In Los Angeles, one of this year's largest Day of the Dead celebrations was held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery where Rudolph Valentino, Jayne Mansfield and Dee Dee Ramone are buried. It featured plenty of the day's usual customs — folkloric dancers, face-painting and elaborate Huichol yarn paintings and beadwork. But this year's celebration also brought an unexpected addition: A mariachi band that plays covers of songs by The Smiths' lead singer, Morrissey.
El Mariachi Manchester is an L.A. band devoted to Moz. Morrissey made Los Angeles his home, and his music continues to enchant Angelenos — especially Mexican-Americans, according to Gloria Estrada, who plays guitarrón in the band.
"I grew up in Boyle Heights, and when I was in high school Morrissey and [The] Smiths was a huge part of a teenage, emo life," she says. "It's just slit-wrist music and it's perfect."
Singers Moises Baquiero and Alexandro Baquiero say the draw is Morrissey's dark humor, lyrics about doomed relationships and challenging authority, and his Irish immigrant roots: "Catholicism, guilt, second-class citizen — it's almost the same being an Irish descent in England, what it is of being Mexican or Mexican descent living in the United States."
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It's All Souls Day, and we're going to go now to one of the biggest Day of the Dead celebrations in Los Angeles. It was held at the cemetery where Rudolph Valentino, Bugsy Siegel and Dee Dee Ramone are buried. NPR's Mandalit del Barco went to the annual festival and found an interesting cultural mix.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The Dia De Los Muertos event at the Hollywood Forever cemetery began as it has for the past 16 years, with a procession, feathered dancers and drummers and a blessing, this time from a Huichol shaman.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
DEL BARCO: Festival-goers painted their faces as calaveras - skulls - and partied alongside the remains of Douglas Fairbanks and a statue of Toto from "The Wizard Of Oz." This year's event celebrated Mexican folk art with elaborate yarn paintings and beadwork. Altars honored bicycle riders hit by cars, immigrants who died crossing the border and the late post-punk singer Ian Curtis who took his own life 35 years ago. The celebration also featured a mariachi band devoted to the music of 1980s British rockstar Morrissey.
EL MARIACHI MANCHESTER: (Singing) Girlfriend in a coma, I know. I know it's serious. Girlfriend in a coma, I know. I know it's really serious.
DEL BARCO: El Mariachi Manchester hails from East L.A. where Morrissey's music continues to enthrall Chicanos and Latinos, says guitarron player Gloria Estrada.
GLORIA ESTRADA: I grew up in Boyle Heights. And I knew when I was in high school, Morrissey and Smiths was a huge part of, like, a teenage emo life, you know? It's just - it's slit-wrist music, and you know, it's perfect.
DEL BARCO: From a city Morrissey has called home, the L.A. band plays mariachi, cumbia and ranchera versions in English. The music certainly resonated for many in the audience who sang along.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Sorry. Oh, I'm so sorry.
EL MARIACHI MANCHESTER: (Singing) Why do you come here when you it makes things hard for me? When you know, oh, why do you come?
DEL BARCO: Morrissey's dramatic, dark humor, his tragic lyrics about doomed relationships, his challenge of authority - these are also themes that ring true Mexico City-born singer Moises Baquiero and Chicano vocalist Alexandro Hernandez, who teaches ethnomusicology at UCLA. They say they and their fans also relate to Morrissey's Irish immigrant roots.
MOISES BAQUIERO: Second-class citizen, you know? It's almost the same being of Irish descent living in England what it is to be a Mexican - of Mexican descent living in the states.
ALEXANDRO HERNANDEZ: Working class, just like the Mexicans, you know - not a lot of money, not a lot of opportunity.
BAQUIERO: So yeah, we're tight like that - and plus, the drinking - yes, the drinking. Nobody was going to say it, but I had to say it - the drinking.
DEL BARCO: For Dia De Los Morrissey, as they call it, the Mariachi Manchester captured the spirit of the holiday, a playful love song about death.
EL MARIACHI MANCHESTER: (Singing) And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die. And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine.
DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.