This is a piece I wrote as a guest blogger for PRX Radio Show ‘In Search of a Song’ with Jason Wilbur.
In full transparency, the only words i’ve ever knowingly heard come from Alejandro are on the Whiskeytown record Strangers Almanac. I tell you this not to peg myself as some kind of a square; it’s actually a blessing.
There are certain musicians whose story I hear after I get to know their records and their body of work. Let’s consider this my typical routine. There are times when the story transcends the tunes, but I mainly walk away feeling like the mythos has been damaged. The jams outweigh the backstory, and I was better not knowing in the first place.
There are times when the two meet on some sort of superhuman level, like the Wilco film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Consider that the rarity.
In most cases I can recall, the music was more intriguing without knowing the singer packs lunch for his daughter most days, or that they grew up in Bridgeport, CT. The anonymity provided me the ability to construct my own idea of what the artist is, and what the artist does. He sleeps until noon and eats nothing but water chestnuts, or he only writes strung out on Ambien; I am free to decide. Either way, an idle mind is sure to construct something far more interesting than what actually happened.
Often times, the access to every waking detail of an artist can lead me from the music. If the celebrity at all begins to outweigh the contributions sonically, it becomes a wash for me. No back catalog or new composition can clean up a mess that some sort of public infighting or temper tantrum created. My attention span is too short, and the ‘what have you done for me lately’ culture has just become the way. It’s 2012.
Alejandro Escovedo fits snugly into the final category; where the story not only serves to lead me to the music, but enriches it.
By not knowing even a nominal amount about the artist, i’m able to take in each facet of his career in one hour. I am left with the freedom to hone in on the particular time frame that I’m most interested in. Cheating perhaps; I know, I didn’t have to endure anything. My investment is minimal. But, it seems to be the perfect compromise. I happen to enjoy most of the sides I’m presented because I grew up on Santana and love punk. But, most people probably didn’t. They may prefer one side to the other.
Ala Carte rock and roll?
Regardless, better to be led to the watering hole than to die of thirst. I’m thrilled to be learning about an artist who has done so many interesting things. That the story can sit with me as I go back and listen to his records. From Rank and File to the Whiskeytown tune I mentioned earlier, I am armed with these Cliffs Notes. I can put surroundings around the sound I hear now. I am able to watch the movie instead of reading the encyclopedia.
I don’t think this is the right way, but it’s the way right now. I wonder if Escovedo would even mind at this point; again, better to find the water than go thirsty. His body of work is so immense, and the quality of the output is so high that I can’t imagine him worrying about how someone finds it. It’s the fact that they did, and that he has done his part to leave nothing but gems for them that really matters.