On March 31st, after an argument with a former employee and president of her fan club, Selena turned to leave the Days Inn room where they had agreed to meet and was shot deep in the right shoulder. She died of blood loss just over an hour later in a Corpus Christi hospital.
The immense and immediate public grief that followed was the occasion of most Anglophone music fans' first hearing of her. Tom Brokaw called her "the Madonna of Mexico" on the evening news, but he was wrong. She was the Madonna of America — of that portion of America which, just as free and proud and God-fearing as any other, has worked harder, lived on less, and built more (at least west of the Mississippi). Mexico? Please. Selena was from Texas.
(Which isn't to say she wasn't proud of her Mexican heritage, same as anyone can be of their Irish or Italian or whatever. Just noting acts of erasure where I see them.)
And by now hopefully you'll have clicked play and wondered why I haven't yet mentioned the song. It's a great song even if you don't know Spanish, and you recognized that guitar line right away. But although it was her first number one after her death, it was the fourth single from Amor Prohibido, and so even if the imagery was kind of apt (see below), there was always going to be a feeling of exhaustion to whatever song took this place.
But the fact that it's a rewrite of perhaps the most buoyant, sparkling song of ache and loss ever written (even if Chrissy Hynde's new-wave Kinksisms have little in common with Selena's skanking cumbia) very nearly lifts it above mere fourth-single roteness and into something grander, more eloquent: a self-eulogy. The Spanish lyric, written by Ricky Vela, takes its lead from the opening line of the original — "I found a picture of you" — and sticks to the image. Selena sings "tengo fotos y recuerdos" ("I [only] have photos and memories") over the title melody, and while her background singers gamely imitate the "ooh ahh" chants which Hynde had borrowed from Sam Cooke, the chain-gang metaphor is lost in translation. Still, the rising "oh-oh-a-oh-ohhh" and the descending, patient guitar figures of the original remain, and in any language it's a beautiful song.
We will see Selena from this deck only once more; we barely got to know her, and already she's slipping out of sight. It would probably be too much to say she changed everything. But she changed enough; the rest of this travelogue will be that much better for all the ways she pushed Latin Pop forward.