Fabrizio De André

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(18 February 1940 - 11 January 1999)

De André was born in Genova, His father Joseph was the Republican vice-mayor of Genoa. When the war broke out, the De André family had to seek refuge in a country farm near Revignano (a little town near Asti), in the Piemonte. Fabrizio's father, who was an Anti-fascista pursued by the police, joined the partisans. In 1945 the De André family moved back to Genova. Fabrizio went to primary school, first at the Marcellian Sisters' School and, later, at the Cesare Battisti public school. He went on to the Liceo Classico "Cristoforo Colombo"; after his final examination, he enrolled in the Law School of the University of Genova; but he did not graduate (he gave up when he had only a few exams left). De André played the violin first, then the guitar, and joined a number of local jazz bands. French singer/songwriter George Brassens would turn out to be a big inspiration for Fabrizio (he covered some songs on his first album). At that time he also started his close friendships with Luigi Tenco, Bindi, Gino Paoli and others. In 1961 De André recorded his first two songs, 'Nuvole barocche' (Baroque Clouds) and 'E fu la notte' (And There Was Night); in 1962 he married Puny Rignon, a Genoese woman nearly ten years older. That same year the couple had their first and only son, Cristiano, who would follow in his father's footsteps as an artist.

In the following years De André wrote a number of songs which made him gradually known to a larger public. Still financially the family was hardly able to live from them. But the big breakthrough came when Mina sang ‘La canzone di Marinella’  ("Marinella's Song"). This enabled him to start working on his debut album released in 1967. The album opens with ‘Preghiera in gennaio’ allegedly written for his friend Tenco who committed suicide earlier that year over losing San Remo. The debut was soon followed by ‘Tutti morimmo a stento’ and Volume 3; both LPs soon reached the top of the Italian hit-parade. The former contained a personal version of "Eroina" (Heroin) by the poet Riccardo Mannerini, entitled ‘Cantico dei drogati’ (Canticle of the Junkies). In between he also produces and writes for the debut album ‘Senza orario senza bandiera’ for beatgroup New Trolls (whose band members would accompany Fabrizio regularly in later years as backing band). Due to his political and clerical outspokenness De André started to be watched by the government (lasting until 1979) and De André is subjected to checks by the police and the Italian secret services.

In 1970 De André wrote ‘La buona novella’ a concept album based on Christ's life as told in the Apocrypha. The album was very controversial, especially the song ‘Il testamento di Tito’ (Titus's Will), in which one of the thieves crucified together with Jesus violently refutes the Ten Commandments. Which caused for critique from the catholic church. In 1971 he wrote another celebrated concept album, ‘Non al denaro non all'amore né al cielo based on Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology. Another concept album, this time more political by nature, followed in 1973 (Storia di un impiegato) This again caused for critique, this time from the New Left movement who felt they were misinterpreted. At this time De Andre’s songwriting even made it to the classroom where it was used as study material. The 74 album Canzoni ("Songs"), pays tribute to his idols Georges Brassens, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

In 1975 De André (who, meanwhile, had divorced his wife Puny and begun a relationship with the folksinger Dori Ghezzi) started working with Francesco De Gregori for an album simply called ‘Volume 8’. A second change in his career is that Fabrizio took his music to the stage. Since his first performances of the early 1960s, he had always refused to appear in public, no tours, no interviews. To overcome his stage fright he always performs in the shadows and with a lot of whiskey in his body (his shyness was one of the causes that led to a serious addiction to alcohol ).  In 1977 the couple had a daughter, Luisa Vittoria (nicknamed "Luvi"). The following year De André issued a new LP, ‘Rimini’ written together with young songwriter Massimo Bubola. 1979 saw him return to the stage, this time with progrock combo PFM. Later that year horror struck the family when De André and Ghezzi were kidnapped for ransom and held prisoners in the Supramonte mountain. The couple was released four months later after payment by Fabrizio’s father and allegedly the benefits of the album ‘Indiano’ were used to repay the debt. This dramatic episode, and the hard life of the Sardinian people, gave him inspiration for his following album, released in 1981.

In 1984 he collaborated with former PFM member Mauro Pagani for an album completely in Genoese dialect (Crêuza de mä ("Path to the sea"), Singing in different dialects was again done for the 1989 album ‘Le nuvole’ and followed by a tour (documented on 1991 Concerti) De André's last original album, ‘Anime salve’, was issued in 1996, written in collaboration with Ivano Fossati. During touring in 1998 De André stopped at the first symptoms of a serious disease, which was later diagnosed as lung cancer. De André died in Milan on 11 January 1999. Two days later, he was buried in the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, in the De André family chapel. After his death Ghezzi devotes her life in taking care of the legacy. PFM continue to perform his songs at their shows. In 2005 singer Morgan (from Bluvertigo) makes a reinterpretation of ‘Non al denaro, non all'amore né al cielo’. In 2008 Massimo Bubola releases an album with 11 songs written together with De Andre. His son Cristiano releases in 2009 ‘De André canta De André’.  In 2010 American singer Patti Smith records three De André songs translated in English by Shel Shapiro.

On the web:

- The website of the De André estate: http://www.fondazionedeandre.it/

What do we think:

DB: Honestly I didn’t get the idolizing of Fabrizio De André at first. He is one of those artists (like Brassens) in which music and lyrics are too much intertwined. If you don’t speak Italian fluently you’ll miss half the essence of what it is all about. De André has to grow on you, his music and texts are intense and poetic. His lyrics are about marginalized and rebellious people, prostitutes and knaves. In his songs he is outspoken about homosexuality, abortion, wrongdoings by the church and government and so on. At a certain point you’ll feel the click. Added to his enigmatic life he becomes more interesting the closer you get to him. But he won’t let you in easily. The hermit of Italian (folk)pop has large discography, but not as vast as that of other writers of his time. But it is the quality that counts and not the quantity..

If you like this, you probably like.. / european counterparts:

Arsen Dediç (Croatia)

Joan Manuel Serrat (Spain)

Recomended albums:

- Volume I - 1967

- Tutti morimmo a stento ((We All Died Agonizingly) - 1968

♪♪♪ - Volume III - 1968

- La buona novella (The Good News) - 1970

♪♪♪♪♪ - Non al denaro, non all'amore né al cielo - 1971

♪♪♪♪ - Storia di un impiegato (Story of an Employee) - 1973

- Canzoni - 1974

- Volume VIII - 1975

- Rimini - 1978

♪♪♪♪ - Fabrizio De André in concerto con PFM 1 & 2 - 1979/80

- Fabrizio De André - 1981

♪♪♪ - Creuza de mä - 1984

- Le nuvole ((The Clouds) - 1990

♪♪♪ - Concerti - 1991

♪♪♪ - Anime salve (Saved Souls) - 1996

- In concerto - 1999

♪♪♪♪♪ = outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided


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