Pete Villarreal In Song – December 27, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – During the years before he moved to Hermiston, Oregon in 2008, Pete Villarreal had many friends in Arcata. Some were allies of convenience, good to hang out with for an evening on the town, but others were friends of a more enduring nature.

An oil painting of Pete Villarreal. Artist unknown.

Watercolor artist Alan Sanborn was Pete’s main mentor, offering the beloved Ragman a place to receive mail, store his meager possessions, sleep and rally his energies for more forays on the streets.

Sometimes Pete would heap his belongings under a lemon tree in Sanborn’s backyard. Occasionally he would pull out selected items for indoor storage, usually after the elements had taken their toll.

“He gave me a bunch to things to hold on to,” Sanborn said. Among them were books, photos and other personal effects in various states of deterioration thanks to weather, slugs and snails. One stack of books and papers had congealed into a block of mildew, while family pictures were criss-crossed with slime trails and water stained.

“There was nothing that wasn’t snail eaten,” Sanborn said.

Among the moldy mementos was a particular treasure: a cassette tape, which Pete selected for safekeeping. “Keep this tape,” he instructed his friend. Pete told Sanborn that he had recorded it at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, one of his habitual hangout haunts.

“It was under my lemon tree for probably a month before he gave it to me,” Sanborn said. Somehow, the audio on the tape survived its time exposed to the elements.

Hear Pete sing: Open Your Heart

The tape features Pete singing, accompanied by an unknown acoustic guitarist.  Pete’s sister, Alma, said that to her family’s knowledge, Pete never played guitar.

But the vocal timbre is unmistakably Pete. “The phrasing sounds like him, and the romantic passion sounds like him,” Sanborn said.

The songs’ authorship is also unknown at this time – are they traditional songs or Pete originals? More research is underway, but the unschooled, heartfelt vocals sing of themes the beloved Ragman was well familiar with: love, pain and friendship.

Hank Sims, new media director for the Lost Coast Outpost, offered an interim translation of the first song, tentatively titled “Open Your Heart,” as well as a capsule review of the hitherto unknown songs.

“They are gorgeous,” Sims said.

As for the lyrics, a wiki has been created for the several songs on the tape, which will be placed online in days to come. Those with insights into the lyrics are invited to update them.