He added Draco as the name of an androgynous, goth-glam alter ego, acted in films, painted a self-portrait in which he pointed a gun to his head. While record labels were attracted by his Menudo pedigree and his songwriting talent, they were put off by defiant acts like trashing hotel rooms and refusing to appear on TV shows he considered inane.
When Draco emerged from a stint in rehab for heroin and alcohol addiction in 1995, Martin asked him to help with a new album. Though he co-wrote and co-produced Martin’s breakout megahits (Un, Dos, Tres) Maria and Livin La Vida Loca, he insisted on doing so under an alias, Ian Blake (for Ian Astbury of goth-punk band The Cult and poet William Blake). In Draco’s own, ironic version of Vida Loca, you hear a wild nihilism glossed over by Martin’s charismatic energy. He accepted only a few commercial writing and producing gigs after that, for balladeer Julio Iglesias and for Puerto Rican diva Ednita Nazario (under the name Dolores del Infante).
Although he has had occasional moments in the spotlight, Draco remained an artist revered for his creativity, talent and integrity, but mostly ostracized by the music industry. By the late in the last decade, he had largely made peace with his choices and settled down. He has enjoyed a long, happy marriage to actor and director Angela Alvarado, with whom he has two sons, now 19 and 12. He started an organic coffee farm in the mountains of Puerto Rico with his father and sister and made a bucolic (for Draco) album called Amor Vincit Omnia (Latin for “love conquers all”).
But his health began to fail, first with rheumatic fever and then a cancer diagnosis in 2011. When his manager and an executive at Sony Discos suggested the duets album, the usually rebellious singer consented.
“In my mind it was like, ‘This is my swan song, this is it,’ ” he says.
He recorded tracks with Anthony, Juanes and Andres Calamaro in his home studio in L.A., but mostly he worked alone with vocals sent in from around the world.
“Between [chemotherapy] cycles I would come into work,” he says. “Some days I would just lay on the sofa and say I’m too tired. But other days I was amped … and I’d be like, ‘Let’s go!’ ”
Some of that urgency came from Draco’s sense that this might be the last music he would make. He found new meaning in songs drawn from throughout his career. On El Tiempo Va (Time Passes), an elegiac song from Amor Vincit done with salsa pioneer and Draco idol Ruben Blades, lines like “This life is all there is, there’s no rebellion left, only freedom” took on a far more somber tone.
“That was the last one I sang, and I wanted it to matter so much, because of the uncertainty I was living,” Draco says.
Other songs surprised him in a different way, like Reza Por Mi (Pray For Me), with bachata-pop idol Romeo Santos.
“Normally I would be thinking, ‘What am I gonna do with a guy who does that kind of music,’ ” Draco says. “But in the end, what a beautiful piece. … I like to think I learned a lot from everyone on this album.”
Cancer has left him with a newly necessary sobriety and thoughtfulness. Monthly visits to the clinic are a reminder that his illness could return.
“There’s no guarantees,” he says.
Alcohol, that standard adjunct to the rocker’s life, is out.
“I spend more time alone now, which is strange,” he says. “I thought I did before, but I really spend time alone now. There’s nothing for me to do after I perform except stay in and read, because after a gig everyone hits the bar. I’m adapting and discovering who I am.”
Which includes figuring out who he is as an artist happy to be alive.
“I’m in this realm that’s somewhat mainstream, and I enjoy it, but I’m not too deep in it because I haven’t had that kind of success,” Draco says.
“I’m at a crossroads. And I have this opportunity… to connect to people and hopefully share the experience.”
While he’ll keep experimenting, Draco also sounds as if he wants to make music that’s more accessible and in tune with his new state of mind.
“I want to lift up some spirits and go where it’s not comfortable for me, while still staying genuine and honest,” he says. “I want to dance a little more. There’s a lot of simple things I just want to share with people.
“I am a lot happier, and I’m OK with it. For years I was not. There were a lot of horrors ... the nights were heavy. Now I’m happier. And that’s a good thing.”