I’ve heard Calexico here and there throughout my life, being from Arizona. I sort of think I’ve actually seen them before, possibly opening for Cake, but I can’t be sure — I think that proves how much I didn’t used to like, or care , about them.
I had a few of their albums in my Spotify queue (which is how I remind myself I have 200+ albums to listen to (on top of the ones I already own) on any given day. One of them happened to be Road Atlas 1998-2011, a collection of the band’s tour albums.
I was in sort of a strange mood and it was later at night, so I pushed play and clicked on to another window. I picked up the book I was reading at the time, and I didn’t give a whole lot thought to the background music for a couple of songs.
Then, it hit me all at once. I loved the melodies, the lyrics, Joey Burns’ voice, the horn section. It was everything I love about Arizona (not much of which you can find in Phoenix these days, sadly). In the songs, I heard traces of the haunting Southwest desert as I like to think of it.
It was like hearing the Refreshments for the first time again; like the lonely feeling you get when you’re watching a good Western, not the shoot-em-up and crack jokes sort, but the lone rider, pay in blood, bleak horizon type. Movies made in that “maybe there is no tomorrow” kind of way. I saw empty deserts at nights with coyote howls and bleached cow skulls. I heard the feeling you get across your shoulder blades when a cold wind in Tucson or Jerome sweeps across on an otherwise-warm day. I heard the ghosts of old-time chorus girls and gunfighters and miners and ranch hands. I heard flamenco dancers twirling in dimly lit halls, migrants at the border, murders and drug deals. I heard barroom mariachi bands and unbearably hot July afternoons.
I’m sure this sounds trite, and if you’re not a Southwest fan, it might sound downright stupid. But as silly as it seems (and probably is), I’d love to move to one of the reclaimed ghost towns and run a small jewelry or general store, talking to tourists, making art, listening to music, rationing water, the whole bit.
I think I found the soundtrack to that dream. And for that, thank you, Calexico. May I go to a show of yours I remember distinctly sometime soon.