Acquaforte Tango
Confesión Tango
Ventarrón Tango
Juan Carlos Esteban

The Gardelian discourse

n occasion of the 120th anniversary of Carlos Gardel’s birth I summoned myself to take part of the different homages in his memory. I think that people forget that for those who love Gardel is, almost, a pressing addiction to coexist with his image. We cannot resist the mysterious influence that his persona has. Nobody needs to ask us for what has become a compulsion to us.

Gardel’s angel haunts our existence from the time we entered his world. That is to say, always. But I made myself the same question on various circumstances when I approached the subject. It is about the extraordinary resistance of Gardel to the inevitable erosion of time. For him that doesn’t exist. Mysteriously, he has been excluded. And in each case, I’ve found different answers, all of them are plausible.

Gardel, like the Cid, keeps on winning battles and adding up followers, after his final departure. His relevance and immortal permanence, curiously, are still growing despite the appearance of new musical forms that, spring up and disappear with no rational explanation.

Is it because what Gardel created is not strictly music and song? In fact, tango and Gardel are, besides, a way of living and thinking, at a precise time of the Argentine society. There is an unsuspected symbiosis between the society of his time and Gardel; an inaudible dialogue between the chosen one and his people.

Tango is a transpolation, in musical form, of a philosophy and a genuine and profoundly ethical way of feeling. It does not describe the Argentine society as a treatise on urban sociology would do. It gets involved in it. It takes side. Tango characters are basically moral and those who waive to those codes of behavior are condemned and disqualified.

Under this hypothesis, the neighborhood was the excluding protagonist of what we now call Argentine society. It had precise boundaries. Its geography was the backyard, the sidewalk, the street or the alley and, up to there our home reached and, if you insist, our world. The hallway was the necessary corridor that communicated us with that urban paradise called neighborhood. In that dwelling saints and tough guys lived even though the codes punished the latter and praised the virtuous ones.

Neighborhood was a university, a forge, the cast in which, by contrast, future was chosen; the model of life. And, in that environment, Gardel grew up as its top figure. He described everybody but, also, he gave marks to everybody.

Because of that tango entails a moral lesson that praises “Giuseppe el zapatero” (Giuseppe the cobbler) and reviles Beltrán and his gaiters, Crisolda Valle, the upstart, or the beloved Roberto Arlt’s melancholic scoundrel. And those characters lived together, without mixing, in the same environment: the neighborhood.

How many of these beings portrayed in Arlt’s Aguafuertes Porteñas became universal elements that coexisted in tango lyrics and in our lives? In his book a gallery of names that were familiar to us parade before our eyes in the lyrics of tangos and in our childhood, but, under different names.

And among all of them, coming to terms with them, is Gardel or, rather, his elf. And he got under the skin of all those beings and, by portraying them, made them immortal.

The handling of his voice, his tone, his accentuation, his inimitable pauses, the color of his range, his speeches caused the miracle of his mimetic capacity. They were not all alike. The changing inflection of his voice made them so different.

It was Gardel but, at the same time, they were “Ventarrón”, “El pobre punga”, “Milonguita (Esthercita)”, “El que atrasó el reloj”, the suffering character of “Confesión” and many others. For each one he had singled out a praising, punishing, compassive, or tender tone. His inflection, his voice collocation, the nuances, the chromatic richness were not always of the same kind. They were different and changing, to match each one of his characters.

He was the high priest of the neighborhood he loved so much. Becasue of that he did not say his tangos; he recited them with the fervor and the profoundness of a prayer. It’s true, Gardel did not use to sing. I think he prayed concentrated on each circumstance and, there, it is the unfathomable distance that exists between he and all the others. He was unique in his time and, of course, now as well.

I hardly believe in miracles. But I have a suspicion that he was one of them. His worshippers comply with the rite. They listen to him as in that xylogram that Sigfredo Pastor designed. Do you remember “El hombre que escucha a Gardel”? If my memory does not betray me, the caricature cannot avoid the attitude. In the drawing, the unction is almost religious; with devotion.

There will never be any other one like him because it is impossible go backwards rewinding the clock of history. His time, Gardel’s time, is included in the great history of our country. It has no way back. But it also has no oblivion. To understand this majestic period reading history is not enough. It is necessary to listen, at the same time, the lay sermon recited by Gardel, with an unction that is almost a prayer.

Then, he starts, for umpteenth time, the unendless chronicle. He revives the permanent litany of its heroes and villains. Once again the awaited and always new little short skirt and the uncombed ringlets return to the scene reviving the puppets that spoke in Russian and French. Also reappears ¡Che Bartolo!, by habit, disguised as the «Marqués de Boca Negra» and why not? the drama of “Al pie de la Santa Cruz” and the ship that disappears in the horizon. Also “Acquaforte”.

It turns out nearly impossible, then, to understand the phenomenon of the building of our society from 1880 until the big crisis of 1930 without turning to tango and its top chronicler. No history lesson about our fatherland can go so deep into the problems of that fascinating foundational period without listening to the pagan mass celebrated by Gardel.

I dare to foretell that the moral teaching of life that he suggests to us is, today, quite in vogue. I don’t know if everybody understands when our neighborhoods and their people are portrayed, with wise humility, that we are faced with the duties posed by the circumstances we today have to live. And that has a name: We have to recover the national identity that went away and which we have not noticed. In sum, we have to dream of Argentina again.