Françoise Hardy – Sí, mi caballero

Hardy’s 1971 album La Question wasn’t well received at the time, but now it stands as a landmark of breathy sensuality and poetic imagery. The singing style has become so much more popular now that it’s easy to think it sounds affected. Yet even now the quiet melancholy of this love song sounds somewhat mysterious.

Why the Spanish “caballero” in a song otherwise in French? It’s derived from the word for “horse” and means gentleman, a knight, and later in Mexico came to mean a cowboy. But it meant rather the wealthier cattle owners than the labourers who were called vaqueros. So if I’ve got it correctly, the title could be translated as “Yes, my gentleman” or “Yes, my cowboy”, but both are somewhat misleading.

More generally the song is for a gentleman who is still in touch with the earth and nature, not someone who is sipping champagne in a yacht. While the image of a cowboy is largely positive in books and movies, in English (or French) the connotation of gentlemanly conduct isn’t as strong as it would be with the Spanish word, though there’s nothing inherently incompatible either.

I’m a bit uncertain whether the Spanish part says “Si” or “Sí,” if or yes. It may call for a deconstructive reading, but I think it’s safe to assume that affirmation is meant instead of conditionality when there’s no consequence clause. Thus:

“Sí, mi caballero, j’aimerais bien être
La blanche poussière qui suit ton troupeau”

“Yes, my cowboy, I’d love to be the white dust that follows your herd”. Later there are clear if-clauses in French, which adds to the interplay of meanings: is the singer accepting her lover’s assertions or coming up with conditions of her own? At the very least when she follows up with “If I were dust, I would follow you. If I were a blade of grass, you would carry me,” she’s making them her own, regardless of the origin.

I’m reminded of Hegel’s dialectic of the master and the slave. Who is in control when the act of surrendering starts to define the relationship as a whole? The yearning is defined by the narrator, and yet she sings in Spanish “yes, my cowboy” as if it’s a series of answers to questions we cannot hear, an affirmation of the gentleman’s wishes and expectations. But we simply do not know whether it’s an emphatic “Yes! I mean it!” or an affirmation, which further adds to the mystery of the song.

“Il me suffirait sur tes lèvres sèches, d’être goutte d’eau.”
“It would be enough for me to be a drop of water on your dry lips.”

It is a song about the totality of love, the surrendering that makes us more than what we are. It may sound like giving up one’s own will, becoming an inanimate object, content in merely serving one’s lover. But it is not all. Embracing the world, becoming every object, the dust, a blade of grass, a drop of water. I am everywhere and nowhere at once. In love I transcend my ego. The neediness seems overwhelming, so much so that it blurs the concepts of surrendering and demanding.

It makes the act of surrendering even more complete if you think that even these images of dust and grass were provided by the lover. But therein lies also the escape. You cannot control the dust, nor the drops of water. Love is given freely, and it cannot be grabbed by force.

Liberation. I forget myself, thereby I am free of the fetters of my past, of my needs, of the politics that ruled me, the body that demanded attention. I am the falling feather, the breath on your skin, I am the pleasure that I give, feeling this immense desire to share, to be the shiver that travels through the world, through my body and yours as we sigh in unison.

In the act of sharing I lose myself, and yet gain much more: the pleasure of swaying in the wind, the pleasure of becoming always something else, the leaves, the stars. In comparison, being a cowboy seems terribly restrictive. Immanence is imprisonment. Love, freedom, surrendering, transcendence. Let us be everything for each other, in each other, in this embrace, the dust and the cowboy, the lips and the water. This wonder, this unity, this independence in belonging, this permanence in becoming.