The last time WW spoke to semi-legendary Texas songwriter-singer-guitarist Alejandro Escovedo was in 2002, while he was touring in support of By the Hand of the Father, a moving work about Mexican-American immigrants that blended genres (music, theater, poetry), generations and languages. Later that year came the grave news that Escovedo's life was endangered by hepatitis C, sparking the star-studded benefit album Por Vida. After a harrowing two years, Escovedo announced that he was healthy enough to plan a musical return to Portland, and we caught up with the Americana icon via phone from his Wimberly, Texas, home as he chased chickens in the yard, sounding very much alive.
WW: How are you feeling?
Alejandro Escovedo: I feel great. Really great. Good enough to go out and do some shows, which I'm very excited about. In fact, I don't remember having this much fun playing music, ever.
How did you first realize you were sick?
My body broke down. I was hospitalized in the emergency room with internal bleeding; I had Barrett's esophagus, damage to my liver and tumors in my abdomen. I had collapsed after a show in Arizona. I actually threw up blood before I went on stage, but I went on anyway.
The show must go on, eh?
Yeah, well, I guess. Pretty stupid thing to do, actually.
What besides medical help got you through this crisis?
Family, friends, my wife Kim, Buddhism. We met up with a lot of monks and rinpoches, from two different monasteries, and received many teachings and healings from them. It taught me about attachment, about how special and pure this life is, but that it's not the end, and there's a great adventure ahead of us. And I'm looking forward to it. With a lot less fear than I had before.
What do you think you contribute to American music?
I don't think about that stuff-that's for other people to think about. I'm just lucky if I can write songs. I mostly think about playing, and whether my guitar's in tune. I'm really lucky. I never thought I was going to get to play music growing up. I've been fortunate to write a few good songs, and I've had the benefit of knowing how important those songs were to some people, in my lifetime; I've witnessed it. I've gotten so much from music, I can't begin to tell you. Because it's not just a lifestyle thing-it's a life. I've learned so much about how important that is, and it's made other things even more important. My family life, here at home, watching my children grow up. It's taught me a lot. About surviving to play music, surviving to watch my kids grow. Because I had a falling-out with music, too. I blamed music when I got sick. I felt like my illness was the result of my passion for music. And for almost a year, I didn't play guitar. That's a long time when you've played for 30 years.
Alejandro Escovedo plays with John D. Graham and Richmond Fontaine Thursday, April 7, at Berbati's Pan, 10 SW 3rd Ave., 248-4579. 9:30 pm. $18 advance, $20 day of show. 21+.