Sunday, October 23, 2016

Alvarado: An Echo Park murder breathes life into song


John Benjamin Alvarado was shot dead while walking on the 900 block of Alvarado Street.


ECHO PARK — Songwriter and performer Cristina Black knew very little about the murdered man in her song Alvarado. Hints of his life and murder in Echo Park play out like vignettes, all of it accompanied by Black’s voice and harp.

Effortlessly Black’s voice floats from the freeway to the scene of the crime, delicately examining life on Alvarado Street in Echo Park, where Black lived at the time. Though she is acting as the narrator in Alvarado,  named after the victim and the street where he was killed, Black is only weaving the outline of this story.

“All the lyrics are sort of like gossip, like the way people talk when something big happens. It’s the people in the neighborhood—including me and a friend who witnessed the shooting—putting the details together and speculating about what happened and why.”

The murder that Black sings about took place in June 2014 when a gunman shot 35-year-old John Benjamin Alvarado as he walked in the 900 block of Alvarado Street, according to police reports. The gunman drove off in a red car down Santa Ynez Street.

.A car matching that description was stopped by police 10 days later and resulted in the arrest of “two persons of interest,” said Lt. Wes Buhrmester with the LAPD’s Rampart Division. However, the arrests were in connection with a different crime and homicide detectives continue to work the case. “Murder charges have not yet been filed, and forensic examination of evidence in the car and from the scene are still to be analyzed,” he said.

Black’s lyrics weave in some of the cold-hard facts of the crime and the gossip:

Midnight walks and outline chalks were just a part of life
I bet you thought twice before you hit the street that night
All the neighbors said you were a nice guy
But you lived by the same sword that you died by

Eventually ghosts and angels are introduced into the story, and Black, who will be performing the song as part of a show at The Standard Hotel in West Hollywood on  Feb. 11,  finds room to sing a requiem in Latin with a controlled timbre. The song features a harmonium, a small pump organ that was brought in by producer Lewis Pesacov, giving a breathy counterpart to Black’s voice. As a harp player Black’s style reminds of noir, of a different type of Los Angeles than most people walk through on a daily basis. She lends that morose understanding to her time living in New Orleans, a corner of the world known to have a few ghost sightings or two.

“Living in New Orleans, I became familiar with the feeling of people getting shot all around me and the ghosts left behind in those situations. I do bring that with me wherever I go,” says Black. Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous aftermath were the inspiration for Black’s 2010 song “Purple Houses”, where she channeled her anxiety of watching the storm on T.V. hit New Orleans.

Asked if tragedies breed art, Black replied, “Everything breeds art! I’m inspired by tragedy, but I have songs about other things too. Love, namely.”


Harpist Cristina Black reminds of noir in her song Alvarado. | Photo by Olivia Jaffe

Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.

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One comment

  1. I lived right there on Kent and Alvarado for years. Hit’s home. Well played tribute to the block.

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