Border-Jumping with Roger Clyne
Weekends start early in Rocky Point. The sun hasn’t yet set on a Friday night, but the beach is already spattered with vomit. Most people entering the tony Peñasco Del Sol hotel, overlooking the beach, plop cans of cerveza down on the marble counter as they check in. Where they find them between the entrance and the front desk is a mystery.
Puerto Peñasco is seeing a little more debauchery than normal this weekend as ground zero for Circus Mexicus, a beach-party-style concert put on by Roger Clyne. The former Refreshments frontman has been carrying on with his country-tinged pop-rock career in the decade since his band split after finding minor success with “Banditos” and “Down Together.” Clyne is — he’ll admit it himself, with minor qualifications — Arizona’s Jimmy Buffett. He paints a quixotic portrait of life in the Sonoran Desert, singing songs about drinking tequila with a cast of shady characters inhabiting the dusty towns along the border. It’s not escapism, he likes to say, because people really live it.
See photos and video from Circus Mexicus on Up on the Sun.
In our border-obsessed society, the line in the sand between us and Mexico is what defines us as Arizonans. We both eat burros and worship the sun, but Arizona is the side with sidewalks where you can rollerblade safely. There’s nothing vaguely political about Clyne’s music, but it’s safe to say no one outside of La Raza shows less respect for the concept of a border between Mexicans and Americans than Clyne.
He’s about as Arizona as you can get — born here, schooled here, and living within five miles of the Tempe home where he grew up — but he’s made a living off his infatuation with Mexico. Nowhere is that more clear than Circus Mexicus, a drunken weekend that doubles as the physical manifestation of Clyne’s music.
Years after Clyne’s brush with mainstream success, and long after hipper locals grew weary of his act, he’s still popular with a cultish group of fans spread across the country. This may come as a surprise to the denizens of Mill Avenue and Roosevelt Row, but many people still consider the 40-year-old Clyne cool.
A few times a year, he summons 3,000 to 5,000 of them to the side of the border with shabby sidewalks. This is Clyne’s effort to blur the boundaries between band and fan, between Mexican and American, giving people a fleeting encounter with the life he sings about. It all culminates with a Saturday show during which he plays a Springsteen-esque four-hour set comprising almost every song he’s written, while fans — blue-hairs and children among them (this crowd is perhaps, amazingly, even less fashionable than Buffett’s) — watch fireworks explode overhead.
For fans, Circus Mexicus is a celebration of debauchery and obsession. Greg Ross, 39, has lost track of how many times he’s seen Roger — they all call him Roger — but it’s been at least 50. A Scottsdale resident, he’s been to Circus Mexicus twice and Rocky Point more times than he can count, starting when he was 8. Roger pimps the Circus everywhere he plays, says Ross, and when people catch a Roger show in, say, Omaha, they make a note to come down and see it for themselves. For Ross, the event isn’t quite the pilgrimage it is for others. In his mind, the border is already blurred.
“I think being down there [to a lot of Clyne fans], it kind of ties a lot of these songs together,” he says. “But for someone like me who’s from here, the songs could be in Mexico, the songs could be in America, anywhere in the Sonoran Desert. I kind of look through the border, to me it’s just the Southwest.”
At breakfast on Saturday, Mitch from Cincinnati puts down two green bottles of beer (they don’t drink Corona in Rocky Point; it’s Tecate or Dos Equis, por favor) and says this is “not unusual” for him, though his baby face and choice of khaki safari shirt suggest he’s no Paul Westerberg when it comes to beer for breakfast. Mitch says he’s seen Roger and his band, The Peacemakers, seven or eight times. Even though he works in finance, and the finance industry is melting around him, he wanted to go down to Mexico to see Roger. The drive down from Tucson was exactly as he pictured it from the songs, he says, as is this town, not far removed from its days as a sleepy fishing village. Mitch’s waiter provides yet another story for the guys back home, offering to procure whatever drugs or hookers he wants.
“I’ve got girls, ages 22 to 27,” he says. “Anything you need — anything.”
Sound check is a little late. Everything this weekend is a little late, says Peacemakers manager Keara Zito. It’s Mexico, she says — that’s how it is. A bigger challenge down here is balancing the natural need for Clyne and his family to have privacy against the passionate fans’ desire to get as close as possible. Not even the crew goes to the house Roger owns down here, she says, but he does interviews on the tour bus and he’ll sign autographs for hours.