A Letter to Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez

Dear Negro,IMG_7771

After the Vulcan show at the Blue Note, now, almost a month ago, I asked you “If I wrote you a letter about what I was thinking while Vulcan was playing would you read it?” You looked at me with the same earnesty I asked, Yes, you said, yes.

At that champagne and vodka and throbbing explosive flower pussy 3 am moment, everything I had to say was pulsing on the surface of my skin, fresh from the experience of live Vulcan but I was tired and it was loud.

First, know this: in January of 2010 when you came to perform in Cuba, when we saw each other. I was there, as you know, living in a budget hotel in Havana during a cold winter I had not prepared for. The shower in my room only had cold water, and when I went down to the front desk to ask if I could switch rooms, they would accompany me back up to my room, run the shower for like 10 minutes until it got a little less cold, and tell me it was hot.

I was into my 6th month of filming “They Will Be Heard” and trying to adjust to a daily existence of documenting a metal band within the context of not understanding anything. Not just the language, but why things were the way they were. Why cold was hot. Why free was not.

There was also a strange and difficult relationship with Escape, for me, as a first time director who had personal relationships with the band, trying to reconcile what my relationship as someone from a country where not having hot water in the middle of winter was something new.

I’m trying to condense a lot of what I was feeling and experiencing at that time, where general frustration was no longer something I experienced every now and then and could step back from, but it became part of my personality, it was how I woke up each morning and greeted the day. Escape could not understand this. They never expected things to get better, so they were never frustrated. I was unable to do that. I always wanted things to be better. For everyone.

On that morning when I met you and Jenny and Josefina at the hotel in Havana, and you were so happy, I realized I had forgotten to smile. And you just being there, arms open, “Traceeeeey!” So much weight was taken from me, I physically felt lighter. Without even knowing you taught me in that moment that it’s almost always in reach to be happy. It’s almost always easier to be happy. And I want you to know how powerful that was, your smile.

On March 18th, 2014, in NYC, I arrived with Jenny and Edgar at The Blue Note, and we were sat in an awkward spot until Jenny recognized a friend and who invited us to join them. I was sat up front, almost up against the stage. I had my camera, but when you shoot you immediately become an observer, a witness. I made the choice to become a participant in the performance, to allow myself to become mesmerized by each moment and not step outside what was happening. Yet each piece was compelling me to act, to be, to exist. I could not stop my mind from racing, trying to explain this music, these songs to someone else, what would I say? Over and over again, I thought, How did they know to get together and do that? Hearing Vulcan is hearing a battle cry, a spiritual, a message from our ancestors, something holy and sacrosanct, a ritual that involves fire and rebirth.

I woke up this morning to find the Blood Moon tonight. It was 3 am, and I didn’t want to roam the city streets by myself with my camera so I jumped into a taxi with an Egyptian taxi driver, Hamada. We drove around Jersey City, trying to find the light, trying to find the moon. The moon was no where to be found. “Maybe you come back earlier tomorrow night and you find it,” he told me. I got home and put on some coffee, thinking I would try again. But this letter was fighting me. It was insisting I let you know this now.

In my life, I decide to do something and I do it. This documentary, like everything Cuban, is unnecessarily complicated and taking too long.

When I began making “They Will Be Heard,” I believed with all my heart it would be completed and be successful. That I would be completed and successful. That if I followed my dream and was determined and committed that the “right people would show up at the right time.” That the “universe would conspire to help me.” I have learned, trying to finish this film, that belief and universe and the secret is all bullshit. The “law of attraction” works for people who are well connected or have awesome hair. I’ve learned over the last four years, not without a great deal of pain and sadness, which I suppose accompanies every transformation, that there is no special force outside of us, no level of energy that brings us material well being, no special thinking that brings us success. What there is, happily, is people. What’s made the last four years tolerable is the incredible support of my friends and family.

The best thing about the last four years is that it’s over and I heard the performance of Vulcan as both a goodbye to that era in my life and a hello to what is about to come. The music that isn’t a magic coming out of thin air, but a magic coming from the hearts and blood life and fingers and breath of who we all are. Vulcan isn’t born from a mystery, it is the story of what we know to be true, scientific and full of faith.

There was a Vulcan piece, in the beginning, that reminded me so much of when I was 8 years old. Our living room was small, there was a record player and the speakers were placed on top and below the record player. During the day, when my mother didn’t work, she would play Olivia Newton John or Linda Ronstadt or the soundtrack to Star Wars and she had a million things to do. I would grab on to her legs like they were an old lover and she would let me dance there.¬†Listening to Vulcan at the Blue Note that night brought me exactly there. To where I knew I was safe, to where I was hearing what I was ready for, but there, in the back of my dreams, the sounds of what was to come. That is Vulcan.

Love you always,


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