by Jaime Homar

I have no idea what my mother was talking about as we skirted Santa Amelia Park hopefully.  What I do remember clearly is the way my heart pounded at the prospect of returning to the Lycée Francais de Barcelone after a four-year stint in Palma. As we advanced, groups of students headed towards the same place caught up and passed us. I tried to recognize among them the half-forgotten face of some of my childhood companions… Jaime Homar!!!  My mother and I turned suddenly. 

There was Benji Coll, heading up a group of teenagers who were amused by the encounter.  It was he who recognized me first, from far away and from behind.  It seemed as if no time had passed for either of us.  Happy and full of joy, he approached us quickly.  We couldn’t repress an effusive embrace, after which he greeted my mother with his marvelous manners.  His childhood mischievousness hadn’t disappeared.  Benji introduced me to two or three classmates I didn’t know, among them Sebas Valle, who would become an indispensable part in making our musical future take off.  Seeing that she was leaving me in good hands, my mother knew that it wasn’t necessary to go to the school’s entrance with me.  Delighted to see the happiness on my face, she retraced her steps to the bus stop; her mission was complete for the day.

The first morning passed with the distribution of schedules, electives and teacher assignments.  I had to guess from the sighs of my classmates the good or bad reputation of one teacher or another since I didn’t know any of them.  Unfortunately I was in a large class where I hardly knew anyone.  Let me add that the Lycée Francais was so huge that there were eight classes per grade.  As a result, moving from one classroom to another made for a lot of student life in the halls, where the secret codes took on almost as much importance as the words spoken… or unspoken, depending on the circumstance and the moment.  

Recess meant an explosion of recognition and reunions.  Everyone asked about the summer, trips, exploits in sport and love.  In my case, I realized with relief that among the eight classes I recognized a good number of childhood friends.  The surprise of the physical changes was extraordinary.  There, where I had left boys preoccupied with card collections and the latest game score, I found well-built adolescents who cared about their looks.  And where I had left little girls with braids busy jumping rope I found lovely, even beautiful teenagers of near-brilliant style.  We were 15.

We had two hours for lunch: enough time that we could take advantage of it to discover the unknown virtualities of human existence.  And that first day, five or six of us had a pizza in a café nearby, and a cold can of Coca-Cola.  Sebas suggested that we go see the video of the latest U2 movie at his house.  So set up, or ensconced is more like it, on the couch, we had a revelation.

Both Benji and I understood that we were united by a similar passion for the magnetic Irish band, who were still in their early days and so didn’t enjoy the universal recognition that they have today.  On separate paths and unbeknownst to each other, we had developed a wild and unconditional love for rock music, which completely filled our lives, our dreams and our intimate desires.   

I remember that meeting in Sebas’ living room as we sang at the top of our lungs, waving our shirts in the air while we listened devotedly to the rousing music of the Irish band.  When we went back to class that afternoon, our eyes already dreamed far beyond the chalkboard, scrawled, by squeaky chalk, with abstract numbers.

My mother returned to Palma after several days, leaving me alone at home with my aunt and uncle.  My parents had high hopes for me.  My school record allowed them to predict a promising future of engineering studies and well paid jobs in important companies.  However, after a few weeks’ stay in Barcelona, I understood inevitably that something had gone wrong.  After an entire childhood and puberty devoted to study and sport, after being a permanent fixture as first in my class, my life had changed completely.

I wasn’t interested in grades anymore.  What’s more, I suffered from total burnout of the studious life that my demanding father had instilled in me. At times the saturation became an incurable happiness, and for the first time in my short existence I began to cut class, fail exams and fail to turn in assignments. Tired of the professorial advice of my father as well as his aggressive and repeated reprimands, which was intense at times, I closed myself off in my own world to such an extent that it led me to adopt a gloomy and rebellious temperament with clearly depressive tendencies.

More than twenty years later, I am still surprised by the speed with which everything happened.  Without a doubt, the insanity and ingenuity of a fifteen year old were essential to hasten events like that.

After hardly even four weeks of insufferable classes, practically everything was set.  In the meantime, Benji and I had shared the intimacies of our creative passion.  During our endless talks, we had agreed on our common wish to start a rock band. Álex Llovet quickly joined the initial project with the idea of buying a drum kit.  We spent a lot of time together, not just at the Lycée or walking around the neighborhood, but also playing with the school’s basketball team.  The three of us did pretty well in the sport, which boosted our complicity.

The dream of starting a rock band.  Pros: being from well-off families, especially in Benji”s case.  Cons: Everything else.  The idea sounded ridiculous from the start.  To begin with, we didn’t have our parents’ permission.  The idea was to speed up the process without mentioning anything at home until the project was well underway. Because of that, we had to pay for everything.

Even so, the main obstacle came from us and it wasn’t a small one.  None of us had formal, rigorous and serious musical training.  We were all self-taught, which means that we had been listening to loads of music, learning the words, arrangements, and songs like a teenager scarfing down hamburgers.  The only one who had some sort of preparation was Augustín Peira, el Piri, who could strum a few chords on his acoustic guitar.  In fact, the first song the group wrote came from him: When the Storm Comes.  Oh yes!  And another thing!  Since we listened to songs in English, the words came to us naturally in English. Don’t laugh. 

The division of responsibilities wasn’t an easy task.  It was clear that Álex took on the difficult task of saving money to, little by little, buy himself a brand-new drum kit, and then would keep saving to buy himself another cymbal, chimes and maybe even new kettledrums.  Obviously el Piri would stick with his acoustic guitar as well as an old keyboard that he had around the house. 

Benji wanted with all his heart to buy a Fender guitar and an amp and, later, pedals and special effects.  Without a doubt it was the biggest investment to be made, but Benji was the wealthiest among us.  We were missing a bass player, and at first they all looked at me, the main enthusiast of the original idea of forming a band.  But I wasn’t excited about playing that instrument.    Paradoxically, even today the bass line determines in large part if I like a song or not.  A group without a good bass doesn’t even deserve to be called a group. 

Still, at 15, I’d gotten the idea into my head that I wanted to be the lead singer.  Ever since my father gave me some Beatles Best Of tapes – those red and blue relics – when I was only about eight – I had become so familiar with the melodies that I spent the day singing, to the great indignation of my younger brother, who wouldn’t stop asking me to stop.  And I didn’t play any instrument, and when I tried, my clumsy hands didn’t figure much out.

But my voice was different.  Youthful and masculine, it could reach high and low registers with hardly a transition.  Of course I had to work on it with rigor and perseverance, but I was willing to do it.  Even so, it wasn’t at all easy to convince my friends.  The vocalist often took on the role of bandleader, and that position of responsibility wasn’t easy to reconcile with my negligent attitude.  I didn’t study; I didn’t make an effort at anything… And, added to the role of singing was that of writing the lyrics to the compositions, a delicate task because of the fact that it represented the group’s idiosyncrasies and transmitted their little message to the world.  After not a few nights without sleep and many demands from my friends, we accepted the challenge.  I would be the band’s singer.  So at 15 and for the first time in my life, they began to demand two things of me: sing and write; write and sing.

Sebas’ parents helped us out by lending us the storage room of their apartment.  That was definitive.  That’s where we tried to fit out a real practice space: in the third basement of a new building in Pedralbes, five minutes away from the Lycée.  Álex and Benji covered the walls of the storage room with empty egg cartons to make them soundproof.  Little by little we got together the equipment we needed to start our mid-day sessions. From the beginning we developed the habit of practicing at least the hour during our lunch break, plus several hours on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings.  We practiced about 10 hours a week!

In a few months we developed a modest repertory of foreign covers as well as some timid originals.  We tried so hard to improve that during the first school year we were able to play three shows.  In retrospect, I understand that the quality of our music left a lot to be desired.  But we weren’t lacking the hope or desire to make progress.  Our classmates had fun and we had a blast.  Even so, all told, we were missing something essential.

Destiny changed everything during the second school year of our adventure. First, our original bass player – Alfredo Lacalle, Alex’s good friend – tired of playing badly and of our demands to get better, quit.  It was hard to replace him.  After a few weeks of try out with a couple of candidates, we talked to Miquel.  

Miquel Ferrés had started the first group of our generation at the tender age of 13.  Musician to the core, he had an incomparable sense of harmony and such a good ear that it made everyone else feel inadequate.  By 16 he dabbled with all the instruments, sang like an angel and wrote songs in Catalan.  His stumbling block was his hurt and contradictory personality. He smoked a lot and ruined his voice, which got him kicked out of his first group.  He couldn’t have cared less about studying and had been held back a grade.  So he was a little lost when we asked him to come play with us.  Nonetheless we imposed some conditions right away: accept the discipline of the group, smoke less and make an effort to really learn the instrument.

The group changed radically.  Miquel provided the musical maturity that we so much needed and lack of which had made us a group of immature children with pretensions that exceeded our possibilities.  With him we began to design compositions characterized by the harmonic unity of the instruments at the service of the melodic line of the vocals.  Even the dissonances wound up in exactly the right place.  Miquel taught us to treat the format of a song as a whole, a body where the parts all had essential roles.  With more work than originally hoped, little by little he mastered his instrument and I still remember with perfect clarity the bass lines that he wrote for our songs.

Really, the whole second year was devoted to the composition of seven songs that still remain as the first and only serious demo of the group.  A year of internal work of incalculable consequences.  A year of absolute creativity.  With this web we have tried to condense, twenty years later, all of the essence of that marvelous year of our lives.

I had spent the first year trying to write lyrics, with terrible results.  I constantly postponed literary creation, much to the despair of my friends – Benji had to plagiarize Bob Dylan’s lyrics so that we could make a little bit of progress – you can hear it on The True Days; I hid behind a few nice sounding things but with no soul at all. I scribbled insubstantial witticisms.  A real disaster.

The second year we had our epiphany.  I concentrated on my outraged interior.  It was the worst academic year of my life.  The generational conflict with my father grew to unbelievable levels.  My intimate suffering grew so much that I was doomed to sketch my disgrace on paper.  During those months I composed six lyrics in English written with the ravages of the my desperate soul. Two ideas stood out above the others.  No, it’s more like there were two ideas that invaded the nerve of the lyrics: generational conflict and youthful friendship as a refuge in the midst of adversity. 

Strangely, I didn’t write any love songs.  It could be that I was so self absorbed with my problems with my father, so far from the brilliant boy I had been, that girls were less interested in me.  The thing is that during the time I was with the band I didn’t have any profound experiences in love.  A few superficial adventures of little importance.

But back to the lyrics.  They were so vehement , so blatantly personal, that I began to sing with a different kind of strength, a different muscle, with renewed inspiration.  All of a sudden Benji’s guitar became lunar landscapes and Miquel’s bass wrapped up the vertiginous expressivity of my guts.  Álex modulated his rhythmic composition to the beat of my moans and exultant laments…

Truthfully, I should state straight out that we wrote seven really excellent songs.  After so long, I can’t hide behind an unnecessary false modesty.  For a group of four 16 year-olds, the seven songs that were the result of that year’s intense musical laboratory marked our lives.  In order to register our private historical memory, I am obliged to mention them: Soldiers of Love, They Make Me Cry Again, When the Storm Comes, Fear, The Night Arrived, The Unhappy Boy, Rain.

Thoroughly concentrated on the work of song writing, we didn’t play any concerts that year.  We only recorded, on a primitive tape, with the help of a shabby mixing board, and during a marathon night of no sleep, all of the songs that we had written.  You can hear those songs on the web – and that’s the reason for the bad sound quality.  We retrieved the cassette tapes that we had recorded with a cassette player right in the practice space and we digitized them.  Yes, we recorded the background music, just as it sounded. 

We kept practicing them over and over again with the goal of mastering their sometimes-complicated execution.  The summer passed and with the arrival of fall we started our last year at the Lycée Francais de Barcelone.  Well, next to last in the case of Miquel, who had been held back.  And in November 1991, exactly two years after founding the band, we performed live at El Puntual, a club in Gracia in Barcelona. We didn’t know then that this would be our last show, our goodbye, our swan song.

Just like the most intense love stories of youth, the story of our group succumbed to the demands of destiny.

That afternoon I went to Benji’s house and right after having something to eat, we closed ourselves in his room to rest, sheltered by the music in the background.  I seem to remember that my friend fell asleep.  When we got to El Puntual two hours later, we met Álex and Miquel upstairs.  Two hundred people gathered for the show, filling the dark space with an atmosphere of expectation. Benji, Alex and Miquel went down to play a carefully prepared introduction. After a few minutes it was my turn.

Together we managed to maintain the musical tension for 90 minutes, which was quite a feat for a group of four 17 year olds. My memory, which distills the substance of remembered events, returns the impressions of that night clearly to me. The guitar sounded by far the best.  Quality is infallible and Benji’s equipment let him explore masterfully what I had composed with such precision. The drums and the bass sounded a little muddled and the vocals a little low because of inadequate amplification. But people in the audience told us time and again that it had been by far the best show by a group from the Lycée they had ever been to. In addition to our songs, we played Bob Dylan, Héroes del Silencio, The Mission, and U2. A friend tried to immortalize the night with a home video camera, but the tape ran out after 50 minutes, so the last 40 minutes of the concert were lost. You can see the show in the Video section of the web.

A week later, and cornered by the unbearable paternal pressure and confused by the surprising direction that my future might take, I convened my three friends in café in Sarriá to have a few beers. Visibly nervous and unhinged, I announced that I was leaving the group. That I couldn’t stand another second of my father’s threats, that I was a real mess and I needed time to think.

That same night we went out with friends from school and at a pub on Diagonal to which I never again returned, Benji and I burst into desperate tears and cried until we had no more tears left to shed. Our dream had been shattered and with it, our young hearts.

Last night, twenty-one years after our breakup, Benji called my cell, totally out of the blue.  We talked for more than 2 hours, with voices that betrayed excitement, and healed hearts. At the end of the unforgettable conversation, we decided to do everything possible to recover the essence of that short and intense time in our lives with the goal of sharing it with Álex y Miquel.

After several debates with Benji, we had the idea of a web with all the content that seemed relevant and that we had hoarded with the goal of creating an online trunk that would hold the musical legacy of those wonderful years. 

Nothing makes us happier than to share it with all of you. I hope, from the heart, that you like it. I always dreamed of singing again.

Jaime Homar
The Mystic Hope
Palma de Mallorca
March 2012