Later that fall, as Escovedo prepared for a tour with a new band that included Peter Buck, from R.E.M., and Scott McCaughey, from the Minus 5, he began experiencing strange fugue episodes and blackouts. On a few occasions, he fell into a kind of psychedelic gibberish, exhibited uncharacteristic petulance, and pulled weird stunts—pouring salt in friends’ coffee, running through the apartment naked—which he barely remembered afterward. To him, it felt as though he were high on PCP; to Rankin, he seemed to be reverting to a seven-year-old version of himself. Was this the hepatitis? A stroke?
Before the second show of the tour, as the band prepared to take the stage, he had a panic attack and couldn’t go on. This had never happened to him. He had always been a game and spirited performer, whether in front of a couple of dozen people or seventy-five thousand. Rankin took him to the emergency room, but tests revealed nothing. Concerned for his health, the band cancelled the tour, and Escovedo entered a period of debt and gloom. Doctors, after Rankin eventually mentioned the hurricane, allowed that he might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They recommended rest. He was dropped by his manager—Bruce Springsteen’s man, Jon Landau. “They were tired of me, tired of my records not selling,” Escovedo told me. “I hung up the phone and said, ‘Baby, we’re really on our own now.’ ” (Landau wrote, in an e-mail, “We tried everything we knew how to do. It remains an injustice that such a great guy and great talent has not become more widely known and appreciated for the superb artist we know him to be.”)
Convalescence kicked in. A course of drugs got rid of the hepatitis. As for the P.T.S.D., the treatment, in the end, was getting out of Austin and getting back together with Buck and McCaughey. With another guitarist, Kurt Bloch, they recorded an album, “Burn Something Beautiful,” in 2016, and they went out on the road. I caught them one January night at the City Winery, in downtown Manhattan, where patrons sit at tables and eat dinner while the musicians perform. The three guitarists, Buck, Bloch and Escovedo, none of them young, whipped up a fury that made a mockery of the dinner-theatre conceit. Alejandro was back.
Don’t you cry
I made it to the other side
The sun’s not brighter here
It only shines on golden hair.
Escovedo’s mother, Cleotilda Renteria, was from San Marcos, Texas, one of twelve children. Her father sold drygoods and, Escovedo was told, he was the first Mexican shop owner on the town square. “He got burned out twice,” Escovedo said. “Then he got killed by a car while walking along the side of the road.” Cleotilda’s mother raised the twelve kids. Later, she lived with the family, and was, in Escovedo’s memory, a “scary, scary figure, dressed always in black with a veil. She never spoke English. She always said I was too dark. My skin.”
Escovedo, born in San Antonio in 1951, was Cleo’s first child with Don Pedro. They lived in an old Mexican neighborhood on the west side of town. They spoke Spanish. The father caroused, the mother simmered, and there came a day when she decided to leave him. “My mother was going to make her escape,” Escovedo said. “She had hired a man to drive us to California.” Don Pedro, who’d been at large for weeks, found out, came home, gathered up the family, and announced that he was taking them on a vacation. They drove to Orange County, California, leaving everything behind, including Alejandro’s dog. The vacation soon revealed itself to be a relocation. His abiding last memory of Texas, before he returned a couple of decades later, was of a dead cow in the road, beset by vultures.