Cerati: I Remember

By: José Manuel Simián

The first thing I remember is the way the songs exploded out of the speakers—not only because of those jerky guitar lines or the reverb-heavy drums or the lascivious way Cerati sang even then, but also because of the words. Words that were not supposed to belong in pop songs. Words that sounded more like comic book vignettes or graffiti. A song about telekinesis? A song about your girlfriend’s biceps? A song about a “TV overdose”? A song about a woman’s body “made out of latex”? Soda Stereo gave us all of that and more in just their first two albums (which I remember discovering at the same time, around 1985 or 1986). The songs of Gustavo Cerati started expanding our imagination way before they moved our feet (we were going to our first parties at the time, barely moving on the dance floor), and their twisted, unexpected universe became the framework for our youths.

I remember hearing the ballad “Trátame Suavemente” and feeling nostalgic for things I had not yet lived, wanting to fall in love before I really knew what it was. And even when I discovered it wasn’t Cerati who had written the song, it was his version that planted that dangerous feeling in me. (It still does the trick, by the way, every time.)

I remember watching Soda Stereo playing on TV, making the normally awful Festival de Viña—an event devoted mostly to romantic balladeers—the most exciting place on the planet for two summer nights with their music and their New Wave outfits. I remember how all the girls were in love with Cerati and all the guys understood why, because we all secretly wanted to be like him.

I remember the moment when I realized that “Juegos de Seducción” was a song about role-playing or “Persiana Americana” was about voyeurism, wondering when would my parents figure it out and take the cassette tapes away.

I remember when my friends and I thought we were over our rock en español phase, moving on to “serious” music (i.e., classic rock) as the ’90s were about to start, trying to ignore Soda Stereo albums like Doble Vida or even Canción Animal, only to find us coming back to them later, swallowing our snobbery as we discovered those songs retroactively, as if we’d made up with an old friend.

I remember the impact of listening to the noisy, trippy, groundbreaking Dynamo in late 1992, the joy of hearing the opening riff to “Primavera Cero” for the first time, and how the concert in which they presented the album—one of the loudest I’ve ever witnessed—made me feel like I was doing something wrong with my life.

I remember the day in 1995 I took a bus back to the city, giving up a night of debauchery at a beach house with my university friends to see Soda Stereo play Sueño Stereo at the Caupolicán Theatre (the first time I went to a concert alone), and how they tried to talk me out of it by saying Soda Stereo was a thing of the past. (Guess who was wrong.)

I remember an impromptu escapade to the seaside with my girlfriend, listening to Cerati/Melero’s “Vuelta por el Universo” in the car on the highway, and how it seemed to encapsulate all the infinite possibilities of our lives together; the moment when we promised that we’d send Cerati an invitation to our (inevitable) wedding, because he was, somehow, part of it all. (Yep, that’s being 20 and in love in a nutshell for you.)

I remember the time I got to see the soundcheck of a Soda Stereo concert and then watch the show from the first row, how Cerati mimicked a gesture I made during one song and how no one believed me.

I remember meeting with friends at a house before Soda Stereo’s “last concert,” and how we walked to the Estadio Nacional through an avenue that had been closed to traffic, as if we were in some sort of generational procession.

I remember playing Cerati’s Bocanada over and over again for everyone to hear when I worked as a DJ at a tennis tournament.

I could keep remembering things on an on, like a guy who is in love with the sound of his own voice, but it would be pointless, because my memories of Cerati are not particularly special. Growing up in Latin America in the ’80s and ’90s means having memories of Cerati and Soda Stereo, because even if you were not a fan, even if you thought he was vain or a poser, there was no escaping the expansive wave of his persona. Cerati’s songs may have provided the soundtrack to our teenage years, making us dance while they expanded our imaginations, but his impact was even bigger than that. Even when we didn’t realize it at the time, as we were growing up with his music, his attitude, his style, his energy, his know-it-all smile gave us something else: the notion that in order to find your own voice, to make people like you and want you, you need to feel comfortable in your own skin first—which is exactly what he did from the moment he jumped out of those speakers and into our lives.

José Manuel Simián is the Executive Editor of Manero. He used to be a lawyer and is probably listening to Bob Dylan as you read this.