How Diego Garcia came to excel at passionately romantic pop paeans

by Jonathan Takiff

Philadelphia Daily News (MCT)

2 December 2011


PHILADELPHIA — Will the real Diego Garcia please stand up?

One guy who performs under that name is a most dexterous, multihued acoustic guitarist from Spain.

Then there’s the island in the South Pacific called Diego Garcia, a strategic refueling station for U.S. war planes engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq operations.

And then there’s the Diego Garcia who was born in Detroit, raised in Florida, educated at Brown, a guy who first broke into the music world as lead singer of the New York-based band Elefant. A group aligned with the “postmodern” movement yet very much under the sway, Garcia admits, of classic-rock crooners like David Bowie.

Now the lead singer has been reincarnated as a soloist, with a vital album of florid, passionately romantic pop paeans called “Laura” that’s become quite a fave at adult-alternative music outlets. “I’m now making the music I was born to do,” the artist said last week in a chat. And it’s music, frankly, that fits better with his name, that could make this Garcia an international star if he opts to go that way.

As a child, he was spoon-fed on the Mediterranean-flavored music that his Argentine-born parents loved — Argentina being “a melting pot of Italian-, Spanish- and European-influenced culture.”

In more-recent years, Garcia’s built on that with lots of trips abroad, especially with summers spent on the Italian coastline.

In the past he cited Julio Iglesias as a role model. Now Garcia cautions “let me make clear, that was the youthful Julio I was referencing, before he put on the white tuxedo and the permanent spray-on tan. If I had to compare that Julio to anyone in the U.S., it would be to a young Neil Diamond.”

Today, Garcia more graciously accepts comparisons to Leonard Cohen, who, as Garcia does now, wraps florid, ethnic-flavored instrumental sounds around his heart- and soul-rending ballads. (Garcia’s band includes an Italian-born cellist and Spanish-styled guitarist, plus a tight rhythm section.)

“A couple years ago, someone gave me a ticket to see Cohen performing at the Beacon Theatre in New York. It was life-changing, incredible,” Garcia allowed, “and yes, it inspired me.”

But not nearly as much as the woman named Laura, his on-again/off-again girlfriend while he was touring with Elefant and, as a very handsome young man, doubtless experiencing some of the temptations of the road.

“I’ve never said this before, but besides inspiring the songs, she’s the one who inspired me to grow up. The music is a reflection of what I went through, the questions and answers, my meditations on the malady of love and the cathartic experience to feel love. It took me four or five years to get to that place emotionally, so I could have some closure. True love is unconditional, and if she’s happy, then I should be, and if she’s with someone else, I should accept. And just at the time we did reconnect and I did my best to hold onto it, Laura gave me the strength and focus and guidance to record the songs, make this album. So she’s everything — why I wrote the music, why I made the record, who I am.” The couple is now married, with a young daughter.

As to how he’s dealing with those other Diego Garcias — “I’ve met the guitar player. He said the first time he played New York, all these cute girls showed up to see him — my fans — and he realized there was some confusion. He’s a great musician and we’re talking about recording together. That might clear things up.”

Re the notion that “no man is an island,” Garcia notes that “there actually was a $1,000 question on ‘Jeopardy’ lumping me and the location. You can find it on YouTube. And I have to admit, I love sending people newspaper headlines like ‘U.S. Uses Diego Garcia for Special Operations.’”

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