You’ve seen Stephen Sellers. On stage behind an upright bass with the Six Dollar String Band, or spinning as DJ Bad Goat, he’s one of those Durangoans who is everywhere. He has an effortless, megawatt smile and a genial good nature that makes those around him feel, well, good. I spoke with him about his recent trip to Cuba and what he’s taking away from his time there. I tell his story here, in his own words.
Saturday afternoon, about 2 o’clock, and I wake up from a nap to hear 50 Cent blaring, “I’m a muthaf–kin’ P-I-M-P.” My wife and I were staying on the fourth floor of a place in central Havana and someone had brought a sound system out across the street. It was just blasting music, which wasn’t too crazy, I guess. I mean, the night before, the music didn’t stop until 2 or 3 in the morning, and it was loud – like for everyone to hear. Luckily, we brought earplugs. Anyway, I get up, go out onto the balcony, and look down to see a group of kids dancing together on the street. They were in two rows, dancing in this very structured way. It looked like an old social dance – like an English courtship sort of thing, but to 50 Cent. These kids were working on these dance moves. The music would stop, and they would start arguing about whatever it was that they were working on.
Then the music changed to this tune – I think it’s called “The Ballad of Adeline,” this very beautiful piano ballad – and it became clear that what they were doing was something pretty serious. They danced all day and then well into the night. They would dance, and then they would stop and argue. Someone had f–ked up, someone wasn’t pulling their weight, someone just didn’t like the choreography or whatever, I don’t know.
Come to find out that it was the quinceañera for one of the girls in the group, her coming-of-age party. I love the idea of friends coming together to figure this thing out – and it’s easy to romanticize it – but that was a beautiful moment. It set the stage for our last night in Havana. I heard the music come on, and we just happened to be eating at a restaurant right across the street from where the party was. I had watched them so much that I had learned the dance moves, so I went outside and joined them dancing. I don’t know if they were amused by it, or were more like, “What the f–k?!” It was funny because it was a three- or four-part choreography, and I nailed it. I don’t know if we were overstepping our boundaries as American tourists or not [laughs], but it was so nice to be joyful.
In the words of this Cuban bookie that we met, “You don’t need to do anything while you’re here other than unplug. That’s the most important thing you need to do as Americans. Unplug, and go from there.” I took that to heart. I mean, I’m not a Luddite. I’m not trying to unplug from my cellphone or the computer that I use for school, and unplugging is a process. I’ve never been a deliberately simple person, so that was a “Whoa, cool!” moment for me. I can live a very satisfied life that doesn’t revolve around the constant input of digital shit. It wasn’t that we weren’t inputting – we were reading, we were watching, we were listening. I didn’t think once about Netflix or social media, and it was really nice to be in that spot.
Travel doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get out of your rhythm, but it offers you the chance to. We rode around in the classic cars, we played soccer in the streets, I got food poisoning and wondered if I was going to die. I feel like I came back a much keener observer. Oh! I went into this record store trying to find House music and the guy behind the counter went, “Ibiza?! Ibiza?! [makes sound imitating electronic music] Ooon-tss, ooon-tss?!” It was beautiful! I thought he was going to let me look at what he had, but he just made me a burned CD of all this random House music and sent me on my way. [laughs]
Cyle Talley is taking a two-strike approach to life. If you’d like to email him, do so at [email protected]