31st October, 1992

I couldn't say with any certainty whether there's a thin line between love and hate — none of my relationships have ever risen to that extreme pitch of emotion — but surely everyone who listens to music is aware of the thin line between enjoyment and disgust.

When I was young, I listened to this song freely, even carelessly, glorying in it as I gloried in all new gifts which rained down from heaven in those magical early teens, when all of experience seemed to be opening to me, flower after flower, petal after petal. All the music on the radio was new, bewitching, even in some sense illicit and all the more alluring for it. This was no different from any other — an opportunity to learn, to work out what this music was for, who it was for, how it worked. Like "November Rain" or "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" or "I Will Always Love You," it was a dramatic ballad with dynamics that demanded fight-or-die scenarios, aligned with the basic grammar of action movies in which the hero got the girl because he was tougher, more loyal, more willing to sacrifice himself than the other guy.

But I soon learned to disdain the simplicities of these ballads for more problematic, ironized, and abstracted narratives. Alternative rock was an important, if confused social signifier at my high school — it would be many years before I learned that 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up" and the Spin Doctors' "Two Princes" were not widely considered part of rock's avant-garde in 1993 — and ballads, with their dramatic sweep and brimming emotional heft, were for girls and old people. Boys listened for the most unpleasant noise they could find and latched onto it.

But I maintained my omnivorous radio diet, though as it were in secret. The tapes I made off the radio had Bon Jovi cheek by jowl with Ace Of Base and Madonna and the Eagles and this very odd, impossibly shiny song which it would take me until the Internet to learn was Boston's "More Than A Feeling" (Guatemalan English-language radio was let us say unpredictable). Jon Secada's "Angel" (not "Ángel"; we'll get into the difference) was on one of these tapes, a serendipitous play several years after its first flush of success, and I internalized it alongside R.E.M., Take That, Toad The Wet Sprocket, and Yaki-Da as I mowed the half-acre backyard lawn wearing cheap Walkman headphones.

My memories of how I felt about it are as jumbled and confused as most memories of those hormonal times are. I remember singing along, trying to hit the high notes at the climax -- I remember shuddering in disgust and changing the station, fast-forwarding the tape, making up a narrative in my head about Jon Secada being totally creepy because he sang these slow romantic ballads, like couldn't girls tell he was only trying to get into their pants? I remember that it played one afternoon when I hung laundry in the backyard while the twenty-something woman who worked as a maid in the house watched, and later when I went up to write on the computer she followed me and tried to kiss me. Maybe I stopped liking it after that. Or maybe it was a different song that was playing then and my memory's confused.

Today it sounds so utterly familiar, so deeply ingrained in me, that I can't possibly hear it outside of all that loose, jumbled history. Except I knew the English-language version; the Spanish-language version isn't different in sentiment (again the translation is nearly exact), but the rhythms of its lines are different enough that my attempts to sing along in my head are constantly thrown off. But the dynamics — the gently funky rhythm underlying it all, a dreamy r&b memory of salsa, the gorgeous sweep into electric intensity, and the final release of Secada's screaming falsetto — are the same.

It's not the kind of song I would generally ever think to call a favorite, or representative of its era, or even necessarily particularly good; but when it came to an end I hit play again. Not because I had to write about it, but because I wanted to hear it again. That hardly ever happens.

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