Am still reading Geniuses Together, and it’s still excellent. Aside from the mention of bullfighting, another thing made me think about Spain and flamenco guitar music. Gertrude Stein once made the rather idiosyncratic observation (for the 20s) that America is the oldest country in the world, which is why so many of her best creative minds left for Europe. She said we were downright geriatric in our ways. This on the heels of a major study (Civilization in the United States, edited by Harold Stearns in 1921) complaining about our all too rapid industrialization and urbanization, which had cost us far too much in creative matters. Stein points out that we got there first, which is why we were so old. They both point out that the goal in the air was business development, not development of the soul. Harold Loeb added to the angst of that era by saying he was afraid that Europe was being Americanized. Which would mean the Old World could soon become geriatric like the New World.
So the best young minds flocked to Europe in the 20s, ironically, the far younger artistic zone of the moment.
Flamenco guitar, for me, is youth writ large, writ passionately, vibrantly–enthusiastically young. But because there is a strong element of triste, even tragedy in the music, it is a youthfulness with depth and vulnerability. Youthfulness with an edge. Music with a tragic sense of life. Cultures with that tragic sense of life at their core tend to celebrate life more dramatically, more intensely, perhaps because they know that life is fleeting and can be taken away from us at any second. So why work quietly in a darkened cubicle for a quiet retirement in the dark when there’s dancing and song, wine and love to be found?
The music sounds like athletes are needed to play it. It sounds like only people who have lived passionately, defiantly, can or should play it. The riffs, the dramatic highs and lows, the changes in rhythm and flow, make it baroque even now, even when modern flamenco greats like Paco de Lucia, Vicente Amigo and Gerardo Nunez play it.
And athletes are needed to dance to it.
Paco de Lucía was born Francisco Sanchez Gomez in 1947. His birthplace is Algeciras, Spain. Many Flamenco aficionados believe he’s the greatest living guitarist, and not just among Flamenco players. The greatest guitarist, period. Though some fault him at times for mixing musical styles and crossing over into other forms. For them, he is not “pure” enough, which strikes me as unfair and beside the point. Many of his albums contradict that assessment, as he returns to classical themes often throughout the years. With Paco de Lucía, there is plenty of traditional, classical flamenco in his oeuvre to enjoy for a lifetime, and plenty of fusion with other forms to appeal to those who love a rich melange.
Federico García Lorca, the great Spanish poet and playwright, was an aficionado of flamenco, and worked hard during his all too brief life to collect gypsy and flamenco songs, to preserve them and bring them to a wider audience. Flamenco guitarists since his time have looked back to Garcia Lorca for inspiration, as Paco de Lucía did in 1965, when he recorded his “12 Songs for Guitar by García Lorca.” A great discovery for me, while reading about Paco. Geniuses Together across time and artistic genre.
Spain is still young. Perhaps even younger now than it was in the 1920s. Its music still has the power to transform the moment into an explosive dance, a heightened celebration, a return to life as an exploration of passion and the edge. Will America find its own youth again? Its own creative fire? Its own connection with its hidden, missing, imaginative soul? Will it stop demanding go-along patriotism and conformity long enough to really listen, truly listen to its secret deep wells of artistic reserves and energies?