Monday, August 6, 2012

Adios Hermanos/ Jesus Es Mi Senor (Cristo Me Todo)

The title means "Farewell, Brothers." And this (Track 1 on the soundtrack) is the song of goodbye, when we see, in some detail, young Sal Agron tried and convicted and led away to prison. First, he says goodbye to his "amigos" in the "House of D"... as in "detention."

It starts with the date, the name of the judge... and the observation that non-Hispanic gangs, white and black, "Well, they'd kill you if they could." So yes, his only friends are those who are truly "amigos," to whose language that word belongs, and those whose world he is leaving.

Now, Aurea, Sal's sister, says that they are not alone in their grief. First, "people are suffering all over the world." Then, specifically, "all over the island tonight"-- Manhattan, that is, but perhaps also Puerto Rico. So she recognizes that the cycle of (male) violence has not spared them any more than it has spared the other "mothers" and "sisters" who "weep" and "grieve."

Sal continues his narrative. He felt the hostility aimed at him by the onlookers, to whom he was "Just some spic/ They scrubbed off the sidewalk."  And the judge is no less subject to this prejudice, saying: "The electric chair/ For the greasy pair." The media are against him as well: "Guilty in the press/ 'Let the Capeman burn for the murders.'... The newspapers and the TV crews/ Well, they'd kill you if they could."

Well, yes, but isn't he, you know, actually guilty? Didn't he and the Umbrella Man kill those people? Yes, the  song implies, but white killers would be seen as just killers, not extra-guilty-- or certainly guilty-- just because of their ethnic background.

Further-- and this point Aurea and Sal state outright-- if the victims had been Hispanic, there might not be as much of an outcry, either: "A Spanish[-speaking] boy could be killed every night of the week/ But just let some white boy die/ And the world goes crazy for... Latin blood." It's not so much that an injustice has been visited on Sal, as much as unnecessary and unwarranted (and, frankly, racist) insults have been added to his sentence.

Sal concludes his story by describing the restraints he is "shackled" with, and the ride to jail in a "black maria" (slang for "police van") through Spanish Harlem. They passed by their friends hanging out "on the corners"-- perhaps to purposely see him off-- and they call out as they pass, "Adios, hermanos." Sal expresses this as "lay[ing] our prayers upon them."

This slides nicely into the next song, an actual prayer. The title means "Jesus Is My Lord." (What seems to be a draft of this song, titled "Cristo Me Todo" is available online; I will note the few lyrical differences between this and the final version.)

Sal is not here; this scene takes place in his stepfather's church, and possibly later at home. We hear the congregation praising Jesus...

...and then Aurea prays. She thanks the Lord for comforting her mother (in the draft, herself as well). And then she thanks the governor (Nelson Rockefeller), for commuting Sal's sentence from death to life imprisonment (in the draft, for hearing "the Lord's voice" to do so.) Bernadette, Sal's girlfriend, also offers a prayer. We learn that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt also urged clemency, as did the (female) mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital.

But one man is not moved. And that man is the pastor of this church-- Sal's stepfather, Gonzales. He sees all this Earthly mercy as subverting Divine Will: " the court of the mighty God/ No man can ever change his sentence/ He (Sal) is a falling angel pitched to burning hell." Further, he says that Sal's crime is no fault of his own-- "I tried to teach him,"-- but that Sal chose to follow the Vampires, "the bats and the vermin of their name." He concludes that Sal has "brought everlasting shame on Puerto Rico." (Literary note: Simon and Wolcott here rhyme "sentence" with "repentence." Nicely done!)

At this, the women turn on Gonzales. Aurea excoriates him: "You heart is blacker than the suit you always wear... [You are] A hypocrite who hides behind the Bible" (and "Bible' is rhymed with "disciple.")

Then, Esmerelda does her daughter one better-- she divorces him: "How can you say such things about my son?... This marriage is done."

Aurea has two last comments: "For three long years, my mother prayed for this to come." (In the draft, it's "one" year. In any case, what "this" is unclear, most likely that Sal's life would be spared.)

She concludes: "We made America the land we call our home/ We still believe in this country" (in the draft, she believes "this is our country.")  I am not sure why this is here. She has already thanked the politicians who stood up for Sal, and has not disagreed that the general public and media are generally anti-Hispanic. And it's not as if they would want to go back to Puerto Rico regardless; the economic reasons for their move still stand. Now more than before, in fact, as they will be without Gonzales' income, and they already know what life is like in Puerto Rico with no man's earning power to count on.

Lazarus repeats Bernadette's prayer, and the song ends in a cascade of "Aleluya!" (spelled "Hallelujah" in English).

Sal bids farewell to his "brothers." And, aside from Governor Rockefeller, no man comes to his aid. But he never bids farewell to his sisters. And, it is indeed mostly women who still support and defend him... and save his life.

Next Song: Sunday Afternoon


  1. The "sentence/repentance" rhyme also emerges in a little-known verse of the hymn "Angels From the Realms of Glory":

    Sinners wrung with true repentance
    Doomed for guilt to endless pains
    Justice now revokes the sentence
    Mercy calls you, break your chains!

  2. Thank you! I wonder if Simon was aware of this hymn, or perhaps Wolcott was.