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May 13, 2011

Book Notes - Wilfred Santiago ("21: The Story of Roberto Clemente")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Wilfred Santiago's graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente follows the Hall of Fame baseball player from his humble roots and family life in Puerto Rico through his climb to the major leagues, stardom, and early death. Santiago dwells on each of these facets equally, and in doing so creates a well-balanced, yet striking, portrait of the man and his times.

This is a book to be enjoyed by teens and adults, baseball fans, and anyone who wants to read an epic story.

School Library Journal wrote of the book:

"His gorgeous illustrations–colored in Pittsburgh Pirate-tinted black-and-white and drawn with slightly exaggerated realism in bold, dark lines–perfectly capture the period (1950s and ‘60s). And his storytelling is practically mosaic: overlapping dialogue; snippets of scenes fading in and out without introduction or conclusion; information spread all over the page. This is a book to be pored over, not read straight"

In his own words, here is Wilfred Santiago's Book Notes music playlist for his book, 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente:

21: The Story of Roberto Clemente, is a graphic novel biography of a baseball superstar's rise from rags to riches. While working on the promotional trailer for 21, I envisioned it working as an animated movie, more specifically, the stop animation kind. Golden age animation has been a big influence on my work and the graphic novel itself is very musical. It would be interesting to see the shape that it would take as a featured film. So here is what the 21 soundtrack would sound like:

1. La Borinqeña

This is an elegant and pretty melody. On the trailer for 21, the score is a piano version of this song, Puerto Rico's national anthem. (See the trailer at

The most well known version of La Borinqeña" is a danza, a music genre that originated in the south of Puerto Rico, in the city of Ponce, where I was born.

Lyrically it has gone through various versions until the 1950's version which remains to this day.

2. "Hot House" - Charlie Parker & Dizzy Guillespie

This bebop song is a jazz standard. This is my favorite version, although I have only heard it through footage from 1952. Love the drums on this one.

3. "Con Mi Corazon Te Esoero (I Wait with my Heart)" - Roberto Ledesma

Slow tempo, romantic latin music A.K.A. bolero. This was one of Roberto Clemente's favorite singers. This is about two completely different people with only love binding them together, and he will wait, with his heart, at the end of the road where they will finally meet. Awwww!

You can see the 45 record sleeve on page 132, panel 5 in the comic book.

4. "The Credo" - Mary Lou Williams Quintet

Mary Lou grew up in Pittsburgh where she taught herself to play the piano. A laid back jazz song. Very cool piano.

5. "On the Road Again" - Canned Heat

Displacement, loneliness, yearning, 1968, American blues band Canned Heat, with original singer Alan Wilson. Supposedly a psychedelic adaptation of a song by Chicago blues legend Floyd Jones, but I don't hear it at all.

6. "If I May" - Nat King Cole

The contrast of Cole's soft voice against the bass line is like rubbing the belly of an alligator in the 1965 version of this song from the album Looking Back. This was previously recorded with The Four Knights on back vocals.

7. "Manteca" - Dizzy Gillespie

From the album, Dizzy Gillespie and his Big Band in Concert, 1948. Afro-Cuban infused Jazz, brutal trumpet and featuring Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo.

Manteca means lard in Spanish. Although it might be a Cuban slang word for Marihuana.

8. "So What?" - Miles Davis & John Coltrane

In this 1958 live version Davis' implacably cool trumpet gets help from his friend Coltrane.

9. "Phantom Freight" - The Phantoms Band

Instrumental surf rock, action packed, hard to describe. But it will definitely be great in a baseball sequence.

10. "Highway Star" - Deep Purple

Speed metal's missing link? A song about the love of the driving machine. It's fast with great guitar and organ solos.

11. "Parranda" - Chuito y Maso Rivera

This song is led by the "cuatro", a Puerto Rican instrument which sounds like a cross between a guitar and a mandolin.

This deceptively upbeat folk song is rooted in 19th century life in Puerto Rico, a time where the island was mostly rural and oppressed. Roberto Clemente's dad was a jibaro, a peasant, so it feels appropriate.

12. "Please Don't Let me Be Misunderstood" - The Animals

Originally on Nina Simone's Broadway-Blues-Ballads. 1960's English band gives a very different feel to it thanks to Eric Burdon's mournful, masculine voice and catchy musical arrangement.

13. Hommy “a Latin opera“ - Orchestra Harlow

This album was produced by "The Marvelous Jew", Larry Harlow, who also plays the piano. A play on "Tommy" by The Who. This record is out of the 1970's NY Salsa scene, an assembly of multicultural artists mostly from PR, Cuba and D.R. Salsa is pretty much Cuban music speeded up. I evolved mostly in New York with an urban social element which was relevant to the decade.

14. "Star Spangled Banner" - José Feliciano

In fifth game of the 1968 World Series, Puerto Rican singer Jose Feliciano sang the American anthem. It was a soulful version but people ended up booing him.

Jose was blind, but he could hear. This happens to be one of the most beautiful renditions of the song, topped only by Marvin Gaye's 1983 rendition.

Wilfred Santiago and 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente links:

the author's website
video preview of the book
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

A.V. Club review
Comics Alliance review
Farther Off the Wall review
I Reads You review
Ich Liebe Comics! review
iFanboy review
Now Read This! review
Paste review
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review review
Popdose review
Repeating Islands review
School Library Journal review
Takes on Tech review

Black and Gold profile of the author
The Comics Reporter interview with the author
Pittsburgh City Paper interview with the author
Publishers Weekly profile of the author
Robot 6 interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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