"Can't you see it?
  There goes the moon...
  rolling down Callao!"
XXXXXXXXXXXX-Balada para un Loco

I never responded to that woman at the dinner party. In fact, after a few minutes, Alej and I got up and went to another room. We’ve learned not to get into arguments about tango. They can be surprisingly hostile, especially when alcohol is involved.

But let me take a moment to answer here. I don’t dislike tango nuevo because I’m a knee-jerk reactionary. I just think that like many things in popular culture, it isn't very interesting. It tries too hard to be liked—a hodgepodge of choreography that at first glance appears interesting, but quickly becomes simple and soulless when you look closer. I see a sort of "tango lite” that tries to be everything, but ends up being nothing. Hipsters trying to look cool. And of course like all stage tango, it’s a disaster in a milonga. In the end, all these new versions of “fusion” tango are just not very good. (This is where the shouting usually begins.)

Now I’m not saying you should never redesign or modernize tango. People have been doing it from the very beginning—and some of them have done it very well. But first, you need to understand tango. And it also helps to have a little talent. The strong tango of the arrabal is quirky and idiosyncratic, and it takes some getting used to. So if you want to market tango outside of BsAs, you should probably leave out references to local streets and barrios—and it wouldn't hurt to dispense with the lunfardo slang as well. If you do it right, you can create a tango with universal appeal... which is exactly what happened with the tango we just finished listening to. Volver was created with an eye toward a world audience. But even with its “mid-Atlantic” lyrics and theme, Volver is a great piece of music that retains tango's traditional passion and weight. It still has worldwide popularity after 80 years, and it's proof that what the Argentines say is true: Gardel sings it better every time.


Asto Piazzollz
Stretching tango: Astor Piazzolla

But there are tangos that have been modified and modernized much more than Volver. One of the best even has astronauts in it, and it's played by the man who stretched the music almost to the breaking point. Of course, we’re talking about Astor Piazzolla. Piazzolla was a very talented musician, and he understood tango. He put in his time with Troilo and the other maestros, so whatever you think about him, he knew exactly what he was doing. Let's listen to one of his most interesting pieces. The words were written by Horacio Ferrer, and sung here by Roberto Goyeneche:


BALADA PARA UN LOCO, Astor Piazzolla con Roberto Goyeneche


Did you like it?  It’s not for everybody—but if you listen a few times and learn the words, it may grow on you. It swept through BsAs like a storm in 1969, and I’m told everyone from kids to their grandparents were walking around town humming it... which is even more interesting to me than the music itself. What does it say about porteños? I think it says that BsAs is one of the few cities in the world that truly has it’s own culture.

Un Loco wasn't written with an eye on the world market, and it's very unlikely that it could have been a popular hit any place else… especially at a time when the rest of the world was going crazy over Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Porteños tend to go their own way, and they have put their own special stamp on some serious music and literature. Maybe it takes a geographically isolated place like BsAs, where school children study poetry along with arithmetic, and older kids are exposed to a diet of Borges and surrealism, to appreciate something like Balada Para un Loco. Here's a translation:


Afternoons in Buenos Aires...
it happens like know? You see?
You leave your house on Arenales,
like always... a part of the street...
when suddenly...
from behind a tree... I appear!

A strange mix of the last hobo,
and the first stowaway on a flight to Venus.
Half a melon on my head,
a striped shirt painted on my skin,
leather soles nailed to the bottom of my feet,
and a taxi flag held up
in each hand!

You laugh...
but only you can see me!
The mannequins in the windows wink at me,
the traffic signals all give me three sky blue lights,
and the oranges in the fruit stand on the corner
throw their blossoms at me.

Come on!
Like this... half dancing,
and half flying.

I tip my melon to greet you,
hand you a small taxi flag,
and say...

Sure... of course I'm crazy.  Crazy...  crazy...
don't you see the moon rolling down Callao?
With a line of astronauts and children
waltzing around me?
Dance, come on... fly!

I know... I'm crazy!  Crazy!  Crazy...
I see Buenos Aires from a sparrow's nest...
and I saw you down below... so sad.
Come on, fly!  Feel it...
this insane fantasy I have for you!

Insane!  Insane!  Insane!
When night comes to your porteña loneliness,
I'll come to the edge of your bed,
with a poem and a trombone
to watch over your heart.

Las tardecitas de Buenos Aires
tienen ese... qué sé yo. ¿Viste?
Salís de tu casa por Arenales,
lo de siempre, en la calle y en vos...
cuando de repente...
de atrás de un árbol... me aparezco yo!

Mezcla rara de penúltimo linyera,
y de primer polizonte en el viaje a Venus.
Medio melón en la cabeza,
las rayas de la camisa pintadas en la piel,
dos medias suelas clavadas en los pies,
y una banderita de taxi libre levantada
en cada mano!

¡Te reís...
pero sólo vos me ves!
Porque los maniquíes me guiñan,
los semáforos me dan tres luces celestes,
y las naranjas del frutero de la esquina
me tiran azahares.

Que así... medio bailando
y medio volando.

Me saco el melón para saludarte,
te regalo una banderita,
y te digo...

Ya sé que estoy piantao.  Piantao...  piantao...
no ves que va la luna rodando por Callao?
Que un corso de astronautas y niños,
con un vals, me baila alrededor?

Bailá, vení...  ¡Volá!

Ya sé que estoy piantao.  Piantao.  Piantao...
yo miro a Buenos Aires del nido de un gorrión...
y a vos te vi tan triste.
¡Vení!  ¡Volá!  ¡Sentí...
el loco berretín que tengo para vos!

¡Loco!  ¡Loco!  ¡Loco!
Cuando anochezca en tu porteña soledad,
por la ribera de tu sábana vendré,
con un poema y un trombón
a desvelarte el corazón.


Amazing!  What a spectacular mix of music and poetry! I won't even try to discuss what all this means. (Although it may strike a chord in anyone who has dropped out, and run away to the other side of the world to spend their life dancing.)  Balada Para un Loco does raise an interesting question, however:  Is it tango?


Piazzolla y Goyeneche
Roberto Goyeneche y Astor Piazzolla in a confiteria.
A classic photo of two porteños over coffee.


What do you think?  Is it? Obviously it isn’t a Golden Age tango (thirty years too late), and it’s certainly not a dance tango (a little vals compás, but no dos por cuatro). But it is heavy and thoughtful, and muy, muy porteño.

There's no pandering to the global pop-culture, here. Ferrer and Piazzolla expect you to know the places in the story. A local lunfardo street word ("piantao") is at the very center of the poem, and you either get it, or you don't. These guys are like Werner Herzog. They're not going to give you a thing. Finally, Loco is being played by Astor Piazzolla on the bandoneon, and sung by Goyeneche ("El Polaco") in that intense tango style. And Goyeneche was probably as close to Troilo as anyone could be. So I vote yes.  I think it's a tango—because it can't really be anything else.

There's something haunting about this tango. It triggers a sort of sneaking feeling that reality may not be all it’s cracked up to be. The story is set in our neighborhood, and sometimes when Alej and I are walking along at night, I catch a glimpse the moon... and it happens! Down it comes, floating between the buildings, and into the street. The traffic lights turn blue, and it rolls down the avenue toward us—a fat, glowing beach ball, bumping lightly over the roofs of the buses and the taxis.


[Note: There's another very good version of Loco by Amelita Baltar on YouTube. It's the one that was so popular in BsAs 35 years ago.]


Bueno. ¡Basta!  Enough about imaginary street people and rockets to Venus. Lets get our feet back on the ground... I mean the pista (dance floor). Here are two tangos, and they’re not for thinking. They're for playing loud and dancing.  So... vamos!  Right now! Around the room… with or without a partner. It doesn’t matter. Stay in the compás, but DO NOT think about your feet. Your body is the music. Have a coffee, or whiskey (or both, if it helps), and crank the volume. Blow out those crappy little speakers on your computer. GO!  Remember, don't worry about your feet. Your body is the music... express it right from the center of your chest, so your partner can feel it!

Two tangos. First Biaggi, and then some transcendent, Golden Age Canaro:





How was it ?  You might have noticed a couple of things. First, the sound quality of Cuartito Azul isn't that great. And the singer, Francisco Amor, isn't quite as proficient as Vargas. I mean he’s good, but he's not Vargas or Castillo. And finally, maybe your own dancing wasn't perfect. Not the right shoes, or floor, or maybe your posture or your steps weren't that precise, or you might have left out some figures.

But on the other hand, Canaro's version of Cuartito Azul couldn't really be any better. And I hope your dancing, although maybe not perfect, felt good. Maybe it even felt great. But how can that be? How can something that wasn't technically perfect still be so... transcendent? The answer may be of interest to those of us who continue to search for tango through our dancing. We’ll talk about perfection in tango, and the Fat Man (Anibal Troilo) on the next page.

(If you aren't hearing these two tangos in your local milongas, you should probably look for a new DJ.)


LarryKeep goin'...