ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO with John Dee Graham at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Tuesday (October 4). $23.50. 416-777-1777, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
There's hardly a musical area that hasn't caught Alejandro Escovedo's interest. He's gone from punk progenitor in the Nuns to alt-country troubadour in Rank and File and the True Believers, to a solo career that encompasses everything from deeply personal singer/songwriter material to film soundtracks and plays.
But if you asked him now what he wants to be doing, he'll tell you he wants to make movies.
"If I get the chance, I'd like to do something completely different, like a documentary about baseball in Mexico," an excited Escovedo offers as he cruises in a car outside his hometown of Austin, Texas. "There's a very rich and exciting baseball tradition in Mexico that goes back to the Mayans, which pretty much predates all known sports. And of course the soundtrack would be pretty good, too."
Being able to even consider such a project is a big deal for Escovedo. In 2002, while performing, he collapsed due to complications from hepatitis C and became very ill. With no health insurance, mounting bills and a large family to support, he found himself in dire straits. After putting so much love and soul into his music, he was forced to look deeply inward to come to terms with what was happening.
What really blew him away, however, was how the music community he helped create stepped in. Benefit concerts raised money, and a special fund was quickly set up, but it was the benefit album Por Vida (Or Music, 2004) that demonstrated how valued and far-reaching his musical impact has been. A dizzying array of artists including John Cale, Lucinda Williams, Ian Hunter, Charlie Sexton and Son Volt jumped at the chance to contribute, humbling an already modest Escovedo.
"I was completely shocked that so many people came to my aid, and still am, quite honestly."
When I say how much his music must have meant to people to prompt them to rally round him, no questions asked, he quickly cuts me off.
"I never really thought about myself in that way, and still don't. I just think about all the bands I've seen who do these types of interviews where they go on and on about their importance, and I can't think of one of them that's still around or that have had any impact at all. It seems to me that when you start thinking and talking about that kind of stuff, you' re done."
While Escovedo's money problems were largely addressed, the emotional strains continued to be a burden. He credits his embrace of Buddhism with allowing him to be where is now - quite healthy, happy and back doing what he does best, playing music.
"Yeah, my sickness was kinda weird for me at first. Being diagnosed with something so chronic had me doing a lot of the 'Why me?' thing, and I felt very sorry for myself. I was so messed up at that point, but Buddhism helped a lot. It's been a huge part of my recovery. Once I got out of the hospital in Arizona I began a long relationship with a Tibetan doctor, which seemed to do the trick, but a lot of the credit must go to my wife, who got me involved in Buddhism about six years ago. Yeah, she indoctrinated me."
Driving through the hills of Texas, his cellphone cutting out when he dips into a valley, Escovedo is getting closer to the day he never thought would come. He's on his way to meet the Dalai Lama. Some things have a way of working themselves out.
"I can hardly believe it. Things have come full circle. Someone predicted when I was sick that this would happen, and sure enough, it is. I feel so grateful for everything. That's why I'm coming to play in Toronto. I just want to be able to say thanks to everyone for being there and for all the support I got when I needed it."