12th October, 1996
I don't speak Spanish very well; I went through intensive instruction as a boy in Guatemala, but didn't often use it in daily life, and in the fifteen years since I moved back to the U.S., have almost never spoken it. So when I'm listening to Latin music, there's often a sense in which I feel like I'm not getting the whole story. Not just because Hispanophone songs, like songs in any language, are full of references to other texts — literature, pop culture, standard sayings — that just knowing the dictionary definition of the words won't necessarily make clear to you, but because I feel like I have a hard time judging tone. Literal, or even vaguely approximate, English translations of Latin pop lyrics are often in a heightened poetic manner, with the kind of all-out floridity that hasn't been popular in English for over a century.
Even the name of this song doesn't quite work in English: it translates as "Memories, Sadness, and Loneliness," which — though it would be perfectly acceptable, even ideal, as a subject for an American country, r&b, folk, or pop-punk song — is a little over-the-top as a title. Of course, that over-the-top-ness is a feature of Latin popular culture, not a bug (think of telenovela
overacting, or even just the tired stereotype of the Latin lover) — what rings as overheated melodrama in one culture is standard dramatic tension in another; you just have to know the context.
The music here is not much different from what he was doing with Los Bukis, but even through its cheap-sounding synthesizers there's a deliberate anxiousness. (It's in waltz time, but the tempo's too fast to waltz to; which is very odd for a ballad.) The lyrics have Solís describing, in what I've come to expect as the standard imagistic fashion of romántico, the slow dissolution of a relationship. But it was the chorus that really caught my ear: "Fuimos cayendo poco a poco/en la rutina cruel/al ritmo crudo/de este mundo de papel." Which in English, runs "We were falling little by little/into the cruel routine/to the crude rhythm/of this paper world." A paper world! What an unusual image!
And then of course I looked it up, and "en un mundo de papel" is a standard Spanish phrase to describe living in a fantasy ("building castles in Spain" would be an equivalent, if more old-fashioned, English phrase). Well, I tried to think of something nice to say. But it's hard for me to find Marco Antonio Solís anything but boring.