Friday, December 5, 2014

Pilgrims & Immigrants: Rosalie

Alejandro Escovedo: Rosalie

Most of the music that I like isn’t popular, and that’s fine. Sometimes, artists that I like become popular, and that’s usually fine, too. But most of the stuff that I listen to is by musicians and bands that have achieved, at best, niche popularity and maybe some degree of critical acclaim. Alejandro Escovedo is a favorite, but probably not in my top 10, if I had a top 10 (this isn’t High Fidelity). And yet, for some reason, I have said about him, probably more times than about anyone, that I wished I lived in a world in which Alejandro Escovedo was a big star.

He deserves it, and not just because of the difficulties he has overcome. His songwriting is brilliant, his musicianship is superb, and his imagination and ambition is broad. He writes rockers, ballads and everything in between. I’ve only seen him twice, as an opening act either solo or with a second guitarist, and at some point I hope to see him with a full band (I was supposed to see a free show in Central Park a few years back, but he cancelled). I’ve previously written about him briefly as part of another piece, which mentioned his large musical family, but I’ve never put him in the spotlight. And it seems appropriate to write about him here, because Escovedo is the son of Mexican immigrants (the group that seems to cause the most concern among the opponents of immigration reform), and he has written a great deal about his family’s experiences.

In fact, Escovedo wrote a play, By The Hand of the Father, about the Mexican-American immigrant experience, inspired by the life of his own father, and including stories by other Mexican-American writers and videos. The play has been performed around the country to positive reviews, usually with Escovedo taking the lead role, but during his battle with hepatitis C, others stepped into the role. The song “Rosalie” tells the story of the romance between Rosalie and Joe, separated by an “ocean of powder and dust” held together mostly through letters and brief meetings. The version of the song from the By The Hand of the Father album, sounds somewhat traditional, and contains spoken excerpts from the correspondence between the two lovers.

This version, from Escovedo’s A Man Under the Influence album is more of a rocker, but it loses nothing of the power of the theatrical version.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pilgrims and Immigrants: Pilgrimage

Touring rock bands, short on sleep, are making their own kind of pilgrimage from club to club. Road weary, perhaps they begin to hallucinate. Was that a two headed cow in the field over there? Jefferson I think we're lost.

Not even Michael Stipe can say for certain what "Pilgrimage", one of the many memorable songs off their debut album Murmur,  is about. 

"'Pilgrimage' still baffles me," he's said. "At one point, right after we recorded it, I heard it and it made perfect sense. I was so exhilarated. I thought I had accomplished what I set out to do. And then I forgot."