What sort of family do you come from?
There were twelve children and eight of us became professional musicians. My father and mother were very supportive, even though I don’t think my dad wanted me to go into this business, because we’d all dealt with my older brothers’ highs and lows. My father went out and bought our first forty-fives and my mother was an Elvis freak, so I was inundated with that. But once I got into the Velvet Underground my mother wasn’t as supportive. She actually broke my Velvet Underground record because she hated that song Heroin.
What was the atmosphere like in the house?
To me it always felt like a party, because once someone started playing, everyone started playing. When you grow up in a Mexican family there’s a lot of drinking. At least in mine there was. When we were kids, if they were having a baptism or first communion or wedding, the men would give you a quarter to go fetch ’em a beer. You’d make a little money that way. You could also drink a couple of the beers before you took the one back.
How important were your family when you fell critically ill with hepatitis C in 2003?
Well, that was one of the most difficult parts, because not only was I ill, I was scaring them. They were frightened not only by my appearance – because I was very weak and frail – but also of me not making it. I was told I wouldn’t live more than a year. That was twelve years ago. So it was hard. But I’ll tell you something, that thought of losing my children is what inspired me to get better. One doctor said: “We’ll have you back in the van in six months.” I said to him: “Listen, I couldn’t care less about getting back in the van. If you can tell me I’m gonna watch my children grow up, you’re my man. Otherwise, fuck, I’m out of here.”
_How tough is it to juggle the roles of musician and father? _
It’s hard to be both. I missed out on a lot because I was on the road. We tour a lot now, but we used to really tour. I mean, three hundred shows a year. There’s a lot of things I wish I could have done. But my children have grown up knowing that life, and I’ve always tried to show them that I love them and I’m not trying to get away from them, but I’m going out to work.
Do your children think you’re cool?
Maybe the older one [Paris, 21]. The younger ones don’t think I’m cool at all. They think I’m very uncool. If I started acting like a rock star at home? It wouldn’t go over well, believe me. I have a wise family. They don’t buy it. We live in Austin, and it’s not a place where you can prance about like a rock star. People just don’t dig that, y’know?