Music and events

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Rock around the clock


Surely Rock and roll hasn't changed things in the world, but surely many people's lives would have been different without rock and roll. More or less I wrote this (sometimes I don't remember even the exact text of my books) at some point in On my generation. Namely, when I'm sad and things don't go well, I often console myself with a beer, tobacco and a blues disc, the root of rock (and so many other things). People who invented rock and roll and many of those have changed it, or who have been fundamental for it, have done it in a short time and almost without realizing it when they were doing it, and all this is amazing.

In the movie Cadillac Records are described the events of Chess Records, the record company of Chicago founded by Leonard Chess and his brother Phil. They promoted people like Muddy Waters, the harmonica player and singer Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Etta James and others. The movies titled Cadillac Records because Leonard used to give a Cady to his musicians. Chess was the dynamo of what today we can call Chicago Blues, the electronic one. All these people have alternated in the time frame of fifteen years. This movie proves, if needed, the rock matrix was black. These guys, peasants, children of peasants (like Muddy Waters, nickname gave him by his grandmother because the little Muddy liked to swim in the mud of the Mississippi shores) worked in the cotton fields of white people and at the end of a hard day, sat in the verandas of their houses, they pinched the strings of their acoustic guitars literally with their hands dirty of ground. Pretty soon they found themselves from the fields to the registration halls, thanks to the guys of Chess. Full of money, full of women, a great talent in their hands and that bother called success, to be managed. It's a wonderful period, the moment of purism. People who went around with their fingers full of rings and the gun in the holster, just not to forget who they were and where they came from or, maybe, why they didn't realize what they had become. At some point in the movie, there's Muddy Waters out of the studios, leaning against a wall with a foot, smoking a cigarette. He looks like a character of "Poveri ma Belli", but he isn't. Five English guys, who came to Chicago to visit Chess Records Studios, got out from a taxi. He welcomes them, greets them and brings them their suitcases: those guys are the Rolling Stones, overwhelmed fans of Muddy Waters!

In that frame, however, we were already in '64, when that boys had the privilege of playing in Chess studios in Chicago after their initial successes in homeland. In that moment (until then Stones played only covers) they started writing their own pieces. When Muddy's fairytale started to decline, Dartfort's guys will pay Muddy's English tour. Besides, they had to return the favour to the author of Rolling Stone, hadn't they?

Years later, many years later, there's the story told by Keith Richards about his recent meeting with Chuck Berry. An airport somewhere in United States. Richards sees him and he walking toward him to greet him. He approaches him and says: - Hey, Berry, what's up? - But old Chuck, who doesn't love being disturbed, throws a punch on his muzzle, then says: "Hi, sorry, I did not recognize you...

Eh, eh, there is only a throne, the place for only a person in this world.

Oh, rock and roll is the son of a big bitch, surely among all these persons there's a father, but no one knows who he is. The great Chuck Berry, the one of Johnny Be Good, could be its the king, if the great storm didn't fall on the world. It's Elvis's moment and there will be no one else left, the hour when the big mass appropriates rock as a popular phenomenon, and for those under contract with Chess Records comes down the sunset, the whites steal scene and paternity. The white man who sang like a black or a black man who sang the country music of the white men, this was Elvis on the radio. The time most people love, people like Lennon for example, was the Elvis pre-army, the period before his military service, the one of the records for Sun from 1955 to 1958. Three years, only three years which changed the history of rock music. The rest, what happened in the following period, is frankly mortifying for his figure: his meeting with President Richard Nixon, the denunciation of The King to US authorities about the fact the Beatles represented a threat to US youth. Your Majesty, Berry would never have done it.

The fact that the chronology of events is so "close" between the Elvis phenomenon and black rock must not mislead. It was like a tempest: a storm in a part of the city while the sun shines on the other side. At the beginning, they were local phenomena (Elvis, on the other hand, "entered" in all US homes only when Colonel Parker - his manager - contracted with television) and the United States is an extremely wide country. Events happened in a too fast succession and they were so many. But every thing ends if you don't feed it or, if you feed it too much, it ends for excess. The sunset of the period of Chess Records and the decline of Elvis bring us to an equally fascinating event: the British invasion.

Often we wonder about mass reactions and fanaticism. It's February 7, 1966, when a Pam flight left New York City to London. Only three months earlier, John Kennedy was murdered (Dallas, November 22, 1963) and that year Christmas was a recurrence few Americans had the spirit to celebrate. From November until the beginning of that snowy February, media were obsessed only by the amateur video about the president's murder.

Murray the K is an American disc jockey of WMCA radio station in New York. On the plane flying from London to New York, there's an English music group (absolutely unknown in America) and all its staff. On the morning of that February 7, Murray on the radio gives the starting whistle to what will be the madness of the century: It's 6:30 AM, the Beatles Hour. they left London For thirty minutes. In that moment they are on the Atlantic Ocean, heading to New York. The temperature is 32 degree Beatles.

Within a month, the Fabulous Four will have four 45 laps to top positions in the American charts. The single which had upset the young Americans in the radio was "I want to hold your hand" and, in a manner of speaking, it was like the whole country was holding his hands. The rest is history, chronicle and legend. The British invasion had been a little bit planned (guys screaming at New York airport had been gifted with a dollar and various gadgets), but all the rest was come about by accident, thanks to lucky and mysterious circumstances. Beyond any reasonable point of view, it seemed what the world needed at that time.

They leave their own music, a kaleidoscope of innovations, and their strength lies in sounds that often don't vanish, not the big hits, but what remains unheard to the big part of people. Then remain stories, legends, someone who dies for fake and others who die for real, anecdotes and affairs which increase mythology, as the one related to the delivering of MBE. On October 26, 1956, Queen Elizabeth awarded the Fourth with the honour of Members of the Great Order of the British Empire. In England there is the law which punishes the homeowner if drugs are consumed within the house. Liverpool kids, event never denied or confirmed, consume a joint in the bathrooms of Buckingham Palace.

When you did it in America, you did it everywhere. No singer or English group, up to that time, had reached the top in United States. In that moment it seemed almost impossible to get visibility if you hadn't been of British nationality. There are exceptions, one, bigger than others, is called Jimi Hendrix. Complicated childhood, hard dues to emerge, Jimi represents what we could call the highest sacrifice. Hendrix and its reverse path, from United States, Seattle, its city, to England. It's September 23, 1966, the guy embarks from Kennedy Airport and landed at Heathrow, London, next morning. He's stopped at customs because he has not a work permission. He get in touch with the London scene and give birth to Experience. Four years scarce, between arguments, anger and band changes, four albums produced, until the his still obscure death, on September 18, 1970, almost four years after his first landing in London. Jimi, on the horseback of his Fender Stratocaster, was able to fly over the sky. The way to play guitar hasn't been the same in rock music.

Talent deliver a musician to immortality. Somehow, I think the threads which bind him to his origins are broken. An artist belongs to everyone and becomes universal, despite the fact everyone, as a human being, tries to remain faithful to their origins and often he/she refers to them when ground begins to burn under their feet. A turbulent and elusive existence goes forward a slim balance between success and personal life. This can make us understand excesses and vices. This balance is a fragile and often is enemy of the art. So, Is he a musician a sort of lay monk who sacrifices himself on the altar of music? Rhetoric, emphasis, words, better, bombast. There are so many artists who have made the balance their solid foundation of their work and life. But those who, in a short time, have written their names indelibly and have flown to a better luck, will have a special place in our hearts. Those who, in one way or another, have "sacrificed" themselves. They are cursed artists and in their madness there's all the meaning of existence. Pardoned and unlucky, balanced and unbalanced, as far as I was concerned, as he/she sang, I loved them all.                  

It's impossible quantifying musical and artistic heritage. We could venture into lists of albums, artists, but we wouldn't finish. Have those years changed the world? I'd say they do it, but not in an institutional sense. Maybe, as I wrote at the beginning, lives of many people would have been different, those people would be other people. What's left? Well, just music.


The Banksy sign


I go down the stairs. The lift is needed by the workers who are working on the condo drain and in the next two tenants are grilling the janitor, worried that the column is not tampered with. I peep into the mailbox, where deadlines and bills look at me, but leave the warnings lying until I get back from going out.

Full on summer in Rome, you fight solitude and enjoy a habitable city. In front of the newsstand, people are abandoning news because the new management has removed the newspaper review and therefore free reading. This is the only new thing, in addition to the fact that the championship is about to begin: if football is the opium of the peoples, a newsagent becomes the pusher of the neighborhood.

I meet an old friend of my father and I stop to talk about the cost of living. I learned I look a lot like dad. Same pauses, same sighs, same step. I had dreamed of dealing with other things in my life. Musician from youth and then, with age, writer. I was hoping to stay away from everyday business, and now I'm just like everyone else discussing things about everyone, as like happened to my dad. He had a serene retirement, except at the end. Since he’s been gone, I look like a normal person and I don’t mind.

Elderly groups walk aimlessly, looking for shade and a fountain. Along the tree-lined boulevard, a curious crowd fixates upon the wall of the fire brigade. I approach. They are looking at a stencil drawing with two firefighters holding a pump from where fire comes out instead of water.


 “Banksy, Banksy made this, it can only be him!” yells a small boy with rasta hair and a Marley sweater.

 “Who?” asks an old lady with a shopping trolley.

"He is the greatest exponent of Street Art, Madam, who makes a drawing on the wall and then flees, prefering to be anonymous," he explains the one I will call Bob Marley.

 “Well… like Zorro,” says the old lady.

 “Eh, but what does this thing mean?” says one old man to another.

“But what does it represent? It’s a work on the ambiguous role of institutions in society,” explains the rasta.

The small crowd has gotten bigger. Reporters from a radio station arrive. One approaches Bob Marley, “Is it you who phoned us?”.


 “Yes, it was me. Look here: this is a Banksy original!”.

Everyone takes pictures with their phones. A group with television camera salso arrive. The crowd thickens. I discuss it with a boy from the radio station.

 “You’re missing out that it’s about Banksy,” I say to him, “because he would never dream of attacking firefighters, a body that stands by the people with safety and civil defense. And then, honestly, Banksy here at the Quadraro…”.

 “Well, I don’t want to say that,” says the reporter, “actually it would be plausible that someone like Banksy would appear in the suburbs, after all”.

 “But listen, we have experts on Street Art,” interrupts the boy with the Marley sweater, “why are you saying that it’s not him?”.

 “Well you explain, then, how you can say it is him”, responds the jouranlist.

 “I am a Banksy scholar,” replied the rasta, “and so, I know his moves!”.

 “His moves. Are you talking about Diabolik?” says the journalist.


Bob Marley goes away, offended. He sits on the edge of the path, smokes a cigarette, thinks. Then he gets up and heads to the television crew. Talk to two of the group, he gestures. After five minutes he releases an interview, saying the same things he said earlier, adding that he is also a writer. And it does not feel much lower than Banksy. In the end, obssessed, he launches a live challenge, staring at the camera.


 “Oh Bansky, you have to give me a chance, I’m here with my face and my voice, but I certainly don’t hide behind a mask…”.

I walk away. I go back to the door, pass the guard, where a radio is tuned to the station that sends the unlikely news of Banksy's presence in our neighborhood. In front of the lift the door the janitor is again cleaning up the footsteps left by the workers. He is exasperated: - These come, they make noise, they get dirty and go. Do you know that I missed those I saw?

 “Maybe it was Bansky, madame, actually, I would say this is truly the sign of Banksy!”.

“Who? Bless he who wants to joke around with this kind of heat…”.



Letters from the pub


Pete Townshend, the glorious guitarist for the Who, said: "I am like a big stone against that everyone is going to piss against, slowly crumbling.

I was a faithful reader of Rockstar, the music magazine creat in 1980 and one day I read Pete's interview. I applauded him and made him my second supposed uncle, along with Keith Richards.

I love these people. They were my education. They sacrificed themselves to teach us to stay in the world. Yes, I know I'm exaggerating, but I've already said that they were (and still are) my idols. Now I'm just a little bit more cheeky than before, they'll forgive me, but who don’t will get it soon and so, it's better to jump over. 

I have many things, but they are all imaginary. I have a personal and abstract vocabulary in which I break down some terms by modifying the meanings. And I have an imaginary pub where the beer does not make you sweat after a few minutes like a fountain. And I can smoke cigar or cigarette because it certainly won’t do you any harm.

Sitting at my table next to the window, I watch the street go on the street waiting for some of the mentioned men to come and see me. We talk about the times gone by, I can ask every question because in my pub they relax and aren’t moody even if this depends on the questions. Rock stars are animals and like beasts have that particular intuition to know when to trust. They trust me, I won’t be a prince of the intellect, but I will not betray them.

The fact that some are dead and others are still on this earth is not a strange story because it’s not about going beyond time and space and matter. It’s about the messages they have left or the things they have said. They talk about life, bullshit, and good moments.

So I said, indeed, I wrote, that I was reflecting on Pete Townshend's statement about the stone where he would go to dig. In fact, everything changes. Our body (although we do everything to hide the signs that time leaves), our ideas (not always but sometimes), our personalities (for instinct of defense), but also change things around us. The places we have went, the people, your idols, your customs, your habits and your needs.


One day, referring to the verse of My Generation (I want to die before I’m old) I said to Pete, “Is it really you that talks about the stone that crumbles?”

“Why?” he asked.

“It’s a contradiction,” I responded. – “First you wanted to die and now you’re talking about resisting time?”

“Ah, damn that verse. It only got me a bunch of scratches. Let's go, everyone is trying to resist. What should I do? Kill myself to be consistent?”

“Ah, kill myself to be consistent: beautiful, this could be the verse for another song, Pete…”

“Everyone in rock has written verses on rocks that roll… and mine isn’t a verse, but only a damn interview!”

“Everyone who?”

“Well Dylan, and also Muddy Waters, who gave the name to the Rolling Stones…”

“Ah, Dylan…”

“Oh sure, everyone fills your mouth with Dylan…”

“Dylan is Dylan…”

“What do you mean? No, tell me: what are you referring to with this? That the Who aren’t at the same level as Dylan?”

“You don’t like Dylan?”

“Of course I like Dylan.”

“And so?”

“Well, I smashed guitars with the Who. Understand?”



He took a sip and thought for a minute. His lips were shaking while savoring the beer. Then he said, "Me neither. I usually find myself in front of a journalist who says yes. It's a way of turning a page. Clear?”

“Oh yes, now it’s clear.”

Good. It's only rock and roll, after all”, he said, looking at me cautiously, indicating not to add anything, knowing full well that he had quoted a piece of the Stones. I just kept asking what relationship he kept with them, with the Rolling Stones. He didn’t answer straight away, he grimaced.

I love Mick,” he tells to me.

And Keith?”, I asked clumsily. Pete didn’t add anything else, so I explained to him that even Keith Richards considered him unkempt as he did, like Pete, in short. He mumbled a series of epithets in archaic English (I must add, to make it easier to understand, that in this strange place a common language is spoken but insults are in the mother tongue of everyone) of which I only understood the repeated use of fucking and fucking. I thought it would be best to stay silent for a few moments and let him cool down. I changed tactics, trying to flatter him.”

“I like your solo album”.

“Which one?”.

“White City”.

“Ah, to remember White city fighting,” Pete sang, proud".

“Great album, Pete, well done”.

“Yeah. When you leave a group like the Who, all solo projects are revendications.”

“As in?”

“Well, it’s like saying, this is me. I’m the best one.”

“My fans love all members of the disbanded groups”.

“I know. But it’s right to reiterate. So much for playing.”

“Do you like this beer?”.

Yes. I’ll take another”. Pete stands up and goes towards the counter. He orders and returns to the table.


On the small stage there was a guy playing Billy Bragg's pieces including Greetings To The New Brunette. When the verb with whoops, there goes another pint of beer came, I always moved. It also went that way this time. Pete came over and approached the boy. On the second lap of the piece, when he was about to repeat the verse, Pete joined the choir whoops, there goes another pint of beer, mimed the guitar solo, finished the drawer and pulled the mug on the floor, splitting it as if it had been his old guitar, as if it was the old times. Then he said goodbye, approached the cashier, paid for what he drank and disappeared with all the answers that time I did not have time to ask.


I went out and saw him moving away. Pete has a unique walk: short steps and then he jumps, like when he’s on the stage in front of the crowd, he twisted his arm on the guitar.

I smiled, fixated on the pub's sign, and I watched the sea which obviously was not there.


George Harrison: a gardener’s life

George Harrison Beard

"I am a very humble person. I don’t want to stay in the music industry full time, because I'm a gardener. I plant flowers and watch them grow. I don’t go to events or parties. I'm at home and look at the flowing river.

Many claim that George Harrison was the least interested in being a Beatle and accused him of having been caustic towards the dramas of his Fab period. Others claim he was crushed by John and Paul's fame and creativity. My friend Nicola, when George expressed less than flattering impressions about Oasis, told me that was bitter in his opinion because he was aware of being forgotten.

It is unique that as one of the most reserved people in the rock and roll jet set, he in reality created a lot of bitterness.

Unravelling the ribbon of the story, the Beatles were a phenomenon that suddenly exploded. They emerged from nothing and returned to nothingness. It was unrepeatable and unrepeated brillance. All four of them were the Beatles, in spite of themselves: John with the impetus, Paul with enthusiasm, Ringo with his loyalty and the ability to keep the pieces together; George with the strength to listen, patience to wait for his turn, originality.

When George was enthusiastic about something, he had the strength to have others follow him, as was the case with India and the Maharishi. We have him to thank for introducing the sitar into music. The first great benefit rock event, the concert for Bangladesh, was his work.

Regarding the frustration, it was partly about the group but a notable percent was due to hysteria. The Beatles appeared to the world's public in '63 but the partnership began in '58. Their relationship was first of all adolescent and then adult which became, in the years of success, a business matter.

George lived his development and personal growth in the shadow of John and Paul and many dynamics, caused by enormous success, remained the same as adolescence: how can he not suffer?

He had contradictory passions that spanned from Formula One to meditation and women; from music to gardening and cinema. George was the one who, during a night with Paul playing She’s Leaving Home, asked, “Beautiful, what is it?”

When his son Dhani, after his schoolmates ran over singing Yellow Submarine and discovering that his father was part of the group, asked him why didn’t you ever tell me that you were in the Beatles? George replied: "Sorry. I suppose I should have talked to him about it.

But George was also what he wrote All Those Years Ago and When We Were Fab. He had a profound sense of irony and the alleged lack of interest in the wonderful period, in fact, a need to dissect a demon.

To understand George Harrison, one would have to accept what was really important to him. George's existence has oscillated, like a few others, between the materiality of earthly things and the pursuit of spirituality. For him, the Beatles were a happy and even tormented period of his life, but his life didn’t stop with the Beatles.

All experiences, whether positive or negative, are fundamental if they teach you something. If they teach you nothing, they’re nothing.

George Harrison 


© Enrico Mattioli 2017