Singer-songwriter David Rodriguez, who gained popularity in Austin during the 1980s and early 1990s, died on Monday in the Netherlands, where he lived for more than two decades. He was 63.
During his career, David Rodriguez collaborated with many artists such as Austin singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa and Lyle Lovett (Lovett dedicated the last song to Rodriguez at his Tuesday night show with John Hiatt at the Paramount Theatre). While in Austin, he was often voted best Texas songwriter by the music magazine “Third Coast Music.”
Rodriguez grew up in Houston, and was part of a musical family that includes several performers, such as his daughter Carrie Rodriguez, known for her fiddle playing and popular Americana music, as well as his sister and multi-disciplinary artist, Leticia Rodriguez. During the 1940 and 1950s, his aunt Eva Garza was a trail-blazing Latina singer and actress.
“My brother was one of the most talented artists that I’ve ever known, and through him I learned not just about music, but how to approach performance,” Leticia Rodriguez said Tuesday.
She said she’ll always remember the Rodriguez family holiday shows that David organized in Austin. “He was a great influence for us musically,” she said. “And not just for me and my family, but for so many others.”
He began playing the guitar as a child, after he was diagnosed with polio, and went on to perform in several bands. Aside from music, David Rodriguez also earned a law degree and was politically active.
In a 2010 interview with Texas Monthly, Carrie Rodriguez said her father, who taught her how to play a little guitar, would often give her opportunities to take the stage, even though she felt scared. “My dad would sometimes put me on the spot and tell the audience, ‘Now, my daughter, she’s gonna sing for you.’”
“We will all miss his presence, his intelligence and wit and his beautiful timeless music,” Leticia Rodriguez said. “He was a visionary, and a bright light for many people.”
Plans for a memorial service have not been set yet, and we’ll share more updates when they become available.
For an atmospheric evening that melds art plus bossa nova, check out the Blanton Museum of Art’s upcoming B Scene soirée on Oct. 23 from 6-10 p.m. The art party series has become a popular way to enjoy the museum’s current exhibits as libations flow and live music fills the beautiful space.
Here’s an excerpt of her story, detailing part of the exhibit:
Toward the end of the exhibit, a public lounge has been artfully created with tables strewn with books for visitors to peruse, including a few vintage copies of “Habitat,” Bardi’s influential Brazilian art and design magazine.
A slide show of period design photographs projects on a nearby wall, and two record players are available for the curious to spin some vinyl of mid-century Latin American pop and jazz.
While partygoers enjoy the cool jazz and samba music of Austin-based Brazilian keyboardist and singer/songwriter Paula Maya, they can also explore the galleries between sets and see more than 100 pieces including furniture, ceramics, textiles and metalwork from the exhibit. DJ Michael Crockett will also spin tunes that evening.
For first-time museum visitors, it’s an especially unique way to experience the Blanton. B Scene parties are free for members and $12 for the general public.
Canadian writer and filmmaker Brin-Jonathan Butler spent more than a decade in Cuba where he examined the life-changing decision that boxing champions there face – stay in Cuba or defect to America and enjoy a huge payday?
This question, which grew out of his own search for world-class boxing training, led to the boxing memoir “The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba.”
Butler interviewed both boxers who turned down millions of dollars to stay in Cuba as well as boxers who defected to the United States. He says he realized it wasn’t that one decision made someone bad or good.
“The villain is that you have to make this choice,” he said at a Texas Book Festival panel on Sunday.
Some of the boxers who now led lives in Miami with big houses, pretty girlfriends and swimming pools, often stayed behind the walls of their mansions because they thought their new world felt dead and missed their street back home, he said.
“All these people had great stories about why they turned down the money,” he said. “I had heard what Fidel said and what ‘The Miami Herald’ said, but I wanted to hear it from the boxers themselves.”
Butler, an amateur boxer, has spent time in boxing gyms around the world. “They are a lifeline for many people,” he said. And contrary to what some may think, Butler says it’s also where you can find the most humble and gentle people.
Author Sandra Cisneros took a look at the raised pulpit at Central Presbyterian Church during the Texas Book Festival on Saturday and asked the packed audience in the pews, “Should I read from up there?”
Cheers from the crowd erupted.
“As a woman, it’s empowering to be in the pulpit,” said the author of the highly acclaimed book, “The House on Mango Street,” who grew up Catholic.
Cisneros read a personal essay from a time after she moved away from Austin, when she was trying to pick up the pieces after she spent a difficult 1987 in the city.
“Everytime I’m in Austin, I feel so much sadness,” she says. It brings back memories of unemployment and looking to find her place in the world, she says.
Cisneros isn’t searching anymore. In fact, at 60 years old, she’s more sure of herself than ever. She’s living in Mexico now, a place that’s become her sanctuary and where she says “ideas are popping out of my head like popcorn.”
She doesn’t like to call her latest collection of autobiographical essays, “A House of My Own: Stories from My Life,” a memoir because she says that feels like someone who is the end of their life. “I still feel young,” she says.
Over the years, Cisneros says that many of her essays have been lost. Some of her work disappeared after many moves, and some of it burned. Making sure she had a book that housed the remaining essays was important to her. Preserving her work is not something she has to worry about anymore. Last month, Cisneros’ literary archive was acquired by the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University for $800,000.
Cisneros’ work is often taught in Chicana feminist classes, and the author recalled that when “The House on Mango Street” was published that she was bullied by some male, Chicano authors. “They thought I wasn’t raising the fist,” she says.
Cisneros also talked up the importance of perseverance. She says she started writing “The House on Mango Street” when she was 22, and finished it at 28. “When you feel like quitting is when you should hang in there.”
Prolific author and El Paso native Pat Mora received the 2015 Texas Writer’s Award on Saturday, which came with a pair of custom-made cowboy boots. As founder of the program, “Día de los Libros/Día de los Niños” she also helps promotes children’s literacy across the country. Mora’s extensive literary work, which includes everything from bilingual picture books to poetry for adults, has made her an influential literary figure.
Here are four lessons from the Latina trailblazer from her conversation with Lois Kim, executive director of the Texas Book Festival at the State Capitol’s House Chamber. Don’t Give Up: Mora says she receives many rejections, but her tenacity keeps propelling her forward. “I’m stubborn,” she says. “I said that early on. If all it takes (to make it, get published) is stubbornness, then I have a chance.” Children Need Diverse Role Models: When Mora was in the 8th grade, she asked her parents for a typewriter to write poems. She says she never considered writing as a profession because, “I’d never seen a writer who was like me.”
Bilingualism Should be Valued: “There needs to be a climate where (bilingualism) is an asset,” Mora says. “Humans have odd ways in which we make ourselves feel superior. Our little egos are always hungry to be fed.”
Literary World Needs Diversity, Too: “Being a writer is a hard,” Mora says. Now being a writer of Mexican, Native American, Asian or Middle Eastern descent, she says, brings additional challenges “because that’s not who the editors are and that’s not who the reviewers are.”
Urrea says that in his principal story “The Water Museum,” he pays homage to a Ray Bradbury style of science fiction writing. Set in the future, the story follows children in the Texas Panhandle who have never seen rain before. “It’s about all these things that we love and take for granted,” he says.
In the story “Amapola,” he turned to the genre that he enjoys reading the most for pleasure — mystery. In 2010, the mystery short story won the Edgar Award, and Urrea says that at the awards ceremony he was “losing my mind because I was going to meet all of my heroes.”
Urrea, who was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, says the book highlights both sides of his identity.
Growing up, Urrea says he often felt like the kitchen in his home was like being in New York City, while in his living room, “Éramos Mexicanos (We were Mexican), and listened to Pedro Infante and watched bullfights,” he says.
His father worried about him becoming too Americanized. He describes his mother as a proper lady who wore gloves and affectionately called him, “Dear Boy” while living in the barrio in Tijuana. “But mom won because she had books,” Urrea says.
He remembers her reading Charles Dickens to him and feeling transported to another world. “It was really beautiful,” he says. “Then, she busted out Mark Twain, and that was the magic.”
As Urrea moved farther from the border, he discovered how many people had negative views about Mexicans. “I was shocked to learn that (some people thought) that the people who I loved most in the world were trash.”
Writing and telling the stories of the Latino community became important to him. “I’m in love with Mexico and the United States equally,” he says.
Just as the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center prepares to open the archive of Gabriel García Márquez on Oct. 21 and then celebrate with a symposium in his honor on Oct. 28-30, the Austin Film Society presents its own tribute to the literary giant.
“Colombia is the new kid on the block in Latin American cinema,” the Austin Film Society explained on its website. “As the country dramatically increased the scope and quality of film production in recent years, a new generation of Colombian filmmakers exploded onto the world’s stage, with a wide-ranging aesthetic and political sensibility befitting the cultural, social and geographical diversity of this vibrant and complex South American nation.”
Here are trailers for the “Beyond Macondo” movies, which are all in Spanish with English subtitles. General admission tickets are $10. Click here for more information.
Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. – “Mateo”
Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. – “Los Hongos” with director Oscar Ruiz Navia present.
Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m. – “The Wind Journeys” with director Ciro Guerra in attendance.
When I was a kid, I spent several Día de los Muertos holidays polishing the gravestones of some of my grandparents and great-grandparents who are buried in Guerrero, Coahuila. It was never a sad affair. My family and I, along with other families visiting their dearly departed, would add new flowers to their resting places and celebrate their lives.
As an adult, I would later create altars in their honor during the Day of the Dead holiday, which is celebrated on Nov. 1-2, with the season starting weeks before. To satisfy my Güelo Lauro’s sweet tooth, I made sure my altar included some pan de muerto (bread of the dead) as well as the traditional marigolds and sugar skulls that brighten up these elaborate ofrendas.
I love returning to Mexico for these holidays, but over the years I’ve found that the spirit of this occasion has become a stronger part of Austin culture as well. Each year, Austinites can honor the lives of their loved ones through many of the city’s growing Day of the Dead festivals and events.
Keep your eye on the Día de Los Muertos Festival at Fiesta Gardens on Oct. 17 from noon-10 p.m. Easter Seals Central Texas, a nonprofit that provides services to help children and adults with disabilities, launched the fest two years ago in order to engage with the community in a culturally relevant way. Each year they keep boosting the fest’s musical offerings. Grammy award-winning Tejano music veteran Emilio Navaira will headline this year’s festival. Another notable act includes Venezuela’s Latin alternative rock stars La Vida Bohéme, who are both South by Southwest and ACL Fest alumni and always bring an energetic live show. Kinski Gallo, an ex member of L.A. bilingual rock band Monte Negro, joins the lineup with his danceable beats that blend everything from electronica to cumbia. Pre-sale general admission tickets are $15. Check out the rest of the lineup, which also includes local acts Son de Rey and Son Armado, at austindiadelosmuertos.com.
Mexic-Arte’s Viva la Vida Fest has been at the forefront of Austin’s Día De los Muertos celebrations for more than three decades. It’s gained popularity for its parade, live music, artist vendors and community altars. Celebrations take place at the museum throughout the month, with workshops, events and exhibits that all lead up to the Oct. 31 festival, which is from noon-8 p.m.
This year, the parade will feature a grand sugar skull float by local piñata artisans Monica and Sergio Lejarazu. The couple received national attention early this year after their East Austin piñata shop, Jumpolin, was demolished and sparked an outcry from community leaders. The artisans will lead sugar skull piñata-making workshops every Sunday at 1 p.m. leading up to the festival.
Latin pop songstress Gina Chavez, DJ Chorizo Funk and young sister band Tiarra Girls are among this year’s performers. The festival and piñata workshops are free, but an Oct. 31 evening reception inside the museum with cocktails and a sampling of authentic Mexican cuisine will cost $10 for non-members. Visit mexic-artemuseumevents.org for more details about all the museum’s Day of the Dead events.