What’s He Like? – A translation of a classic song

I first heard this song as sung by Vicente Fernandez, a classic singer of Mexican rancheras. His version is maudlin and over-the-top, as all rancheras are (usually in a good way). A couple years later, I was studying in Spain, and our grammar teacher used the title as an example and said it was a Spanish song. I ignorantly informed her that it was a Mexican song by Vicente Fernandez (nowadays, we would call that man-splaining). But she was right and I was wrong, and I’ve come to love the original version by Jose Luis Perales, an old-fashioned songwriter who might not have been famous today with his simple unassuming style and earnest lyrics.

Here’s a translation to give you an idea:

Looking in your eyes, I could swear
That you’ve got something new to tell me
Go ahead, love, don’t be afraid
Perhaps by tomorrow it’ll be too late
Perhaps by tomorrow it’ll be too late

And what’s he like?
Where did he fall in love with you?
Where’s he from?
What does he do with his free time?
Ask him for me:
Why has he stolen a piece of my life?
He’s a thief
Who has taken everything from me

Start getting ready now, dear
It’s getting late
And take an umbrella in case it rains
He’ll be waiting to love you
And I’ll be jealous over losing you
Bundle up
That gray dress looks good on you
Smile
So he doesn’t suspect that you’ve been crying
And leave me here
To start packing my bags
And forgive me
If I ask you one more question:

What’s he like?
Where did he fall in love with you?
Where’s he from?
What does he do with his free time?
Ask him for me:
Why has he stolen a piece of my life?
He’s a thief
Who has taken everything from me

I like how even though it’s emotionally raw, there’s a maturity and a sense of resignation there. He’s sad, jealous even, but he’s not angry. He’s accepted his fate and he’s going to handle it with as much dignity as he can. It seems like most break-up songs (in all languages, but especially in Spanish), tend to lack this sense of stoicism. Maybe because Jose Luis was 36 when he wrote it? I know that as I’ve gotten older, my songs have gotten less desperate and needy and more grown up. Because really, in the game of love, whether you win or lose, it’s important to be a good sport.

Update: I recorded a version of this and added English subtitles