Por Vida: A benefit for Alejandro Escovedo
The Casbah - Thursday, Aug. 28, 8:30 pm
When the Escovedo family gets together, it's hard to throw a guitar pick without hitting a talented musician. Pete and the late Coke jammed with Carlos Santana; little brother Mario fronts local band The Dragons; and, of course, there's cousin Sheila Escovedo-yes, Sheila E.-who, for those snickering, fronts an acclaimed Latin jazz outfit, E Train.
But Alejandro is the Escovedo who's consistently garnered the most fervent devotion, not just from underground punk and folk-rock aficionados, but from critical and musical luminaries nationwide (Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke has been a loyal fan of the Austin, Texas legend). From punk originals The Nuns, to the seminal Rank and File, to four ambitious, heart-wrenching solo albums, "Al" Escovedo is as overlooked as he is devoted to life as a touring road hog.
Which is why it's a mixed blessing that he's finally getting some of the mainstream attention he deserves-now that his life may literally depend on it.
In April, Escovedo was diagnosed with hepatitis C after collapsing and being hospitalized after a show. Since then, 20 all-star benefits to help pay his medical bills are drawing appearances by Wayne Kramer (MC5), Dave Alvin (X) and Miles Zuniga (Fastball), just to name a few. In San Diego, an Aug. 28 benefit organized by brother Mario has confirmed John Doe, Javier Escovedo, locals Gregory Page, the Hatchet Bros., Anya Marina and sit-ins from "even bigger names," according to Mario Escovedo.
In his first interview since being diagnosed, Alejandro recently spoke with CityBeat from his Canyon Lake home near Austin about mixed feelings and a blessed life.========================================
CityBEAT: How you feeling these days? Did you ever think you'd take a break from touring?
Alejandro Escovedo: Not at all. But, basically, what happened was, in April, my body broke down, and I had internal bleeding.... Before the performance, I vomited a lot of blood. I went through with the performance and then was rushed to the emergency room [and] admitted at the hospital.... I had varisces in the esophagus and advanced cirrhosis of the liver.
How much of those conditions were related to hepatitis?
They all were, actually. It's weird because of stress or-um, however I got the hep C.... It can lay dormant for up to 25 years and then it flares up; and usually by that time it's created some cirrhoses.... Stress added to the ulcers.
What's the treatment program?
Now I'm just waiting to start the Interferon program [which will] hopefully rid the body of the [active hep C]. I'm not as strong as I was, but I've gotten a lot stronger since all of these things have come about. It's funny, man, because a lot of people just go work. I just can't go jump in the van.
Have they kept you in the loop about how the benefits are doing?
Oh, yeah. The one in Austin was wonderful; and they did one in Chicago, raised about $13,000. So much of this has to do with stress, and the things I had to worry about-all taken care of.... It's like a really strange, mixed blessing.
What should touring bands know about the lifestyle?
It's hard to imagine me sitting here and preaching... because I lived the life, fully. I don't think I would have written the kind of songs or made the kind of music I've made if I hadn't done that.
So it's weird for me to say, it's so obvious-but you really need to pay attention to your body. And, [chuckles], moderation really is the key-that sounds so [laughs softly]-after all these years, right?
You know, Mario and the guys are going to play a set of your songs...
Well, I wrote "Paradise"... about a time in Germany, on a train... the whole thing about home, "going home" is really important now, really profound now. I tried to create the atmosphere of someone who sits in hotel rooms writing songs-a lot of time in different hotel rooms [chuckles].
Yeah, your songs are so sweeping, the arrangements-there's a lot of movement, and they're real personal.
One thing I've always tried to keep in mind, and I still think about now, is space. And I always used to tell the musicians that the space between the notes is as important as the notes themselves. That means so much now. And in some ways, it's been a blessing. I wish it hadn't taken feeling that bad and being [so] frightened... to realize those things. I guess that says a lot about the density of my brain sometimes. [laughs]
Anything surprising about the outpouring of support?
Yeah, surprising and I'm kind of overwhelmed by the whole thing.... Sometimes it's kind of embarrassing, you know? On bad days I don't know if I can bear such love from people. But it's been an incredible part of the healing process, though. The love that people have directed towards me... um... it's surprising to someone like me. It's about my songs, but it's not. It is a lot going on.
Must be a little bittersweet.
It is. I wish... I never wanted-I try not to take from anyone, know what I mean? I always wanted to be self-sufficient and supportive of myself and help support others. But, I guess it's just my turn... it's my time.
Por Vida: A benefit for Alejandro Escovedo, with John Doe, Javier Escovedo, The Dragons with Gerry Wasson & Mocha Joe, Gregory Page, The Hatchet Bros., Anya Marina and more, at The Casbah, 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 28. $15, day of show only. 619-235-HELL.