Alcohol, a sad tango
mong the customary subject matters we find in tango lyrics and in many of their titles, alcohol and drinks hold an outstanding place. It is usual that the characters, through the lines of these pieces, try to explain to us the reason of their drinking habit, their necessity to get inebriated in a framework of immense sadness.
Being deceived or forsaken by a woman is the most frequent reason even though there are others. Furthermore, of the large number of pages connected with the subject, not all of them have to do with the need of forgetting or remembering or with heartaches; they tell us about encounters or special times of a couple or confessions of their failures or, simply, portraits of daily life.
There are many examples in tango about characters that drink to forget, to avoid thinking. We find it in "La última copa" when the man asks for a glass full of champagne to drown the pain of his soul caused by a woman. Or when in "Bien frappé" he requires: «Come on, waiter, bring a very cold strong liquor, brandy or whisky to throw away this pain...». Or in the lines of "Destellos": «You’re my guests to drink ‘cause by drinking you’ll forget the sparkle of forbidden loves...». Or in the best Discepolean style, after being surprised by the decrepit look of the one who had been his love, the character warns us: «Tonight I’ll get drunk, heavily drunk just not to think at all».
In other tangos is the other way around, unusually he drinks to remember like in the case of "Un copetín", «…I wanna drink to remember that old time». Also in "Viejo curda" the character misses his deceased wife and for that reason he drinks: «My dear one, you’ve left but I’ll never forget your memory».
In "Noche de locura" a special situation is posed, the guy asks the girl not to think and begs: «No, don’t drink! Come and kiss me! What are you waiting for? Get drunk with love as I do».
There are three memorable tangos in which alcohol is shared with a woman.
In "Los mareados" Enrique Cadícamo suggests the moment when a couple reached a kind of final balance and the man announces their separation: «Today you’ll start to be part of my past». And, later, also understanding the woman’s heartache: «Each one has one’s sorrows and we have them… Tonight we’ll drink because we won’t see each other anymore». It’s a sorrow that expresses a loss for both of them, a joint confession presented as a fatal destiny.
Cátulo Castillo’s lines in "La última curda" have a different, quite profound meaning with a consideration with existentialist roots: «Life is an absurd wound, and everything is so brief that my confession means nothing else but a drunkenness». The character that drinks is acknowledging his failure in life, he discovers the nausea and he confesses it, possibly, to a floozy. The lyrics are complex and full of metaphors. Some are memorable like the following: «Close the large window ‘cause the sun is burning its slow snail of dreams. Don’t you see that I’m from a country that is oblivious, and always gray, behind alcohol?»
Continuing with lyrics that depict drinking between the two sexes, the third example has a raw drama, it’s the case of "Una canción" in which the lady is required to go on singing: «the hard misfortune of us», while they drink rum at a cold table. Both are drunk. Besides this pathetic, hopeless image the piece includes another memorable metaphor: «Come on, woman! Some more rum and close your calico robe ‘cause on the crystal I saw your naked heart trembling when it heard this song…». I think this is the most poetic way of telling a woman that he has seen her breast.
A special case because he explains from the start that he drinks neither to forget nor for any other reason, just for the sake of drinking, is the tango "De puro curda": «I like it and for that I get drunk. I never challenge or press anyone and then if by drinking I hurt myself I do it to myself… just because I’m a drunkard!». There is also the case of the one who wants to celebrate and invites his friends to drink, like in "La garçonniere".
Another case is the one of "Whisky", in which the guy, due to an unrequited love, consciously drinks to hurt himself.
Furthermore, there are numbers in which there are toasts for varied reasons: "Brindemos compañero" (José Luis Padula and Cadícamo) recorded by Ángel Vargas with the orchestra led by the composer, "Brindis de sangre" (Azucena Maizani), both in 1935, "Brindis para navidad" (Aquiles Roggero and Julio César Curi) recorded by Adolfo Rivas with the Orquesta Símbolo Osmar Maderna in 1960, "Brindis de tango" (Carlos Demaría and Juan Maffia with words by Andrés Chinarro) recorded by the orchestra of the composer and Roberto Cortés on vocals in 1951.
Champagne, wine and brandy are the drinks most mentioned in tangos —either in those which refer to this subject or in others related to cabaret and low life—. Also are mentioned whisky, gin, pernaud, wormwood and rum.
About the older numbers, I recall some of the early period, like for example, the above mentioned "Un copetín", that Juan Maglio "Pacho" -its composer-, recorded in 1912 and, that time later a lyric was added by José Fernández and it was committed to record in the unforgettable rendition by Vargas with Ángel D’Agostino in 1941; "Curda completa", an instrumental by Roberto Firpo, recorded by the Genaro Espósito’s quintet in 1913 and by its composer in 1914; "Champagne tango", instrumental cut by Firpo in 1914; "La copa del olvido" and "El curdela" recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1921 and in 1923, respectively.
It would turn out impossible to describe and enumerate all the numbers, tangos or milongas, that talk about alcohol and its variants. Here there is a list of many of them with some of their recordings. We begin with the tangos:
"Anoche estaba curda" (Charlo) recorded by Hernán Salinas with the Carlos García Orchestra in 1977.
Among the milongas we can mention:
"Cosas de borracho" (Ubaldo Martínez) recorded by Alberto Gómez in 1961.
Lastly, an estilo, "Eche otra caña pulpero", recorded by Gardel in 1923; a bailecito, "El borrachito" by Manuel Acosta Villafañe, recorded by Libertad Lamarque in 1944, and a waltz, "Brindis", by Enrique Rodríguez with lyrics by Carlos Goicoechea and Rogelio Cordone, recorded by the composer with Armando Moreno on vocals in 1943.