I've always loved music and listening to the radio was always a big pastime growing up. My Guatemalan host family loved to listen to music on the radio as well. Their favorite radio station was something called Estereo Azul, "lo mejor del mundo." That translates into "Stereo Blue, the best in the world." I begged to differ.
Since it was the summer 1979, we were at the peak of the disco era, although the backlash was imminent, about which more in a moment. Let's put it this way -- Estereo Azul was riding the disco train big time. No matter when you turned in, it was wall to wall dance tunes, with the occasional commercial for "Frenos de Guatemala" (Guatemala Brakes, an auto supply concern) on "Calle Cinco, Zona Nueve."
For a kid from Wisconsin who owned a "Disco Sucks" t-shirt (which I wisely left behind), it was a minor bummer. We'd climb into one of the family vehicles and on a typical trip into the city we'd probably hear "Give Me Love," "Get Off" by Foxy, "Bad Girls" by the ubiquitous Donna Summer, or if the d.j.'s were feeling a little more mellow, perhaps "Que un Tonto Cree, por los Hermanos Doobies."
The longer road trips, to Atitlan or Chichicastenango, made for especially strange listening. Since the quality of car stereos is so much better today, it's hard to remember how odd music could sound on a radio. And since the Guatemalan terrain is mountainous, the radio signal would dart in and out at odd times. You'd settle back in your seat and look at the countryside when suddenly a blast of bongo drums would jolt you awake. The host father didn't like to change the radio station and we'd listen to static, then nothing, then Alicia Bridges calling for some "ack-shown."
The eldest son of the host family had an enormous stereo system in his room, with tower speakers and a state-of-the-art turntable. He loved to blast his records at night, which he did until his father would get tired of it. I would wander down to his room to hear what he was playing, but he wasn't especially interested in my views on music. He had the best record that had ever been recorded, he told me. Yep, he had Gino Vannelli. That would clear me out of his room pretty quick.
As I would listen to all this music that I despised, I kept thinking about my return to the United States. I was wondering what music I'd missed that summer as I was trapped in the disco inferno. I knew that my friends were starting to get their driver's licenses and were starting to cruise around with the radio on. I couldn't wait to get back and join them. At the time I left for Guatemala, the big song on the local radio in Appleton was "The Logical Song" from Supertramp's Breakfast in America album, which I saw displayed in the Vista Hermosa shopping mall for the first time a few days before I was to leave the country. That was on July 12, 30 years ago today. What I didn't learn until I returned was that something else happened in Chicago on July 12. And I wouldn't have to worry about listening to disco music much longer.