On Juan Gabriel, cleaning windows and tainted love

It was almost an omen. This last Saturday morning, Mr. W and me where trying to clean the house… really clean it. It took us almost six hours to go through floors, kitchen, the laundry, windows (way too many windows). At a certain moment, while I was busy with the upstairs windows, the speaker system downstairs started blasting with Dutch spoken radio. It sounded like white noise to me… and that brought me back to other cleaning Saturdays at my Grandma’s house. I have some pretty clear memories of a moment in my childhood when the three sisters of my mom where either living at my grandparents’ or really close, and we were all there for holidays. And weekends were partly devoted to deep cleaning… with Juan Gabriel’s voice filling all the space and the conversations.

When I turned eight more or less, I gained the right to chose LPs and change them — always trying to get to a consensus. But if the choice was Juan Gabriel, everyone was happy… and then suddenly sad… and then happy again… and then said again.

That is were my (tainted) sentimental education started.

My parents would be extremely careful with us and our TV hours. They were completely sure that if we saw one too many telenovelas (any, actually), we would grow with a twisted sense of romantic life. But unluckily for them, I got my taste for romantic tragedy through music: learning and singing from the top of my lungs all those songs that spoke among other things about how love, life, happiness came together with the sun (buenos días a la vida, buenos días al amor, buenos días alegría, buenos días señor sol), how people are loved and remembered after death (amor eterno e inolvidable, tarde o temprano estaré contigo para seguir amándonos), or how sometimes even if you’re left behind you will in time get some kind of sweet revenge (ahora soy yo quien vive feliz/formé un hogar cuando te perdí/después, después yo te olvidé y te perdoné/y no puedo hacer ya nada por ti). In the best of circumstances…

The kind of love that Juan Gabriel talked about was as complex as life: mostly never politically correct. Much more complex that telenovelas where characters are rarely redeemed. Because in music, everything is possible. Break-ups and forgetfulness are easily mended. And life is celebrated always. Love (Juanga, Culture Club and Manuel Lin-Miranda dixit) is love. In all possible ways.

In a society as homophobic as the Mexican, it amazed me how Juan Gabriel was above all good or evil — nobody could or wanted to see what was there. Yes, Juan Gabriel wrote songs about his love stories with a character with a female pronoun… that was always amazingly easy to turn into a male pronoun… even keeping all the rhymes. He was as out in a very specific way: in such a way that thousands of bigots had to make inexplicable excuses to still like him as much. And he was so proud of everything… I hope I can also learn to stroll the way he took over any stage: like a unique king. His duality, his courage to be himself without needing to be explicit in words will stay also in my memory: once, when a reported tried to out him during an interview with a very direct question (are you gay), his answer just shut him up: “Hon, what you can see you don’t need to ask”. However, I do add here a point that I read on Facebook: he was almost a cartoon regarding his sexual preferences: a little bit too loud, a little bit to girly and feminine in a grotesque way, almost always over the top. That non-normality might have been easy to look at… and make fun at. Even though, making fun of him or no, people could relate to the feelings that he was describing that were, indeed, universal. Tainted loves across generations, income levels and sexual preferences alike.

So, Saturday, cleaning day. At a certain point, there was, again, that soundtrack in my mind… as always… (tú estás siempre en mi mente / siempre tú, tú, tú, cada instante/ cómo quieres tú que te olvide si estás tú/ siempre tú-tú-tú, siempre en mi mente). I mumbled the song and traveled with his voice in my memories while I scrubbed the windows, felt the sun in my face, remembered the afternoon when my former Serbian roommate in Barcelona also blasted the speakers with Juan Gabriel (in the voice of Rocío Dúrcal) and confirmed how close all human beings actually are.

Because probably most of my twisted knowledge of romance and love I learned from his songs (poco a poco, lentamente, me enseñaste a querer), today I feel at lost. I feel incapable of explaining to Mr. W or anyone else that doesn’t know him what his passing means. Listening to his voice I can travel back to my home, to my family, to those things I’ve loved, to my worst heartbreaks (yo no nací para amar/nadie nació para mí/tan sólo fui un loco soñador nomás) and my deepest secrets. And I guess I honor him every time my head wakes up filled with his music, or when I clean the windows humming his songs.

Disclaimer: No lyrics site was used while writing this post. This is how selective memory works.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated AC Uribe’s story.