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“Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero.
Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.” – “Poema XX” by Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda’s “Poema XX” featured a difficult line for one of my students. “¿Qué significa: ‘Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero’?” I wouldn’t have found the line difficult to understand in either Spanish or English: “I don’t love her, it’s true, but maybe I do.” But perhaps my student hasn’t lived as I have and doesn’t know what it’s like to have poetry and lyrics reflect my emotions or even inspire them. Maybe she doesn’t know that in Spanish there are many examples of forgetting.

A clue to understanding the line that bothered my student is the following one: “Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.” “Love is brief; forgetting it lasts much longer.” My translation is not that great because there isn’t an exact translation for “el olvido.” WordReference notes that “olvido” is a noun, but the first translation for it is the verb “to forget.” How can a noun be a verb? I’ll liken “olvido” to “the act of forgetting.” This act on the part of the poetic voice is something that is performed again and again until perhaps reaching “oblivion,” one of the other translations for “olvido.” Reaching that stage is not easy for some of us when it comes to love.

Bola de Nieve promises to forget his former love yet concedes that he may do nothing but see this person in his memories. Despite the bold statements about forgetting, “Te olvidaré” underscores the doom that the protagonist is sure to encounter:

The price of his trying to forget is quite high since it would lead to his death.

Other singers look to God when seeking to forget:

Alejandro Fernández’s protagonist begs God to help him forget his love. He does so because she herself told him that she had found a new love. The singer enumerates the many reasons his love is wonderful and also how these same qualities are harming him. As in “Te olvidaré,” this love could kill the protagonist of the song. All he needs to be able to do is forget, but he seems powerless faced with these memories.

If you can’t forget, you are subject to whatever emotions may be linked to your act of remembering. The protagonist of “Cuando me acuerdo de ti” wonders why she cries when she remembers her former lover:

The singer can’t fathom why she would cry upon remembering her lover since she claims to no longer love him.

I couldn’t explain all the above to my student in less than a minute, so I ended up playing a little bit of Chet Baker’s “I Get Along without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)” in English.

So sue me. But she got the point. She heard that the protagonist in this song is ready to move on with his life, but then maybe he’s not. She understood that forgetting is a hard thing to do, especially when that love is grand. It didn’t surprise me to learn later during a class discussion that she wasn’t sure if she had ever been in love. You’d recognize it if it happened to you, and it might also take you a long time to forget it if it went away.

The act of forgetting in Spanish, “el olvido,” is very often a bittersweet journey, at least in music and literature. We Spanish speakers sometimes wonder and delight on the road to oblivion.


In an interview that’s floating around on the web, Silvio Rodríguez discusses the frustrated love that inspired him to write “Ojalá”:

“Pasaron los años y el recuerdo de aquel amor tan bonito, tan productivo, tan útil (ojo, no confundir con utilitario), enriquecedor, de aporte a uno… pues, estaba obsesionado yo con esa idea. Y porque fue un amor frustrado, tronchado por las circunstancias, por la vida, no fue una cosa que se agotara, pues se me quedó un poco como un fantasma y por eso compuse esta canción en un momento quizás de delirio, de arrebato, de sentimiento un poco desmesurado: ojalá esto, ojalá lo otro.”

Life got in the way of love, but some of that love remained and haunted him. In a fit of madness (“arrebato”), Silvio wrote this song, probably being a bit “desmesurado,” which could mean either excessive or insolent.

“Desmesurado” comes from “mesura,” the old way of saying “templanza,” which is temperance or moderation. The lyrics of “Ojalá” do seem a bit excessive and even insulting. The relationship didn’t work out, but, from what Silvio says in the interview, it doesn’t seem like he hated the woman.

When we hear the lyrics for “Ojalá,” we hear the desire that Silvio has either for this woman to vanish (“Ojalá pase algo que te borre de pronto”) or for himself to die (“Ojalá por lo menos que me llevé la muerte”), so that he never has to see her again. Silvio wishes that the beautiful things in this world may never reach out to this woman: “Ojalá que la lluvia deje de ser milagro que baja por tu cuerpo…. Ojalá que la tierra no te bese los pasos.” Silvio acknowledges that this woman is, in some ways, perfect, but he wishes that away, too: “Ojalá que se te acabe la mirada constante, la palabra precisa, la sonrisa perfecta.” You can find the lyrics timed to the song here:

Despite the “sentimiento desmesurado,” “Ojalá” remains one of Silvio’s most popular and enduring songs. This may be due to the literary quality of the lyrics. Silvio is one of the major figures of “Nueva trova,” a genre of music which values the quality of the lyrics. Silvio may be considered a troubadour of the Cuban Revolution, but he certainly also knows how to sing about loveor at least wish it away.

“Pedro Infante Goes Electric!” is not a headline I ever read, so I suppose that his fans were fine and ready for it, unlike Bob Dylan’s. Whoever produced Pedro Infante’s sound in the late 1950s took some musical chances. What’s really different is Pedro’s movement away from mariachis and the incorporation of piano, organ and electric guitar into his music.

We get a taste of electric guitar in Pedro’s “Cien años,” an early bolero ranchero written by Rubén Fuentes. It features a mariachi, which is typical for Pedro, and also has maracas which evoke Cuba and the Caribbean feel of the bolero:

No me platiques,” by the Mexican Vicente Garrido Calderón, goes further in electrical experimentation. It has both piano and organ along with maracas and a guitar solo! There are violins, but they are definitely not from a mariachi.

I don’t know if Pedro Infante’s version is among the better-known versions, but this song is a standard bolero. At another time in Pedro’s career, the singer might have been backed by a mariachi on this.

Another example of a move away from traditional instrumentation is “A la orilla del mar,” which is featured in one of Pedro’s last movies from 1957, Pablo y Carolina. The lyrics and music are by the Mexican composer Manuel Esperón, who was the musical director of this and 488 other films, including all of Pedro’s. “A la orilla del mar” has some piano reminiscent of Gershwin and a tiny bit of the space age-y sounds of Esquivel. This is not surprising since Esperón seems to have run in the same circles as Esquivel. Since Esperón worked so closely with Pedro, he may also be behind the sound of “El Ídolo de Guamúchil” on “No me platiques.”

Pedro himself took a lot of chances and died while flying a plane in 1957. Here’s a clip of Pedro’s massive funeral from the documentary Así era Pedro Infante (I have a copy of this!): It’s narrated by the ever-so-galant actor Arturo de Córdova, who graciously calls Pedro the greatest actor in the world. If Pedro had lived a bit longer, who knows, he might have become Mexico’s greatest rock singer.

Agustín Lara‘s song, “La clave azul,” gives this blog its title. “La clave azul” premiered around 1934 as the outro for “La Hora Íntima de Agustín Lara” on Mexico City’s legendary XEW. As the outro, “La clave azul” was intentionally brief at around half a minute:

Solismanía goes into some of the lyrical questions en español. The blog focuses, of course, on Javier Solís’ wonderful extended version from 1964:

The blogger wonders why “se va la clave azul.” However, the author misses the point that “La clave azul” was an outro.

While Solismanía does mention an earlier and more famous program, “La Hora Azul,” the author doesn’t go into the question of “azul.” “Azul” was the color of the blues. The artists featured on “La Hora Azul” weren’t exactly singing the blues given the show’s focus on boleros. Boleros are, however, focused on that old blue feeling. It can be sad if you want it to be, or it can make you happy to know that you have lived, loved and maybe even lost. Lara’s lyrics were poetic, and he was influenced by the modernismo movement. Azul was huge for Rubén Darío, signifying “lo ideal, lo etéreo, lo infinito, la serenidad del cielo sin nubes, la luz difusa, la amplitud vaga sin límites, donde nacen, viven, brillan y se mueven los astros.” “Azul,” then, most likely references the blues and Darío’s use of the word.

Not present in either Lara’s or Solís’ versions is the actual instrument and rhythm of the clave that we hear in Toña la Negra’s version:

As with many of her songs, this one showcases Toña’s Afro-Mexican and Caribbean roots. This version might have been the first extended one given Toña’s close association with Lara during the XEW years and his assertion that she was his favorite female interpreter.

An instrumental version, perhaps based on the extended vocal version, is the first track of the album Agustín Lara y la Gran Orquesta de Solistas:

I’m not sure if there ever really was a “Grand Orchestra of Soloists,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if we owe this oxymoron to the everlasting wit of “El flaco de oro.”