At the corner of Plaza de San Román and Calle Matahacas, stands a small, half red, half sky blue house with a rusted iron door. On both sides of the house, pristine white poster boards announce “BIKE REPAIRS” handwritten with a black sharpie. Inside, however, there is much more than just a bike repair shop.
As you enter the door, you find yourself in a space no bigger than 40 square meters. The walls are covered in brown tile and are decorated with five bicycles hanging one on top of the either. Deflated tires rest in a corner, waiting to be repaired. As you breathe in, a mixture of fresh rain and WD-40 fill the air. Although there are boxes of small bicycle parts, cables, and cameras surrounding you, it somehow feels like home. Behind the repair table, fixed on his work stands a character who evokes is a mixture between the Italian singer Adriano Celentano, the Sevillian rocker Silvio Melgarejo and the legendary singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury. “My real name is Lázaro, but I am Johnny Scarlata”.
Although he was born in Huelva, Johnny arrived in Seville at the age of four, «my childhood was a childhood … well, pretty normal. I played football with my friends in the neighborhood, but most of all I was addicted to music. I especially loved American artists.” After dropping out of school in the sixth grade, shortly after, Johnny began working as a mechanic. A few years later he opened his own small bicycle workshop in the garage of his home, where he lives today. Thanks to the influence of music from the 70’s and singers like Bobby Vinton and Frankie Avalon, Johnny decided to dedicate himself to the world of music. «I started with a small group of three friends, we called ourselves Scarlata Joe. After that ended, I became a one-man band.”
Out of nowhere, the mail-woman knocks loudly on the old, rusted door, «Que pasa miarma,» she says as she leaves a handful of letters in Johnny’s calloused hands. With a big smile, Johnny’s friend closes the door and waves goodbye.
While he remains standing, Johnny takes a picture down from his wall full of star-studded memories. «This is from a concert I did a few years ago in a lounge here in Seville,» he says as he looks at the picture with nostalgia. Suddenly, Johnny stands up again, grabs his i-pod and his air microphone as if he is ready to belt out in song. «Look, I’m going to put this song that I recorded in ’92». Cristina, one of his greatest, pop-rock hits, begins to play. While Cristina is written in Spanish, many of Johnny’s songs are written in what he calls «Johnny’s language», a language that only he understands. Although his lyrics sound similar to the English language, they are completely made up. «I am an original singer; this music comes from within».
Johnny’s creation method is simple. First, a friend prepares the instrumental for him. Thereafter, he then adds his own unique arrangements and lyrics.
Johnny jumps to his feet, his face gleams with an exuberant sense of pride. Excitedly, he says to the reporter, «I’m going to show you another song. This one is an instrumental version of a Phil Collins song.» Johnny however, gave life to the song by adding his own lyrics.
Although most of Johnny’s songs are in his own language, it is in the songs he writes in Spanish that we can best understand him, and his raw thoughts. “One of my most poetic songs is called In That Old Hotel, listen.”
Like a light, you arrived
like a volcano you burned me
I chase you in my mind
but I cannot have you,
life goes on, but the night consumes me.
“This song tells the story of when I fell in love in Portugal. It was nothing more than a vision, something that did not become more than a dream.” With only his voice and a keyboard, Johnny’s songs sound completely natural, directly from the heart.
Johnny is an open book, and wears his heart on his sleeve, «The song that defines me the most is this one, it’s the song of my life, it’s called The Looser.» «And in your life, Johnny, have you been a loser, as the song title implies?», the reporter asks. He looks at the ground, and looks back at the reporter, with a smile he replies, «completely».
I dreamed I was the best,
That I would create a song, in the middle of an illusion
Then I wanted to be an actor, but no one understood me
So, I tried to forget what had happened.
Without triumphing in love
I left my dreams behind. Johnny looks at the picture of his concert once more. He holds it in the same hand in which he wears his purple watch. Johnny looks up and gets lost in a daze. Out of nowhere, he stands up again, «Here, listen to another song.»
You thought that living would be easy
Walking without knowing
the night will kill you
And the moon will forget you
This world that gave us nothing
Submerged, we are
lost in the dark.
With the song above in the background, the reporter asks Johnny, «If you were 20 years old again, what would you do differently?» Johnny looks at the ground with melancholy. «I don’t know, If I was twenty years younger, maybe I would be what I wanted to be… but in another country. In America. There, I could have been who I really am, Johnny Scarlata.” The reporter offers to take her records with her to her country, the United States. Johnny’s face lights up like a child opening his gifts on Three Kings Day.
– I’ll see you soon in New York, Johnny.
– I hope so.
Johnny puts on his cape and sunglasses, ready to conquer the «dreams he left behind».