Paolo Conte: «I don't know why I'm old»

My father worked in a bank and loved to sit on the piano and play by ear. Only then did it become light. Paolo Conte, in my eyes, embodies the father I haven't had for many years. Beautiful and secluded, sly and ironic, tender and skeptical, the show is a form of privacy, the words a form of tightrope walker. I recklessly accepted to deal with an issue of this newspaper only because I had a clear goal: to get to know Paolo Conte. In order to remember my father more clearly after so many years.

This is where this interview comes from. I hope Paolo Conte can forgive my foolish and pedantic questions. I am, because mine are fan questions. And fans sometimes ask silly, insistent, useless, annoying, banal questions. Fans ask irrelevant questions because they are often clouded by idolatry. I am a fan of Paolo Conte. So let's get started.

I'd like to ask you what your first love was. And, if you don't remember, what is the first one you remember?

«I leave this little cabal to his meditation as an artist and a sensitive and experienced man! “Isn't it true that all the loves of a lifetime are first loves?” I would be interested in your reply. Anyway my song The last woman says, in the end “a garden will seem to us, yes, just the last landfall the last woman will be, the last woman will be” “.

Even if I find an acrobatic answer, it would never be able to compete with the verse of one of his songs. I escape by asking another question: what would his life have been if he hadn't had a long marriage? What would his life have been like imagining a thousand, fleeting love adventures, among solitudes, concerts, raindrops streaking the taxi windows and night walks returning to hotels destined to be forgotten?

«I don't know what to answer. Besides, you know, there were also those who at some point in life became priests … “.


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The unlived life, therefore imagined, the complexes that inhabited us, the statuses that never recognized us or that were not allowed to us, all this can be the reason or the engine of the creative act? Doesn't the creative act sometimes seem to you to have a desire for revenge? A comeback to what we haven't been? Or is the creative outlet just the playful, disenchanted opportunity to live lives that we haven't had time to live?

«For me, his second option is valid».

I think that the complex of an artist's artistic production is the result of his poetic universe. Sometimes, that poetic universe is skimpy, or perhaps it is the result of a single intuition, then there are authors of a single film, a single song, a single book. But his poetic universe, in the light of everything he created, is vast. At times, you have listed some of the stars of that universe in your interviews: jazz, your uncle, the failures you treated when you were a lawyer, the post-war period, America, friendship, the mystery of women. In my opinion, however, he didn't say everything. I am sure there is more to justify the very long sequence of masterpieces that she has made. What are the other constellations of your poetic universe that you haven't told us yet? Forgive my easy question, I don't want to force the farthest corners, those of modesty, or pain.

“It takes me at a time when I no longer want to write (it has already happened to me in the past) and I take refuge in the alibi of everything that was going through my head now I have written it. I have always avoided the autobiography itself, which I don't like even in other artists. Here more extreme sensations would have nestled, which perhaps in some songs I have just touched “.

Do you remember a face, among the thousands among your audience, that you have never forgotten? And, if so, what joy it would be for me if you described it to me.

“Maybe I'm going a little off topic, but I'll tell you this anecdote. For several years, in France, I performed at the prestigious Ramatuelle Festival. One evening among the spectators was the great actress and singer Juliette Gréco. They had placed her in the front row, so I was completely invisible sitting on the floor, at most she could see my feet and sometimes her hands when I let them hang under the keyboard and “I pretended to conduct my orchestra “. When we said goodbye after the concert, he wanted to express his impressions. He tells me “ That gesture! Énergique et tendre ! “. And then, with a very French hesitation, almost a sigh, he adds “… un homme …” “.


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“Not every day you can wake up laughing, as that man in a coma said”. This is my favorite incipit of a novel, The Italian brother, by Arpino. For me it could also have been the beginning of one of his songs. Just like in one of his texts, this sentence contains all the strength of irony and the power of the inevitable. When I conceive a film, I am worried about the incipits until I fall asleep. They determine, for me, the outcome of the rest. They must be amazed. Maybe I'm a child, but then Flaubert was too, who said more or less: «The reader must ask himself, in relation to the writer: but how did he do it?».

Listening to the incipits of lyrics of her songs like Red Devil, Sparring Partner, Dancing («There was a moment that you seemed nothing to me», what an unreachable wonder!) It seems to me that she too, with the attack of the texts, want to amaze. And we ask ourselves: how did he do it?

Do you agree or am I ranting?

“Yes, the beginning is a piece of skill. I add two more to him, modestly: one is “Aeronautical is the sky” (from The last woman) and ” You will enjoy a nice bouquet of roses and also the noise that cellophane makes “(from Bartali )”.

Are there incipits of novels that have attracted you forever? Until you remember them by heart?

“I have no memory of novels, some lines of poetry (The rain in the pine forest – D’Annunzio; The mare stern – Pascoli)”.

Who or what are you missing? I mean, what has vanished from the past that you still want with you?

“My father who pays me a coffee at the bar and see him leave a hundred lire on the counter.”

In this lethargic period I hear several people putting order in the drawers. Much of what comes out had been forgotten. And it is often not worth remembering. Does this also apply to you? And what does it find at the bottom of its drawers?

“I am a little animist, I keep everything, a lanyard, a pencil butt … Nothing sentimental, but something sacred”.

You said a bright phrase for me. He said: “Usually, one is afraid of being misunderstood. I am afraid of being understood ». Does it irritate you when they try to explain your art? Do you find it reductive? Do you just prefer that those who listen to their songs abandon themselves?

“Among so many applause, cultured and intellectual (which certainly pleases me), when I finish a song in a concert, the applause I prefer is the circus one that is reserved for the equilibrist who has reached the end of the line. Or at least, so I want to imagine it. “

My father mainly bought records of Gershwin, Sinatra, Paolo Conte and Fausto Papetti. Of the latter, I think he bought them especially for naked women on the covers. If so, I can't blame him, those women were irresistible. I know what she thinks of Gershwin, I won't ask her what she thinks of Papetti, nor of Paolo Conte, but I would be so curious to know what Paolo Conte thinks of Frank Sinatra.

“Long live the eclecticism of your father! I never liked Sinatra very much. Warning: great singer, much appreciated by his admirers for the perfect diction, but not “belly”, with a repertoire, moreover, tending to the “sophisticated” parvenu. I like black people. I indicate Jimmy Durante and Sophie Tucker between whites and whites “.

You said you were indebted, sometimes, in the creation of the songs, towards the techniques of cinematographic narration. What is the essence of cinema for you?

«There are similarities between the two arts in handling the synthesis. A perfect song shouldn't last longer than three minutes. You must use the lights of the cinema, the looks of the cinema “.

I, on the other hand, by a completely specular coincidence, in the creation of a film, am indebted to music. Of his in particular. Aguaplano (Conte's album 1987, ed.) Has fueled the imagination of my first, stammering images . The concert version of the Red Devil, 10 – 12 minutes, where she sings little and then only the flow of music, the guitarist who seems to die from the effort, the accordion rearing up to the limit, the violin in a virtuous deployment. There is, in that version of the Red Devil, a feeling that I learned: the beauty of the exhausting. The effort of that execution, with its atypical length for a song, seems to summarize all the emotion of the effort of living.

Here is another thing that you taught me. Not to mention Max, a few words at the beginning, then a very long ending. A lyrical and epic highway. At least I read that passage so I sacked her approaching the end of the films using an equally long ending. How did those executions come about? I know it's an annoying question, the answer that cannot be summed up in a few words, but, once again, Flaubert's words: but how did he do it? Are those wonderful performances, in concert, of Red Devil, Max, Hemingway, the result of your passion for cinema? Or did he ride an instinct? A feeling?

“Red Devil. For a few years, in my concerts halfway through the piece, I have been opening a long space above a fixed chord in D minor, where some of my musicians have freedom of improvisation. They are moments of freedom that I give to them and that they give me back with great virtuosity and participation. These are “cultured” moments in which the music takes on different “ethnic” connotations: the clarinet shows a hint of Brahms, then changes to a Hebrew language Klezmer and concludes with a quote from an old American song called Palesteena. The accordion passes from a Gregorian cue to a Romanian-style jamboree. And then the violin stands out in the feat of “poor art”. Yes, the right word is my “feeling” towards them.

Max. It's a song, yes epic, but also an enigma. I wanted to write a few words, the rest is just music, for a long time “.

With Jimmy Villotti, in the restaurant, after the theater, you ended up talking about the ideal woman. What is the ideal woman? How is it made? Who does it look like? Where is it?

“One night in a night club Jimmy makes me” look at them one by one, this is the sorceress Circe, that is Cleopatra, the other is the Sphinx, the other still etc. etc.”. What will the word “ideal” mean? After all, to excuse their polygamy, the old viveurs d'antan repeated: love is universal “.

What do you think of contemporaneity? I mean, she is a dandy, a concentrate of “class”, her music has always been unique, refractory to fashion, she herself is refractory to many cornerstones of today's world: being there, foolish flattery, the vulgarity, haste, provocations, screams, exhibitionism, musical duets. She is outside! Beyond all this. You are in the rest of the world of music as De Chirico was in the world of painting. Both waterproof! So how does it relate to today's world? Does it cause you irritation? Compassion? Contempt? In the long run, isn't the world as it is now likely to weaken your enthusiasm? Or is it a tour company that flows by in a calm indifference? It seems to me that it is a world, that of today, which does not concern it. Maybe because, in the end, everything that concerns us has to do only with our childhood and our youth?

«Our childhood and our youth. Yes, look, aesthetically speaking, I am an antihistoricist. Historians demand that art improve over time. Technology, yes, but art not “.

Stravinsky said: “I don't know why I'm old”. Do you know? What is old age? Assuming you have never lived it, old age.

I don't really believe.

“At least so far I agree with what you tell me”.

PS: Thanks for having weakened me in this long interrogation (if I declined my singularities to the police, from Fritz). But we still have many things to say to each other.

Until next time.

With great esteem.


Photo: D aniela Zedda

This article has been published on the special issue 20 / 21 of Vanity Fair directed by Paolo Sorrentino, on newsstands until June 2 2020

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