America Is: One Time, One Night

Los Lobos at the White House, 2009.

The New York Time has a cool feature in which they asked their columnists to pick one teevee show, movie, book or song that explains America. I was gobsmacked that resident right-winger Ross Douthat selected The Great Gatsby. It might have been my choice as well.

This struck me as a worthwhile enterprise, so I decided to play

I also considered Paul Simon’s America or American Tune, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Elia Kazan’s America, America, and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, book and teevee mini-series.

It’s Los Lobos month at Saturday Odds & Sods, so I decided to select one of their finest songs, One Time, One Night. It was written by David Hidalgo and Louie Perez for the 1987 album, By The Light Of The Moon. It’s the album’s opening track as well as a frequent concert opener.

One Time, One Night begins with this refrain:

A wise man was telling stories to me
About the places he had been to
And the things that he had seen

 A quiet voice is singing something to me
An age old song about the home of the brave
In this land here of the free
One time one night in America

One Time, One Night is a story song that presents a series of vignettes about life in America through an immigrant’s eyes.  Here’s a sampler.

Los Lobos on crime: 

A lady dressed in white with the man she loved
Standing along the side of their pickup truck

A shot rang out in the night
Just when everything seemed right
Another headline written down in America

Los Lobos on sexism: 

A young girl tosses a coin in the wishing well
She hopes for a heaven while for her
There’s just this hell

She gave away her life
To become somebody’s wife
Another wish unanswered in America

Los Lobos on the American Dream:

The sunlight plays upon my windowpane
I wake up to a world that’s still the same

My father said to be strong
And that a good man could never do wrong
In a dream I had last night in America

These are not the only stories told by the wise man. Click on this link for all the lyrics.

The song eventually circles back to the opening refrain, one time one night in America.

The music is pure Americana: rock, folk, country, conjunto, and soul. Nobody sings with more soul than David Hidalgo.

As people, Los Lobos represents everything good about America. David Hidalgo, Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas, and Conrad Lozano grew up together in East Los Angeles. Their first compilation album is called Just Another Band From East LA. It’s a play on a Zappa album title but it speaks volumes about Los Lobos as musicians and human beings.

The NYT assignment asked for one work that best explains America. I think Los Lobos themselves best explain America. They’re celebrating their 50th anniversary as a band. They exemplify loyalty, hard work, friendship, and compassion.

Saxophonist and keyboard player Steve Berlin is the new wolf in the pack: He’s only been a member for 39 years. He once described Los Lobos as four Mexicans and a Jew. How American is that?

Los Lobos is a band of brothers in the best sense of the term. One Time, One Night *is* America.