Yesterday I wasn’t able to listen to his music. It was too soon for me to hear his voice, those chords, the intensity of his declarations. For some reason it felt more comforting to see his interviews on Univision and watch people paying their respects to him. I’m guessing I just needed to feel accompanied in my sadness at the death of Juan Gabriel.
For many Mexicanos and Chicanos who grew up in the late 70’s and 80’s, Juan Gabriel’s music was a staple in our households. He hit the music scene big with catchy pop tunes and tear-jerking ballads that evoke emotions usually reserved for tequila shots. He knew how to craft songs that perfectly captured the bitter sweet realities of life.
Today, I tuned my car radio to a local mexican station so I could hear his music. I thought I was ready. Then immediately, and to my surprise, the tears began to flow. I’m not the type of Juan Gabriel fan who followed his career attentively or kept up with his recordings. Instead I respected him as an immensely brilliant songwriting and singer, who had a big presence in my community, my childhood, and in my family. As I heard his music, my body remembered what it was like to be 9 years old, singing along to “El Noa Noa” in Juarez, Mexico with my niece and cousin.
Since my parents were raised in Juarez, Mexico; Juan Gabriel was naturally respected as a home town hero. Most summers our family would drive from Salinas to Juarez, and I remember passing “El Noa Noa” nightclub, and seeing Juan Gabriel’s posters plastered everywhere. His music seemed to be playing constantly.
It’s a silly video, but when I see it I can feel the hot Juarez summers with my parents, and remember my brother going out to the clubs.
I felt such sadness today as I heard Juan Gabriel’s songs on the airwaves. Hearing him released a flood of childhood memories and ripped open the wound of my grieving. Then a more recent memory came, which always hits me like a ton of bricks.
After my mother died, my father listened to Rocío Dúrcal’s rendition of “Amor Eterno” a lot (in case you don’t know, “Amor Eterno” is pretty much the anthem for those grieving a death). I remember seeing him sitting on the edge of the bed, with the portable CD player in his hands and headphones on. He looked up at me and asked me to help him skip to the “Amor Eterno” track on the Rocío Dúrcal CD. Something about that memory shakes me to tears inside and out. My father lived 19 years without my mother, and those words crafted by Juan Gabriel must have helped him grieve that loss that never left his heart.
I just realized that this is the first time I’m hearing “Amor Eterno” since my father’s passing in March, and my god, que dolor. Ugly cry complete with all the tears, mocos, and vavas.
For us Mexicanos and Chicanos with parents who have passed on, hearing Juan Gabriel’s music is not only filled with the reality that he will never create or perform again, but it also re-awakens a grieving of family loss. With both my parents gone, these memories of childhood visits to Juarez, and other family memories hurts on a deep level. Today I felt the knot in my gut turn into a a twisting fist. The tears kept coming and I felt myself slipping into a dark place. Then I decided, that instead of falling into a pit of sadness, I’d make some room for gratitude too. Gratitude to be able to have such memories of family in the first place, and growing up with the presence of a Mexican singer that was celebrated by those young and old.