FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Michelangelo of Flamenco

by TAO RUSPOLI

“Paco is the greatest flamenco guitar player of all time, and he killed flamenco,” another great Paco said to me in 1998, when I was living in Seville studying the flamenco guitar. Paco Valdepeñas was a toothless 78 year-old-man, great flamenco dancer, and true Gypsy bohemian from another era—the era I was most attracted to—the era before Paco de Lucia. But more on this later.

Paco de Lucia was the reason I, and so many others around the world, got into flamenco in the first place: I was 13 years old and went to the house of a friend of my father’s, near Rome. I had just started to play the electric guitar, and this friend said, “Do you want to hear the most incredible guitar playing you will ever hear in your life?” and he put on a vinyl record of Paco De Lucia’s 1987 masterpiece, Siroco. This record contains none of the jazz fusion (the result of the inexplicable desire to fuse bad flamenco with even worse jazz) contained in so many of Paco’s other records, and nearly all of the “flamenco” recordings of those who followed in his footsteps. Siroco was astonishing, dazzling proof that Paco de Lucia had taken the flamenco guitar as far as it possibly could go—pure, authentic, moving, graceful unaccompanied playing that was paradoxically both totally faithful to the flamenco tradition and at the same completely original and contemporary.  It blew everyone before him out of the water.  When Paco was a small child, barely big enough to hold a guitar, his father decided that his son would one day be the greatest guitar player in the world. He made him play 10-12 hours a day.  Although he himself was not a Gypsy, Paco was steeped in the heart of Gypsy flamenco culture of Andalucia.  The blend of discipline and culture caused this perfect storm–this phenomenon of artistry and music.

I remember reading that Michelangelo had achieved all the goals of the High Renaissance.  The struggle to master technique, a struggle which is an essential ingredient of all great art, was won by the right artist appearing at the right time.  As a result, there was nowhere left to go but Mannerism—a movement in which style and technique were practiced for their own sake.  And I thought, “Aha! Like Paco de Lucia!” I understood how a culture can, with the help of one genius, reach its sublime apex, and by necessity, subsequently go into decline.

When I was 18, a freshman at UC Berkeley, Paco de Lucia came to town to play a concert. While I still played the electric guitar, I listened to Paco frequently and of course delighted in his virtuosity, even though I knew nothing of the flamenco culture. Watching Paco perform, I was reminded of Keith Richards’ advice to me when I met him with my father a few years earlier: “If you want to learn to play the guitar, Tao, learn flamenco! Then you will then be able to play anything you like.”  In the program for the show was an ad for a local flamenco guitar teacher. I left the show, called the number in the program and never looked back. I spent the next 20 years traveling to Spain, getting to know everything I could about this incredible music and culture, and slowly realizing that Paco De Lucia may have introduced flamenco to the world, but he was by no means the beginning of flamenco.  He was, rather, the culmination of 150 years of flamenco culture—a culture which much like the blues or jazz, stemmed from the need of a poor and oppressed people to find a way to channel a great deal of pain (maybe this is why flamencos are attracted to jazz—an unconscious realization that they have the same causes.)

Paco was last to drink from that authentic source.  But it’s easy to mistakenly think that Paco was himself the sole source of his music.  He was such a force of nature.  And, of course, the modernization of Spain has gradually eroded the tough rural life that gave birth to flamenco. Today’s virtuosos have learned all of Paco’s falsetas (melodic variations) and can mimic his style with fidelity and precision.  Many can play a run even faster than Paco could, and they can construct a chord sequence even more complex.  But of course it all feels empty and meaningless, because it’s lost its roots.

I couldn’t understand why, when I heard the news that Paco had died yesterday, I had to fight back tears.  But I understand now, as I write this and listen to Siroco for the thousandth time since first hearing it 25 years ago, that in more ways than one, the death of Paco de Lucia represents the death of flamenco; and I have reason to mourn.

Tao Ruspoli is a filmmaker, photographer and flamenco guitarist. His films include: Flamenco: a Personal Journey, Fix and Being in the World.  He can be reached through his blog

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 24, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Reflections on DC: Promises and Pitfalls in the Anti-Trump Uprising
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Developer Welfare: Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
Melvin Goodman
Trump at the CIA: the Orwellian World of Alternative Facts
Sam Mitrani – Chad Pearson
A Short History of Liberal Myths and Anti-Labor Politics
Kristine Mattis
Democracy is Not a Team Sport
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Mexico, Neo-Nationalism and the Capitalist World-System
Ted Rall
The Women’s March Was a Dismal Failure and a Hopeful Sign
Norman Pollack
Woman’s March: Halt at the Water’s Edge
Pepe Escobar
Will Trump Hop on an American Silk Road?
Franklin Lamb
Trump’s “Syria “Minus Iran” Overture to Putin and Assad May Restore Washington-Damascus Relations
Kenneth R. Culton
Violence By Any Other Name
David Swanson
Why Impeach Donald Trump
Christopher Brauchli
Trump’s Contempt
January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail