I went along last week to the so-called Ottawa Blues festival (which is not a blues festival at all) to hear the extraordinary musician from Austin, Texas, Alejandro Escovedo, (with whom, he says, declaring his interest) my son Ben works on the management of his touring itinerary.
To my delight Alejandro sang, Sister Lost Soul, his remarkable tribute to the punk rockers among whom he began his musical career in the 1970s, many of whom are now dead.
Nobody left unbroken
Nobody left unscarred
Nobody here is talking
That's just the way things are
Sister lost soul
Brother lost soul,
I need you...
This indeed is a haunting tune, bearing that melancholic tinge that is the hallmark of Alejandro's greatest songs. But wonderful ballads though he does write, Alejandro is basically a rocker at heart (although getting towards 60 years of age, by which time he should know better. The distinguishing mark of rockers, however --- my son is the same --- is that they never reach the age at which "they know better." Once a rocker, it seems, always a rocker.
Alejandro is a musician known throughout the world, with a huge fan base that qualifies him at one step below a household name. When I mention him to friends, most say they have never heard of him (although that would not be so around Texas, where he is part of the Austin "legends machine").
He has had a fascinating life which has been the subject of most of his best songs. For example, he wrote a song about how his father left Mexico as a boy many years ago: he and his brother were being brought up by their grandmother, who used to make up stories for them about imaginary people, who were always leaving. The grandmother would take the boys down to the train to stand and wave goodbye to these imaginary people as the train pulled out. One day, Al's father said to his brother, "Why don't we leave?" So without telling Granny, they hopped on the train, and as it pulled away they looked out, and there was Granny, who didn't know they were aboard, waving goodbye. It was the last time they ever saw her. Al's song on this is a heartbreaker.
Al's father was a tradesman, and a part-time musician who brought up a large family in Texas. Al was a 17-year-old university student when he decided to make a film about a group of musicians who didn't play any instruments. For the purpose he formed a punk band. He never made the film, but got hooked on the music, having discovered that he could write impressive songs. So he became a punk musician, and lived the life of a punk musician up to the hilt, absorbing himself in all the indulgences of that breed. One of his claims to fame as a punk rocker was that his band opened for the last gig given by the Sex Pistols. And he was present at the Chelsea hotel, New York, when the celebrated event occurred in which Sid Vicious reputedly murdered his girl-friend Nancy Spungen --- an event celebrated in the remarkable movie Sid and Nancy. Al has written a song about that, too, Chelsea Hotel 78, that is on the same album Real Animal as is Sister Lost Soul.
The poets on their barstools
They just love it when it rains
They comb their hair in the mirror
And grow addicted to the pain.
And it makes no sense
And it makes perfect sense....
Well, to make a long story short, a few years ago, having run through several wives and fathered seven children, Al's life-style caught up with him, and he became gravely ill, and close to death. His fans rallied around him, raised $200,000 to pull him through.
That's the kind of guy Alejandro Escovedo is. He has rewarded his fans by abandoning the old life-style, taking life somewhat more seriously, and devoting himself to pouring out a string of albums containing his great songs.
All I need to add, I guess, is that, having pleased the older members of his audience (like me) with a few of his ballads, he proved that he still has what it takes by blasting the roof off our brand-new War Museum, earning a warm-hearted, standing ovation from Ottawa fans.