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Music is pretty important to me. I’ve always got some kind of music going while I’m working, whether painting, drawing, doodling, or scribbling down straying thoughts. At times I’ll abruptly realize I’ve got a tune playing in a loop in my head [it’s usually Jobim’s ‘Girl from Ipanema’ — don’t ask].

Other times serendipity will lay an ambush, then leap out and bludgeon me with a particular bit of music until I surrender some time to meditate either the melody line or the lyrics.

Last Tuesday I was skimming through YouTube for Christopher Walken — wait, wait, this all connects, I promise — looking for the music video of FatBoy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” [running time = 3:52 mins.]

Telling you Right Up Front, I will watch anything, anything, with Christopher Walken in it. I don’t care how lame/dumb/cheesy it may be [he gives the best reading of E.A.Poe’s ‘The Raven’ that I’ve yet to hear], because the guy just fascinates the hellouta me. [He sings! He acts! He dances! He cooks! Is there anything this man can’t do??]

Stick around — I said it all connects.

Anyway, while skimming for Christopher I chanced across a clip from a movie I hadn’t heard of — Romance and Cigarettes — wherein he sings and dances to Tom Jones’ “Delilah”. Here ’tis [running time = 4:26 mins]:

After watching Christopher deliver his delightfully exuberant interpretation of ‘Delilah’, another tune began to play in my head, quietly at first, and I strongly felt it was somehow akin to ‘Delilah’ [at least, in my mind it was]. It became insistent, gradually driving me a bit bonkers [!] in trying to identify it. I began to suspect it was an older memory, of something I’d been exposed to as a child. And I knew it would give me no rest until I could correctly identify it.

And then it hit me [I think it was the trumpets that did it]:

Ah-hhh, yes!!!

The Cisco Kid!!

I was six years old, and I was in love with Duncan Renaldo as the Cisco Kid. I so wanted to be Pancho so I could ride with him [and maybe talk him into trading horses with me, since I prefer the paints].

The next thing I know I’m chasing tangents for the Kid and Renaldo. I’d never before known that Cisco Kid predated Zorro in all areas: as an original fiction short story; as a silent movie; as a radio series; and then films and as television series. It was then that I realized that I’d known of the Cisco Kid before I ever heard of Zorro, or D’Artagnan [but that’s another story, entirely].

And it’s the Cisco Kid’s stirring theme music that probably triggered my then love for all music Spanish [like I said, I was six years old at the time], and then flamenco [which in turn triggered my passion for classical guitar], which then matured in two different directions, as flamenco puro and as jazzmenco. Hence, my small collection of guitars, and an insanely large library of classical guitar and flamenco music. I even took Spanish [Castellano] in high school, because of all this. [One day I will make that pilgrimage to Jerez de la Frontera.]

Which brings us back to Zorro, who served to reinforce everything the Kid sent my way. But there’s that movie ‘The Mark/Mask/Legend of Zorro’ with Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones, that causes me a bit of confusion. At the aristos’ fiesta grande, What’s-His-Name [it ain’t ‘Diego’] and ‘Elena’ are dancing to flamenco-ish music. [Yeah, I love how Hollywood figures that all they have to do is throw a few rasgueados at a score, and suddenly we’re in Spain or any of its royal territories.]

But flamenco is gypsy music, like Gitano blues or soul, and gypsies were socially and culturally untouchable by the upper classes. I kinda doubt that music would have been tolerated in such elite company. And where the hell was Elena’s dueña?? An unmarried woman of a Spanish aristocratic birth, regardless her own age, would never-ever be without her dueña glued to her hip to protect and insure her maidenly virtue.

But back to Duncan Renaldo — oh, my. To this day, the Cisco Kid still cuts a rathering dashing figure. Those tight black pants and black boots, the fancy six-shooter rig slung low on his slim hips, those dark eyes and that dazzling, boyish smile full of mischief and secrets,…

It’s probably his fault that I tend to wear black jeans and black leather boots. It’s probably his fault that I developed any early addiction to action, adventure, and swashbuckling fiction and films, and the tall-dark-handsome variety of males. And the accent didn’t hurt, either. [But it’s D’Artagnan’s fault I took up fencing.]

Renaldo even co-starred in a Zorro flick in 1937. How six-degrees is that?

Duncan Renaldo’s own life story is the stuff of movies. Orphaned at a very early age in Europe, he never knew the identities of his birth parents, much less his birth name or where, exactly, he was born. He came to New York in the 1920’s, stoking in a coal ship only to be stranded on the docks when the ship burnt down to the waterline. Later he was arrested and imprisoned as an illegal alien — until [according to at least one account] First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who’d purchased one of his paintings, personally took the matter to FDR to secure a presidential pardon for him.

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Renaldo’s humorous and heroic portrayal of the Cisco Kid introduced me and my young mind to several ideas and ideals, some of which continue to influence me. And it wasn’t until I looked for the video of Christopher Walken dancing and flying [yes, flying] to ‘Weapon of Choice’, which domino-style cascaded to stir up those old memories, that I came to consciously realize all of this.

During the course of this tangent chase I learned that Duncan Renaldo left us back in 1980. I confess suffering a sharp, bittersweet pang at that moment. He remains one of many people who’ve touched me in a positive manner, that will continue to influence me during the span of this lifetime,… and I never got the opportunity to thank him for that.

Oh-hhh, Cisco. Adios, mi amigo.

– Ryl

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