Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Out of the dark with Cesar Rivera

Valley People

Express Staff Writer

Cesar Rivera

With numerous tattoos, piercings and a Mohawk hair cut, Cesar Rivera cuts a distinct figure as he tromps around Ketchum. He's been a valued employee at Perry's restaurant for almost 20 years.

An unabashed and self-described "head-banger," Rivera made a serious commitment to heavy metal music years ago in his native city of Lima, Peru, a commitment that put him in peril in a country beset by military coups and civil war.

"The Shining Path [Maoist guerillas] said they would start killing head-bangers because metal music was a bad influence from the United States," he said. "I stopped going to concerts for a while, but nothing ever happened."

Rivera recalls having to wear a military uniform to grade-school classes during the military rule of Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado (he kind of liked it). Some time later, he heard bullets being fired between the police and the army.

"My mother told us to stay away from the windows. The police wanted more money from the government, so they were shooting at one another."

One thing Rivera could not stay away from was music. His tastes turned from classical and instrumental, and his father's favored traditional Peruvian music, to rock 'n' roll after meeting a man in the neighborhood named "Hippie," who turned him on to The Doors, Motley Crue and Ratt.

"Metal was started by people who got tired of glam rock," said Rivera. "It was a huge movement in Chile, Brazil and Argentina.

"In Peru you could only hear Michael Jackson, Cindy Lauper or Men at Work, but never bands like Krokus from Switzerland. You'd have to find demo records from the United States.

"The government said it would not let Carlos Santana play a concert in Peru because it did not want drug addicts in the country. They said they wouldn't let KISS play a concert because they didn't want gays."

Rivera relied on travelers to New York City for purchases of new music that was banned in his country. His record collection began to draw attention, and he was invited to meet a man named Jose at Villa Real University, where government snipers were known to shoot at student demonstrators.

"We heard the bombing. It shook the buildings. We saw on television the helicopters flying out over the ocean again and again. We learned later that the government was 'disappearing' bodies into the ocean."

Jose introduced Rivera to thrash and black metal bands Creator, Sepultura and Celtic Frost.

"That's when things changed for me. I learned from Jose that I had been listening to sissy music," said Rivera, who now has a collection of more than 1,200 records and CDs of his favorite music.

"I've always been attracted to creepy things. My father let me stay up late and watch shows with demons and monsters."

Rivera said that late one night while listening to "Morbid Tale" by Celtic Frost, he was visited by one of the demons that he had been courting through his music.

"It came through the curtains and landed on my chest. It hurt," he said.

When Rivera's mother learned that a neighbor's son had had the same experience, the mothers called for a priest.

"My mother said that all the garbage I was listening to in the house was bringing demons. I told her I didn't want a priest."

When Rivera's father, who owned a silk-screening business, died in 1992, Rivera ventured out of his city to the highlands of Peru, and then by airplane though Central America to Los Angeles, where he settled in a Hispanic neighborhood.

"Everyone was afraid of one another there, not very friendly."

Rivera learned that he was living in a building owned by a Shining Path follower who would tolerate no criticism of what is now considered by the United States to be a terrorist organization.

"He said the government was killing the Indians in the villages. I told him so was the Shining Path and he yelled at me to get out of his house."

Rivera then contacted a favorite aunt, Norka Albarran, who lived in Ketchum, and soon found work washing dishes for the Sun Valley Co. He said that while watching a television documentary in the lobby at the Sun Valley dorms about demons and monsters around the world, he saw the demon that had pounced on him in his bedroom years before.

"It was small and hairy. From Polynesia. They jump on your chest and push your breath out and steal your life."

Rivera later went at the request of a friend to a psychic.

"She said I had done a lot of bad things in another life ... but that I was born into the wrong body in this life. It makes sense because I like creepy scenes, but I also like people, too. I like my community. I like kids."

Rivera has not returned to Peru. He said he would have trouble communicating there because the slang has changed so much.

"I realized the other day I have forgotten the word for watermelon. I never thought that would be possible," he said.

Today, Rivera said, he still likes black—but not quite as much as he used to.

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