I learned about romance at a very early age. It came in the form of yellow letters, blue unicorns, and José Luis Perales. Back in the day when people still made mix-tapes my dad made this mix-tape for my mom. The details of the story depend on who you ask, but basically my dad wanted to leave the country, but my mom wasn’t ready. He left to work on cruise ships and somewhere around 10 years later he sends my mom a mix-tape. My mom used to listen to this mix-tape all the time and then later I listened to it all the time. I’ve forgotten most of the names of the songs on there, but I distinctly remember “Cartas amarillas” (yellow letters), “Unicornio” (Unicorn), and José Luis Perales. The reason why José Luis Perales is a special case is because my mom had all of his music and I loved listening to it. Also, I’m pretty sure that mix-tape had a song by him I just can’t remember which one.
“Cartas amarillas” is sung by Nino Bravo, a Spanish singer from the late 60s and early 70s. He died young, at the tender age of 28, but his voice still lives with us. I remember thinking how appropriate this song was inside that mix-tape. It sings of a profound and nostalgic longing, the kind you feel when you re-read that letter from many years ago and it still makes you cry.
“Unicornio” is by Silvio Rodriguez, a Cuban singer who was (is?) very politically involved and wrote many protest songs. I’m pretty sure it’s not quite about a lost blue unicorn, but I was too young to understand the political significance, and even now it doesn’t matter. It’s another song about loss and helplessness.
For the last song I chose one by José Luis Perales-another Spanish singer from the 70s (and also 80s)-that I really like. It’s called “Qué pasará mañana” (What will happen tomorrow). It’s also about, you guessed it, loss. He’s asking what will happen when his loved one leaves tomorrow. We don’t know because they turn the lights off and go to sleep.
I learned through all these songs and singers that romance is about loss and suffering. That love is more powerful when it’s tragic and that there is romance in unicorns.