Unlovely to look at, Agustín Lara rose from playing pianos in bordellos to international stardom. The musical genre that brought Lara to global fame, the bolero, is a slow, romantic, and sentimental form. It lacks the political resonance of the corrido, with its referents to historical events and relationships of power, but as Andrew Grant Wood notes in the introduction to this book the bolero has historically provided listeners with what he refers to as a “sentimental education” (p. xvii). That is, the bolero offered heterosexual romance as an emotional paradigm for modern Mexican subjects.

Wood frames his biography of Lara around the concept of modernity. He defines what can be a rather slippery term as the complex of social, political, and cultural change that marked the first half of the twentieth century. Wood declares that his goal in writing about...

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