Archive for March 2009
Hide and seek. Flavio Giurato: the man who uninvented himself.
Legend has it that back in 1982, right after the release of such an astonishing masterpiece as his second album, Il tuffatore (“the diver”), Flavio got completely hooked on the awesome tv series about Marco Polo, directed by Giuliano Montaldo and broadcasted by RAI. He would have sat at the piano after each episode, writing songs inspired by the story. This record would be the result of those automatic composing sessions.
We greatly thank our brother John Nicolò Martin, musician, lecturer, journalist, author of books about urban culture and revolutionary movements such as La luna sotto casa (“the moon just down the road”, 2007, written with the great, late Primo Moroni), and owner of the amazing John’s Classic Rock – perhaps the most exciting blog around dealing with Italian progressive and related – who supplied us with a passionate writing about this unique, daring, challenging work.
You can also check out the Italian version of this contribution in the Found in translation page.
We’re in the middle of the eighties. The capitalist frenzy reigns above big cities. Al Bano and Romina Power come first in Sanremo festival, Macintosh computer is born, Enrico Berlinguer dies, Berlusconi buys the tv station Rete4, and the masonic lodge P2 scandal breaks out. Communist party gives his last proof of life winning the european elections.
It’s the epic of Bettino Craxi, a modern equivalent of sixteenth century’s Milan Spanish governors: consumptions exceeding earnings, stellar mark-ups, rocketing corruption and fake progress based on virtual capital bound to crumble within a few years. There are fine urban brains, but they have to resist day by day, defending themselves against the new riches’ bullying: judges againt the PSI (the Italian socialist party), centri sociali against the evacuations, tram drivers against the mayors, workers against the “scala mobile” (the indexed wages scale) decree.
Showbiz is a social and media hotchpotch which flattens any transgression and from where only a handful of artists come out unharmed, and Flavio Giurato is one of them. Actually, otherwise than many of his colleagues, he insists in putting thought before materiality, risk before comfort, curiosity before habit: bearing a “clear creative madness” and alien to any compromise, the Roman artist makes his comeback after two years and two records as beautiful as mainly unnoticed.
The new album is called Marco Polo, that is, the story of the great explorer told through his feelings, his meetings and his passions. This release does not achieve the instant success it deserves either, yet, just like every single brick in a major city, it will remain grounded to its foundations, untouched by the ravages of time.
“Marco Polo è un bimbo, ma non così piccino” (“Marco Polo is a kid, but not that little”), that’s how the story begins of a just 17 years old twelfth century boy who moves to China to stay there more than fifteen years, discovering wonders never seen by the eye of a European man. From here on, Giurato captures each of his steps, each effort, each technical move obsessively repeated thousands of times, each peril and each marvel: from the origin of his passions (“I punti cardinali”) up to the court of the Great Khan and, finally, in the arms of his beloved Monica for a well deserved rest.
The poetical exposure is honest to such an extent that even fate and the randomness of events are exorcised by massively visual verses: “la provvidenza è vestita come un attore americano, e Marco destinato a ritornare andrà avanti” (“the providence is dressed like an american actor, and Marco, destined to come back, will go further”), while the horses fly.
At a certain point of the story, the listener is so involved in the plot that the music almost seems to slip in the background. But even under this aspect Giurato amazes everybody in “L’Oriente”, in which he condenses within few minutes all the different sounds and the stateless languages caught by the great explorer’s ears.
And the destination is near. There’s only the infinite armenian desert left to go beyond, the place where everything passes: heroes, plagues, wars, disappointments, and our springs as well. And where also our hero passes unhurt. Facing such a bravery even the cruel and magnificent Khan will loosen up and hug him.
In the end, the calm found in a love born in the shadow of a cave “sotto il morbido del mondo” (“under the soft of the world”). “Marco e Monica” is such an extraordinarily passionate song that it makes up for all the efforts endured by the listener in this fascinating, yet hard and sometimes clashing listening experience.
Unfortunately, we all know the album received little feedback. Flavio would have kept quiet for at least fifteen years, just to be reappraised later with all due honours. He travelled just like Marco Polo and has fortunately come back to tell us yet unheard and wonderful tales.
Here is the tracklist:
I, La teoria dell’orientamento (“the direction theory”)
01, I punti cardinali (“the cardinal points”)
02, Le funi (“the ropes”)
03, Vela e mare (“sail and sea”)
04, La provvidenza (“the providence”)
05, L’Oriente (“the east”)
II, La crescita (“the growth”)
06, Nel deserto armeno (“in the armenian desert”)
07, Il Gran Khan (“the great khan”)
08, Marco e Monica (“Marco and Monica”)
09, Marco Polo
Here’s the artist’s very good official site (in Italian).
I already wrote about Italian Records and its crucial role in the development of Italian new wave and italo disco in the post about Gaznevada’s first tape (by the way, finally available on cd via Shake Edizioni). The debut album by Rats is one of the lost gems from their back catalogue, lying at the nexus of the label’s two main interests, that is post-punk experiments and alternative dance music – even if the record was actually released through the subsidiary Nice Label.
Founded as Sextons in 1979 in a small town near Modena, Emilia Romagna, they changed their name to Rats, hired a young female singer – Claudia Lloyd – and made their live debut in 1980, soon establishing themselves as one of the most interesting act nationwide and drawing the attention of Gabriele Ansaloni aka Red Ronnie, a dj, agit-prop, pop entrepreneur and key figure in the last three decades of Italian music history, who co-financed their first LP.
C’est disco – recorded by the label’s founder Oderso Rubini and marked by the voice of Claudia – effectively captures their early darkest moments and their dance-punk attitude, while contorting themselves and screeching alongside Siouxsie and the Banshees, Malaria!, Bauhaus, Bush Tetras, Glaxo Babies, Au Pairs, Ludus, Chrisma, and obsessively evokes the unhealthy atmosphere of a sleazy, outlying night club.
Here is the tracklist:
02, C’est disco (reprise)
03, Bimba (“baby girl”)
05, C’est disco
07, Spacciatori (“pushers”)
Get it: Rats, C’est disco (1981)
[edit March 17th, 2009: download link has been fixed with the correct tracklist.]
Songs from the album were aired by the great, late John Peel, leading to a small and short-lived success accross Europe. Claudia Lloyd left the band shortly after the recordings of an unreleased follow-up to the first full-length, tentatively titled Tenera è la notte (“tender is the night”). These two records are longtime scheduled for a box-set reprint by Astroman, but no official release date has been yet announced.
The C’est disco line-up also appeared with “Tattoo” on the legendary double album Mission is terminated /Nice tracks, which featured four tracks by Throbbing Gristle and a cut up of songs by italian post-punk bands and excerpts from movies, interviews, radio broadcasts, field recordings, etc., released as a supplement to Red Ronnie’s magazine “Bazaar” in 1983.
Rats progressively shifted towards mainstream rock, achieving some fame in the early nineties, when they even happened to record with the notorious Italian rockstar Ligabue for the album Indiani padani (“padan indians”, 1992), and eventually disbanded in 1997. They reformed in 2007 and have been touring Italy since then. Here is their official website (in italian).
Red Ronnie has been a successful and influential tv presenter during the eighties and the nineties, and is still active as a promoter, a publisher, a music and pop culture consultant.
The Italian book of the dead. Too much words for one man alone: breathless. Imagination in spite of hope, desire gone bad.
There’s a song in this record, called “Analfabetizzazione” (that is to say: the contrary of literacy), which reads: “Ed il lavoro l’ho chiamato piacere, perché la semantica è violenza oppure è un’opinione. Ma non è colpa mia, non saltatemi addosso, se la mia voglia di libertà oggi è anche bisogno di confusione. Ed il piacere l’ho chiamato dovere, perché la primavera mi scoppiava dentro come una carezza. Fondere, confondere, rifondere, infine rifondare l’alfabeto della vita sulle pietre di miele della bellezza” (“and the work, i called it pleasure, because semantics is violence, or it’s an opinion. but it’s not my fault, don’t you pitch into me, if my wish for freedom is now also a need for confusion. and the pleasure, i called it duty, because springtime was bursting into me like a caress. blending, blurring, refunding, finally re-establishing the alphabet of life on beauty’s honey stones”). In short, it’s all about fucking the meaning up. Work becomes pleasure, and pleasure turns into duty. What’s at stake is a complete revaluation of all dreams. Wait: that’s a downright treason. Despair is always subversive, and disappointment stinks like counter-revolution.
In 1977 Claudio Lolli was in an awkward position. Born in Bologna in 1950, he had established himself as one of the most radical among the politically engaged cantautori, yet all of his anti-establishment anthems – such as “Borghesia” (“bourgeoisie”) – had been released by a huge corporate record company like EMI, to which he was introduced by his fellow citizen Francesco Guccini (Lolli tauntingly recalled his early days with the major in “Autobiografia industriale”). Well, this is usually called a contradiction. So that when his record deal expired, he felt like jumbling it all up. The odd thing is that he had to switch to an alternative music label such as Ultima Spiaggia to record his requiem for the revolutionary movement: the new rallying cry was Disoccupate le strade dai sogni, “let’s clear the streets of dreams”. Too many comrades passed away, too many failures to come to terms with. There was anger to be wasted, there were mistakes to be repeated, and fallen to be honoured, such as Ulrike Meinhof (in “Incubo numero zero” – the album has the same title of the italian version of Meinhof’s biography by Prinz Alois) and Francesco Lorusso, a student killed by carabinieri during a demonstration in Bologna (in “I giornali di Marzo”, whose lyrics are a cut-up of those days’ newspapers).
And he twisted his own musical language to follow the lyrics’ edges (keeping on a path opened by Ho visto anche zingari felici – “i have happened to see happy gypsies too”, 1976) introducing jazz rock, progressive, impro elements which were typical of Ultima Spiaggia’s art-rock style, even inventing a funny dixie funeral march for social democracy which anticipated Vinicio Capossela, and eventually peaking his career and perhaps the entire singer/songwriters movement – even if the result was much closer to the R.I.O. scene or Dalla/Roversi’s work than to Guccini, Paolo Pietrangeli or Ivan Della Mea.
An enthusiastic melancholy and a subtle death drive had always been his key features, but negativeness reached a whole different level here. We are anywhere near Mauro Pelosi’s self-titled album, but the latter’s alarming vein of insanity turns into a ruthless lucidity. An autopsy carried out upon a still warm corpse.
Here is the tracklist:
01, Alba meccanica (“mechanical dawn”)
02, Incubo numero zero (“nightmare number zero”)
03, La socialdemocrazia (“the social democracy”)
04, Analfabetizzazione (“unalphabetization”, also released as a 7″ b/w “I giardini di marzo”)
05, Attenzione (“watch out”)
06, Canzone dell’amore o della precarietà (“song of love or of uncertainty”)
07, Canzone scritta sul muro (“song written on the wall”)
08, Autobiografia industriale (“industrial autobiography”)
09, Da zero e dintorni (“from zero and so on”)
10, I giornali di marzo (“the newspapers of march”)
Unfortunately, Disoccupate… did not manage to repeat his previous records’ success, and Ultima Spiaggia went bankrupt right before a live album project could be realized. Ironically, Lolli came back to EMI, releasing four other LPs with them until the early nineties.
He has worked as a teacher at secondary school and is still active as a musician and writer. His latest album is La scoperta dell’America (“the discovery of America”, 2006). You can learn more about Claudio Lolli at his Wikipedia page (in italian).
When a man loves a woman. L’amore is a kind of a strange concept album about every possible shade of a sentimental relationship – from falling in love to betrayal and separation, from frenzy to happiness and despair – as investigated by a talented pop songwriter. And, incidentally, an unexplored mine of rare grooves.
I share the same insane passion for Maurizio Monti with my dearest friend Francesco Bianconi, singer and main songwriter for Baustelle, writer, journalist, fine music connoisseur, who kindly accepted to write about how he ever happened to cross paths with him.
The original version of the post is available in the Found in translation page, as usual.
I first came in contact with Maurizio Monti many years ago, when I took my lyricist exam at SIAE (Società Italiana Autori ed Editori, “italian authors and publishers society”). I had to rewrite the lyrics of an existing song, following its metres syllable by syllable. And the song, on that occasion, was “Morire fra le viole” (“dying among the violets”) by, exactly, “M. Monti”. Lyrics which I partly already knew, after all it’s a quite famous Patty Pravo song, yet I didn’t know anything about its author. I changed the title into a nonsense such as “Risplendere nel sole” (“shining in the sun”), wrote new lyrics, and passed the exam. Playing this little creative rewriting game I realized how perfect those words were, with their terrific and, allow me, Prevertian synthesis of symbolism and pathos. Words of love, simple, easy to sing, but sound. A not at all banal lyricism. I remember thinking that perhaps the more titled Mogol had never been able of such perfection, but I guess this is a matter of taste. Apart from the SIAE exam, I owe my real musical encounter with Maurizio Monti to my singing teacher.
Fucking around after a lesson, he showed me this record in a white sleeve with a middle aged man sitting in an armchair, with his rollerskates on. The title was: L’amore by, exactly, once again, Maurizio Monti. I was stroke at once, starting from the cover. I’m afraid I’m made this way: my opinion about pop music is rather influenced by the superstructures, by the frills. The more I like the look of the singer, the way he smokes a cigarette, his photos, the more I like the music. On that cover Maurizio Monti may look like Betrand Burgalat on a record never released by Tricatel, or my uncle in 1973, had he been a singer. And I swear that this second possibility has the same coolness value for me. My teacher looked at me and told me: “it’s Maurizio Monti’s solo debut album”. He lended me it. I brought it home and, curious like a child, I dipped myself into this fantastic collection of songs.
The first side opens with “Bella mia”, another track later sang by Patty Pravo, and it knocks you out. Bass drum, bass guitar, hi-hat, and voice. Voice which starts with “certo, sembra un caso” (“sure, it seems an accident”). A non-singer shrill voice. The voice of a songwriter who gives it a go. Yet incredibly beautiful in its being awkward, Battisti-like, expressively out of line. The trivially seventies story is about a love triangle him-her-the other, but, just like in “Morire tra le viole”, it’s very effectively told. The melody and the words blend perfectly, and on the final “me ne sto andandooo” (“i’m going awaaay”), while the music fades, the hair rise on my arms and my heart beats. The “hair-rising effect” (which is a serious litmus test for pop tunes) always happens to me with at least three other songs in this record: “Amore”, with harmonic modulation and a drums-bass-Rhodes piano downbeat which anticipate Moon Safari and Virgin Suicides by Air twenty years before; “Nuda di pensieri”, that sublimates and exceeds the Pachelbelian canon, with a Battisti-like rhythm change in the bridge and a supercheesy Solina fake strings instrumental break on top; “Esco con Rosa”, a love triangle again, again a bright use of italian language on a harrowing melody.
Oh, I almost forgot that there’s “Morire tra le viole” as well, full of blaring synths. What could you ask for more?
In brief, it’s not a key record, not a milestone, not revolutionary. It’s a wonderful easy listening record. A record made of songs, and that’s nothing small: it’s not easy at all writing songs like these.
Here is the tracklist:
01, Bella mia (“honey”, also released as a 7″ b/w “Esco con Rosa”)
02, Dipendi da me (“you depend on me”)
03, Un uomo fortunato (“a lucky man”)
04, Nuda di pensieri (“thoughts-bared”)
05, Amore (“love”)
06, Esco con rosa (“i’m dating Rosa”)
07, Sorprendente (“surprising”)
08, Morire tra le viole (“dying among the violets”)
Get it: Maurizio Monti, L’amore (1973)
Maurizio Monti has released another solo album in 1976, Diavolo custode (“guardian devil”, avalaible on these pages anytime soon). He has been writing many successful songs, mostly alone or with his creative partner Giovanni Ullu, for the likes of Patty Pravo, Mina, Gianni Morandi, Anna Oxa. He’s a chemist too.
You can learn more about his most recent project, a musical called Isimilia, at isimilia.com (also in English).
“Ok, adesso facciamo un pezzo che si intitola “Two balls”. È dedicato a tutte le suore operaie, alle fabbriche incinte, ai negri tirolesi e a Raquel Welch.” (“ok, we’re about to play a song called “Two balls”. it’s dedicated to all working nuns, to pregnant factories, to tyrolese niggers, and to Raquel Welch.”). These are the only words you will hear in this record, the debut album by the multi-instrumentalist Pepe Maina, spoken as an introduction to a live performance captured at the centro sociale Leoncavallo in Milan, circa 1977.
A very short and apparently nonsense speech which yet synthesize an entire philosophy: a love for meaningful paradox, a taste for making contraries collide without obliterating them, a pleasure in conflict which mark the whole work of Maina. Someone whose intelligence and ruthless irony – and self-irony – have helped most of the time, especially from mid eighties on, to avoid petty new age drifts while pursuing an ideal of music as a spiritual guidance and as a means to reconcile with nature and the rythm of earthbeat, making a mess with sound influences from all over the world. More or less, you could argue the same about Julian Cope – all differences considered.
So that you can’t help but fall in love with the man, when he states that his first LP was no more than “just the right soundtrack for those years’ joints”. Actually, Il canto dell’arpa e del flauto (“the song of the harp and the flute”), released by Caterina Caselli’s label Ascolto, could easily find a place in that “Italian cosmic rock continuum” which lies at our Mutant Sounds friends’ heart, juggling with progressive folk (Maina himself cites mid-seventies Jade Warrior as a main influence, but you can add other usual names, such as Third Ear Band and, as for Italy, Aktuala), krautrock (such as in the Cluster-flavoured “Spring song” and “Two balls”, with a funny glancing quotation from the melody of “Frère Jacques”), acoustic psychedelic rips (the final segment of “Il canto dell’arpa e del flauto (Parte prima)”), ethnic explosions (the feverishly percussive “Africa”, which somehow anticipated the Ozric Tentacles at their best), early ambient traces.
Here is the tracklist:
01, Il canto dell’arpa (“the song of the harp”)
02, Il canto dell’arpa e del flauto (Parte prima) (“the song of the harp and the flute (first part)”)
03, Spring song
04, Two balls
06, Il canto dell’arpa e del flauto (Parte seconda) (“the song of the harp and the flute (second part)”)
07, San Nicola (“saint Nicholas”)
This startling album remains to date the sole example of collaboration with the hated record industry for Pepe Maina. He soon opted for self-production, launching the following year his recording studio/music label Nonsense Studio by releasing his second full-length effort, Scerizza (the name of the smalltown near Como where he lives). He has been putting out more than twenty fully diy records since then, meanwhile working for theatre, indipendent filmmakers, advertising.
Go and visit his official website (in english) for more info, music downloads and cd shopping.