Ry Cooder: The Boy and The Bubble Page 3

"Either it's very flat and down on top of you like modern records are, which are totally unemotional—all that is is product and I don't like it—or it's got some environment to it, but they neglected to trap the harmonics up here and so it feels weak.

"The bubble is the thing. You're in it and the music is in it, and if you really go for this and really get this, then the listener will feel it too. I'd say to Jerry Boys, 'I don't hear the bubble.' During the Buena Vista [sessions], we were just getting acquainted, you know, and he'd look at me: 'Bubble, hmmm'.

"'Bubble!' I'm going, you know what I mean, 'Bubble, Jerry!' 'Errrrr, bubble, uh-huh,' he'd say, like I was crazy." Cooder bursts into laughter, mostly at his own bad imitation of Boys' English accent. "He had to figure it out. Well, it was the room mikes. 'Ohhh, you want to really hear this happen,' he finally said to me one day.

"Personally, I want it to feel like a jukebox," Cooder says, using one of his favorite examples. "What makes you feel good is a jukebox. Big speaker, big cabinet, small joint, drinking the beers. Like Galbán said, it's the 10-cent beer and the 5-cent tunes. Now that is elegance at popular prices. That's a wonderful environment and a very full physical experience. The jukebox is a physical bubble. It's a machine of the bubble."

Thanks to Buena Vista, Cooder's career is no longer on the bubble. He may, however, be done with Cuba for a while, partly because of the same problem he eventually had with his first loves, American roots-music forms like New Orleans blues/funk, Delta blues, and hillbilly music—like them, the old music of Cuba is becoming a museum piece.

"In the last two years, my gosh, what happened (to Cuba): hip-hop. The country is totally invaded. Totally attacked by hip-hop—Latin hip-hop, really, because they don't have American hip-hop down there. The people have embraced this as a form, especially the younger folks.

"The old music is virtually dead. If it exists at all, it's for tourists. The salsa and timba forms of fast dancing and nightclub music, which I think of as Miami music, you see a lot of this down there. It's a popular form. So is Marc Anthony, as far as that goes. He's revered in Cuba. So you will always have this pop Latin thing. And what it is in the Latin world, it's no different in Cuba. So you have this dun da da dun da dun da da, hip-hop 2, 3, 4." He counts off beats. "Everywhere you go, you hear it in cabs and you hear it in bars.

"I think to myself 'Why do they like it?' But it's got another reason (for being so popular), many other reasons that mean nothing to me, because I'm obviously the dilettante, carpetbagging white guy from Santa Monica with a round-trip ticket, as so many people have wanted to portray me."

Despite this swipe, complete with satisfied smirk, at those who take him to task for being a culture vulture in much the way Paul Simon was pilloried for using South African music on Graceland, Cooder is already pondering his next cross-cultural experiment. When asked about film scoring, he halfheartedly says he wants to do more. As for solo records, he quickly says, "No more I-me records." Translation: no more attempts to turn him into a solo attraction or, worse, a rock star.

You thought Cuban music was exotic? The next thing Cooder wants to immerse himself in and learn to play is Gai Luong, a long-form Vietnamese music whose melodies are what he calls "operatic," and have been known to go on for 10 minutes or more.

"It's fantastic. It's like the weirdest funk I've ever heard, the most hypnotic funk I've ever heard. But it's not done anymore."

He goes on to say he also loves French Suzette music before returning to a tale about a Gai Luong musician who played Cuban music on lap-steel guitar in French clubs in Hanoi before the Vietnam war.

"Hey, all things happen by accident. You hope, as a musician, these things will happen."

For some reason, Ry Cooder is more accident-prone than most.