I wrote about this a little bit a few weeks ago in talking about my musical love affair with the schmaltzy Michael Bolton. His music, along with Kenny G’s, is made fun of all the time by stand-up comedians, in sit-coms, and in American movies. I must be more of a man’s man, or a Black man’s man, right? I should be all over Kanye, front-and-center with Jay-Z, up-close with Nas, and looking forward to more Talib Kweli. Or, maybe, I should be jackin’ off to Beyonce or something. But no, I find myself much more passionate about music from the ’90s than or the early part of the ’00s than I do about most of the schlock that’s out now. We’re coming to the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, and the best we have out right now is a mediocre U2 album, a good, if uneven Maxwell CD, and Lady GaGa?
About half of the 3,000 or so songs I have access to on my computer and iPod are from the period between August ’87 and June ’97. Those were the years where I grew the most emotionally and socially. It represented my ability to understand myself in an irrational state. I could understand White male angst through Pearl Jam, Live or Soundgarden. I could tap into my own rage against The Man through PE, Tupac, or Snoop Dogg. I could find a way to cry listening to Mariah or Mary J. or Sam Cooke (I know, but “Change Gonna Come” was the song at the end of Malcolm X, which came out at the end of ’92).
But Jon Secada’s music stood out and still stand out for me as one evoking, injecting and channeling passion. Or at least, passion at a level that I can understand. Even in my crushes over the years, I’ve had little of that romantic, emotional passion — you know, the kind that makes you think of thong underwear, rose petals, lotion and oils, and the best kisses you’ve ever had. Not to mention the heartache, the feeling that someone stabbed you from deep within, the sense that life without the person that put passion in your life has little meaning. I found all of that in his five-minute and twenty-seven second soliloquy on intimate passion, all of it wrapped in the schmaltzy-ness that came with him, at least for the traditional Latin music aficionado.
A Nuyorican friend and former co-worker said to me on more than one occasion with both “Just Another Day” and “Otro Día Más” blaring out of my office on my back-to-back trip of passion, “but he’s Cuban,” as if that should matter. I mean, I’m no fan of the elitist Cubans who came over after the ’59 revolution and advocated the US overthrow of Castro long before he nationalized industries or called on the former Soviet Union for help. Besides that, I guess liking anyone that once wrote music for Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine was tantamount to having an unsophisticated view of Latin music in general. Sure, I might still not be able to appreciate the wide variety of nuances between Salsa, Bomba, Plena, Merengue, Samba, Cumbia, or Rumba. Yet I think that Secada gave me and several million other passion-deprived Americans a window into a world of music that had defied my ability to interpret it, literally and figuratively.
Had I experienced passion in music — or anywhere else — before? Yeah, of course, but like the CERN and Princeton scientists attempting to start a self-sustained nuclear fusion reaction, I only experienced it for short snippets of time. Even as much as I love Luther, the passion in his music was in a subtle form, the kind that I can more easily relate to now as a married man of nearly ten years. Secada’s passion was full-blown, the kind that I could seldom find within myself outside of the classroom. And, by the way, the music and passion is even better in the Spanish version of “Otro Día Más” than it is in the English version.
So when I first heard the song at the end of August some seventeen years ago, I fell in love with it. Then I caught the sappy yet passionate video of “Just Another Day” soon after. It’s been one of my mainstay songs since. I eventually bought Jon Secada’s debut CD, his second CD in ’94, and have been expanding my collection of Latin and World music since. I also started buying mainstream artists who found a way to inject new passion into their own music.
So what did it for me, ultimately? Those lines between “Want to hold on to never/I’m not that strong, I’m not that strong” and “Why can’t you stay forever/Just give me the reason, give me the reason, cuz'” and that last “I”. They raised the tiny hairs I have on the back of my neck, made me think of love, lust, loss and the need for passion. It was the emotional 60-yard touchdown pass that my music collection needed, and still needs, to be as complete and eclectic as it can be.
“Just Another Day” even inspired me to continue to learn Spanish, albeit in a haphazard, informal way. Typically, I can understand anywhere between ten and 30 percent of what’s being said in a conversation, assuming it’s a dialect I’ve heard before. I sound awful when I attempt to speak it, so I usually don’t try. My reading comprehensive would likely put me at intermediate (thanks in no small part to four years of Italian and one semester of Spanish). Still, I understand 100 percent of “Otro Día Más” (you would think so after seventeen years). One of these days, I’ll buy Rosetta Stone and try to get further along in my Español comprehension. In the meantime, I’ll strap on my iPod, walk over to Borders, skip over to “Otro Día Más” and “Sentir.” You can call me schmaltzy all you want!