And so we say farewell to the 1980s, never to return unless something very unexpected indeed happens in the upcoming years. This song was at the top of the Billboard Latin chart as the decade turned over from 1989 to 1990, and like any user of symbol and myth, I've tried to find things about it that echo whatever significance that particular turnover on the chronological odometer might have had. All I've really been able to come up with is that this is the first song we've heard so far that would have been unimaginable without hip-hop. The jacking, stuttered beat, the synthesized horns and bass working as a digitized memory of funk, and the dreamy house piano lines all fade irresistibly from the late 80s into the early 90s. In fact it reminds me, with my early ignorance and limited exposure to pop music, of nothing so much as the first DC Talk record (the one with "Heavenbound" on it), though better-produced and more fragrantly alive.
The title translates to "The Girl Of Smoke," and the sucked-in breath which opens the song, inevitably evokes a specific source of smoke to anyone keyed into the popular culture of the last forty years — but the lyrics, unless I'm missing some subtext somewhere, aren't about pot. If anything, the central metaphor is tobacco; the girl burns, soothes, flirts, evaporates. She's smoke because he can't hold onto her; she's mercurial, even fatal, but he's addicted; when he insists that "no me va a transformar en crucigrama viviente" ("she won't change me into a living puzzle"), the boast rings hollow.
A lot of the songs we've looked at recently have been about fascinating, even mythic, women, the belles dames sans merci of medieval, Gothic, and noir narratives. Which is a perfectly satisfying story for adolescent males to tell themselves — certainly it was a useful myth in my own youthful crushes, the cruel but distant goddess who I could obsess over without having to acknowledge as actually being human — but after a while, as these portraits start piling up indistinguishably, it begins to look more like misogyny than hopeless romanticism. Taken at face value, Emmanuel's declarations are standard lover's woes; but within the context of a narrative matrix in which all women are predatory, congenitally faithless beings tempting young men to destruction, he's a little less sympathetic.
Which is fine — his vocal performance, vacant and barely there, fading exhaustedly towards the end of each line, isn't geared towards sympathy anyway. This is primarily a dance song, and the triumphal boogie of the music is at odds (though not really in such a way as to inspire alternate readings) with the paranoid misery of the lyrics. The synth sounds are cheap and obvious and splashy — very Casio, very 1989 — and it's the synthetic fanfares and the way his voice reaches up into the caress of "ahh-aaaahh" that stick in the memory, not the clipped, accusatory verses.
On a more meta note, it's taken a long time for me to get this one up not because I didn't have anything to say about it but because I've been "busy" with other things. ("Busy" = sure, I could have made the time, but this project isn't the kind of thing that brings immediate and obvious rewards.) As we head into the 90s, I'm planning on tweaking the format slightly to make it easier to get through the patches where I'm not totally enthused about the material. This means shorter writeups — blurbs, as we say at the Singles Jukebox — and hopefully more frequent postings. Of course, if there's mass outrage at the change . . . .