Breaking Bad + Homesick = Another Neruda Translation

Last week, while binge watching the last season of Breaking Bad, I heard a song I’d never heard that made my heart skip a beat and then pick up again more insistently.

The music choices in Breaking Bad don’t disappoint. First of all, rather than using music to cue the viewer’s next emotion like many (most?) shows do, Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, seems to trust his viewers to feel, on their very own thankyouverymuch, what it is the scene is about. The music, then, reflects and highlights, rather than suggesting and manipulating. Also, he just plain old picks good music. His choices, spot-on, are not your everyday popular music, and he often plays, if not in full, then at least most of a song. Ah, respect not just for his viewers’ emotional intelligence but also for the artist. Refreshing, that!

But, back to hearing the song: the beat was of native drums (even though it is a remix, it has nothing even remotely resembling the sound of a drum kit). I could practically feel the pull of gravity on my body —down my center line, through my feet, and into the earth— as I listened. The language was Spanish and, um, could it be?! Mapuche? Yes. After a few verses it was unmistakeable. The beat was reminiscent of a Mapuche ritual dance called the “Lonkomeo.” A number of the words brought to mind the names of cities and towns and rivers and lakes of the Araucana region of Southern Chile, where I grew up, and Northwestern Argentina. It made me terribly homesick.

After downloading the song and listening to it at least as many times as the number of barrels of money that Walt White was burying in the desert in the scene that touched off my bout of homesick, I pulled out Neruda, who was from Southern Chile, of course, and tried my hand at another translation.

Here you go!

Know Ye Know Ye Know

(translation by Heidi Fischbach of
Sepan Lo Sepan Lo Sepan” by Pablo Neruda)

Oh but the lie we lived
was our daily bread.
People of the twenty first century,
it is necessary that you know,
what we did not know,
that the cons and the what fors be seen,
because we ourselves did not see,
so that no one else eat
the false food
that nourished us in our time.

It was the century of communication
held incommunicado:
the cables beneath the sea
were at times true
when the lie took on
more latitude
and longitudes than the ocean:
languages became accustomed
to straightening the devious,
to suggesting threats,
and the long tongues of wire
would coil around gossip central
like serpents
until we all shared in
the battle of the lie
and after lying we’d run away
lying to kill,
and we’d arrive lying to death.

We lied among friends
in sadness or in silence
and the enemy lied to us
with a mouth-full of hate.

It was the cold era of war.

The quiet era of hate.

A bomb from time to time
burned the soul of Vietnam.

And God tucked away in his hiding place
spied like a spider
upon remote provincials
who with drowsy passion
were falling in adultery.

[Pablo Neruda’s original, in Spanish, HERE]

Afterthought: Sadly, if Neruda saw us —the very twenty first century people to whom he wrote this poem— today, I imagine he’d shake his head and sigh. Apparently, we still haven’t gotten what he wanted us to know.

Now, go have a listen to Chancha Via Circuito’s remix of José Larralde singing “Quimey Neuquén,” as played in episode 10 of season 6 of Breaking Bad. The original song was written, as best I can tell, by Milton Aguilar y Marcelo Berbel.

Copyright © 2014, Heidi Fischbach. Don’t steal! But do feel free to share, with proper attribution and link.

2 Responses to Breaking Bad + Homesick = Another Neruda Translation

  1. Dan says:

    Thanks for this, Heidi. I too heard this on a rerun of Breaking Bad recently and completely agree with you. Spine tingling, beautiful music, and the way that Vince Gilligan’s faith in his audience makes the whole experience more immersive and complete.
    I’m now listening to Jose Larraldo’s album Canta Jose Larraldo. Amazing. Even though the closest I’ve been to that part of South America is Mexico, it still makes me feel homesick too.

    • Dan, thanks for leaving your note this morning. It made me revisit that song after some time and enjoy it –and get homesick!– all over again. I will look up the José Larraldo’s album that you mention. I also suggest Nicolá Cruz’s “Cumbia del Olvido,” which I just found and loved. Here’s wishing all of us many more Vince Gilligan creations featuring fantastic and otherwise unknown music!

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