16th January, 1988

The last time we saw José José in this space I compared him to Frank Sinatra for his exquisite phrasing and almost jazzy cadences. Well, those have fallen by the wayside now: this is not a gentle, reflective flamenco song, but a roaring ballad of self-justification, a "My Way" for the late 80s.

Though to be fair this is a far more nuanced and even classically structured work than "My Way." In fact it has more in common with the great self-justifications of George Jones in the 1970s as he spiraled into abuse both drug and domestic. Both country music and Latin pop draw on deep wells of tradition that is mostly invisible to the ordinary pop audience — this is what gives both genres a uniform sound to the uneducated ear — and they also play to their dedicated audiences' knowledge of and investment in the singer's personal lives. Just as "He Stopped Loving Her Today" was that much more powerful to a listener who'd been following the Jones-Wynnette soap opera for over a decade, so "Soy Así" gains in emotion and relevance under the knowledge that it was written and sung at a low point in Jose Jose's career, when his wife was leaving him, his manager (and brother-in-law) had abandoned him, and he was drifting into alcoholism and despair, his life an unending circuit of "aviones, camiones, encerrado en un cuarto de hotel" ("planes, trucks, locked in hotel rooms"), as he later put it to the music press.

In that light, the forthright stomp and aggressive rise of this ballad, with its military tempo and big crescendos, is less pompous than angry. Wikipedia translates "Soy Así" as "The Way I Am," but it literally means "I am this way." (Shades of Popeye as well as Old Blue Eyes.) The chorus, with its blustery bangs, goes "I am this way/This way I was born and this way I will die/With all my faults I know it's true/I never deceived you, I never lied to you, I never denied it/I am this way/And I know very well that I will never change/And I accept my fate just as it is/I never deceived you, I never lied to you, I never denied it." In fact the chorus repeats only twice, and it's over, which is one up on "My Way."

We will be meeting José José once more (so far!) in this travelogue, so I won't finish up his life story just yet. But here's a hint: as Frank Sinatra knew well, hit songs rarely do much for personal demons.

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