Spanish author Benjamin Villegas had never traveled to El Paso, but he figured it would be the perfect place to prepare his punk rock novel.
Released now in a new English translation by Deep Vellum Publishing and with a preface by El Paso punk rocker Beto O’Rourke, ELPASO: A punk story is a novel about a band (ELPASO) that never existed in an almost forgotten punk scene.
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of a Chicano punk band – an imaginary band from the spirit of Villegas – that existed in the very real El Paso punk scene of the 1980s.
Reading the novel, flipping through carefully edited flyers bearing ELPASO’s name, it’s hard to believe it’s not a true story. While the novel’s prologue explains that this book is meant to be a biography of a band, in a sense it is a biography of the punk bands of El Paso told through a single lens but created from the stories of all who lived it.
“The official process started in 2014,” Villegas says, referring to when he started compiling information for the novel, “but the real start started in the late 90s when I started playing with it. my first group. ”
Villegas grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Barcelona and formed a band with two friends after hearing Nirvana for the first time and being shaken up forever.
“We were working class people with no musical influence in our families,” Villegas says. “Growing up and discovering a lot of bands, I felt I was more connected to this cultural movement, not to the music from my country or to the music my parents listened to.”
Before Villegas started writing this book, he told his home publisher in Spain that he wanted to write a longer book. Knowing that he was a musician, they asked him to create some kind of mixed project that included an accompanying album. The intention was to have a novel with an original soundtrack, but Villegas thought it would be more interesting to create a bogus band.
“As I grew up and discovered a lot of groups, I felt I was more connected to this cultural movement.” – novelist Benjamin Villegas
“I felt like I had to start my own band in the 80s in America, but I needed this band to sing in Spanish,” Villegas explains. “I was fascinated by a lot of Texas bands like Scratch Acid, and decided that a place in Texas would be the perfect place for my band. And then that moment appears – El Paso – it’s a medium to large town with the punk scene to tell my story.
Putting this novel together into one narrative from the hundreds of stories Villegas collected on his journey through Texas was only the first part of the author’s goal. Villegas also wanted to find a voice for his own life story.
“My personal story is linked to that of my grandfather,” says Villegas. “In the 60s, in Spain, we lived in a fascist dictatorship, and my grandfather traveled from south to north, in search of a better life for my father and my uncles. In Spain everyone speaks Spanish, but we have a few states that speak other languages. In Barcelona, the language is Catalan and my family does not speak Catalan. My native language is Spanish, and I really feel connected with the Chicano community and their bilingual situation.
During Villegas’ travels to El Paso, he became connected with Will Evans of Deep Vellum through a network of punks and writers from the underground literary world. Knowing that Evans was a tattooed guy, a mustache lover, and had been into punk, he was the perfect partner to work with for an English release of the book.
“The book is an American book born in Texas,” Villegas says. “It’s very important to me because all these people have told me about this El Paso diaspora and the guys are now in Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles and all different places in the United States. was important for me to have a Texan editor.
The amount of research that has gone into this book is unfathomable, and it really brings the 1980s El Paso punk scene to life in a way no one has ever thought of doing before. For Villegas, it’s more than having a Spanish speaking band so they can write and sing in Spanish, it’s about showing the world that American punk is bigger than New York, DC, San Francisco and so on. right now.
“Yeah, the east coast and the west coast are bigger, but the band in the middle of nowhere never makes any money, they only make music for music,” Villegas says. “They love the punk scene and create the place to play – rent a warehouse, create the scene with their hands. It’s awesome. It’s a very, very special place with some very, very weird bands, but perhaps the most original bands in the alternative scene.