Lucio Dalla’s Caruso

Qui dove il mare luccica e dove tira forte il vento Su una vecchia terrazza davanti al golfo di Sorriento…
Here, where the seas shines, and the wind howls, on the old terrace beside the gulf of Sorrento…

On an afternoon in the summer of 1986 the Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla (1943-2012) wrote what was to become one of the most beautiful and heartrending songs of recent times. It has been covered by an impressive number of the world’s finest singers on a diverse range of stages and in different tones. The song is the unforgettable Caruso.[1] The story behind its inspiration was revealed by Dalla himself in an interview he gave to an Italian newspaper. He relates a story told to him by the owners of a hotel in Sorrento where Dalla lodged for some nights.[2] It was the hotel where the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso himself had stayed shortly before his death from peritonitis in 1921. He was aged 48. At the time he was suffering from pleurisy and empyema and was in awful pain. The celebrated Caruso was giving singing lessons to a young girl with whom he would become infatuated. Lucio Dalla stayed in the same room, the “Caruso suite”. It was this impromptu story, of an impossible love emanating from a dying man who looks into the eyes of a beautiful girl in full bloom, which inspired the singer-songwriter and registered the song into our imagination.[3]

E’ una catena ormai Che scioglie il sangue dint’e vene sai…
It is a chain by now that heats the blood inside the veins, you know…

I first heard Caruso from Pavarotti and Bocelli. It resonated deeply from the start for its mesmerizing melody and elegiac lyrics. Even so, it was only when I was older that it struck me for all of its other implications. This happened when I unearthed the breath-taking Lara Fabian who gives perhaps the most impressionable of all the performances. Mercedes Sossa, the legendary Argentine singer known as “La Negra”, is probably the most soulful. I listen to the song often. It transports me to different destinations. Not only as I grow older and consider the decay and ruin of my own flesh, but particularly when I reflect on the relationship I have with my wife and on the miraculous circumstances which brought us together.

Ti volti e vedi la tua vita come la scia di un’elica…
You turn and see your life through the white wash astern…

The English philosopher Roger Scruton who specializes in aesthetics (the study of beauty and taste) has recently published a marvellously engaging and intelligent piece on the BBC’s A Point of View where he considers what it is that makes for great music.[4] One of his key contentions is that good music is “a language shaped by our deepest feelings” and not “put together on a computer from a repertoire of standard effects”. Dalla’s delicate song in the celebrated tradition of the canzone Napoletana does sit comfortably in the first category.

The soundtrack of our lives

Kiama, NSW

Songs, great songs, have the power to transport us back to significant years or moments in our lives. Some speak of this evocative effect as a ‘soundtrack’ which is embedded within us… and try as we might we can neither delete nor outrun it. At other times a song can prepare us for what is still ahead and make it more bearable, or force us to re-evaluate our relationships and even our beliefs. One of these “great songs” for a large number of people is Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence.[1] The haunting and unforgettable lyrical ode to the deep aching of loneliness and insufferable loss: “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…” In 2013 the song was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress “for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”[2] But even today it is being discovered anew outside any allegiances to genres. Why? It speaks to the core of our shared sense of alienation, of our needs and fears, of what we could confess to each other when down and vulnerable. It is a song with soul it has been somewhere said. “In restless dreams I walk alone/ Narrow streets of cobblestone…”

The song has been covered countless times, sometimes very well, other times brilliantly and yet on other occasions very poorly. Not surprisingly, it is one of the most-performed songs of the 20th century.[3] When I fall in love with a song I will invariably seek out covers, and quite often I am amazed at how beautiful and true to the spirit many of these covers are. Sometimes we find that the cover can be even more powerful (or at least equal) to the original, and here I am particularly thinking of Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails disturbing and yet surprisingly redeeming Hurt.[4] The covers of Paul Simon’s folk rock classic offered here are outstanding examples of how a great song can be reinterpreted to express different nuances or to reach a new audience without damage to the intent of the original. Of interest from these offerings below: a poetical reading from Leonard Cohen; a startling delivery from Sharleen Spiteri; and yet another from the heavy metal American band, Disturbed.

“We human beings are tuned such that we crave great melody and great lyrics. And if somebody writes a great song, it’s timeless…” (Art Garfunkel, b. November 5th 1941)

“Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” (Paul Simon, b. October 13th 1941)

“This deep relation which music has to the true nature of all things also explains the fact that suitable music played to any scene, action, event, or surrounding seems to disclose to us its most secret meaning, and appears as the most accurate and distinct commentary upon it.” (Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860)

On a personal note, The Sound of Silence has been on my ‘soundtrack’ since about the time of the First Gulf War (1990-91). When during those imperilled months I was preparing to leave for London and Madrid, to come face-to-face with a much smaller crisis of my own.

“But my words like silent raindrops fell, And echoed/ In the wells of silence…”


Paul Simon and Art GarfunkelPaul Simon and Bob DylanDisturbedMike Masse and Jeff HallSharleen SpiteriNouelaEmilίana TorriniLeonard CohenDana Winner


[1] The song was recorded and released by Columbia Records in October, 1964. It was included in Simon and Garfunkel’s first studio album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM. It was famously written by Paul Simon over a number of months.