FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Michelangelo of Flamenco

“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:
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
Thom Hartmann
How Billionaires Get Away With Their Big Con
REZA FIYOUZAT
Your 19th COVID Breakdown
Danny Sjursen
Undercover Patriots: Trump, Tulsa, and the Rise of Military Dissent
Charles McKelvey
The Limitations of the New Antiracist Movement
Binoy Kampmark
Netanyahu’s Annexation Drive
Joseph G. Ramsey
An Empire in Points
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset
Ramzy Baroud
On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed
Judith Deutsch
Handling Emergency: A Tale of Two Males
Michael Welton
Getting Back to Socialist Principles: Honneth’s Recipe
Dean Baker
Combating the Political Power of the Rich: Wealth Taxes and Seattle Election Vouchers
Jonah Raskin
Edward Sanders: Poetic Pacifist Up Next
Manuel García, Jr.
Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Vegetation After Emissions Shutoff “Now”
Heidi Peltier
The Camo Economy: How Military Contracting Hides Human Costs and Increases Inequality
Ron Jacobs
Strike!, Fifty Years and Counting
Ellen Taylor
The Dark Side of Science: Shooting Barred Owls as Scapegoats for the Ravages of Big Timber
Sarah Anderson
Shrink Wall Street to Guarantee Good Jobs
Graham Peebles
Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?
Zhivko Illeieff
Can We Escape Our Addiction to Social Media?
Clark T. Scott
The Democrat’s Normal Keeps Their (Supposed) Enemies Closer and Closer
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
In 2020 Elections: Will Real-Life “Fighting Dems” Prove Irresistible?
Dave Lindorff
Mommy, Where Do Peace Activists Come From?
Christopher Brauchli
Trump the Orator
Gary Leupp
Columbus and the Beginning of the American Way of Life: A Message to Indoctrinate Our Children
John Stanton
Donald J. Trump, Stone Cold Racist
Nicky Reid
The Stonewall Blues (Still Dreaming of a Queer Nation)
Stephen Cooper
A Kingston Reasoning with Legendary Guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith (The Interview: Part 2)
Hugh Iglarsh
COVID-19’s Coming to Town
July 09, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 Exposes the Weakness of a Major Theory Used to Justify Capitalism
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail