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Agustin Gurza, a former Times columnist and influential Latin music critic, dies at 73

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Former Los Angeles Occasions columnist Agustin Gurza, a onetime file retailer proprietor who turned a groundbreaking chronicler of Latino life in Southern California and one of many nation’s main critics and historians of Spanish-language music, has died.

Gurza died Saturday morning after struggling a coronary heart assault, in response to his spouse of 19 years, Rosie Caballero Gurza. He was 73.

Gurza was a 20-something UC Berkeley graduate when he stepped into the workplace of then-L.A. Occasions music editor Robert Hilburn in 1976, on the lookout for a reporting job. Hilburn didn’t want a reporter, however he was determined to seek out somebody to jot down evaluations. He informed him to choose a file and write 100 phrases.

“However I’ve by no means carried out a evaluate,” mentioned Gurza.

“However you care about music. That’s all that issues,” Hilburn remembers saying.

Gurza delivered the evaluate of a band referred to as the Salsoul Orchestra and dozens of others over the subsequent few years, kick-starting a wide-ranging profession of columns, books and evaluations. They featured his deeply engrossing writing type that might float readers together with its magnificence, humor and at occasions bitingly important prose. The writing was elegant however direct, decidedly unfancy, and at all times infused with Gurza’s encyclopedic data of music and keenness for social justice, group and household.

Over the next many years, Gurza went on to grow to be a columnist in Orange County, first for the Orange County Register, then for The Occasions’ Orange County version. He was among the many first Latino columnists in Orange County, inspiring a era of younger Latino journalists.

“Agustin was somebody to me who epitomized the enjoyment of life itself,” mentioned Occasions columnist Gustavo Arellano, who was in faculty when he began studying Gurza’s column. Arellano remembers considering: “This can be a man who is aware of his music, loves his music, but in addition loves the ambiente of being Latino, of the pleasure.” Gurza, he mentioned, knew that “what he lined was a prideful factor and that the broader world ought to comprehend it.”

By 2001, Gurza was again at The Occasions writing concerning the Latin music explosion. He profiled music stars like Shakira, Ricky Martin and Daddy Yankee, and shortly turned some of the influential critics within the nation. He was a fierce traditionalist whose tastes have been formed by the boleros and corridos of his youth, however he additionally embraced the extra fashionable, rock- and rap-infused Latin music genres. Although he championed many artists, many weren’t spared his critic’s wrath, not even the musical stars who turned his mates.

Ruben Blades, the salsa music legend and Hollywood actor, was certainly one of them. Gurza thought-about him among the many most vital songwriters in Latin pop music historical past, however didn’t hesitate to criticize a few of his works. The 2 males, each recognized for his or her roaring expressions of passionately held opinions, usually clashed over dinner and glasses of whisky, a lot in order that Blades referenced Gurza in his 1984 music “Desapariciones.”

Es un buen muchacho (He’s a superb man)

A veces es terco cuando opina (He’s sort of cussed along with his opinions)

Years later, Gurza flew to Panama to interview Blades, who had been appointed the nation’s minister of tourism. Gurza couldn’t assist himself, delivering what gave the impression to be a good-natured jab again at his outdated pal.

Blades could be humorous, beneficiant and charming, an interesting storyteller who enlivens anecdotes with hilarious impersonations. However he will also be cussed…

Gurza was born within the Mexican state of Coahuilla, however moved to San Jose as a toddler. His father was a music-loving physician, his mom a piano-playing homemaker. Gurza’s virtually obsessive ardour for music was obvious very early, when he would accompany his father to music shops to comb by way of the stacks of information, mentioned Gurza’s brother, Dr. Edward “Lalo” Gurza, a retired internist from Chicago.

“My father would spend hours in file shops going by way of each single cupboard, which drove my mom nuts. Agustin had precisely the identical habits,” mentioned Ed Gurza in an interview.

After graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate Faculty of Journalism in 1974, Gurza moved to Los Angeles and opened a file retailer in East Los Angeles. He was proper at dwelling within the cluttered house crammed wall to wall with recordings. He finally closed the store, however his record-store decor aesthetic lived on. All over the place he lived afterward, he crammed his dwelling rooms, places of work and garages with hundreds of information, starting from his rock favorites like Bob Dylan and the Beatles to Latin music legends just like the Puerto Rican band El Gran Combo and Celia Cruz.

Although his major ardour was music, by the mid-Nineties Gurza was working as a columnist in Orange County at a time when the experiences of Latinos within the space have been largely underreported. He fought to protect murals, gave voice to immigrant moms, took on politicians and expressed weariness, in 1999, over Orange County’s heated political battles over immigration in a column that appears prescient as we speak. “We attain momentary standoffs, however minds don’t change, hearts don’t open,” he wrote.

“He was a lone voice within the wilderness for years,” mentioned Arellano. “He was defending us in a spot the place we would have liked a variety of defending.”

Arellano himself was criticized by Gurza, who believed Arellano’s common “Ask a Mexican” column perpetuated stereotypes, with Gurza calling him the “Paris Hilton of Latino journalism.” However Arellano mentioned Gurza’s overarching dedication to the Latino expertise transcended any private rivalry.

Although his writing was usually loaded with slashing commentary, Gurza was a captivating and fun-loving raconteur who may disarm his fiercest critics along with his fixed smile, hair-trigger laughter and deep repertoire of salsa dance strikes which he favored to point out off at nightclubs throughout Los Angeles.

Gurza’s return to music writing in 2001 coincided with a resurgence of Latin music throughout the nation. He lined the flash and the controversies, but in addition wrote about little-known regional types, like son jarocho from the Mexican state of Veracruz, making them relatable and comprehensible to readers.

“I admired that about [Gurza]. He was certainly one of only a few Latino writers in the entire U.S. that was thought-about an vital opinion maker,” Blades mentioned in an interview. “I may at all times depend on him to supply a perspective that will at all times assist us perceive higher the problem.”

After he took a buyout from The Occasions in 2008, one other musical journey was awaiting him. UCLA had taken possession of the world’s largest archives of recorded Spanish-language music and wanted somebody to jot down about it. The archive, referred to as the Arhoolie Foundation’s Strachwitz Frontera collection, on the time had 90,000 recordings, a lot of it from Mexican artists.

“I swear he listened to each music,” mentioned Chon Noriega, a professor on the UCLA division of movie, tv and digital media. Noriega requested Gurza to jot down a 100-page e-book; Gurza delivered an award-winning 234-page book and continued to jot down concerning the assortment in a blog. The writings are a marvel of storytelling as Gurza’s exhaustive analysis illuminates the tales of the locations, personalities and histories behind the songs. Gurza infused a lot of the writings with recollections of his childhood and loving portraits of relations.

His final posts centered on recordings of boleros, aching songs of romance from Latin America that have been amongst his favorites. At all times a purist, he bemoaned how some had been drained of soul by the litter of overproduction, evaluating it to how famed rock producer Phil Spector, in his opinion, suffocated among the Beatles’ songs along with his wall of sound.

When he was a child, Gurza remembers, his brothers and sisters would make enjoyable of him for liking conventional music that they thought-about corny. However Gurza’s love of the ballads solely deepened with time. His wedding ceremony in 2002, he mentioned, featured a bolero, “Somos Novios,” that, Gurza notes, was some of the lined Spanish-language songs of all time after it was translated into English and retitled “It’s Not possible.”

“The bolero, like love itself, is everlasting,” Gurza wrote.

Gurza is survived by his spouse, Rosie; sons Miguel, 40, and Andres Agustin Gurza, 19; brothers Dr. Eduardo Gurza, Guillermo Gurza, Roberto Gurza and Alejandro Gurza; and sisters Mary Esther Gurza Fowler, Guadalupe Gurza Witherow and Patricia Gurza Dully.