Land Baby!

Well, here I am... a year later, a year healthier, and with an album under my belt!! If someone in 2016 would have looked into a crystal ball and told me that I'd be releasing an album in a year, I would've laughed (or maybe cried) them off their chair. But yet, here I am. Say hello to Land Baby!

Land Baby is available on iTunes or at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/laramanzanares

Land Baby is available on iTunes or at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/laramanzanares

Land Baby is about movement – not only physical and geographical movement, but also emotional and cultural. I was raised on a ruggedly beautiful but isolated sheep ranch in Northern New Mexico, with my parents’ 1960s and 70s folk and rock record collection to keep me company. I grew up hearing both English and Spanish and speaking Spanglish. The stories, customs, and traditions of my childhood were rooted in the distinct culture of northern New Mexico: a deeply complex mixture of old-world Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and Anglo-American ways of being, all held together by a deep connection to the land. 

When our family wasn’t hiking across the mountains behind the sheep, we were in our living room having rock n’ roll dance parties led by my Dad. The Doors, The Beatles, The Supremes, Simon and Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash and more melded with local spanish polkas and chotizes played on the piano by my great-grandfather, the classic country and bluegrass fiddle tunes of my grandmother, and the Garth Brooks-era country and Mexican rancheras and corridos that wafted over the local radio waves. The haunting and mournful alabados of the penitentes at our local religious ceremonies provided a beautifully mournful undertone to the wild, pulsing freedom of the landscape, and the beats of our neighbors in the Pueblos and on the Navajo and Apache reservations permeated the oftentimes dusty air.

I left New Mexico at 18 and headed out into the world. I spent my 20s in transit: Appleton Wisconsin, Washington D.C., Granada, Spain; Milwaukee, Chicago, and finally, six years in San Francisco. I did all the things you’re supposed to do in your 20s: I lived, loved, learned, made music, and danced my socks off. I met amazing and interesting people, began and ended relationships, and forged strong friendships. Family secrets were revealed and dynamics shifted. I learned about new cultures and fell in love with new music. I sang Mexican rancheras on the streets. I was questioned about my cultural background. I confused people with my answer. I got knocked down a few times but always found a way back up through my music.

This movement – across land, across time, across cultures and languages, and through emotional space – is what this album is about. People still ask questions about my identity. I try to explain it with words, but my answer never stays completely still… and so I just sing it instead!

I'm a land baby, desert baby
Cactus-eatin' sand lady
A land baby, desert baby
Cactus-eatin' sand lady... ;-)

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What now?

Lucile Boyd, my grandfather's aunt, in California. She contracted Tuberculosis and planned to travel to New Mexico to heal. She passed away a few weeks before the trip.

Lucile Boyd, my grandfather's aunt, in California. She contracted Tuberculosis and planned to travel to New Mexico to heal. She passed away a few weeks before the trip.

Well, Lucile? What now? Things aren't exactly going according to plan.

I knew this would be hard, but this is not what I was expecting. My body has never failed me like this before. You were right to tell me to get myself home. Here I have family, a doctor, people to help me heal. But I just wasn’t expecting to have to heal this much. I wasn’t expecting the headaches or the blurred vision or the aching eye sockets, even though they came along with me on the ride home. You gave me the last ounce of energy I needed to finish the journey. You were there with me when I pulled off the freeway that night in the U-Haul: blurred vision, teeth gritted, unable to breathe, scared to death that at any moment I might pass out and careen off the freeway. I found an exit, somehow fumbled through the process of putting the truck into park and turning off the ignition, and promptly passed out. I don’t know how long I was out. When I came to, I realized that I hadn't locked the cab doors.

Later that night, at a Days Inn in Holbrook, Arizona, I sat in the hot tub and sang a homecoming song. You were there with me too, Lucile. I sang to the rocks and the dirt; to the air, the sun, the clouds, the rain, the rivers and streams, the little droplets of water that gather in the mornings, the plants and their roots. I sang to the trees, shrubs, bushes, blue grama grass, chamisa, indian paintbrush, piñon, sandstone, lizards, rabbits, even the damned coyotes. In that little tiled pool of gas-heated, chlorinated water, inside an old building with dank carpet and free breakfast on the side of the freeway, I sang with all my heart. 

Headed home in a U-Haul

Headed home in a U-Haul

When I entered the Navajo Nation, I could breathe again. When I crossed the New Mexico state line, we celebrated together. The sky became brighter, the grass a more vibrant yellow. Suddenly all the other cars on the freeway seemed friendly. I stopped for gas in Gallup and, for no other apparent reason than to be nice, a stranger waved and guided me as I backed the U-Haul into my spot at the pump. “This is it, Lucile,” I said proudly. “This is New Mexico.”

Albuquerque northward was like falling into an old lover’s open arms. “I’ve been waiting for you,” the mountains said. “I knew you would come back. I love you.” 

“I love you too,” I said.

I didn’t know exactly what life had in store for me, but when I looked at the mountains, I knew that this was where I was supposed to be. I had a strange juxtaposition of feelings that I didn’t quite understand. At times I would break into silent wails: “I have nothing… I have nothing…” But from behind the wails, a deeper feeling would rise; a feeling beyond words; an immensity that ground my puny wails into silent, tiny, dusty pebbles:  

“I have EVERYTHING.”

View of the Sandia Mountains from my home

View of the Sandia Mountains from my home

On difficult or lonely days in those first few weeks, I would send up a silent cry to my rocky lover: “Why did you call me here? Why? What do you want from me? What did you bring me here to do?” The mountains and the rivers felt my pain and appreciated it, soaked it all in. And every time, the reply was the same: 

Wait.”

Okay. I get it. But what am I waiting for? I need to get a job, get a place, get going, meet people, make things, get a move on! I have to get my life going, “pull myself up by the bootstraps,” as they say. In January, after the holidays were over, I felt well enough to start going to the gym again. For a couple of weeks, I felt great.

Oh, Lucile. Why didn’t you warn me?

I wasn’t expecting the crash. I wasn’t expecting to wake up one morning, stand up, then collapse on the couch, gasping for air in long sighs and losing all sense of time. I wasn’t expecting to feel like someone was grinding their heel into my head, or like my eyes were being squeezed out of their sockets. I wasn’t expecting to not be able to feel my arms and legs. Why can’t I breathe, Lucile? Why can’t I do anything without gasping for air, getting shaky, and collapsing? Why do I have purple circles under my eyes, and why won’t they go away? 

I’ve been banned from exercise and have donated a couple of pints of blood to science. I’m taking a boatload of vitamins and am starting a round of anti-parasitic medication, but we still don’t know for sure what’s wrong. My bank account has bottomed out again, but my job search is on hold. Bootstraps, bootstraps... What does a person do when bending over to tie her shoes (much less pull up "bootstraps," whatever they are) sends her heart into overdrive and her brain into unconsicousness? I can't do this alone. 

It’s spring in Corrales, and the apple blossoms are beautiful. I’m jealous of the eager green shoots and buds that are popping up all over town, bursting with energy and new life. I want to be there with them – growing, glowing, reaching joyfully toward the sun, marching into life. On good days, I bask in the glow of their vibrance. On bad days, I wail silent longings into the chalky dust at my feet, a modern-day La Llorona shuffling through the village and weeping for her lost energy. When will this end? What’s wrong with my body? Where am I going? “I have nothing… I have everything… I have nothing... I have EVERYTHING...“

So, Lucile... What now?

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