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The beat goes on

A Chilean rock star, temporarily stranded in Alpharetta, struggles with loss and continues to dream

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The suburbs of Alpharetta are a long way from the streets of Santiago, Chile. For Tim Picchetti, 23, the distance is more than geographical. It's the time between two lives -- one life spent chasing a rock 'n' roll dream, and another life realizing the dream in a way he never imagined, in a way he'd never wish on anyone.

Between the two points are some strange and tragic curves. There is a senseless murder. A lightning bolt of success. And there is what's left: a forced perspective of life and how to move on.

Picchetti's rock 'n' roll dream was shared by his best friend, Emanuel Finlayson. They met when they were 4, and from the time they were 16, Picchetti and Finlayson were inseparable. Walking the streets of Santiago, they had heard the dulcet power chords of American bands like Green Day and Nirvana and knew they wanted to be stars, to make music, to be in videos.

Picchetti picked up a guitar; Finlayson played drums. Picchetti was the sound and voice; Finlayson provided Picchetti a beat. They practiced. They played in cover bands. They believed.

"We were the typical guys dreaming the rock 'n' roll dream," says Picchetti, who currently resides in Alpharetta with siblings. "But not just trying to be rich and fooling around. We took it seriously. It was that fun of dreaming that kept you alive and active and having something to shoot for. Every day, we did something to make it happen.

"We were like brothers, but more. We were linked by friendship, work, everything."

One of their first breaks came early -- Picchetti was asked by Glup, one of Chile's top bands, to be its guitarist. He made sure Finlayson came along as a roadie. After touring for three popular albums, Picchetti and Finlayson split off to form their own group, Gufi. Their sound was raw, loud and alive -- think Spanish pop-punk.

Sony's Mexico City offices soon signed Gufi; an album was written, recorded and produced. A video was planned. The dream was becoming reality. And Picchetti, Finlayson and their bassist, Jorge Fuentalva, waited. And they waited. And they waited more.

Though the album was completed the summer before, spring came. Still, the CD had not been released, a video had not been made. It was a frustrating time for Picchetti, who has a young daughter and wanted to make money to support her.

With a brother living in the suburbs north of Atlanta, Picchetti decided to temporarily put the dream of stardom on hold: He'd come to America, make some money while he and his bandmates awaited the next step with Sony. A job prospect led Picchetti to drive to San Francisco. On April 9, he stopped at an Internet cafe in Texas to check e-mail. He got a kick out of one sent by Finlayson.

"He didn't know a thing about computers," Picchetti says. "He had no e-mail or nothing. But I checked my e-mail and he had opened a Hotmail account and sent me an e-mail. I thought that was so funny. I could see him taking like an hour to type up an e-mail."

It was the last time the best friends would communicate. After arriving in San Francisco, Picchetti called his brother in Alpharetta to check in.

"He said, 'Tim, I have some bad news,'" says Picchetti. He could hardly believe the words that followed: Finlayson had been killed.

"He lived in the wrong part of town," Picchetti says now. "He was out with his brother and another friend. They were coming back from a party and these guys from the neighborhood started bugging his brother, who's got blond hair, calling him gringo. That's what they call Americans."

A fight broke out, Picchetti says. Finlayson was stabbed in the heart. "He bled to death in his brother's arms," Picchetti says.

Picchetti was back with his brother in Alpharetta, reeling from the loss, when he got a phone call from a friend down in Santiago.

"It's weird," the friend said, "they were just playing your song on the radio."

Then, another friend called. "I was driving in my car and I heard a girl requesting your song by singing it," the friend said. "She didn't know the name of the group or the song. She was just singing the chorus. And they put it on."

Picchetti knew Sony had yet to release a single from the pending album. But that hadn't stopped bassist Fuentalva from walking into Chile's Rock & Pop radio station on the day of Finlayson's funeral, telling the DJ the story and handing over a copy of the unreleased single, "Por Ella" -- "For Her."

The song relates the tale of a girl who commits suicide. It's typical Gufi: a catchy, tight melody led by a driving guitar and beat. The DJ had played it in honor of Finlayson.

"On that one playing alone, everyone started calling in, requesting it," Picchetti says. "I went and checked out the station's website. It was No. 6 on the rankings. Soon, it was No. 1."

It stayed in the top position for a month, Picchetti says, towering over songs by bands like Metallica and Coldplay. And he says once it was relieved of its No. 1 position, the station manager called him and said that "Por Ella" was, by far, the most requested song of the year.

It was the moment Picchetti had been dreaming about, confirmation that his work had an audience. But it was bittersweet. Everything he had fought for had arrived, and yet the person he most wanted to share it with -- the person who provided the beat to the song -- was gone.

Picchetti realizes he must move on. But it pains him to know that the two minors who were arrested in the murder of Finlayson were released from jail four months later.

"That's Chile for you," Picchetti says. "It sucks it's not a rich enough country to afford putting away criminals for as long as they should. In any case, it was just disgusting to hear that. Just terrible."

And then there are the career details to think about. Shortly after Finlayson's death, Sony called. They said the company would understand if Picchetti wanted to walk away from the contract; they would let his band go free and clear.

Picchetti refused. "It would be such a waste to forget what we did," he says.

Instead, Sony now says it will release Gufi's debut album in February, titled Historias de la Calle -- Tales of the Street. Picchetti's been working with an animator to put together the video for the first single from the album, "Eso Es Todo Lo Que Soy" -- "That's Just the Way I Am."

Gabriela Gomez, with Sony, said, "We're very excited with this specific release. It has taken longer than we are used to, but you can expect all of our support with Gufi."

Picchetti also stands to make money in arrears on all the radio play for "Por Ella." He has been invited to attend the MTV Latin Music Awards. And recently, Rock & Pop in Santiago started playing a second song, "Paul," by Picchetti's band.

But as his rock career apparently hits a new stride, Picchetti has the tough assignment of finding a replacement for the spot in the band that was occupied by his best friend. It'll be hard: Picchetti keeps a picture of Finlayson on his computer desktop at his brother's Alpharetta home. He has a few ideas for songs that deal with Finlayson's death. He says he thinks about his friend, who'd be 22 now, every day.

Far from letting go, Picchetti believes Finlayson is still around, providing the beat for his new life.

"I know he's alive," Picchetti says. "In that song playing down in Chile, he's just buzzing out of every radio. He's alive. I believe that."

music@creativeloafing.com

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