MACUILXOCHITL: Five Flower”, the Aztec god of music and dance
By Francisco Ciriza
Listening to Steve Poltz’s recorded works, such as his latest full-length CD, Chinese Vacation, on his own newly created Record Company, 98 Pounder Records, is a rich experience. Listeners are presented with an array of vignettes chock full of characters of various types singing through Poltz’s rasp-laden, wide-range voice. Most often a chuckle or a down home old-fashioned warm feeling are the effects of sitting down and cozying up with his music. He sings songs of love of strange dreams and of oddball characters in hilariously funny situations of despair and frustration.
Attending one of his shows such as the upcoming trio of shows Poltz has planned for San Diego county, Croce’s Top Hat Lounge on Dec. 4, a private party for Qualcomm on the 5th, or Cheer’s in Ramona on the 13th, provides an even more fun, interesting, and introspective look at the 40-something year old singer/guitarist/songwriter. Poltz has been a player in San Diego’s music scene since his days at the University of San Diego in the 80’s, through his time playing with local favorites the Rugburns, on to the time when he was helping groom his then-girlfriend, Jewel (Kilcher) as a singer and songwriter. Since the success of the hit he co-wrote with Jewel, “You Were Meant For Me” and a subsequent tour as one of her guitarist, Poltz has returned as the county’s crowned prince of lo-fi charm after perhaps the most grueling time of his life. It was a period of time which included having to deal with the murder of his dear friend, fellow musician, Steve Foth and rebounding from a battle to free himself from a recording contract with Mercury Records, and the recording and subsequent re-recording of his sophomore solo release.
A conversation with the witty and completely unassuming native of Canada is a laugh-filled frolic and can even reach the point of tears, but not just for his humor, but his honest love for his fellow man and his desire to write and play good music that comes straight from his heart. Steve Poltz recently took time out of a very busy schedule to spend some time interviewing for this La Prensa San Diego and Macuilxochitl’s Kiva, but also to spend time with my family over a breakfast of huevos con chorizo.
Time and time again, the word and/or concept (of) characters arose from the steam of the food and the air of the conversation between Poltz, his sidekick and close friend, local musician, Tony ‘Loki-Boy’ Lillard, my wife, Gloria Elena our two daughters Eva Cruz and Elena Elisa (3 years and 9 months) and my father who was visiting from El Paso, Texas. He told stories of his knack for finding either strangers or himself in the strangest of places, much in like the following anecdote of his meanderings and eventual discoveries all starting out due to his constant search for fun and a cure for idleness,
“There used to be this Deepak Chopra center in La Jolla. I was just on a walk one day. I went in a started asking questions. I like walking around and I used to walk in there and ask them really stupid questions because I get goofy when I’m bored. I’d go in there ask them for NASCAR videos. I’d ask, “Do you have any NASCAR videos, but I have to have it on Beta,” and I’d say it really seriously, I never break character.” Thereafter, Poltz became an avid practitioner of Bikram Yoga and follows a network of Bikram centers throughout the country as he drives his Volkswagen van playing shows throughout the states. This particular style of yoga is noted for sessions that require cranking up the thermostat up to high temperatures, then performing a series of 26 asanas, or postures designed to “scientifically” warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Another of his stories had him telling about a time he was in Seattle Washington outside one of the cities largest hotels. He found a line of people waiting to register at the hotel and he roamed in and out of the line asking, ‘How do you pronounce the name of this town?’
Perhaps the most laughable moments of the morning occurred when Poltz took the cassette recorder and become both the interviewer and the interviewee. The following is a transcription of one of three instances of these antics:
“So, anyways I travel the country in my van and I’ve been reading this book called Travels with Charlie in Search of America by Steinbeck and I’m living my own Travels with Charlie about Schmidt.
Really Steve? What else are you reading?
“Well, I’ve been reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road because that always affects me. I like books about travel.
What other books do you like Steve?
“Well, I like William Somerset Maugham because he wrote the Razor’s Edge and that’s a such a beautiful story about traveling the world and it takes place when the stock market crashes.
Really? Did you remember your grandfather or anything like that?
Well, my grandfather was in World War I, he fought on the German side, believe it or not. He’s Hungarian, so it really affected me. I was born in Canada. All of my relatives are up there.
Do you like Hockey?
No, I don’t really like hockey that much. It’s not my sport. The thing is I like baseball.
Really? What team did you grow up liking?
Well, I grew up liking the Los Angeles Dodgers. My dad and I used to listen to Vin Scully and we would pick weeds outside. It was great, you know. I love the L.A. Dodgers Then I moved to San Diego and I became a Padres fan and that’s tantamount to treason in our family. My father was so angry with me, but as I sit here today, in this house, and the World Series starts, I still have that feeling of, “Wow! We get to watch another thing,” but I’m kind of sad about the series…
Why? Who did you want?
Well, I wanted the Red Sox and the Cubbies…
And so the morning drifted into afternoon and soon Poltz left for his engagement that night in Los Angeles. Our stomachs full and smiles well exercised, our hearts were full of good, honest love and happiness as Poltz saved the best story for last. As a performer in the teen performing group, Up With People’s Latin American counterpart he visited Mexico and was surprised by the poverty in which the common folk lived. “They had dirt floors and I’d sleep on a cot and the thing that struck me was when I left their house, they would give me a gift. It would make me want to cry. Here is this family with nothing, yet they’re giving me a gift.”
Steve Poltz left that our house that day having left many gifts of his own, his humor, his songs as he made one up for my daughter Eva and played a handful of our favorites, sitting on our living room couch, and mostly he just shared himself and his time, which perhaps was the best thing he could have given. We were all a bit richer after that experience.