Monday, September 10, 2012

Wahzinak's Duet/ My Only Defense (Killer Wants to Go to College II).

Wahzinak, you will recall, was the Native American woman who began to write to Salvador while Sal was in jail. Here, we see that their relationship has developed to an intense, intimate level.

Salvador writes at night, for privacy's sake. This is understandable, as he writes "I part your lips... I feel you in your letters." One would have to write such delicate thoughts in private, even if they did not carry the burden of potential bigotry. Salvador already is a lightning rod for daring to dream of college, and now to be in an inter-racial relationship...

Wahzinak replies that she "understands" Salvador's "anger," but for now... "I take your hand/ And guide it through my thighs." The rest of that verse continues this erotic imagery, in a physical vein.

Then, the next verse eroticizes and santifices their ethnicities: "Puerto Rican blood blending with Indian/ In a sacred flame of burning lust." 

But here is also an invitation: "You'll love the colors of the desert." This seemingly throwaway line will have severe consequences down the road.

Together, the two share only love, longing... and the moon. So together, they sing: "The quarter moon stares down through my window/ And reads your letters on my bed." (Where else would one read such material?) "I know they open all the mail I send you/ But love can't be censored." 

We expect a warden to read his prisoner's mail. But is Wahzinak a prisoner, too? In a sense. She lives on a reservation. "We share a history," Wahzinak elaborates, of oppression by "the white man." "The barrio is just another reservation," a ghetto to which non-whites are relegated. (We learn later who is reading his incoming mail; it is not "the white man.")

These lovers are both imprisoned. Both in space, both by prejudice and repression, and both by the several-times-over illicit nature of their ardor. As if to rub salt in their wounds, others enjoy freedom all around them. Even animals: "I saw wild horses mating in the sunrise," laments Wahzinak. And why not? These animals have no rules, no laws, no shame... and yet we feel that we are superior? Why do we humans make life so hard for ourselves?

"I dreamed of freedom," she writes. "The day of revolution is coming fast." (These words were written in the late 1970s. Wild horses are still freer than we allow ourselves to be.)

The next song is, inexplicably, called "Killer Wants to Go to College II" on the Songs from The Campeman soundtrack CD. The Lyrics book gives it a better title "My Only Defense." It is another letter, from Salvador this time.

It is a short but powerful song. In it, he tells Wahzinak that he appreciates her and her wisdom: "I know you're trying to protect me... with your... poetry... from my ignorance... I only wish I could hug you/ You're my only defense."

While by this time we think of him as quite literate, Salvador pleads, "I don't understand your writing/ I can barely sign my name." Perhaps he still feels the sting of having been illiterate for so much of his life, and that he feels himself so beside her felicity with words.

He closes by remembering the violence of his barrio, and perhaps even the pain the nuns caused him in his homeland. "All I ever learned was fighting/ But I'm not the only one to blame." And now, even in jail, he is still a "stranger."

In Puerto Rico as a child, he was fatherless and homeless. In New York, a teen; he was an immigrant, plus an annoyance, then a shame, for his stepfather. The gang members who befriended him led him into a life of killing. In jail, he becomes a man, still an outcast among his fellow inmates because of his intellect, and ambition. "The hatred never ends," he concludes.

And the next song shows yet another source of this all-encompassing hatred.

Next Song: Virgil and the Warden


  1. I ... don't understand. Wahzinak is a female. She's voiced by a female singer on the album.

    Where did you get that this person was a male? And despite the research you did on the facts of previous songs, you never decided to to look into this fact?

  2. Craig-- Well, when you're right, you're right. And I was not. I have gone back and fixed my earlier posts.
    I had been going in order and had not yet reached the Wahzinak lines on "Trailways Bus." Rest assured, I would have caught my error this week, as this was the song for today.
    All of the other female characters are designated by first name, aside from the parents of the victims, both designated as "Mrs.". The only one thus far known only by a last name, Hernandez, is male. (I am leaving aside from who are known by title only: Mayor, Santero, Warden, etc.) And, if you read the lyrics, there is nothing to indicate Wahzinak's gender at all; no mention of dresses, jewelry, her being someone's sister, her body, etc. All of this taken together, I reached the wrong conclusion. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I was trying to do as little background reading as possible, knowing that all biographies deviate somewhat from reality as a matter of necessity anyway. What reading I did turned up nothing on this figure. on Wahzinak's Duet/ My Only Defense (Killer Wants to Go to College II).