Musicians & Health Care: Alejandro Escovedo

from the Wall Street Journal blog, Speakeasy

By Steven Kurutz

Alejandro Escovedo has had one of the more varied careers in music. In the late-’70s, Escovedo was a member of the San Francisco punk band the Nuns, followed by stints in Rank and File and the True Believers, several excellent, under-the-radar solo records, a near-fatal battle with Hepatitis C, and, finally, his breakthrough albums of the aughts. On the cover of his latest release, “Street Songs of Love,” Escovedo looks lean and strong, like a man who has fought to achieve his current position and has no intention of relinquishing it. “I’m not new to this business. I’ve been doing it for quite a while,” Escovedo says on the phone from London. ”I’m not about to stop, I can tell you that.”

Your brothers, Coke and Pete, played with Santana; your niece is ’80s pop star Sheila E., and another brother, Javier, formed the seminal punk band the Zeros. And now your son is joining you in the musician ranks. How did music become the Escovedo family business?

There was always music in the house. My father was a musician, a singer. It was just part of our daily makeup as a family. Music was always there. There’s also 12 kids. One of the kids was showing another kid a new dance or how to play a rhythm on a drum. Family gatherings were all about music.

Several musicians, including yourself, have struggled with health problems made worse by not having health insurance. Why is this such a an issue among musicians?

I would first have to say it’s not just musicians. Poor people, old people, people with AIDS, people with cancer -– there’s so many people who cannot find good health care. We should just get over it and have universal health for everyone. It’s obviously harder for a musician. When I was brought down with my illness, whenever I would go to someone for help, there were a lot of people who would refer to this illness as a lifestyle illness, in the same way they did with AIDs. Why should we help this guy because he stayed up too late and drank too much and whatever.

Does this say something larger about the status of musicians in our culture?

To be a musician in America is to be a person who really doesn’t get any respect for what he does. And yet I think that music and the power of music is so important in our lives. The public recognizes the bigger bands. Yet there’s this whole world of bands that travel in vans and sleep on floors. We’re like Fuller Brush salesman; we just go door to door.

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