Julio Nudler

is family came from Ekaterinoslav, in Ucrania. His parents, the shoemaker Motl and Maria Kaplan, teacher at a Hebrew school, decided to emigrate faced with the scourge of antisemitism, which had got worse at the time of the Russian-Japanese war, and they arrived in Buenos Aires at the beginning of 1906 with three daughters. In the Argentine Republic they would have seven children more, the second of which was Luis, born in 1908 and who started the tango dynasty. On the documents of some of the Rubinsteins disappeared the "n", so the surname became Rubistein, such as in Luis´ case. The latter, like various of his brothers and sisters, was born in the humble family house on 945 Catamarca street, in the neighborhood of San Cristóbal, a part of the deep south of the Argentine capital. At that house his father worked as cobbler and the family was piled into two rooms.

Carlos Gardel only recorded one of the tangos by Luis Rubistein: “Tarde gris”, with music by Juan Bautista Guido. That happened in June 1930. After the Zorzal's death (Gardel's nickname meaning thrush), Armando Defino, who had been his agent, handed an unpublished music by Gardel to Luis for the addition of lyrics. So Amor was born, a number which never achieved success, in spite of Francisco Canaro's recording with Roberto Maida in 1936. But, as in many other cases, Gardel's record made “Tarde gris” long lasting, and only in 1946 it had three remarkable recordings, by Aníbal Troilo with Floreal Ruiz, by Osmar Maderna with Pedro Dátila and by Miguel Caló with Raúl Iriarte.

Luis had been expelled from school in the third grade because he threw an inkpot at the teacher, who reprimanded him because he was writing poems. Then his brief stage as student concluded. He did not even finish grammar school. In spite of that, besides a prolific lyricist he was journalist in the publisher Julio Korn´s magazine "La canción moderna", later named "Radiolandia", and he held the direction of "Sintonía", created in 1933 by Emilio Kartulovic, «Kartulo», publications which accompanied the boom of broadcasting and of tango on radio.

Fond of roaming the streets, untamable, soon Luis frequented the places of tango environment, with his ambition and his greediness, which through the years turned him into an uncontrollable fat man. When he talked with the very popular singer Agustín Magaldi, who was a stutterer like Luis, it seemed they were mocking each other. Still a teenager, Luis sang with Juan D'Arienzo, but he later gave up that attempt. He made of cabaret his world, with anything you can imagine.

In May 1935 he founded a school of popular art in the family house on 154 Tejedor street, in a flat neighborhood, somewhat apart. That academy, which finally absorbed him completely, quickly moved to 420 Callao street, almost downtown, on the upper stories of the Iribarnes' funeral parlor, the family of president Ortiz´s wife (who governed between 1938 and 1940), owner of all that vast building. There it was named PAADI, Primera Academia Argentina de Interpretación (First Argentine Academy of Interpretation).

Under that roof the Rubisteins' empire would concentrate: Select publishing house, the abovementioned PAADI, whose business was supplying artists to radio stations, and PACA, First Argentine Cinematographic Archive, whose aim was to supply extras for film studios. PAADI was so directed to exploit the radio boom that even it had a transmission studio, from which programs on which selected students played were broadcasted by a telephone line. PAADI broadcasts stopped with the rightist coup d'Etat in June 1943, which banned that method, among many measures of repression and control.

Cadenas” the first tango with music and lyrics by Luis, dates back to 1933. A number of coarse stroke, was premiered by Mercedes Simone. There a succession of booms which totally belong to him began, like “Venganza”, of ruthless plot and base style, which nonetheless touched people, to such an extent that a singer like Oscar Ferrari, who recorded it with José Basso in 1950, was identified with it and had to sing it for decades, even it was no pleasure for him.

In the wide work written by Luis, the moments of poetry, the original ideas are rare. Among his few significant lyrics we have that of “Noctámbulo”, a beautiful tango that in 1930 he wrote with Armando Baliotti's music and of which there are the recorded versions by Roberto Maida and by Julio De Caro with the refrain singer Luis Díaz, but it was soon forgotten. Those lines end like this: «Es un noctámbulo sin fe/ que por la noche del dolor busca olvidar/ la luna llena del hastío/ y el imposible de su soñar». (He is a faithless nightwalker who in the night of pain tries to forget the moon full of ennui and the impossible object of his dreaming). Of course that "the moon full of ennui", or "ennui's full moon" is a pretty phrase but contradictory. If to Rubistein it sounded good, why should he worry about sense?

Another high point was “Carnaval de mi barrio”, from 1938, which was totally composed by Luis and which that year Mercedes Simone recorded. Rubistein described his work as a «street painting in tango rhythm». He was undoubtedly proud of those sweet-and-sour rhymes, whose narrator confessed that «a strange tenderness» touched his heart. In the same line and with similar inspiration he shaped “De antaño”, a milonga which Juan D'Arienzo recorded with Alberto Echagüe.

But the outstanding piece would come in 1940 with “Charlemos”, a story of a romantic approach between two strangers through the telephone: «Charlando soy feliz,/ la vida es breve./ Soñemos en la gris/ tarde que llueve./ Hablemos de un amor,/ seremos Ella y El,/ y con su voz/ mi angustia cruel / será más leve...» (When chatting I'm happy, life is short. Let's dream in the gray afternoon when it's raining. Let's talk of love, we'll be she and he, and with your voice my cruel anguish shall be lighter…) As a shocking ending, the low blow of the anecdote: he is blind. «No puedo... no puedo verla;/ es doloroso, lo sé./ ¡Cómo quisiera quererla!/ Soy ciego... Perdóneme.» (I can't… I can't see you; it's painful, I know. How I'd want to love you! I'm blind… I'm sorry).

Something to hide to attain the other´s acceptance. Something for what being sorry. Hadn't Rubistein been alluding, unconsciously, to his condition of Jew? Wouldn't the true ending of his tango be «Soy judío... Perdóneme? (I´m a Jew, forgive me)». That lyric was written when in Europe the extermination, the Shoá, the Holocaust had begun, and in Argentina the fascists were at home. The cataclism that five years before Luis had foretold in “La caída de la estantería” (music by Edgardo Donato) in a farcical, even clumsy, but accurate way, announcing that «a cyclone was coming» had arrived at the world.

Charlemos”, which in less than a year had five different recordings, Carlos Di Sarli with Roberto Rufino, Enrique Cárbel, Francisco Canaro with Ernesto Famá, Ignacio Corsini and Alberto Gómez, touched the audiences, from Buenos Aires to La Habana. Condensed in less than three minutes a whole radio novel, and in a certain way he left open the ending. How would She react? Maybe She would love him anyway, in spite of his blindness. Perhaps He would manage to see through that woman's eyes.

The telephone as mediator in 1933 had already inspired the lyrics of “Cuatro palabras”, which recorded Mercedes Simone and Charlo: «Que te vaya bien, me dijiste / colgándome el tubo de tu telefón./ Que te vaya bien, murmuré,/ mascullando entre dientes una maldición.» (God be with you, you told me hanging up the telephone. God be with you, I murmured, mumbling a curse). In 1936 he made known “Olvido”, together with Luis César Amadori, a tango of peculiar beauty, which was recorded from Charlo up to Roberto Goyeneche, including Lágrima Ríos, on which the protagonist revises his fall from opulence to poverty: «Si pensara alguna vez en lo que fui / no tendría ni la fuerza de vivir...» (If I once happened to think of what I was, I would neither have the courage to live…).

In “Decime”, from 1938, Luis presented two variants for the same lyric: one feminine and another masculine. It seems he considered equal love feelings in man and woman. In fact, only a female singer, Mercedes Simone, recorded this tango. But the relative failure of a number could not worry an author who during two decades gathered an unending series of hits, many of them with various recordings. Among his most charming tangos we find the aforementioned “Nada más”; “Juro”, with music by Ciriaco Ortiz, from 1936; “Yo también”, from 1940, with Luis Nicolás Visca, and from the same year “Igual que ayer”, with Luis Bayón Herrera; “Ya lo ves”, with D'Arienzo, from 1941, as also “Cautivo”, with Egidio Pittaluga, which can be heard in the movie La tregua, by Sergio Renán; “Si tú quisieras”, from 1943 (music by Francisco Pracánico); “Marión” (apparent musical plagiarism of a tango called “Sentimientos”) and “Dos palabras por favor” (the latter with music by Visca), also from 1943; “Rosa de tango”, from 1944 (where he re-utilized the melody of his previous “Cuatro palabras”); “Dos ojos tristes” (music by Oscar de la Fuente) and “Plomo”, from 1947, and “Tu perro pequinés”, from 1948. The latter is, perhaps, the best of all tangos conceived by Luis, and although it was only recorded by Aníbal Troilo with Edmundo Rivero, this unmatched rendition was enough to show all its value.

Although Rubistein never was a subtle lyricist, how far he already was from that who wrote “Dominio” twenty years before, superimposing to Elvino Vardaro's delicate melody those brutal verses: «Yo sé que sos tan falsa y tan canalla/como la vil serpiente ponzoñosa./Sos tan ruin mujer, tan venenosa,/que está en tu ser la víbora del mal». (I know that you're so false and mean like the vile poisonous snake. You're so ruin, so poisonous woman that in your being is the snake of evil). In 1948 he wrote , instead: «La vida, tal vez,/se ensañó y a sangre fría/me regala la ironía/de este cuadro hecho al revés./¡Cómo quisiera tener/para mi frío espantoso/ese abrigo tan celoso/de tu perro pequinés!» (Maybe life glutted its cruelty and cold-bloodedly offers me the irony of this upside down picture. How should I long to have that so jealous warmth of your Pekinese dog for my dreadful coldness). That´s another thing.

Luis was able to devise several themes on the same day. There were times during his lifetime when he turned into a truly song maker, so accumulating an indeterminable work. In 1928 he used as nickname Nietsibur, spelling his surname backwards, to sign “Callejas solo”, with music by Juan D'Arienzo, dedicated to a jockey. This tango had been called in 1926 “Rodolfo Valentino” with its first lyric, which praised the actor after his early death, and would be called “Nada más”, in 1938, with the third, only then becoming a boom.

Luis' vast creation included some works with involvement. The most rudimentary of them was the tango “El camino de Buenos Aires”, with music by Francisco Pracánico, recorded by the latter and by Carlos Dante, both for the Electra label and in 1928. This number is inspired, from its name itself, on «Le Chemin de Buenos Aires (La Traite des Blanches)», a book that in 1927 the journalist Albert Londres published to describe and denounce the traffic of women subjected to prostitution from Europe to the River Plate. This lyric of a Rubistein still very rudimentary, who talks of a «criminal caften (scoundrel)», faced him with the powerful Zvi Migdal, a maffia of Jewish dealers.

In 1942 Luis wrote the lyrics of “Yánkele (Mi muchacho)”, interspersing some lines in idisch and with music by his brother Elías. This song, which the acordeonist Feliciano Brunelli´s group recorded twice, was composed especially for Soy judío, a play by Luis Pozzo Ardizzi which was broadcasted by Radio del Pueblo with a big success, when in Europe being a Jew meant to be condemned to torment and to death. The actress who sang the number was Teresita Padró, who learnt phonetically the phrases in idisch. In “Yánkele” a Jewish mother sings to her child, in the middle of «esta vida horrible y atroz» (this horrible atrocious life), asking for the end of all sufferings. But they were quite far from having concluded.

Extracted and abridged by the author from the chapter "Los cuatro Rubinstein: el primer holding tanguero", of the book "Tango judío, del ghetto a la milonga", Editorial Sudamericana, 1998.