To Selena, With Love: A Conversation With Widower Chris Perez
Photo by Marco Torres
Do you remember when and where you heard the news about Selena? I do. I was riding the school bus when a classmate, listening to the radio on his Walkman, shouted "Selena was shot!". "How terrible", I thought to myself, thinking that maybe she was just wounded, but for sure she would recover. "No bro, she's DEAD!"
In some ways, Tejano Music itself died that day, too.
That was 17 years ago. Now, for the first time, her husband Chris Perez tells the story of his life with Selena in his new book To Selena, With Love which hits bookstores today. Rocks Off sat down with Mr. Perez to speak about the book, his music and how Selena's legacy will forever endure through her fans and family.
Rocks Off: Welcome to Houston, sir. Or actually, welcome back to Houston. I know you spent quite some time here with Selena y Los Dinos.
Mas Musica! featuring La Gusana Ciega, Porter, Siddhartha
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Chris Perez: Thanks man. Good to be here.
RO: So, when I was looking for you online, I found you on Twitter as @ChrisGPerez. What does the "G" stand for?
CP: It stands for Gilbert. That's my father's name. What's funny is that there as so many other people with my same name, sometimes I get random people come up to me to say "Hey man, my name is Chris Perez, too!". So when I got into Twitter, the handle was already taken.
RO: In the book you talk about your father, and you also talk about your "Pops." Tell us about that.
CP: My dad is my real father, and my Pops is my stepfather. My mom and dad got divorced when I was four, so I don't have many memories of my dad living with us because I was so young. Then when I was nine, my mom met and married my step father, and that's Pops. So yea, that's the house I grew up in until I was 17 when I moved out and began trying to really do the musician thing on my own.
RO: So you were born in San Antonio and grew up there?
CP:: Yea, born and raised up there, and really lived there until I got married to Selena and then I moved to her apartment in Corpus Christi. I was 22 years old, and she was 20, about to be 21.
RO: The book officially drops on Tuesday, March 6, 2012. How did Houston become the starting point for this book tour?
CP: To be honest, I'm assuming the publishing company just looked at the demographics and chose Houston as the ideal starting point. I'm going to Corpus afterwards, and then end up in San Antonio. We have plans later on to hit the West Coast, but for now we are concentrating on Texas.
RO: As far as your music catalogue, do you get into the iTunes and the streaming services like Spotify?
CP:: Not to a large extent yet. We did release a single on iTunes a few months back called "Todo Es Diferente" with Angel Ferrer and it did really well for us.
RO: Is it still "The Chris Perez Band" or "The Chris Perez Project"?
CP:: Yes, it is right now. I've always wanted to come up with a band name because I want to be considered as part of a group, but we always end up coming back to my name. Looking back, I really wasn't ready to be fronting a band like that.
I am now, but there's huge difference being just a guitar player in a band like Los Dinos in the background, to being the main focus. I'm a little more settled now, I'm not so scatter-brained anymore.
RO: Speaking of music and Rock music, who are your guitar heroes?
CP:: Definitely Eddie Van Halen. Hands down. I'll never forget the first time I heard him. Nowadays, you are accustomed to hear crazy guitar playing and you don't think much about it, but when he first came out, people freaked. I remember seeing the cover of their first album, then hearing it, and that was it for me.
RO: Selena was such a standard for all of the performers and singers that came after her. What do you think it was that elevates her above today's artists like Jennifer Lopez or Shakira?
CP: You have to know that everyone who is successful nowadays, like J-Lo or Shakira, they busted their ass to get where they are. Success doesn't come easy. But when I saw Selena in the studio or live, there was never any ounce of ego trying to come through that microphone. She could just really sing with emotion.
Her main thing was "let me bring you into the song". And with some of these other singers out there, I get the sense that they are barely hanging on to get the songs just right. When you overthink the song while you're singing it, you tend to neglect the emotion part of it.
And now you have computers and AutoTune, but we didn't have that back then. She made it sound great on her own. For her to sound as great as she did, its just proof of how much talent she had.
RO: So do you think that there is anyone out there that can truly carry on her legacy as a singer?
CP: Why you gotta ask me that?! (laughs). No, there's nobody out there! Hell no, there's not. I'll be honest. (laughs). I mean that's my humble opinion. You cannot step to her, man. Somebody that great and heartfelt...
RO: Last question. A bit of a tough one. Talk to us a bit about the Yolanda Saldivar trial. Were you in the courtroom the whole time and how did you feel when the verdict was finally set?
CP: The defense didn't allow us to be in the room because we were all in line to testify, and I guess they didn't want the jury to be swayed by our reactions. You would imagine that after she was found guilty and [was] sentenced that it would be a big release or relief or whatever, but that wasn't the case for me.
My frame of mind and state of mind was more one of "finally its over." I could go home, close all the doors, close all the curtains, and basically lick my wounds and try to figure things out. Because a lot of people don't realize that the trial delayed a lot of things for me, like the grieving process.
It was surreal. But it becomes a part of your reality. You're never gonna go back to being the person you were before that. There's always gonna be that space in your heart. I don't wanna call it an emptiness, I just look at it as a piece of my heart that will always belong to Selena.
RO: Thanks again for sharing your story with us.
Meet Chris Perez 7 p.m. tonight at his book-signing for To Selena, With Love at Barnes & Noble, 7626 Westheimer at Voss.
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