Jorge Göttling

To be Gardel is to be the best

arlos Gardel was born, so they say, on December 11, 1890 in the French city of Toulouse.He arrived in Argentina when he was three years old.

When in 1915 he recorded “Mi noche triste (Lita)” with José Razzano, the era of the tango canción begun. Together with Le Pera, he composed dozens of famous tangos. In Paris he sold 110 thousand records in less than a year. He shot eleven movies in the United States. He had recorded about 800 tunes when on June 24, 1935, he died in a plane crash in Medellín, Colombia.

If the public credibility about Carlos Gardel's signifiant resisted the collisions of almost a century of crises and, even more, it grew, it must be not only because he is singing better each day. The rational explanation of the popular devotion persistence or Gardel´s survival so undefeatedly in his heroic character must be somewhere. Maybe it is lost amidst the papers of the national archive of unanswered questions or with the questionings which surprise us every morning.

Even today, his undeteriorated voice will rise in the ranking of diffusion as if we systematically cling to the only Argentine who is not under suspicion, to the password of all agreements, Gardel will play his ritual pirouette and will change his last name into an adjective of easy decyphering. We all know that to be Gardel is to be the best.

Half a century has passed since the accident in Medellín, that foolishness of history, and our country is different even though when calamities are not new and have an air of familiarity, which, at least, overwhelm us.

In Buenos Aires today, only humidity and longing are a common string with that one of the 20s and 30s which added drama to Gardel's vicissitude. Neither word, honor, love or scruples are the same and, even the machismo is an entity of discard.

The hinge is Gardel, who was the talking loudspeaker for that desperate, bewildered, drowsy inhabitant of Buenos Aires and in the River Plate mud, sunk in the huge misery and baffled before an uncertain future with a narrow horizon. With an economy so damaged, insufficient to buy a dream, with the naked sensation of so much vain bronze, it would seem that we resort to that household Gardel as the only known and safe shelter.

Gardel and his tangos granted voice and vote to that Argentine individual. If someone regards him as the archetype of our nationality, he fails for shallowness and imbecility. But it is also wrong he who states that he was only a popular artist, a clear voice, a neat style, an instantaneous rival for every new singer. And he was, without intending it, the most striking battering ram in that effort to export Argentine culture to a goal called Paris.

There is no God without mystery and Gardel, who forged his own legend, filled with shadows the most precise passsages of his personal history.

He always celebrated his birthday on a different day, he caused confusion about his true age, even he allowed himself to fake his birth in different places. The official story puts his birth in Toulouse, France, on December 11, 1890, son of Berta Gardes and unknown father- a lack which would mark his life. It is no coincidence that Gardel, a bastard son, is a myth and referent of a country, also a son of bastardy.

The foggy research after Charles Romuald Gardes's father leads us to the figure of Paul Lasserre, a prosperous businessman, married and family father who did not acknowledged him as son, and made Berta hurry for her South American adventure who would take her to El Abasto. Gardel never mentioned his father and that open leakage made the necessity to form a traditional family hardly possible. He had no father, he was not father in the Biblical or genetic sense.

He would mend that gap in his history, Gardel was the father of the tango canción, he gave it his own image and likeness, he left a legacy and a name.

Behind Gardel´s adventures on stage, on record or movies, out of the mountain of lies made up by Gardel-haters and believable or apocryphal stories pupplied by Gardel-fans, beyond the pieces of his iconography made cheap, there exist unrevealed mysteries.

The gossipings about his sexuality, about passages bordering misdemeanor at the times of The Abasto, the information creaks around the reasons of the plane crash in Colombia soil, it turns out however less attractive for the Buenos Aires citizen, convinced of, with reasonable motive, that the truth is, sometimes, less important to the legend.

Between that Argentina of Gardel´s time, before the immigration of the inner country to the coast and the pitiful version of today, there are a thousand misfortunes and hundreds of illusions buried in the corner of the dead memories. It is even understandable that, for not accepting the shallowness of nowadays we lay our eyes on that Gardel and that city of his, full of hope.

Gardel will be, because he came from a mythical entity, furnished or concealed by the condensation of the collective unconscious. And it will be licit to encourage any of his records to believe, as good Argentines, that we are also owners of his inspiration. And Gardel will answer us like a kite hidden into memory to obey the hand and fly in the emotion by simply giving tension to the string of his voice.

Extracted from the article by Jorge Göttling, from the magazine Viva by Clarín, June 13, 1999.