Click on the photo to enlarge
Click on the photo to enlarge
AT RADIO MADRID
Click on the photo to enlarge
THE MADRID VESPA FACTORY
Click on the photo to enlarge
LEARNING THE SPANISH GUITAR
My Story # 29
There I was. It’s a funny feeling. You’re
in a city you’ve never been in before. You’re talking to people
you’ve never seen before. You’re wearing clothes you’ve
never had on before (except your underwear), and it’s all in a language
you hardly understand. And we are sitting there in the vestibule of the
national Vespa Club of Spain. We got there an hour early. No one’s
around and who should walk in but that bastard, Senor Moreno.
“Well, good evening, my good friends, Rohn and Rudi. I saw the
picture of the two of you in the newspaper. Very good, very good, smiling
showing his large group of white pearly teeth.
Ugh! I thought myself. That slimy ass-kisser now cuddling up to us. No
wonder he’s the manager. He’s brown-nosed his way all the
way up to manager of this place.
We’ll, what do we do in a situation like this? Punch him in the
nose? Ignore him? Stand up? Sit down. ?
Rudi had it right. He stood up, saluted Moreno and stuck
out his hand and shook hands with the slimy guy. I followed suit. I shook
hands with the slimy bastard.
I was learning my first important lesson of public relations when on a
world tour. If you want to survive, smile, even if it hurts.
I also learned that with hard-nose bastards like Moreno, you have to look
tough, almost like you could snap your finger and two gangsters would
come up behind him and stick a knife in his back. No kidding. These kinds
of guys are all over the world. You never know when you’re going
to meet one that’ll be a roadblock for you. And you’re never
quite sure who is one and who isn’t. I guess if you exposed yourself
enough to them, like we did, you learn to smell ‘em out.
This is particularly hard for me. I didn’t grow up in a dog-eat-dog
environment like Rudi did. I’m kind of a softie by description.
I’m trusting as hell. This doesn’t work when you’re
meeting new people everyday. But whatdahell. I didn’t have any money
to lose, or reputation, or girl friend, -all those things men usually
try to be macho about. By the way, I looked that word up, macho. It means
manly, virile, arrogant. -I’m not like that. And I guess I’m
proving, so far anyway, you don’t have to always be that way if
you want to travel on a world trip.
Moreno sat down in a plushy chair next to us. He sat closest to Rudi.
You can learn a lot from a guy like Moreno. He sized both of us up. He
knew Rudi was the less emotional of us and if he played his cards right
he could twist things to even telling the president of the club that he,
Moreno, was the guy that arranged for the newspaper reporter to interview
us at the Vespa Club. The Law of Probability was on his side. No one would
suspect that that wasn’t so. Now, mind you, I didn’t realize
all this right there on the scene. It’s just that I’m telling
you the kind of things I learned on a trip like this. I began to see a
pattern in people. And it just wasn’t in one country; it was everywhere,
even in black Africa.
I can’t remember what we talked about. My concentration was more
on how I could prevent myself from offending Moreno.
Rudi on the other hand acted as though he had met Moreno for the first
time and was unaware of the nasty way Moreno treated us the day before.
. He was good at that.
Like that guy that tripped Rudi on the way out of the tavern back in Belgium.
Rudi lay there for a split second and then started doing push-ups! Just
two or three and then turned and stared at the guy doing a couple more
push-ups at the same time, with one arm! And that stare! He gave that
guy the stare. I saw it. It was like a couple of zaps that Batman or the
Green Hornet could produce.
And then again, I’ve learned since then that if it were important
to Rudi for getting where he needed to go, Rudi would’ve gotten
up off the floor and bought the guy a beer!
I learned also this about Rudi as we traveled on through France. There
were no rounded corners about his diplomacy. He always came straight to
the point. He did exactly what needed to be done to smooth out some rough
corners on our trip.
Yes, he had principles and he had respect for himself, but if he had to
stoop to conquer, so to speak, he always chose stooping. It’s not
that he didn’t have any pride or that sort of thing. He knew what
to do if you want to survive.
Back to our waiting period with Moreno. How do you ‘small talk’
in a language you can’t speak, and with a guy who almost threw you
out of the place you are now sitting? I don’t know, maybe I’ll
learn that later on in the trip because Señor Ibarra arrived.
“Hello, Muchachos! I see you made it on time!” Señor
Ibarra greeted us, as he entered the club a few minutes late. “Let’s
have a drink, and then we’ll head on over to the hotel.
“You sure have a nice club.” I commented to him.
“Yes, motor scooters are very popular in Spain. People here don’t
have money to buy cars like they do in your country, so they buy scooters.
We don’t get much rain, and besides, they’re very economical.”
“Are they manufactured here in Spain?” Rudi asked.
“Yes, and oh, that reminds me. You fellows are invited to visit
the Vespa factory day after tomorrow. Take your scooter down with you
and they’ll make any necessary repairs.”
“Well, that’s wonderful!” I commented.
In an hour, we were in the lobby of the Emperador, waiting for the elevator
to take us to the top floor to the gala banquet room.
Upstairs we found at least a hundred and fifty people mingling, sipping
cocktails and talking motor scooter talk. The visiting club was from Valladolid
to the north, a city of a hundred thousand or more and a center of the
Castile country. Señor Ibarra introduced us to the President of
the Valladolid club, and other dignitaries who were present for the affair.
For dinner, we had chicken consommé, vegetables of all kinds, and
a juicy steak with a fiery Spanish wine sauce. Pretty fancy for two guys
who just 48 hours ago were grateful for a bowl of rice.
Near the end of the meal, the president of the gathering rang a little
bell, made a few announcements, and then introduced various personages
who were sitting at his table, including us.
“Let’s have a song!” someone shouted.
They had probably read the story about us in the newspaper that morning.
We got out the guitars and sang a few examples of songs we had learned
in our travels. When the meal was over, we stood around in little groups
for a while, and then retired to an adjacent room where an orchestra had
begun to play. Señor Ibarra introduced us to some of his friends.
This all felt like I was back in Baltimore. You attend these kinds of
things and your face hurts the next day from all the smiling you had to
do. But for your career, it pays off.
“And this is José Bermudez. He’s Spain’s most
popular radio comedian.” This guy had the twinkle of a clown in
his eyes when he spoke to us - - a small, jovial man in his late forties.
“I sure enjoyed that singing, fellows!” he could speak a little
English. “How about coming around to visit me at the radio station
tomorrow?” he said, handing us his card. “Would you like to
see what a Spanish radio station looks like?”
“Sure,” we both answered and then joined him in a drink at
the bar that had been set up. He introduced us to other radio people friends.
Señor Ibarra came by, “Checkin’ up on you two. “You
enjoying yourselves, boy?” he asked.
“Yes!” Rudi answered. “This isn’t much like the
surroundings of a stable we generally know at this hour.
“Ha!” he laughed. “Which do you like better?”
“Give you one guess!” Rudi said.
At two o’clock the crowd began to thin out. “Let’s go
have some coffee,” Señor Ibarra suggested.
Out in the street once again, it seemed that the city was living and moving
like a noon rush hour. “Why are all these people in the streets
at two in the morning?” I asked Señor Ibarra.
“We have a different day here than you have in America,” he
began. “In the summer time, our working day begins at ten in the
morning. At two in the afternoon we close our shops, have our midday meal,
and take a siesta until four-thirty. The working day is over at eight-thirty
p.m., which puts the evening meal at nine o’clock and the beginning
of nightlife around eleven. So if you go to a movie, or a dance, or just
sit around in a café, you can expect your evening to be over around
“Why so late?” Rudi asked.
“It’s cool! It’s cool!” Senor Ibarra said. “No
one likes the heat of midday in Spain in the summertime.”
Our evening was over at 3:00 a.m. After a coffee and a visit to a few
cafes, we wearily bid Señor Ibarra buenas noches.
The next day we visited Señor Bermudez at the Radio Station.
“You boys want to take that tour now?” he asked after we were
in his office a few minutes.
“Fine, we answered as we went out into the halls lined with studios
and engineering booths. The radio station supplied most of Madrid and
affiliate stations with everything entertaining over radio.
“Radio’s an important item in the Spanish home.” Señor
Bermudez said, “We don’t have television in Spain,”
he said as we passed into one of the engineering booths, where a technician
was taping a program of some local singers in the adjoining studio.
“Will that program be played later on?” Rudi asked.
“Several times!” Señor Bermudez answered. “Not
only here in Madrid, but in Barcelona, Seville, many places, all over
“Are they paid for making that tape?” I asked.
“Sure,” Senor Bermudez said.
As we looked into other studios, getting an idea of the technical operations
of the place, I got an idea myself.
Rudi and I had sung before- -why not at Radio Madrid- -especially if they
paid for entertainment? I didn’t know how to go about asking Señor
Bermudez; I hoped I wouldn’t make any blunders. I simply said, “Rudi
and I are professional singers. We’ve sung together in Belgium,
Holland, and France. How ‘bout if we make a tape for your station?”
Rudi gave me an evil look. He knew I had never sung over a microphone
before, and before today, he had never even seen one.
Señor Bermudez paused for a while and then said, “Well, fellows
it sounds like a good idea, but I’ll have to talk it over with my
superiors, first. How ‘bout coming by tomorrow at this same time,
and I’ll let you know their answer?”
I felt a sigh of relief that he didn’t turn the idea down, and also
that he didn’t ask us to go into an empty booth and make a test
tape that very moment.
We finished our visit and left the studio to return to camping site. As
soon as we got outside, Rudi turned to me boiling mad, “Now what
the hell did you go and do that for? You know damn well we’re not
professional signers. I wouldn’t know the first thing to do when
I got in front of a microphone. You’re not going to make a fool
out of me in front of those studio people. After the first song they’ll
tell us to come back some other day! No, sir! You can go up there tomorrow
but you’re not going to get me to go!
“Now wait a minute!” I said. “This is a chance we might
have to make some money.”
Rudi was pretty mad. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’ll
go out and sweep streets before you get me to make a fool of myself in
front of all Spain!”
“Who’s going to make a fool of himself? We didn’t do
anything like that in the Rotterdam tavern, where we met, or in Paris,
or in the rest of France did we?”
“But that’s something different!’
“It’s no different at all. Whether you sing for twenty people
or twenty hundred people.”
“Yes, but if you make a mistake, a helluva lot more people hear
“So, that’s what’s bothering you; you’re afraid
to make a mistake? What’s this all about you were just telling me
a couple days ago -- Americans can’t take it. I think when the cards
are down they can take it just as well as any other people faced with
a problem. In fact they’re willing to go out and make asses of themselves
in the chance of stumbling on something good. That’s why you Europeans
have remained small, and petty, because you’re afraid you might
make fools of yourselves. If you want to do things big, and like we do
them in the States, you’ve got to allow for blunders. If we’re
going to do big things on this trip, we’ve got to think big, and
not consider our personal feelings. You said the day before yesterday
to give me a chance, to see if something would turn up. Well it has. Here
it is. And if it works out, it’ll be something we can earn money
at in every town. Give me a chance. If we’re going to be failures,
let’s be real good ones!”
If Rudi has one attribute, he has the talent of knowing what’s good
for him. He will listen to reason, and chuck any antiquated ideas out
of his head if he hears a better one.
“Well, what makes you think we can sing professionally like
those people we saw in that other studio today?”
“Look, we can sing better than them! They didn’t have much
polish at all. I had some experience with group singing, choir, and quartets,
when I was in school. We can go back to the tent and practice. We’ve
got twenty-four hours, and work up about five songs that we know best.
How does that sound?”
He was convinced; he shook his head and jumped on the scooter. “This
is your baby, Rudi said. “Just tell me what to do!” and we
headed back to the park.
All morning and afternoon the next day we worked over songs that we thought
would be appealing to the Spanish listeners, getting the harmony correct,
the rhythm, the accompaniment. We welcomed the camp residents as our listening
audience, to prepare. They all wondered why we were singing so intently,
but we didn’t let on that we had told Radio Madrid we could sing
As it grew dark, Rudi said, “My throat’s getting awfully sore;
can’t we stop for a while?”
“We’ve got two numbers where the accompaniment isn’t
quite right; let’s practice them until we get them down like we
“You’re driving me like a work horse!” Rudi moaned.
I shot back. “That’s the prelude to success, man!” and
we spent the next two hours ‘til sundown, working out chords and
fingering on the guitars.
“Good! – We got it!” I complimented him.
“O.K., O.K., let’s stop!” Rudi said.
“You’re right, it’s time to stop. We won’t do
any more singing ‘til shortly before our audition tomorrow. Now
keep this towel around your throat the rest of the night,” I said
handing him one.
That night in our sleeping bags, Rudi stared off into the sky. “What
if the directors of the studio aren’t interested in making a tape
of our songs?”
I thought for a moment and then said, “Couldn’t you have waited
‘til morning to ask that?”
It was a long time before we fell off to sleep. I hoped during the night,
as I lay awake, that all would go right for us. If it did, it would mean
we could look forward to a small income in each city we visited that had
a radio station. If I didn’t, Rudi might be so humiliated that I
would never be able to coax him in a studio again. I fell asleep wondering.
During the course of the next day we practiced guitar chords ‘til
our fingers were sore. Shortly before it was time to report to the studio
we went over the songs a few times. “How does your throat feel?”
I asked Rudi.
In a crackly voice he said, “O.K. “
Now Rudi has a beautiful baritone voice. The people always remark about
it when we sing. But since the radio station management didn’t know
this, all that mattered was that he preformed.
We headed off for the studio, and waited in the reception room until Señor
Bermudez arrived. He came waddling down the hall with a load of papers
in his hand, and with a stern expression on his face.
“I’m sorry boys,” he began, and our hearts sank, “…that
I’m so late. I’ve just come from an important conference that
took a lot of my time. It had nothing to do with you fellows.” He
saw our serious faces. “The directors think your idea a very good
one, Rohn. We’d like you to record immediately. We have a studio
all prepared.” And he led us down the hall to a pretty big studio,
with a large engineer’s window on the opposite end. ” To add
to his feeling of injustice at being put in such a predicament, when Rudi
passed the control room window he looked in and saw several secretaries
and other clerical girls were gathering. For what? We were in the adjacent
booth. I detected a pause in Rudi’s pace. He was looking for their
approval. Was he at a point of no return? Was this when he should turn
around and escape down the hall and out the front door? He looked over
at me, and for a fleeting moment I saw him give up; then something happened
inside him, and he continued his stroll, into that realm of the unknown.
He would do his best. It wasn’t like Rudi not to try his best. We
tuned the guitars while technicians began making volume adjustments. Señor
Bermudez had a script prepared, and asked, “Could you give me the
names of six songs you can sing?”
I took a slight gulp and repeated, “Six?”
he had already prepared the script; I couldn’t ask him to change
it, and besides, we were professional; I couldn’t let him know our
repertoire was limited to five.
“Yes, six” he answered. “Would you like to sing more?”
“Oh, no” I gulped and managed a smile. “I just didn’t
think you’d be giving us that much air time.” I gave him the
names of the five songs and added on one that I thought we might be able
to struggle through.
I could tell the request for an additional song had made Rudi uneasy,
and together with his stage fright, I expected him to bungle the whole
thing by passing out.
“Rudi! Manage a smile!” I whispered as Senor Bermudez left
the room. “Keep smiling! That’s a one-way window. Those girls
are looking at us.”
When he left the room, it was like someone took away the lifesaver we
were hanging on to it a stormy sea.
But then a voice popped on over the speaker system.
“Well, are you boys ready?”
Señor Bermudez smiled at us through the technician’s window,
signaling to the engineer. He motioned for silence. All was quiet except
for the thunderous thumping sounds of our hearts. I was relieved when
a red light appeared above the control room window and Señor Bermudez
began shuffling his script to begin the program.
We gathered around a professional-looking microphone in the middle of
the studio, and after an introduction and a short description of our trip,
he motioned for us to sing a song. There was a horribly long pause of
five or six seconds as we signaled each other for the beginning note;
it gave me time enough to gather up all the nerve and spunk I had in me,
and I let loose with a Hollywood confidence Rudi had never seen before.
Not to be outdone, he followed suit, and surprisingly enough, our first
song turned out as we had hoped.
Señor Bermudez’ script continued, describing our journey,
and we supplemented it with comments in Spanish and songs we had learned
in our travels. All went well until the last number, which either Rudi
started off in the wrong key, or I played the wrong chords. Señor
Bermudez pretended not to notice it, and finished the program on a humorous
The engineer signaled the program was over, and a green light came on
again in the studio. Relief! It was over. Whether good or bad, we had
done our best. It was all in the hands of the directors to decide.
“Well, boys would you like to hear the playback?” Señor
“Yes! That would be fun!” I answered.
“It’ll be the first time we’ve heard ourselves sing,”
Rudi said, feeling his old self again. I almost kicked him. We were supposed
to be professionals.
“You’ve never made a tape before?” Señor Bermudez
I quickly interrupted, “No, Sir, we’ve never made one together.”
“Well, you’re going to hear yourselves together now.”
He opened the door of an adjoining studio and flipped on the switch near
a loud speaker.
“Is that us singing?” Rudi asked when our
voice came over the speaker.”
“Sure is,” Señor Bermudez smiled.
“Well, it doesn’t sound bad at all!” Rudi said, not
really taking in that it was really our voices, our guitars.
“It sounds very good, in fact,” Señor Bermudez answered.
“One of the directors is tuned in also at his office. He’ll
give me his decision when the program is over.
The sixth song came up on the tape, and the discords were reminiscent
of a grade school orchestra. We both lowered our heads, wishing there
was a way we could escape the embarrassment of what Señor Bermudez
would have to say about it.
The tape ended, and Senor Bermudez got up to check with the director on
the results of our program. “I’ll be back in a few moments,
boys. You just hold your seats a while.
“Well, Thurau, I’m proud of you. You stuck through.”
“I feel like I just had a couple of teeth pulled. All I want to
do is relax.” Rudi said.
“Well, we can’t really relax until he comes back with an answer
about our program.” I said.
“We did a mighty poor job on that last song. I sure wish we’d
never sung that one!”
All was preserved on the tape. The evidence was there. Now we could only
wait for an answer. We sat in the small studio as if it were a maternity
waiting room. After fifteen minutes, the door flew open. “I’ve
got good news for you, boys. They liked the program!”
We had won. We smiled, relieved. The road was open to sing in other cities
now as we traveled along. We could take a copy of the tape along with
us to play in other cities.
“When will they play the program in Madrid?” I asked.
“They’ve scheduled it for tomorrow evening at eight o’clock.
Will you be able to hear it?”
“We sure will!” Rudi answered.
I didn’t know exactly how to ask him, but I was curious what the
director had thought about the last song. I tried to be kinda confidential
in my tone. “How about that last song? We stumbled. Weren’t
they a little dissatisfied with that one?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it! We’ve decided to simply cut
that one out.”
Rudi looked at me. I looked at Rudi. He could see my expression said,
“All that worry for nothing!”
As we were about to leave, Señor Bermudez handed us an envelope.
“Good luck, fellows!” he smiled. When we got outside I opened
the envelope and found a check for six hundred pesetas!
“That’s enough to get us to Lisbon!”
“Yippee!” I hollered, throwing my arms in the air. People
on the sidewalk stopped and stared until we parted on our motor scooter.
Happy times! Those six hundred pesetas sure brought us out of the dumps.
We felt like kings! Money had done a big thing for us that day. It seemed
like the most necessary thing in our lives. But later we were to learn
different. Especially when we found ourselves in the middle of the Sahara.
The following day we spent at the motor scooter factory where we saw hundreds
of machines, parts, and men, and how, after an eight-hour day, the combination
produced seventy-five Vespas such as ours. While we lunched with one of
the directors, a team of mechanics inspected our scooter and brought it
back to new.
That night we surprised our friends at the park by turning a radio on
to the station where they could hear our program. At first they didn’t
believe it was us, but then they found it amusing when we told them how
we had made the tape.
NEXT: The bullfight