‘70s bad boy Joaquin Sabina, in concert Sunday at Miami’s AAA

At 62, Joaquin Sabina is ready to shed his image as the bad-boy poet of Spanish songwriting.

The legend he created (and lived) was of a man immersed in the murky depths of dissolute bars and 3 a.m. passions, emerging to chronicle them in gorgeously erudite song-stories that effortlessly balanced romance, fatalism and irony.

“I’m not sure that living that life had much to do with writing songs,” Sabina says in a tobacco- and whiskey-cured growl from the home in Madrid he shares with his girlfriend.

Nowadays, he says, reading, writing and conversation with friends are what keep him up deep into the night.

“I liked that whole mythology of the bohemian, romantic, nostalgic poet. But I never took myself too seriously. I saw myself more as a caricature than as a legend.”

And yet even as Sabina, who performs Thursday at the AmericanAirlines Arena as part of his first U.S. tour, disavows his former decadence, he retains plenty of affection for the gloriously misspent portions of his younger years.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” he says. “I don’t have the least nostalgia for this period because it lasted into my 50s. So I exhausted all the possibilities.”

Sabina is a singularly influential character in the Spanish-speaking world, a cultural touchstone to generations of real and aspiring hipsters, artists and intellectuals. (Argentines have long adored him as one of their own, turning out 50,000 strong for his Buenos Aires concert last fall.)

In addition to 20 albums, he has produced 11 books of poetry, lyrics and even one of correspondence with other famous personalities.

His semi-surrealistic, sharply memorable lyrics are reminiscent of Bob Dylan, and he has the smoldering poet-lover aura of Leonard Cohen, artists to whom he is often compared. Much like Ruben Blades, he has a gift for storytelling and unforgettable characters — the alluring, self-destructive girls of Princesa and Barbie Superstar or the accidental, predawn lovers of Y Nos Dieron Las Diez.

Life of drama

Add to his songwriting gifts a sexy rock-’n’-roll swagger and a life marked by drama and escapades. As a university student, Sabina fled the Franco dictatorship for London after throwing a Molotov cocktail at a bank. In the 1990s, his friendship and musical partnership with Argentine rocker Fito Paez broke up when Paez’s actress girlfriend left him for Sabina.

Manolo Diaz, a singer-songwriter and record producer in Spain in the 1960s and ’70s who went on to head several record labels, says Sabina’s songs — and the man himself — appeal to a Spanish and Latino predilection to idolize those who live on the edge.

“There’s this kind of romantic love for guys who transgress, who cross the line, who seem to be lost,” says Diaz. “He makes them look like heroes somehow.”

But he does so with poetic flair.

“The lyrics are so beautiful, funny, sexy, incredible,” Diaz says. “His themes are always borderline scandalous for the conservatives, but he has conquered them, too.”

Sabina’s hard-living nights continue to fuel his imagination. Many of the songs on his last album, 2009’s Vinagre y Rosas, are steeped in a sense of the past.

Just don’t use the n-word.

“I don’t believe in nostalgia, but I do believe in recollection,” he says. “After leaving that life, which was so intense day to day, night to night, moment to moment, one starts to nourish oneself more with recollections, with emotional memories, shared generational memories, memories of the cities where you’ve walked, the friends you’ve lost.”

 

Source: Miami Herald