Just like Patricio and I are prone to spontaneous bursts of dance, the cat and the car's interior are also often witness to our impulsive bits of song. And the top three melodies, with lyrics we'll sometimes change, would be recognized by almost any Mexican citizen who happened to hear us through an open window. When the skies are overcast and the clouds look heavy, one of us is bound to take on an exaggerated tenor and deliver the prediction that "Parece que va a llover" (It looks like it's going to rain). Or when the mood strikes us, or to better call the other in from a different room, the register runs higher and out comes a vocal shower of "Amorcito corazón" (My little lovey heart). And sometimes, an almost pouty "Pero te quiero más que a mis ojos" (But I love you more than my own eyes) will find its way into the air between us. They're all perfect for our purposes, and they're all cultural references with one thing in common: an icon whose death happened fifty years ago yesterday.
Pedro Infante sang each of those lyrics in movies still so popular that they're played in rotation (along with around 60 others) each weekend on major network television. A toda máquina, the Pepe el Toro trilogy, and Tizoc are the ones we pull our own top three from, but I'd also be telling the truth if I said that Patricio knew about a dozen other Infante songs in their entirety, by heart.
Just say the name "Pedro Infante" to someone here, and lyrics, images and sentimental ties will come to the listener's mind. Everyone has a favorite movie to name, or three, and though some love his memory a great deal more than others, it would be a rare and astonishing thing to find a person who frowned at the invocation. Actor and singer, with a voice that still wields the power of swoon, he's the one person an aunt of ours said would have made her consider acts of adultery. My mother-in-law can go glassy-eyed when she hears him, my father-in-law will belt out "Efigenio El Sombrerudo" at a party with his best imitation. Patricio's daughter, even as a little girl, couldn't have been a more rapt audience when watching his films.
He's something much more than anyone I can think of in American culture; it's a delicious coincidence that his last name literally means "prince." He's like a bigger-than-life soup of Frank Sinatra, Elvis and Robert Redford well-simmered together. And unlike Elvis, whose life also ended too soon, Infante hasn't become an icon of kitch. He's as classic as a Redford, or a Humphrey Bogart, perhaps. But for many, like Elvis, Infante continues to live. He was even said to have moved right here to Nicolás Romero, spending the rest of his days in peace. Our friend, Laura, knew the rumor all to well--she and her father made nothing less than a pilgrimage here when she was a girl, only to find an old man to dash their hopes and disappoint them both.
His lyrics and lines, not to mention his charisma and his rags-to-riches story of fame, continue to maintain thick, solid roots throughout popular Mexican culture, fifty whole years after the ill-fated flight he was piloting in the Yucatán. Only a few years back, supporters of López Obrador claimed that "¡Peje el Toro es inocente!"--a reference to one of Infante's most famous characters, Pepe el Toro, framed for a crime he didn't commit.
And much like Pepe, Infante's record has been washed virtually clean by his fans. His machismo may have been enormous, some illicit connections may have been true, too. But he's become a legend here, and the legendarily good find their faults falling away, far in the background.
And what's left is the stuff of spontaneous, joyful song.