June 18, 2013
His song has reached the sun
Argentine music has lost a giant. Luis Alberto Spinetta was more than a founding father of local rock, more than the voice and the pen behind some monumental songs, more than a universally respected and admired figure. He was an artist, a poet, a genius, a class of his own.
The full measure of his gift is in his very first productions: he was in high school when he wrote Tema de Pototo and Barro tal vez, still a teenager when he penned Muchacha ojos de papel, in his early twenties the first time he reinvented himself to go from the folk-rock psychedelia of Almendra into the hard rock surrealism of Pescado rabioso. Any of these feats on their own would guarantee lifetime recognition. Don’t take my word for it: there is a CD compiling all of Almendra’s recordings. Listen to any of its songs, read the lyrics... and remember that this was but a kid, the baby steps of an artist that would do nothing but grow for the next 40 years.
He was revered by everyone in the music scene – even if his musical and poetic path was too personal and unclassifiable to have any direct followers (a music that has at times the energy of hard rock and at times the complexity and subtlety of jazz; lyrics that on their own place him as one of the major Argentine poets, a follower of surrealism and a writer of infinite subtlety), “El Flaco” was a major influence for pretty much everyone. Fito Páez, who collaborated with him on several occasions, and Gustavo Cerati (who recorded an unforgettable version of Bajan) were his most famous and recognizable disciples, but his legacy lives on in every Argentine songwriter.
He played with everyone, and the musicians that he discovered and picked have a degree of excellency that is a testimony to his own high standards. There isn’t a single weak link in any of his bands (Almendra, Percado Rabioso, Invisible, Jade, Los socios del desierto, his solo lineups). The 2009 concert Las bandas eternas, which clocked in at 6 hours to a packed Vélez stadium, gathered almost all of the musicians and friends he worked with, his closest friends, and had such a positive vibe to it that everyone swears it was a unique night. That this was his last release, a look back at 40 years of music that shows him full of life and love, gleeful, surrounded by soul mates, is in itself poetic.
And yet, the person and the citizen were two of the brightest facets of his diamond soul. Guitarist Luis Salinas told this newspaper of how Spinetta not only agreed to sing a song on his latest album, but offered his studio for the recording and even went to the baker’s every morning to buy facturas for all the musicians. His Resumen porteño remains a chilling portrait of life in the dictatorship, and he embraced such causes as road deaths in Argentina after the death of 20 students at the Ecos school until his final days (his last public statement closes with a friendly but serious reminder that people drive safe during the holidays).
Like everyone, I grew up on his music. When I picked up a guitar, some of his songs were among the first I tried learning – songs that my parents had played on casette tapes throughout my childhood. When I had to pick a rock song to bring to my high-school literature class, I worked on Plegaria para un niño dormido. I saw him live several times, and even if I am not a devoted follower there is a knot in my stomach as I write these lines with a silent playlist of his music going nonstop in my head.
A pang of something else, too, when I think of the cultures posing as journalists which outed his disease last December, forcing him to break a six-month silence and make unnecessary explanations over a private matter. The same vultures who ambushed him at his house, ringing the door so he would come out for the benefit of the paparazzi stationed across the street and a shameful front page. Nobody deserves that treatment, but him least of all – him who, when he was dating then-model Carolina Peleritti and was cornered to appear on a photo for the cover of Gente magazine, only agreed to do so if he hang a sign from his neck reading “Don’t read trash: read books.”
But such a luminous spirit soars high above these petty miseries. One of his most beautiful songs is called Será que mi canción llegó hasta el sol: that, his song reaching the sun, is what happened yesterday. Shine on.