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

Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail