22nd July, 1995
This is our farewell to Selena, just over a year since we first properly said hello to her. We're gliding inevitably on to the horizon, and she must remain behind. If this hurts more than any other voice which has gradually faded from these pages — we've seen the last of Ana Gabriel, of Yuri, of Jon Secada, to name just three who have given us pleasure over the years — it's because Selena held more than just the promise of future musical success in her voice, in her beauty, in her ambition. She could have been so much more. She could have beaten back the inequalities of race and language, bridged the gap between Hot Latin Tracks and the Hot 100, belonged not just to a single region, not just to a single language, but to the world.
And in a way, she did, at least briefly. Her death made her more famous than her life to date had done; and Dreaming Of You, the somewhat motley collection of tracks she had been working on in various studios at the time of her death, rushed out to assuage the grief, was her biggest-selling album ever. "Tú, Sólo Tú" was the second single from that record; the first, and the one song you probably know by her, "I Could Fall In Love," was the biggest Latin song to hit the Hot 100 since "La Bamba" back in 1987. It peaked at #8 there, and became something of a generational classic, especially in the urban US. It also raced up the Hot Latin chart, of course, reaching #2; only the simultaneous #1 of "Tú, Sólo Tú" kept it from being included in this travelogue.
But "I Could Fall In Love" was an R&B ballad, perfect for teary memorializing; "Tú, Sólo Tú" is a mariachi waltz, so perfect a companion piece to "El Palo" that this period of our travelogue is starting to look less like a generational shift in listening patterns and more like black magic. But it's not just a soundalike throwback; "Tú, Sólo Tú" is a genuine classic, written by the great ranchera composer Felipe Valdés Leal for the 1949 film Perdida, where it was sung by La Torcacita (Matilde Sánchez), and would be covered by virtually every ranchera singer ever, perhaps most notably Pedro Infante and Linda Ronstadt. Selena's performance of it is respectful without being reverential; she digs into the emotion of the lament in her own way, rather than trying to resurrect a bygone vocal style, and towards the end begins to sound a bit like Ana Gabriel in the hoarseness of her moans.
Which brings us more or less full circle; she first came to our notice doing something like an Ana Gabriel imitation. But where the music there was thin and tentative, a bad memory of the underproduced 80s, she — and Latin Pop as a whole — had reached the place where she could glory in sumptuous history without being held back by it. There's a kind of confidence here, confidence in the power of the song and of the classic mariachi instrumentation to retain their full meaning almost fifty years after the fact; like Dylan forcing rock to look back at folk in order to flower in a million different directions, she's almost with her dying breath helping Latin Pop hurtle into the future by taking stock of its past.
And if she's not quite going to be the bridge we had hoped — too young, too soon, never forget — that doesn't mean there won't be one. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.