Sad news in Spain of the death from lung cancer of Antonio Vega, singer, songwriter and former member of Nacha Pop. I was introduced to his songs little more than a year ago, and since then have been continually struck by the tremendous unity of lyrical and musical precision in his songwriting. In his lyrics nothing gets left to chance, but each time you listen it feels as though the images he creates are spontaneously unfolding before you for the first time.
To give an idea of his cultural import, the title of his best-known song, La chica de ayer, was used as the title for the Spanish remake of Life on Mars. Here’s the song, which I posted before:
Here are the lyrics:
Un día cualquiera no sabes qué hora es,
te acuestas a mi lado sin saber por qué.
Las calles mojadas te han visto crecer
y con tu corazón estás llorando otra vez.
Me asomo a la ventana, eres la chica de ayer
jugando con las flores en mi jardín.
Demasiado tarde para comprender,
chica, vete a tu casa, no podemos jugar.
La luz de la mañana entra en la habitación,
tus cabellos dorados parecen el sol.
Luego por la noche al Penta a escuchar
canciones que consiguen que te pueda amar.
Me asomo a la ventana, eres la chica de ayer.
Demasiado tarde para comprender.
Mi cabeza da vueltas persiguiéndote.
Mi cabeza da vueltas…
The song is addressed to a girl. Right from the start, we don’t know when this is happening. ‘Un dia cualquiera’ could mean whatever the day, or no day in particular, or just a day like any other. Anyway, on this day, she doesn’t know what time it is, but she’s lying down beside him, and she doesn’t know why. The wet streets -which could be from the rain, or -if we’re in the Malasaña area of Madrid where the Penta club mentioned in the second verse is located-, from the men out hosing down the streets first thing in the morning- have ‘seen her grow up’, and the image of water reappears in the next line, with her heart she is crying -again.
He goes over to the window, and exclaims ‘you’re the girl from yesterday’ (eres la chica de ayer) -or is she yesterday’s girl? Is he talking to her, letting her know who she is, or is he talking to himself? Then, in the next line, he reveals a further detail: the girl from yesterday, playing with the flowers in his garden. Does he see the girl when he looks out the window? How can she be in his bed and out in the garden at the same time? Are they two different people? Does looking out the window call forth the memory?
Whatever the explanation, he then says it’s ‘demasiado tarde para comprender’ -too late to understand- and says ‘chica, vete a tu casa, no podemos jugar’ – girl, go home, we can’t play. Whom is he sending home: the the girl out the window, or the girl in his room? Why’s it too late to understand, who’s doing the understanding, and what is to be understood? Is it too late for the crying girl in his room to understand what is happening because of something that has happened between them: some matter of lost innocence? Or is he telling himself that it’s simply too late -or too early in the day- and he’s too tired to be able to understand why there’s a girl in his room and a girl out playing in his garden?
In the next verse, the light of the morning (though, given the fact that this concerns a girl from yesterday, you could also understand ‘mañana’ in the sense of tomorrow) comes into the room. He tells her that her ‘golden locks’ – ‘cabellos dorados’ seem to be the sun. ‘Rizos de oro’ is the Spanish name for Goldilocks, the story of the little girl out playing who ends up going into a house where she has no business. Is this a sly reference? (OK, this may be a bit far-fetched. The report on his death in El País quotes him saying that ‘each person makes their own reading of my songs and finds things there that were never my intention’, but if he hadn’t written such rich material in the first place, this sort of thing wouldn’t manifest itself)
Abruptly, the next line transports us from this scene to the night time of the aforementioned Penta, where he (or they) are off to listen to songs that make it possible for him to love her.
Then, just as abruptly, back to the refrain, he’s back at the window, she’s the girl from yesterday, and his head spins as he tries to follow her, or to track her down. Can he really see her out there? Or is he trying desperately to find out who -or what- this girl is? I don’t think it’s too extravagant to propose that the closing image of him at the window pursuing what has gone before recalls the last image of Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci, with the knight alone and palely loitering.