implications; it's no secret that Spanish-speaking countries remain united in their struggle against political tyranny. But even those sentiments seem strangely nonexistent here.

“Americans think that because we came through repression, we must possess some kind of deep and unique political passion," says Marta. But it's just the opposite. Take these kids, for instance." She sweeps the room with a flick of her head. "This is your typical La Movida crowd, and most of them are indifferent to politics. They are apolitical because it's very hard to keep any illusions when you see the socialists -the left- coming to power in Spain. And even the socialists are limited in what they can do by the army and the banks. I think you call that a Mexican standoff. So who care about politics anymore? It's all sleight of hand. Ever democracy.

Madrileños don't see their music as being political, became they're not purposely trying to make a political statement. Instead, they're telling the stories of their lives, which were shaped in a political arena. In that respect, it's impossible to separate the politics from the music of Madrid. Or, as Cacho, a musician, explains it: 'Our life is built on politics, and it comes through in our songs. Nevertheless, we don't have solutions for what happens in our country. Only emotions."

The party continues on into Sunday, once regarded as the holiest of days in this city of almost 4 million Catholics. “You must understand that the kids here no longer have any regard for the church,” a young woman tells me before hurrying home to change for the after-hours club scene. 'They believe only in the religious spirit of the people."

Clerics and proctors of Spain's social code have accused La Movida of fostering a godless morality, she says. Especially in regard to the high rate of pregnancy among teenagers. Abortions are permitted in extreme circumstances; still, hundreds of young girls queue up at the airport on Friday afternoons, hoping to snare a seat on a weekend charter to London. It's the only place where you can go to have a safe abortion without the collective interference of the church and members of your family. You know, if you want to get into the spirit of things as they are now, you ought to go to El Rastro," she suggests, looking for an excuse to change the subject "That's what Sunday in Madrid is now all about.”

Picture a gigantic flea-market-cum-celebration to which a whole city turns out and you have a pretty good indication of what El Rastro is all about. It is a bazaar - miles of interconnected, narrow streets gridlocked by vendors and musicians.

“El Rastro represents the new way of life here," a boot maker tells me as he puts the finishing touch on a pair of beaded mocassins in a booth just off one of the main squares. 'Just look around. The people are happy. Nobody wants to be reminded of the past. Sunday in Madrid is a time to forgive and forget"

One section of El Rastro is transformed into a discount drugstore, with hundreds of dealers selling grass and blocks of chocolate-brown hash. 'Straight off the boat from Morocco," I'm told by a kid who follows me down the street, thrusting a block of hash at me the size of a softball. I beg him to conceal the damn thing before I'm shown the inside of a jail cell, but an American standing nearby tells me not to sweat about it. "It's legal to smoke hash in Spain," he says, matter-of-factly. 'It's illegal to sell it en masse, but you can have it in your possession and not have worry." Heroin and coke use is widespread, and some say it's tearing the scene apart. Others have told me the drug situation is incredibly bad, that many of the kids and musicians are junkies who devote all their time and money to getting stoned.

This is the modern whirl: all-night clubs are common now in Madrid.

This could provide potent political ammunition for the privileged corps of Franco's former henchmen -the oldguard fascists masquerading as "the military right"- who lie in wait for their chance to regain power. In fact, remnants of the political past are everywhere in Madrid, from the submachine-gun-toting policia to the neoextremist groups whose demonstrations in and around the city are reminders that tyranny and power are often the most dangerous drugs of all.

The fascistas have built a sturdy gang of young toughs modeled on the Hitler Youth; the gang numbers in the thousands. Yet champions of La Movida claim the fascists are counterproductive to their own cause. "It's good to have them there as a reminder of how hard we have to work and what we're up against," says Jesus Ordovas, a radio personality who is often referred to as the father of La Movida. "It's comforting to have the past right there over your shoulder so you can look back every so often. And anyway, complacency is a far more formidable enemy to our cause than ignorance.”

Not far from El Rastro lies the Gran Via, Madrid's classy shopping thoroughfare, distinguished by its bulwark of ornate marble facades and colonnades. Despite the strong, arid sun, one can almost visualize Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley strolling along the pavement toward the crowded booths at El Callejón. Perhaps you see the toreros on parade to the arena. Blink again and that scene is shattered by stark images of tanks rolling down the avenue. Or infantrymen, marching like derelict Rockettes to a monotonous drumbeat. Madrid is all of these - faded pictures snatched from pages of the city's war-torn scrapbook. Pictures illuminated by its present cultural renaissance.

Today, only a few window-shoppers laze hand in hand along the Gran Via. The air is crisp and pure, and there are no clouds to interrupt the beautiful view. Only the faint sound of music -rock music- punctuates the stately calm, and that alone is cause enough for celebration. As the city gets ready for its midafternoon siesta, one can't help humming along with the song that happens to be on Madrid's current Top Forty. Its chorus goes, 'We must congratulate ourselves for how far we've come/Now, what do we do about tomorrow?"

BOB Spitz, author of "Barefoot in Babylon,” is working on biography of Bob Dylan.