Footsteps in the Shadows. Exploring the U.S/Mexico border with Alejandro Escovedo.
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
I remember sitting across from this guy mid afternoon in a packed Mexican restaurant. In the corner with a side exit door slightly cracked open just enough that you can hear some outside traffic going by. A bowl of guacamole and a few different salsas for our chips and a couple of Topo Chicos sat between us on the table. After a few dips Alejandro looked at me and asked me a question that I would never forget. He asked me "what are you doing?, Do you want to be a filmmaker or a rockstar?" I just sat there for a minute and analyzed his facial expression which was pretty serious and I responded "Why can't I do both? Why do I have to be one thing or the other?" Alejandro dipped another tortilla chip this time in one of the salsas and went on to tell me about the time he wanted to be a filmmaker and that's how his band The Nuns started. The discussion ended because a fan came up to our table to get a photo with Alejandro. We ate our food, drank our Topo Chicos, paid our bill and split. Polvos was the place.
Rewind a few months before that afternoon and Alejandro and I are in Big Bend/Terlingua Texas. For those of you not familiar that's the desert. It's also where a big chunk of the U.S./Mexican border is. There aren't any walls or crazy barbed wire fences. It's just a river....the Rio Grande river. There's not much going on there other than an insane amount of views that probably reminisce what it might've been like many moons ago. I got to spend some time with Alejandro a few years back. We connected a bit and thought it'd be cool to spend some creative time in the desert together. Before this I only knew Alejandro from watching him on public access tv in Austin for years and from his music dating back well into the late 1980's with True Believers, The Nuns, Rank and File.
Driving through the lower west Texas desert in a shitty old 1980's Mercedes was not the ideal vehicle of choice to do so but it was what was available at the time of this. I remember the glovebox being held together by duct tape and the speakers were blown and the ceiling was drooping and the windows didn't work properly and I also remember thinking to myself that this sucks and it's fucking hot outside and inside but I'm in the car with this living legend dude. It was October 27th, I was sitting in the back seat of this shitty car getting blasted by hot air when I saw on my phone that Lou Reed died. I said it out loud and Alejandro said pull over. We pulled over and just sat in silence. I remember the look on his face in the reflection of the side mirror from the back being just expressionless and kinda pissed. We just sat there for a few minutes and then Alejandro said lets go to a bar. I was thinking to myself oh great, I'm going to see this dude get drunk and this other dude get drunk but then I thought wait a goddamn minute, I think he's doing something else seeing as he doesn't drink. We pulled into this place called The High Sierra. Alejandro grabbed his guitar from the trunk and walked in. I followed him and took a seat once I got in. The place was somewhat empty with a couple of people sitting at a table eating hamburgers and a couple of people at the bar drinking some Lone Stars. Alejandro then walked up onto the small stage located at the back of the place and tuned his guitar a bit and started playing. He wasn't playing one of his songs but a song by Lou Reed/ Velvet Undergound called Sweet Jane. People started getting close to stage and were whispering into each other's ears and taking pics with their phones and next thing you know more people started coming inside to watch this. I was for sure telling myself at this time "where in the hell are all these people coming from?" I swore that before walking in you could look around 360 and see nothing except some trailers and a few cars and just wide open hot ass desert. People came and packed this place. Alejandro kept playing Lou Reed songs for about an hour and never missed a note one time before he got up and told us lets go. That was the end of that. We got back into the shitty Mercedes and drove off. Later that night we were sitting outside star gazing and eating jerky and he told me he knew Lou Reed and was friends with him and was saddened to hear about him passing. He went on to tell me more about living in New York City back in the 70s and playing music and just being a part of that scene back then. New York was wide open back then and a gritty city not anything like today so imagining what it was probably like wasn't that difficult for me. For a split second I kept imagining Alejandro being in the movie The Warriors and that his gang would've been a bunch of punk rock mariachi dudes with guitars that were secretly guns or machetes. That's some Robert Rodriguez shit. Maybe one day I'll do a short film about the mariachi gang stuff. Enough of that. So yeah, we hung and listened to records and traded off the guitar and pissed outside in the dark overlooking the Rio Grande that night. I remember looking over to my friend Damon (who a couple of years later I'd be climbing my first 14er with) and while Alejandro was playing guitar, Damon mouthed the words "He's a living legend". I just sat there and watched. Next day we packed up into the shitty car and drove off to some remote areas to film some stuff. Before that actually we were in a bookstore in Terlingua and I asked Alejandro what he was reading and he showed me the book. It was a survival book. The kind you read if you are going to go out into the woods or desert for awhile and not tell anyone. I kind of laughed and he told me he took that stuff seriously because he'd been in some scary situations in the past and this was good stuff to know about. Well fast forward a few hours after that brief conversation and the shitty car we were in decided to take a crap in the middle of nowhere. It broke down and we were stuck there for quite some time until the owner of said shitty car got it going again. While we were there we filmed a bunch more and told stories or rather Alejandro told stories. All this while we looked off into Mexico. There were four of us that day we broke down on the Mexico border. Three of us didn't have shit for survival that day. The fourth person did and I can only let you guess who it was. As I look back on this time in my life I'm grateful for it. I made new friends, I explored new uncharted territories and got to hear stories from a true living legend. I soaked in as much information as one could during this time. Alejandro was doing more than just telling some old stories about the past, he was taking me on a journey through a timeline of events that were important to most of us. Kind of as though I was enrolled in some sort of music history class and Alejandro Escovedo was the Chicano Wizard that teleported us into the early punk rock era of San Francisco, NYC and Austin, Texas spanning for decades. I learned a lot during that brief pocket of time with him. Those nights of Tom Petty doc watching, topo chico drinking and enchilada eating are nights that you have to just be in the moment and take it for what it is. A chapter in an endless journey of self discovery and experiences. This was a good chapter. Thanks Al, JS