When I was 21, in 1991, I fell in love with a Mexican girl. It was the week of our college graduation and she was the childhood friend of a classmate. I visited my classmate in Mexico City that summer in order to see her again. The hit album at the time was “21 años” by Luis Miguel. Luis Miguel, named for the Luis Miguel Dominguín memorialized by Hemingway in The Dangerous Summer, was, and still is, the biggest star in Mexico. Everyone Mexican of my generation had known him since his first hit at ten years old. “21 años” was mostly pop-ballads. The hit song was the danceable “No culpes a la noche”, a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Blame it on the Boogie”. I bought the CD and began to learn Spanish by listening to it. The ballads made me think of my Mexican love, who in the meantime seemed to be trying to forget about me.

So I paid attention when LuisMi, as he is known, began to appear on the American scene. In 1995 he was the only Latin American singer to perform at Frank Sinatra’s eightieth birthday along with Bruce Springsteen, Natalie Cole and Bob Dylan. In 1997 he attended the Oscars with Salma Hayek, to whom people say my wife bears a striking resemblance. I thought in those days he was trying to be the first crossover artist from Latin America to the U.S. market—although that feat had probably been accomplished by Ricky Martin in 1995 with “Un, Dos, Tres”.

In 1997 my Mexican love had accepted my marriage proposal. My mother came to Mexico to meet her future daughter-in-law, along with my sister. While there, the three of us rented a car and a driver for a day trip to Taxco, the hill-side silver-mining town. One of my friends whom I had met a few years before in Afghanistan had an uncle, a German prince, who lived near Taxco where he designed jewelry. We had arranged to have lunch at his place.

On the way, at Tres Marias, the tip of the ridge south of Mexico City that descends towards Puebla and Cuernavaca, the car broke down. The driver called his company to see if another car could come. It would take some time. While we were debating whether or not it was worthwhile to continue a woman driving alone stopped and offered us a ride to Taxco; we accepted. I recognized the voice of the singer on the CD she was playing. It was Luis Miguel. But the songs were completely different from the pop melodies I was familiar with. She said that these were old songs, written between the 1940s and 1970s in the bolero style by great Mexican songwriters like Armando Manzanero and the great Agustin Lara. She said the album had just been released. Operating on my theory that LuisMi had tried and failed to break into the U.S. market, I extended my theory that out of frustration he relentlessly embraced his Mexican roots. The music was simply superb and it carried us to Taxco where we were, to the undisguised aggravation of our German host, late for lunch.

Luis Miguel lives a reclusive existence mostly in Acapulco, except when he is touring. He has been romantically linked to many a Latin beauty, has fathered three children, but has never married. He has been rumored to be dead, creating massive grief among Mexicans. In 2017, facing $15 million in damages from two different lawsuits, this intensely private man agreed to authorize a television series based on his life in exchange for having his debts paid. The first season, on Netflix, was a sensation. Watching it, I realized that my theories were all wrong. The CD I had heard on the way to Taxco was actually the third in a series resulting from a collaboration with Manzanero. The first one had come out in 1991, when I had first discovered him. That year he had a contractual obligation to produce an album. His preferred songwriter, Juan Carlos Calderón, who had written the hits on the album I had bought, wasn’t able to come up with enough material in time. LuisMi, after meeting Manzanero on a television show, decided to do covers of boleros. Manzanero co-produced. While he did some other pop albums in between, he continued his collaboration with Manzanero, producing two more albums. The latter had just been released when we were rescued on the road to Taxco.

My wife’s aunt was a musicologist specializing in Mexican music. About Lara she wrote, “at the beginning of the sixties, Lara was mostly the memory of a style, a legend.” LuisMi brought him back three decades later. A bit before my wife met me, her aunt told her: “Don’t get stuck in a rut in Mexico. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous.” Shortly afterwards my wife’s aunt died of cancer and I never met her. My wife’s decision to hitch her life to mine was definitely adventurous. I had not job or place to live when we married. The song we chose for our first dance at the wedding, a year after the trip to Taxco, was Manzanero’s “Por debajo de la mesa”, on the CD we were listening to on the way to Taxco. When I suggested it, I had no idea of any of the background that I have just described. I listen to it as I write this, my wife nearby perhaps with her own memories. If you have not heard Luis Miguel sing, you must.


Photo by Eric Titcombe