Ivan Gálvez approached me with a handful of wires, his face serious and professional. I asked him the dumb question that I knew would catch him off guard. “Can you read people’s minds?”
“No,” responded Ivan, laughing. “Believe it or not, I’m asked that a lot. And ‘Can you control my movements?’ No, I cannot. All I’m doing is recording. So at the end of the day, all I see is a bunch of squiggly lines on a screen.”
Ivan had me lay down on an examination table. He began marking my head with a red grease pencil. He affixed gold-plated “leads” to my scalp with some kind of goo that makes a funny sound and looks comes out of the container looking like string cheese. To top it all off, he wrapped my head with tape. Then, he stood back to admire his work. “I like to tell people the worst thing that can happen to you hear is you leave with bad hair.” After he finished, Ivan stepped into a separate room. Through the adjoining window, he called out instructions. “Open your eyes now.” And “now I’m going to flash a strobe light.” Throughout the tests, he monitors my brainwaves on a computer screen. When we finished, I came over and took a peek. “You need a doctor to interpret these,” he told me.
“Oh come on, there must be something you can tell me?” He admitted it looked like I probably don’t have epilepsy. That’s something his patients are usually looking for, when they come to see him. He added that I don’t seem to have had any strokes lately, either. After I prod him a little more, it became clear that the squiggly lines on his screen are really no more than just that – squiggly lines. Like a seismograph reading, they tell us only that something happened. Those things happened in parts of the brain we associate with different emotions. But the electroencephalogram (EEG) reading doesn't give us detailed analyses of our emotions. It doesn't give us the “why.” It doesn't reveal our memories.
His Parents Never Knew Stability
This job as an EEG technician for Swedish Medical Center in Seattle's first hill neighborhood is a really big deal for Ivan. The stable income, the job security… they let him spend his free time playing percussion for his band, Picoso.
That stability is something his parents never had. Their instability began in the 1970s. Ivan’s father, Celso Gálvez, had been an customs officer for the government and an activist with the Socialist party in Chile. Celso’s favorite candidate, Salvador Allende, had recently won a presidential election. He and Ivan’s mother, Mariella, went out to remote villages and distributed pamphlets to indigenous people.
Then, the Chilean military overthrew the left-leaning government in 1973. General Augusto Pinochet took over Chile as dictator. In the days after the coup, Pinochet told the television cameras, “The armed forces have acted today solely from the patriotic interest of saving the country from the tremendous chaos into which it was being plunged by the Marxist government of Salvador Allende. The Junta will maintain judicial power and consultanship of the Public Accounts Control. The Chambers will remain in recess until further orders. That’s all.”
Ivan knew a lot about the coup. His father had spoken of it often. It was his way of honoring those who’d disappeared. “When the coup happened, books were burned,” explained Ivan. “You were not allowed to say things about the government.”
The Poet And The Tyrant
Ivan’s father, Celso, told Ivan about a musician named Victor Jara. The folk singer insisted on playing music critical of Pinochet’s government. Pinochet’s men hauled him into a soccer stadium that had been turned into a concentration camp. “The story that I heard was that they beat him,” recalled Ivan. “They hurt his hands, because he played guitar and then they sort of mocked him… they said, all right, see if you can do it now. And he continued to try until he couldn’t anymore.” That was to be Jara’s final performance. Soon after, he was found dumped on the outskirts of the city, his hands crushed and 44 bullets in his body.
Pinochet outlawed folk music. Instead, he directed Chileans to music that celebrated his leadership. In “Song of Pinochet,” for example, a very masculine singer declares confidently, “Victory has a name: Presidente Pinochet!” The video on YouTube is like a caricature of fascist music. In one verse, he sings about Chile and progress as a McDonald’s sign flashes by in the background.
Preserving Chilean Music And Literature - At A Cost
I asked Ivan what happened to his parents after the junta took over. “Well, mostly it happened to my father,” said Ivan. “He was part of an underground movement of students that wanted to preserve literature. They literally buried books and records in bags and boxes in the ground to hide them, and if the military got any wind or suspicion that you were involved in it, then they would take you.” After spending some time in a concentration camp, Celso rejoined wife, Mariella, and the two of them fled to the U.S.
It’s a well-known fact that although the U.S. didn’t directly support the coup, it did provide indirect support. Marxism, so the U.S. worried, was in our own South American backyard. It’s interesting to Ivan that it was Americans who ended up rescuing Chilean political prisoners such as his father. Celso was freed from the concentration camp because he’d acquired sponsorship from an American family. He and Mariella arrived in the United States with only a few belongings. They had to start over from scratch. The robust Chilean community helped Celso find a job as a dishwasher. But he’d left so much behind. In Chile he was an intellectual with a good job. Here, he scraped dirty plates. Ivan remembers how his father looked when he came home from work: “just tired. Like he was really, really, tired, exhausted. [He’d] just drop on the couch. Same with my mom, too. As a kid, you observe that look on the face… ‘I’m tired of this sh*t.’”
Among the items Ivan’s father managed to smuggle out of Chile was a record. On that record was a song: Alturas, by Inti-Illimani. The song didn’t even have any words. But under Pinochet, a folk song using traditional instruments was considered political protest. “I think that’s the interesting thing about music,” Ivan told me. “You don’t necessarily need a lot of words. Just the melodies take you somewhere.”
Ivan’s father played that song over and over. He played it at parties and family gatherings. It was his way of remembering those who had disappeared during the coup. I asked Ivan what his father was trying to convey by playing that record. “That no mouth should go unfed. No sick person should go uncared for.”
You might say, since Ivan has entered the health care profession, that he heard the message his parents intended him to hear. But as a child, it wasn’t the politics that attracted him to the song on that record. It was the music itself. “There was so much said in that melody,” said Ivan. “You could hear the struggle. You could hear the triumph. Maybe it’s just me that heard it, I don’t know. But when I heard it, I just heard my message in that song.” It was that moment, says Ivan, when he knew he wanted to play music.
Political Stability Means Your Kids Can Focus On Partying, Rather Than "The Party."
Ivan’s parents eventually separated. His father moved back to Chile, having spent most of his adult life as a dishwasher in Seattle. Ivan resolved that he would find a steady job. “I knew I didn’t want to struggle like they did,” said Ivan. But Ivan’s father wouldn’t let him set aside his love of music. Celso hadn’t smuggled books and records out of Chile for nothing. Ivan recalls his father’s advice: “Do what you love. Do what it is that means the most to you. Don’t half-ass it. Go at it, full force.”
Ivan doesn’t have to hide his love for this music. He doesn’t have to bury it underground so he can smuggle it out of the country in a suitcase. With his day job at Swedish Hospital, he’s quite comfortable. He has a wife, and a young boy, and they’re happy. For Ivan, playing folkloric music doesn’t have to be a political statement. “The time that my family was coming up and listening to music, it was really heavily involved in activism. In Picoso, what we’re trying to get out, is just, you know, not to worry so much. Have fun. Life’s short.”
Want to learn more about the artists in this episode of Day Job?
Preview and purchase Picoso's music on CDbaby.com.
Want to learn more about the history in this episode?
Learn more from theguardian.com about the folk singer Victor Jara and the dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Special thanks to KEXP's DJ Chilly for connecting me with Picoso.