Monday, November 28

The heart thrown into the sea

There are songs that escape from the messy file of memory and drag us to a lost time. They burst in suddenly, right off the bat, while we’re having other plans. They are songs that take you back to times you thought were forgotten, when the first drinks burned the throat and the smoke from the joints sweetened the lungs. In this case, the song that brings me here is St. Louis Blues, a sad piece made popular by Bessie Smith, who sang it like she was selling it out of a box of chocolates.

The fault of everything has been the reading of the book that Jackie Kay has dedicated to the empress of the blues. It is a narrative work that goes beyond the typical biography full of dates and technical and dizzying data. Its titled Bessie Smith (Alpha Decay) and has been translated from English by Alberto García Marcos.

These days I have abandoned myself to reading it, getting on each and every one of those trains that Bessie Smith took between snorts of locomotives and station whistles, suitcases, handkerchiefs and haste; trying to find metaphors beyond the black smoke of forbidden love in which she lived, punctuated by snaps of saliva and woman’s kisses.

Because Bessie Smith dragged her heartbreak along the platforms as if it were a suitcase loaded with stones, and that shows in each of her songs, but, without a doubt, the song that is best appreciated is in St. Louis Blues, which he interpreted between cornet tears and rhythms with a Spanish tint. Deep down, the way he interpreted comforted you a little in moments of worrying depression; just a little, I say, enough to grab the window frame and think before you jump.

I well remember those nights in La Coquette, a cave in Madrid that I’m not sure if it’s still open to the public and where I had my last drink. For a time, in a corner, I could always find the same woman, lonely and sad, with her gaze shivering at the bottom of her glass. She drank in small gulps as Bessie Smith’s voice blared over the speakers, recounting how her lover ran off with an elegant St. Louis woman, leaving her heart like a rock thrown into the sea. Sad stories need to be told, the waiter told me something similar, pointing his chin at the lonely woman in the corner whom his partner, a woman, had abandoned for another.

Now that I read the biography of Bessie Smith, where the Scottish Jackie Kay tells the love story that the blues empress had with one of the dancers in her company, the song that made her popular comes to mind. And her compasses reach me fully along with the blurred figure of that other lonely woman, sitting in the corner of a smoke-filled cave; a woman holding on to her whiskey glass as if she were holding on to the window frame before jumping, while Louis Armstrong’s cornet shook the glass of the bottles and a bite of bitters splashed the last chocolate in the box . Anyway.

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