And the best die young: The short life and death of Selena Quintanilla-Perez

(And the best die young: The short life and death of Selena Quintanilla-Perez –  Copyright© 2009 –

March remains the cruelest of all months;  and the 31st,  the day time stood still  in a space so surreal it deserves its own  time-line.

Flashback reminiscent of November 22, 1963:  It’s  a little after 1.05pm and the news that would rock Corpus Christi and the world begins to fan out of  Memorial Medical Center (now the corporately-branded Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi):  Selena Quintanilla-Perez, the celebrated  Queen of Tejano has just died after being shot by  the former president of her fan club.  Incongruity: Selena the most loving person in the world had just died following the most hate-filled encounter. The collective mind could not wrap itself around this. It still cannot.

Selena Quintanilla - The Corpus Christi Caller Times (Pic - George Gongora)

Shooting Star … One to the Universe: The late Selena Quintanilla-Perez April 16, 1971 – March 31, 1995. The symbolism in this pic is stunning “Como La Flor.” She has through fate and circumstance, become the symbol of our joy and pain clarified and bottled like an essence; stunningly potent in its essences and guises. (Copyright: George Gongora, Corpus Christi Caller Times)

And so it has been with this tragedy, that the majority of us  have been  condemned to start the story of Selena at the end of it with a casket,  instead of  the irrepressible little girl who would transfix the world with her song.


“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain… Or so says the legend.”  — Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds)


This is the paradox of Selena and Selenidad : a collective apprehension of what had been, through what had just been lost – a phenomenon Deborah Paredez describes as “the performance of memory.” Over two decades later, it shows no signs of abating. Perhaps there is a tale somewhere in here that  still has  to be told in a time and space bigger and a bit more removed from what has just unfolded. Perhaps we are just be too close to the rupture of Selena’s death to comprehend anything beyond what we tell little children.

We will try and keep things in perspective, cognizant of the time and place of her story’s unfolding; but even after factoring in the cult of personality and inevitable worship of celebrities, there is still something about Selena that transcends the American  cultural froth: the  sweet little girl who stumbled upon stardom on a fated lark and the multitudes who all of a sudden realized what they had – only to lose it in the very next moment. Against such charms there  are no  talismans, personal or otherwise, even amongst the most hard-bitten; the terminally jaded. Those in doubt should read the accounts of other musicians’ encounters with  Selena to get a sense of what this is all about – what Selena was all about. This may, perhaps be the nub of the story:  octave pyros and belters are born every minute, but melters are much harder to find.

Candle Flame

To be clear, Selena was a star, long before mainstream America and the world, by extension, discovered her. By the time  Selena’s  cross-over opus,  “Dreaming of You”, was released posthumously on 7/18/95,  she already had about eight variably successful albums under her belt.  However it was this posthumous album, a cross-over masterpiece, that show-cased the seminal brilliance and precocity of  the fallen chanteuse. But as Newsweek’s Joshua Alston astutely points out, the “cross-over” characterization was a bit provincial and misleading because Selena had already crossed-over into Mexico with her Tejano Music – a spruced up version of Conjunto music.

Selena Quintanilla, Dreaming of You Album, Cyberaxis

Part Gift to the World and Part Unplanned Elegy: Selena Quintanilla’s “Dreaming of You Album” (which would turn out to be her last) is absolutely heartbreaking. And the reason for this has as much to do with what the world lost as who the world lost. This (in a word) is the nub of the Selena Quintanilla story. Text Copyright: Cyberaxis.Wordpress. Photo Copyright: EMI Latin Records.

Listening to the album  “Dreaming of you” is absolutely heartbreaking. The lilting single “I Could Fall In Love penned by Keith Thomas, belongs in the hall of fame of timeless pop classics.  It’s beat, sinuous and insistent, beneath an airy vocal and layered instrumentation, propels the song like the muscles of a python. It works because Selena is really kicking it from the basement – vocally that is – and lending it heft “it ne’er would have had”  had  someone with more tenuous vocal chops sung it.  Her contralto, thick, warm and bodacious as a barmaid in a biker bar,  absolutely nails it to the  floor.  (Studio enhancements aside, compare it with Jeniffer Lopez’s otherwise decent rendition here to get a sense of just how much nuance and texture Selena gave this song.)  Play it on a long Sunday drive and you will find it  perfectly capable of imprinting itself on the mind like a subdurally engraved tattoo. The balladry is familiar, but the  sultriness is all Selena’s.  She ends up owning this song in the tradition of other greats who, through performance, end up “owning”  songs penned by others. I Could Fall In Love serenades heart-space of a cautious girl becoming a woman and Selena’s incantation, calm and collected, makes it as verisimilitudinal a telling as anything you will ever hear  in song.

(If the Selena video has been deleted or moved courtesy EMI, please Google around for the  non-commercial version.  I find it unspeakably annoying that Google is  sticking all kinds of commercials in front of the “official” version of  the “I could Fall in Love” video.)

Keith Thomas who  gets a bit tongue-tied when talking about Selena,  never forgot Selena or the days he and his crew spent at Bennet House making the record.  And in the video clip below, Christopher Perez and A.B. Quintanilla talk about how Selena worked this song:

She works the same magic on David Byrne’s audacious groove, “God’s Child“. If there were any doubts about Selena’s cross-over chops, this should have settled it as the martial groove morphs into a tropical call-and-response  sub-entitled “Baila Conmigo” . There is an amazing little  story behind this song.  As David Byrne told Selena biographer, Joe Nick Patoski, he sent Selena a 24 track version of the song and told her to do whatever she wanted with it, from over-dubbing her voice to create a duet, to removing Byrne’s voice altogether and replacing it with hers.  Ever so accommodating, Selena worked her magic around Bryne’s plaintive vocal and returned the tape to him. The result is what you hear below ….  stunning vocalese: Bryne’s plaintive call to Selena’s tropicales caliente response. The song.  The words. The video. Eerily, eerily portentous stuff. It gives me chills everytime I play it, especially when I realize it was written and recorded while Selena was still alive and well.

The animated video was graciously provided by George (gporrazz) of Youtube who also does Sims-like animations under the  “Sims 2 Selena” search term.

While playing it try and pick out Joseph Campbell-esque themes and memes throughout this  like the journey, the child and destiny among others.

Selena’s cover of the old Mariachi torch song “Tu Solo Tu” on the Dreaming of You album completes the circuit that made her spark as an artist.  If “Tu Solo Tu” represents the roots of Selena’s music, then “I could fall in love with you” represents the twigs and leaves that, through the person of  Selena,  came out of the incorporative-experimental aspect of Tejano Music;  a genre that numbers her among its latter-day proponents.  I cannot listen to  “Tu Solo Tu“, which means “You Only You” without getting chills. It’s  vibe is as ancient as the rivers that course ‘neath the Tex-Mex/Rio Grande landmass. And Selena’s voice absolutely electrifies this old joint.  If I was a dowser, this is where my rod would go absolutely nuts because here, ‘neath this very spot are the nether wells that gave Selena’s sound its power and magic.

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters
Of Life’s longing for itself.”
(The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran)

Amazon reviewer, Rick Mitchell, says it best when it comes to Dreaming of You, the album: “The tragedy was that such a promising introduction also served as a sad farewell.”

The one genre I wish Selena could have tackled more by way of further tribute to the past would have been the sweet music of the  trios as in “La Bella Epoca De Los Trios”. This is the old music in the tradition of Los Tres Reyes, Los Panchos, Trio Les Tres Ases and Trio Los Tres Diamantes. Her sultry voice in combination with low-fi acoustic instrumentation would have been amazing. This post-humous duet with Los Tres Reyes is perhaps the closest we will ever get to that dream. Whether Selena is warbling with the Mariachi Sol De Mexico in Don Juan De Marco or doing a sweet remake of   Siempre Hace Frio, she never seems to hit a false note with these golden oldies.  But I digress.

Candle Flame

While “Dreaming of You” gave more than subtle hints of Selena’s musical precocity (when it came to her  grasp of the Anglo-American pop genres) her discography proves how genuinely bilingual she was as an artist. The latter is no mean feat because not every artist pulls it off with such critical and commercial success. “I Could Fall In Love With You” is as authentic in its airy pop realm as any of her Mariachi torch songs in their traditional lairs. The power of Selena’s more traditional fare came from the old part of her soul. The newer stuff was the sonic equivalent of fusion cuisine. And it brimmed with everything she had learned as a kid from the cumbias to the rancheras (incorporating the waltz, the polkas and the boleros) to the pop, R n’ B and reggae of her youth. Her father says as a kid, Selena immersed herself in everything. (Hear her belting out “Feelings” as a 9 year old here: )

“Como La Flor”  with its reggae inflected beat was just the tip of Caribbean influence.  “Techno Cumbia” with its syncopatedly  strutting groove  shows that the soon-to-be-named reggaeton influence had entered Selena’s creative stream  almost fully formed. This was about five years before the Latin flowering of the same influence that would spawn reggaeton; a commercially vibrant genre that would take the Latin music scene by storm in the Caribbean and Tex-Mex community at the turn of the century.  Techno Cumbia shows that Selena had her fingers firmly on this genre long before the boys from the barrio started struttin’ around with their hands on their you-know-what.

The trick in music is in doing one or two
things well. Selena’s went far beyond that
through the agency of her voice, inner-ear,
and the way she inhabited her music.

Selena’s cameo  in the Don Juan Demarco movie with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando, gives more  than subtle hint of what was in her future: the flowering of a multi-faceted entertainer. The cameo was only three  seconds long – but for those who knew what they were looking at – what a glorious three seconds it was. Selena, in colorful regalia with her Mariachis in spiffy charros, belts out an extended note before being panned out of the picture, but the moment had already slipped into legend.

That same Youtube clip is candidly revealing of the Selena the world never knew: the quintessential American kid who transformed herself, and a marginal/regional music, genre into something the world would never forget –  a feat which somewhat mirrors what Bob Marley and the Wailers did for reggae. In the clip Selena’s pronunciation of “Don Juan Demarco” is ethnically authentic but her accent is as American as  apple-pie. (The original Youtube video connected to this has been deleted. In the interim, here is a slightly different replacement:)

(If this one gets deleted, as often happens on Youtube, just search for “Selena Don Juan Demarco” in the Youtube search window.)

Not A Sparrow Falls To The Ground: Noone grieves alone when it comes to the untimely death of this young woman. This Princess.  But what is it that makes the death of Selena so deep and so wrenching even for people who knew her only tangentially through her music? Hold that question, because the answer is as rooted in the person of Selena as the roots of that proverbial tree are rooted in the earth.

“You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”
(Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)

Como La Flor: Selena was an undeniable beauty in a sub-culture equally beholden to beauty. But her beauty was not of the skin-deep, porcelain doll variety. Au contraire,  it was firmly rooted in the earthy sensibility of the girl next door with the dazzling smile; the uber-curvaceous ingenue who no matter how bright her star shone, remained as approachable as the girl next door.  Physically,  Selena’s beauty had the hint  of every-woman from the  Spanish Mami to the Afro-Asiatic ingenue. Yes, even though Selena was of  Aztec/Indian extraction, there was more than a hint of the Thai vixen in her sumptuous  features; an exclamation point of bodacious form in a culture that once idolized waifish form. Through unapologetic self-presentation, Selena had claimed a venerable spot in the emerging pantheon of beauties as diverse as Aishwarya Rai, Angelina Jolie, Babygurl Aaliyah,  Hawaiiana Tia Carrere and yes, Jeniffer Lopez. An “undifferentiated aesthetic continuum”? Absolutely, but not the one Northrop envisaged.

“They are the sons and daughters
Of Life’s longing for itself.”
(Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)

Selena Quintanilla - Studies in Pastels

Studies in Pastels: Before she died, Selena Quintanilla had sent notices to the fashion world that she was well on her way. This water-color schemed outfit, is one of the items on display at the Selena Museum in Corpus Christi. (Photo: Cesare Bonazza/WireImage – )

“Talent, raw undeniable talent”
(Before the Music Dies)

Selena personified the talent celebrated in the the documentary “Talent, raw undeniable talent”. She was the real thing from day one. Says Latin music critic, Enrique Fernandez: “This was not some sexy babe groomed by a record company.” Fernandez was being interviewed by People Magazine’s Bill Hewitt for the article “Before Her Time,” – a title which spoke as much of her musical  precocity as of her untimely passing. Bill Hewitt, says when Selena first sang at age six, her father immediately knew what he had; a voice that was endowed with perfect pitch and timing. Although perhaps lacking the upper octave range of say a Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, it had something their  voices didn’t have; a malty texture with contralto stylings that have minted many a star.  Norah Jones has it. And so did  Aaliyah.  Sarah Vaughn had it by the silly buckets. (Selena’s vocal range,  is believed to have spanned  “2 octaves, 3 notes and a semitone.”  AaliyahDawnTeam) Listen to “Tu Solo Tu” for a  good measure of this.  Like Jones’ and Vaughn’s,  Selena’s voice was infused with a thick acousticity that gave it an irresistible allure.

Then like others before her when she was at the top of her game, boom! It was all gone in an instant.

She was a flower. She was a song – the one who, through fame and fated circumstance, became the symbol of our joy and pain clarified  and bottled like an essence;  stunningly potent in its manifestation and guises. (Cyberaxis)

This Youtube clip marks the pinnacle of her career,  performance and otherwise. Everything in this clip is popping, the bubblegum tune notwithstanding. The sights, the sounds and the energy of the entire band is unlike any Selena clip you will ever see on Youtube.  Unbeknownst to the world, Selena  had just reached the top of her mountain. “The promised land” was  in plain  sight.  The  coy little girl who had once warbled “Feelings” into an awkwardly cradled microphone,  had arrived. And by golly what a joyous arrival it had been! The hordes  she had invited to “Entre A Mi Mundo” had to yet populate the (sub-cultural) landscape she had illuminated,  but the wall had clearly been breached. And hordes did indeed cross over into that space musically, culturally and linguistically.

Herein were the palpable seeds of the Selenidad  Deborah Paredez would later write about.

Perhaps Dad Knew More Than He Realized:  The choice of Tejano Music over American pop as the touchstone of Selena’s career was perhaps more prescient than Abraham Quintanilla realized because it really tapped into the soul of an entire people, the unborn, the living and the dearly departed.  The evidence is all over this high quality clip of Selena at  the Tejano Music Awards in Miami, May 1994.  What makes this performance pop and sizzle beyond theatrics is the  “soul quotient.”  More on this later:


And Then Grief Most Unbearable
(The aftermath of Selena’s passing)

The Selena Quintanilla Perplex: There is a rip-tide of emotion surrounding the death of Selena that is quite quite stunning in its breadth and depth. Years after her passing, the  grief keeps flowing as if from a bottomless well. The memorials and elegies keep trickling in like rivulets that swell into streams.  The blogs and forum postings are everywhere and their postings have been very instructive.

“Sometimes when we touch
The honesty is too much …. ” (Dan Hill)

Of Loss & Grief That Imprints Itself Across Generations :  Some of the teens who grieve Selena’s death today were not even born when she was  killed. The remainder were toddlers.  Is it a case of celebrity worship in a culture defined by such? Perhaps – but I think it goes beyond that because Selena affected people who were not prone to celebrity worship by her simple charms.  It is that common touch that makes the pain of her passing universal and heartfelt.  Most people are not prepared to find out that this was a young girl they would have loved regardless of whether she could sing or not.  This is where the story begins to cut.  Stars are, to a considerable extent, defined by the distance they create between them and their fans. It’s part of the definition of what it means to be a star and most fans accept it as “the price of the ticket”.  Selena knew no such distance or sense of remove – at least in her mind – and fans were often shocked by it. The new fans fare no better. When they stumble upon this side of Selena the charge is released and then the passion flares again” (Dan Hill)

Given the person and persona of Selena, the phenomenon can only described in terms of what happens when a member of the family dies.  Yes, Selena was family;  family as much to her own flesh and blood as to the people  who knew and loved her only through her music.  For me personally, the Corpus Christi newscast and video of her funeral linked to this post is just too difficult to watch.  So I skip it most of the time.

“Well, you never heal from it.  It is a wound to the heart that will be there until the day you die. You learn to live with it. Anybody that’s lost a child, they know what I am talking about.” (Abraham Quintanilla, Hollywood’s Most Shocking Murders #6)

The reaction to this blog posting has been equally instructive. I will not go into the  statistical details, suffice it to say that they have consistently trounced those of posts I thought would garner more interest by virtue of the their newsworthiness;  their contemporaneity. (You can see evidence of the post’s ascendancy in the order of interest under “Top Posts” on the home page here).  While other posts experience periodic surges, the Selena post remains an evergreen and perennial favorite amongst people who visit Cyberaxis.  With very minimal exceptions,  it has the most page views overall.  It remains on the top of the list during most weeks, with astronomic surges in March and April. What a turn for a post which came together off the cuff in a Starbucks coffee shop  one lackadaisical Saturday afternoon on March 7, 2009.

Journey To Corpus – Like Journey To Addis:  I am thinking of visiting Corpus Christi sometime in the future to vibe out the place Selena called home and the  Days Inn at 901 N. Navigation Blvd (Room 158) where she took her last steps. (A Virtual Globetrotting App gives you a  scalable bird’s eye-view image of the  Days Inn here,  replete with a legend that gives you  an idea of relative distances.) I have been to Dealey Plaza folks and  know what tragedies of this magnitude can do to the energy of a place.)

A non-descript ad photo, now associated with unspeakable tragedy. The Day's Inn at 901 Navigation Blvd., Corpus Christi, TX.  This gauche image now has something in common with the most haunting place in down-town Dallas. (See semi-panoramic of Dealey Plaza below)
A non-descript ad photo, now associated with an unspeakable tragedy. The Day’s Inn at 901 N.  Navigation Blvd., Corpus Christi, TX. This rococo image now has something in common with the most haunting place in down-town Dallas. (See the semi-panoramic view of Dealey Plaza below)


The most haunted place in all of Dallas: Dealey Plaza on a deceptively sunny day. Anyone who thinks that tragedy, historical or otherwise does not warp the energy of a place ought to visit Dealey Plaza ... or to talk to an empath.
The most haunted place in all of Dallas: Dealey Plaza on a deceptively sunny day. Anyone who thinks that tragedy, historical or otherwise does not warp the energy of a place ought to visit Dealey Plaza or to talk to an empath.


Yolanda Saldivar

The subject of Yolanda Saldivar will, in time, be dealt with not because of some prurient interest in tragedy or infamy. No, the subject of Saldivar will be dealt with because, as the makers of the movie Selena explained to her father Abraham Quintanilla, the story of Selena would never be complete without at least a cursory look at the woman who pulled the trigger at the Days Inn on Navigation Blvd.  Yolanda Saldivar, at the very least, deserves the forensic treatment of a killer who was legally found guilty of murder.

Yolanda Saldivar - Jailbird

The unadorned face of a killer who robbed a timeline of a star-child: Yolanda Saldivar at Gatesville Prison (Mountain View Unit), TX. The wound Yolanda Saldivar inflicted on the community has not healed because the collective psyche does not know how to deal with what happened on March 31st, 1995.

Healing as an oblique, tangential process: The wound that Yolanda Saldivar inflicted on Abraham and Marcella Quintanilla cannot me measured or communicated. The wound she inflicted on the community is, among many, still as fresh as the day it was inflicted. Closure is a therapeutic fancy. The wound has not healed because the collective psyche  does not know how to deal with it. There is a physical corollary to this in human physiology and it leads to all kinds of accommodations and pathologies  (scarring and physio-postural compensation.)

In another sense the killing of Selena represented the looting of a community chest – the paradoxical birth of “La Leyenda” notwithstanding.

Saldivar’s apparent lack of remorse and smug sense of remove has not helped matters.  (For starters check out Yolanda’s answers and the expression on her face during this 1998 VH1 special interview.)  The result in terms of the community’s reaction to Yolanda Saldivar?  The formation of  scar tissue as much around the murder and memory of  the murder Selena as around the name of Yolanda Saldivar.  It manifests itself in different ways.  For every one who has forgiven Yolanda, there are many who haven’t.  Their angers still boils over at the slightest reminder …. the slightest provocation which for many is one and the same.  Selena’s family prefers not to speak of Yolanda’s name in any way that acknowledges what she was or appeared to be before March 31st.  It’s a tenuous, intricate feat but the family finds ways of pulling it off.  Within the inner sanctum, the Quintanillas have had to  create a newer sense of equilibrium and sanity;  an accounting for what happened and how to deal with it.  In that sanctum Saldivar has transmogrified into a shadow, – a spectre  without a name.

Lysis: The task of examining Yolanda Saldivar is fraught with danger; the danger of being sucked into her warped reality. Scientists are subject to obsessions and exorcists can be tormented by the demons they exorcise.  And hovering above this enterprise is the real danger of glorifying that which deserves neither glorification nor renown. The zone of forensic treatment exists within that narrow compass.  I feel up to the challenge of turning the spotlight on this part of the story and roasting it on the  slow-burn.  Refusing to write about Yolanda Saldivar would amount to affirmation by omission. But on the other hand giving her more attention than she deserves would play into the disease that led to Selena’s death, not to mention attenuating Saldivar’s 30 year sentence or the existence of a woman who no longer has a life beyond what she can suck through a long proboscis.

As strange synchronicity would have it, Yolanda Saldivar will be eligible for parole on April  Fools Day in 2025 – a day after the date she murdered of Selena and and two days before her burial.  (The chances of her getting out on first and second tries may be slim, unless she seriously changes her story with a collaborative history within the walls of Gatesville.)  Fortunately by the time 2025  rolls along, the collective trauma and memory of Selena would have subsided somewhat – mulched over by the vicissitudes of time and circumstance. Be that as it may, there will be a momentary shudder in 2025 as the community relives the trauma of March 31st.

Yolanda will come up for parole on April Fool’s day and the press will be there to rehash the whole tragedy. The gawky public will eat it all up as it watches Yolanda Saldivar play her last hand – part “Silence of the Lambs” and part  spectable of Simpson’s Bronco chase  – the same that seared certain images into the collective mind.  (This fact of life is as true of rubber-neckers on accident-prone freeways as the hyper-mediated spaces we live in.) Yolanda will add a few more minutes to her infamy and her ego, in some mangled way, will continue to be sustained the way a severed limb is sustained by residual shreds of skin.

Yolandar Saldivar, who is currently imprisoned in the  Mountain View Unit at Gatesville, has filed several appeals against her conviction alleging errors in her trial process.  Saldivar now represents herself  in such legal proceedings. Until such a time as things change,  Yolanda’s address will be:

Mountain View Unit
2305 Ransom Road
Gatesville, Texas 76528


Candle Flame

Selena Four CD Box Set Announced For March 9, 2010: The Corpus Christi Caller Times reports that a four CD box set of Selena’s music will be released on March 9, just 22 days before the 15th anniversary of her death. The set entitled “Selena – La Leyenda” (Selena – The Legend) comprises 82 tracks on four CDs grouped into Cumbias y Pop (Disc 1), Tejano y Rancheras (Disc 2), English (Disc 3) and Live performances (Disc 4). Elvia Aguilar who wrote the story quotes Selena’s sister, Suzette as saying that will be one of EMI records largest release because it involves multi-format packages from different track combinations priced differently, to digital download options. There is no indication of  unreleased music on this set. Along with the box set is a book with personal messages from Selena’s family, friends and family and some rare photos and art. The cost of the book is about $99.

Selena box set - 15 annivesary

15th Anniversary Remembrance: A box set, a book and some rare pictures. The accent should be on the latter. Had Selena lived and thrived, she would have been 39 years on April 16, 2010. (Photo: Cyberaxis)

Selena Quintanilla: Satire or Sartori, Legend or Saint?

The answer to either or both depends on who you talk to. For Texas Monthly the latter seems a moot point.  It has been so since Joe Nick Patoski’s seminal article.  And the corpus of hagiography,  some of it with academic pretensions, seems to prove the point.

The iconic image which drives home the underlying point in satirical terms can be found in the  April  issue of Texas Monthly 2010 under the title “Dreaming of Her.”

Note: If Selena came back and happened upon this cover,  she would be in stitches …. laughing so hard at the surreality of it all.  Nothing underlies the dualistic nature of this vision of the fallen chanteuse  more than this post-humous canonization. There, as fate or providence would have it;  an entire psycho-social dissertation compressed into a graphic meme; a beatific image.  Either way, artist Marc Burckhardt pulls off an amazing  coup de arte.

Selena Quintanilla - Legend or Saint? Texas Monthly, April 2010

Unimpeachable work of art regardless of one’s persuasion: Selena Quintanilla and The (Virtual) Gospel according  to Texas Monthly,  April 2010. Satire or sartori, the imago begins to crystallize. But what happens when the quasi-satirical veneer begins to wear off? (Art/Copyright: Marc Burckhardt, Texas Monthly)

While some of the accompanying vignettes feel a bit fluffed out, 0thers will make you choke up.  (If they don’t affect you at all, please check your pulse.)   Example –  Vignette I:  Selena’s older sister,  Suzette Quintanilla Arriaga on Abraham Quintanilla:

One time Dad took us to a garage that belonged to my uncle Isaac. It was in a really bad part of town. There were a lot of street people walking around – and the place was filthy. The floor was covered in oil stains. Dad said, “Look, we can fix this up and we can live here.” Honestly, I couldn’t see a dog living there. We all started to cry, and then Dad started to cry. He had this expression on his face that was indescribable. You know the pride that a man takes in providing for his family? His pride was gone. He looked defeated. That’s when it hit home how bad things were. (Dreaming of Her, Texas Monthly, April 2010)

Vignette II:  Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla on how he got back into music after leaving Dow Chemical in Lake Jackson and being rejected by employers for ostensibly being “overqualified” for petroleum related jobs:

I couldn’t get a job anywhere, so I told Marcella that I was going back into the music business. Music was the only thing I knew how to do. The band was the best thing we had going for us. We all agreed to try and make a go of it. (Dreaming of Her, Texas Monthly, April 2010)

Vignette III:  Suzette Quintanilla Arriaga on Dad’s stagecraft:

Dad made stage lights out of empty peach cans. He hung the cans on a pole, put colored gels inside them, and rigged the whole thing up to a bunch of light switches. Mom would sit there and run the lights. (Dreaming of Her, Texas Monthly, April 2010)

Sub-textural moral of the story? Anyone who wants to judge Abraham Quintanilla should have the decency or the moral cajones  to at least walk a mile in his shoes. He is who he is and given his life, his struggles and his achievements, he certainly deserves to walk his own back-roads (of the mind) without anyone intruding upon that space or deigning to shine a light onto his paths.

Please Note: This article is a work-in-progress.  I have not added much to this site lately because the next stage of this endeavor has been very hard for reasons I will probably go into later. It’s almost as if there is a part of me that is avoiding all of this, yet I keep circling and coming back to this place;  this space which is as much an ethereal garden as a patch of ground soaked with blood.

In the interminable interim  An Unsung Ode to Selena Quintanilla-Perez (1971 – 1995) , a poem I am endlessly working on, demonstrates that.  In my humble opinion, it gets closer to who or what Selena was about more than any verbiage I can concoct.  And like the seminal post that kicked off “And The Best Die Young …“,  it started with a few words imbued with an undying refrain.  “An Unsung Ode to Selena” unapologetically celebrates  Selena from an alternate space; a cloistered garden where silences have talismanic powers to heal.

Copyright© 2009 –



Candle Flame

43 responses to “And the best die young: The short life and death of Selena Quintanilla-Perez

  1. I wish I was like Selena so I can sing like her. Peace.

    • While not many of Selena’s fans can sing like her, they can be inspired by her in so many other ways, like her love (in word and in deed) for her family, fans and community. The perennial lesson that beauty can be more than skin deep, is still as applicable now as it was then.

      The Editor – Cyberaxis
      (Remember the words of Chaim Bertman,
      “In the venom, is a whisper of the antidote.”)

  2. I still can’t get over her death and I don’t understand why. I didn’t know her personally but her songs played in the background from the time I was in elementary school to the time I was a teenager in high school. That woman, Yolanda Saldivar, is sick. She is still interviewed and shares her stories about Selena like she wasn’t her killer! It’s painful to think about what could have been, but her music still makes me sing out loud and shake my booty like nobody’s business!

    • Your points are well taken. You are not alone in your thoughts and feelings about Selena’s killer, but it’s probably a mistake to think much about her because mentally and psychically, she occupies an alternate universe which we really have no business visiting except for forensic reasons. The truth of the matter is that Yolanda Saldivar is no bigger today than the day she begged Selena and her father to allow her to work for Selena. In retrospect that may have been a machination by an unbalanced soul to coopt a new and loftier identity ….. one she was not willing to let go when the wheels of her new found identity started flying off.

      This story is sad as sad can be.

      The Editor – Cyberaxis
      (Remember the words of Chaim Bertman,
      “In the venom, is a whisper of the antidote.”)

  3. Selena was a great artist. Why would someone just kill one of the best artists in the world? Funny, famous, successful and cute at a young life, it’s really sad.

    But my mystery is …. why did Selena go out and meet Yolanda Saldivar when she knew Yolanda was stealing money and being a hateful person? She should have told Chris to hang out in the back for her instead of running out on her own. M. Chan

    • The truth of the matter is that there are some things about the Selena tragedy we will never know. But whatever the case, Selena did not deserve to die like that. Joe Nick Patoski, in an response to a reader, traverses the same terrain as you on this “Como La Flor” page:

      Be that as it may, I doubt that this conspiratorial back-and-forth will shed any light that will begin to plumb the depths of the tragedy that happened here.

      The Editor – Cyberaxis
      (Remember the words of Chaim Bertman,
      “In the venom, is a whisper of the antidote.”)

  4. I have watched the movie Selena about a million times and a million times I cry. Why I still do when I already know what’s going to happen, is a question I can’t answer. Selena was young and trusting. I’m sure that’s why she went to see Yolanda. She saw the good in people and tragically, not the bad. “Dreamin’ of You” is still one of my most favorite love songs.

  5. “May the wings of the dawn carry Selena’s soul into paradise”
    And once there, sing her beautiful melody into eternity.

    Adios! Adios!

    Lock down the Judas who betrayed her with a kiss.

  6. Selena,

    I love you and miss you. I like to sing.

  7. Selena you are the best.

    Selena Rita

  8. I am here to say I love Selena and always have, since I was a little girl. Her movie, “Selena”, is my favorite. I am watching it right now. She is my idol, and as I make my journey to American Idol, I hope she will look down upon me and help me fulfill my journey.

    Selena was gorgeous and gifted with a loving family and husband. My thoughts continue to be with her family even to this day.

    Much love to all of those who knew and loved Selena, as well as her family.

  9. When I get to heaven, I hope you are the first person I see.

    We all love and miss you Selena! 😦

  10. I love you Selena. You are the best ….

  11. Selena forever!

  12. I remember hearing about Selena’s death. My daughter was a toddler at the time. She loved Selena. Before Selena’s death we would buy her CD’s and listen to them. When the tragedy happened we were watching TV and heard about the death. My daughter started crying. I will never forget the words that came from her mouth as tears started flowing; “Mommy is Selena in Heaven?” With tears in my eyes I gently replied, “Don’t cry baby, she is in heaven singing to Jesus.” Anyone as beautiful and as talented as her didn’t deserve to die like that.

    Selena, we will always love you. We all hope to see you in heaven.

    • Nobody deserves to die like that. The only way to make sense of it is to think of it as any of the freak accidents that happen in life. Whether the accident is the result of a tour bus barreling through a crowded square or an armed nutcase running amok then becomes a distinction without a difference.

      Otherwise your words are well taken. Selena’s ability to touch the young, including the beautiful ones who were not yet born when she died, is beyond astounding (You must have seen “The Selena Quintanilla Perplex” towards the end of the article).

      Finally the answer to the question, “Where have the flowers gone?” is “The same place where they came from.” One cannot destroy beauty any more than one can destroy matter … or energy for that matter.

      The Editor – Cyberaxis
      (Remember the words of Chaim Bertman,
      “In the venom, is a whisper of the antidote.”)

  13. I hope that b#**ch Saldivar burns in hell forever and ever and ever. I have seen the movie “Selena” about a million times too, and each time I don’t understand how this tragedy could have happened. I am a Gringa and had never heard of Selena until the tragedy happened, but I love her just as much as her other long-time fans.

    RIP Selena! I love you with all my heart.

  14. OMG! I think Tejano music died when Selena died. I loved her a lot. I was 6 she got shot and when my parents told me she had died, I cried for 2 weeks straight. She was my idol. I have her CDs, barbie doll and an autograph which I treasure dearly. I can’t believe she is gone!!

    R.I.P. I love you forever Selena,

    Forever and always, Daphne.

  15. Dear Selena Perez,

    I wish I could go back in time and see you as you were when you were alive. I was born in 1999, four years after you died.

    I LOVE YOU, even though you are no longer here. You will always be in my heart. I will never forget about you. You are the best role model in the world. I wish we had been sisters and shared everything. Every secret. I love your songs. I want to be a singer and explore the world just like you.

    I love how you supported people and told them to stay off drugs. I feel like I know you, even though I wasn’t alive when you were with everyone else.

    Me and your other fans all over the world will love you forever, even though you left us in tears. We know you are always with us, watching. Watching over us and your husband and your family like the angel that you are.

    We love you Selena. May your soul rest in peace.

    Love, Lucia.

  16. Dear Selena Perez,

    I love you and think that the ugly old lady who shot you should have been put on death row. I know how upsetting this must have been for your husband Chris Perez. I LOVE YOU BOTH. Jasmyn

  17. I love Selena Quintanilla Perez so much and still miss her a lot.

  18. Dear Selena:

    First off, I really want to thank you. You have always been an inspiration to me. From a very tender age I would love to listen to your voice. You had the voice of an angel. Now you have become what so many of us already knew you were, an angel.

    I wish things were different. I wish you still were alive so that I could follow your foot steps. When you passed, I was but a little girl just five years old. I still remember the day I saw your face on the newspaper. I remember it like if it were yesterday. I remember watching channel 41 ( when it really was channel 41, now its channel 6 but they still call themselves channel 41 haha) . You always had this glow that would make me want to be you. You looked happy, you looked content and yet, you were so loving and humble.

    That love for life that you portrayed has yet to fade. We remember you for what you were and ponder on what you could have become. Well, we know you would have become a super star, no doubt. We just wonder much bigger of a super star. Bottom line is, we loved you and still love you. Many of us never got to actually meet you, but we love you as if we knew you nevertheless. I am now 20 years old, and I still dance, and sing, and remember you.

    I am still hurt. I lost my idol, I lost my inspiration. I wish your family well, and I hope that you still sing, and have the same beautiful smile that you always had in each of your videos. Till this day I cry the same tears I cried when I was five, and found out that Selena ” se fue” . So as of right now I just want to thank you so much. May god bless you and your family. Love, Krystal.

  19. We miss Mrs. Selena Quintanilla Perez’s smile.

  20. Selena eternamente! Ella tenía la mejor voz.

  21. Selena tenía la mejor voz. Totalmente único.

  22. I just wanna say Selena will always live on through her beautiful music. I didn’t know Selena personally but definitely got to know her through her music and things her family said about her. Selena was a very loving person. I am sad that her life was taken from her. The evil lady who took her life will be judged by God on his return. She took Selena’s dreams away. Selena wanted at least five kids and a beautiful farm.

    I was just 16 going onto 17 when Selena was taken away from us – but ya know what, she is just sleeping for now. When God comes back, Selena will open her eyes like she had just been taking a little nap.

    Meanwhile we have to bear her absence. Trust me, I cry every time I play her songs. I can’t help it. She was a very caring person and had a beautiful family.

    Love you Selena and hope to meet ya in another lifetime. God bless.


  23. I love Selena Quintanilla and her music. The LORD had it all in control. He makes no mistakes.

  24. Selena,

    I love you and I will always love you. I am one of your biggest fans, hopefully your dream lives on forever.

  25. Eres la mas linda, la mas buena la de mejor cuerpo la de mejor voz y sobretodo calidad humana eso nadie te va a olvidar.

    Te amo Selena!

  26. Dear Selena Perez,

    I miss you. I wish you were still here. You are a good role model for young kids.

  27. I was 5 years old when she was shot. Inspite of my young age, I felt feelings of hurt and loss. She was one of my favorite singers. I still listen to Selena and commemorate her life and death. She looked SO alive and had the perfect voice ….

  28. Well I know its hard to lose a loved member of a family cuz I lost my little sister at a young age when she was only four years old. The news about Selena was therefore hard to bear, especially considering that she was a very great role model and that her music career was just taking off. I wish she was still around. We all still miss her and always will love her. Selena will live in our hearts forever and ever.

    Kaylnn Yazzie

  29. Selena I miss you so much. I just just heard about your tragic death and it touched me. I thought about how your mom was so devastated by your death that she could hardly walk properly without crutches. I miss you so Selena Quintanilla Perez. I Miss You. R.I.P.Tears.

  30. I love you Selena. You are the best. I am so sorry that that horrible woman did that to you …

  31. That woman who killed Selena is a b*tch …………

  32. Dear Selena,

    Like the other girl, I was not yet born when you died. However I think you are the best singer I have ever heard. I was born in 1999, 4 years after you died. I wish you were still here on earth to sing to everyone.

    R.I.P Selena !!!! 😥 I love you so much.


  33. We miss you.

  34. OMG!…. I would die for you Selena. I’m 10. I watched your movie and I broke up into tears.

    I love you Selena!!!


  35. I’m only 11 years old and love Selena. She is an inspiration to all kids, adults and anyone else. I watched the movie “Selena” and broke into tears. What happened to Selena is a tragedy and I’m glad Yalonda is paying for it even as we speak.

    I also know about Selena from my mom and dad who both loved her, and no, I’m not Mexican. Neither are my parents!

    I love you Selena. Rest in peace.


    P.S – Let your memory live on to the ones who don’t know you.

  36. At 47, I have had the chance to exprience some painful events in my life, none of which rises to the same level as the death of Selena; although some 17 yrs ago now since the world said good-bye, there’s a lot of us who wonder where she would have been today had she not been killed. She had a wonderful loving family and a community that just adored her.

    I’m not of Mexican or Latin heritage, but neither is a lot of the world that felt the pain of her passing. So I hope Selena is looking down smiling at us.

    In the movie with Jennifer Lopez portraying her, Selena asked her mother if the WORLD would love her. If that question was ever really asked, well the answer is YES. The world loves you and misses you and you are not forgotten.

    To the Quintanilla-Perez family, please know that your daughter and family are and will remain in our hearts and thoughts.

    I won’t speak ill of her murderer, because it won’t bring back Selena, It won’t bring back the tears that were shed. Selena’s smile is much stronger, her presence IS above reproach. That’s what we should remember. Though I never met her or her family, I’ve shared my feelings with others who haven’t as well. Inspite of that we miss Selena deeply and appreciate her music.

    What’s interesting is that my 6 yr old Daughter Emily listens to her music and loves it.

    RIP Selena, We do miss you..


  37. Thank you Jay for your heartfelt comments.

    The Editor – Cyberaxis
    (Remember the words of Chaim Bertman,
    “In the venom, is a whisper of the antidote.”)

  38. I saw the movie once, then saw it again at 15, after which I did sooooo much research. Selena was a very inspiring person and a very sweet person. I was born in 1998 but love the album “Dreaming of You”.

    Ebony Nash

    • I love you Selena. It still hurts all of us that you died. How can life be cruel and so unfair? You are loved by many fans all over the world. You impacted so many lives and left an enduring legacy behind. You opened doors and set such high goals even for the celebrities of today. You are one of a kind and there will never be another like you. You are in heaven I want you to know that you are loved and missed everyday. You will never never be forgotten.

      As for you Yolanda, you are so evil; my hatred for you cannot even be described. God will deal with you.


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