La Cucaracha (meaning “The Cockroach”) is a traditional Spanish language folk song. It is unknown when the song came about. It is very popular in Mexico, and was especially so during the Mexican Revolution. Many alternative stanzas exist. The basic song describes a cockroach that cannot walk. It has an uneven 5/4 time signature. The song has been performed widely. It is about the fact that the bug has lost one of its six legs and is struggling to walk with its remaining five.The cockroach’s uneven, five-legged gait is imitated by the song’s original 5/4 meter, formed by removing one upbeat (corresponding to the missing sixth leg) from the second half of a 6/4 measure:
But the most often sung version in Mexico has nothing to do with its missing hind leg:
La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
ya no puede caminar
porque no tiene, porque le falta
marihuana que fumar.
Ya murió la cucaracha
ya la llevan a enterrar
entre cuatro zopilotes
y un ratón de sacristán.
The cockroach, the cockroach,
can’t walk anymore
because it doesn’t have, because it’s lacking
marijuana to smoke.
The cockroach just died
now they take her to be buried
among four buzzards
and a mouse as the sexton.
My first impression when I came to Vancouver, Canada from Mexico in 1975 and witnessed my first hockey game is that I could not understand why an organist would play the Mexican Hat Dance and La Cucaracha! I am not a lover of the Hammond organ or the accordion so that may be the reason why I have never warmed up to the Canadian National Game.
But of late I have been thinking about that buzzed cockroach a lot and I have decided to look back at my past for a possible drug addiction.
In the 50s we all thought (so my mother told me) that actor Robert Mitchum had semi-closed eyes because he smoked marihuana. The proof of it was a picture of his sweeping in jail.
In Mexico in the early 70s we called anybody who smoked the stuff marijuanos. In an article about the weed in a Sunday newspaper I noticed that the image that they had of the plant was the wrong one. In many an empty lot in Mexico City the plant grows wild so I knew what it looked like.
Around 1972 two of my friends bought peyote at a local herb market and decided to experiment with yours truly. I was given a potion of the stuff that was so vile that I threw it up without any effects to my thought process.
By the time my wife and two daughters and I moved to Canada in 1975 I suffered terrible migraines that disappeared one day when I was 64 or thereabouts. Until that moment I depended on a prescribed drug called Gravegol. The pills were very strong downers that made me float. With two in my system I could have taken the shouting of my mother-in-law (who never did shout at me) in stride. I was so afraid at becoming addicted that I would suffer migraines for days and not take the pills.
In the late 70s a friend of mine who was the leader of a pop band that composed a great song called Goodbye Mr. Bond offered (insisted) I try some of his very good hash in my very good Irish Peterson pipe. We were sunning ourselves in our birthday suits on Wreck Beach. After a while he asked me how I was feeling. I was barely able to tell him that I could not move and I was almost unable to talk. Further forays into tokes that were passed my way in some editorial kitchen party (there were many of those parties and very few of my forays) always made me stutter which was something I hated to do. That was the end of any attempts on my part to smoke the weed.
I can be very firm in saying that I would never ever try any drug that has to be injected. In the late 40s in Buenos Aires I lived in the fear every year of the diphtheria vaccine that we had to get at school. For reasons that have never been explained to me the vaccine was injected in the spinal column. Ever since then I have had a fear (even more than when I see a snake) of any injection. Every two weeks I have to inject myself with Humira for treating my Psoriatic Arthritis. I hate this and I postpone it until the last possible moment.
Only once about 20 years ago I was asked by a pleasantly chubby woman at Gary Taylor’s Rock Room to open my hand. She placed a white powder on it and said, “Enjoy.” I sniffed; I was too embarrassed not to. She came back and asked how it had been. My answer was one she did not understand or like, “I felt like I was going up the stairs of the New York City subway on a very hot summer day and felt a rush of cold air.”
That was the last time I had any kind of illicit drugs.
While teaching in a high school for rich American kids in Mexico City around 1970 my students asked me on my stand on marihuana. I wanted to sound cool but at the same time I had to stick to the fact that I was a teacher in a school run by a female principal who was a member of the John Birch Society.
This is what I told them:
“There are two ways to enjoy a tomato. One is to pluck one from a vine and sprinkle it with some salt. Another is to buy a supermarket tomato and sprinkle it with MSG. I like the first way.”
They knew what MSG was because in Mexico they had been selling a Japanese product called Aji-No-Moto which was pure MSG.
At age 74 I do not need to escape my present reality in any way with the addition of any additives such as alcohol and drugs. Life is just fine the way it is.
My American baroque stand-up bassist from Portland, Curtis Daily, always alert and never buzzed except for his morning addiction to coffee has weighed in on the La Cucaracha:
I just read your post about La Cucaracha. I was about to write that while the rhythmic divisions cross bar lines, the tune is solidly in 4/4, I then looked it up in Wikipedia, where I found the information about it being in 5/4 originally.
After looking at all the sheet music online for it that is all in 4/4, it made me think about your recent post with all the different biblical translations of one passage.
I can easily see that it would have originally been in 5/4 where the “la” is the downbeat rather than the first of three eighth note pickups: la cu ca RA(3 eighths) cha followed by another eighth rest to make it in 4/4.
Then I though how nice it would be to hear it played, perhaps in 5/4, by a son jarocho group[a musical ensemble from the State of Veracruz], as it seemed to be the kind of song that could come from the jarochos.
I only found this one:
while in 4/4 is still pleasantly off kilter.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.