While growing up, De André participated in many a battle royale on the streets of Genoa against rival gangs, and he was also known as someone who loved to torment and play tricks on his older brother and his brother's friends. Having exercised his warrior impulses as a boy, from a young adult age De André was an avowed pacifist. Throughout his career he wrote songs about war, and today I'll point you to one from the beginning of his career and another from much later on to give a taste of how De André grew as an artist over the years.
“The Ballad of the Hero” was the B-side of his first single, “The Ballad of Mike,” released in 1961 when De André was 21 years old, in the thick of the Cold War amid the unfolding Berlin Crisis. With a song about a prison suicide backed with another about war, it’s clear that De André was not setting out to be a moon-in-June type songwriter! “The Ballad of the Hero” is like a snapshot – little in the way of plot, scene or character development. De André sketches a concise image and then endows it with a simple emotional charge with an ancient theme: the public glory of a fallen soldier juxtaposed with the private pain and sorrow of a woman now left behind without her beloved.
It’s interesting to hear a song written by De André 23 years later – “Sidon” from his ground-breaking 1984 album Creuza de mä. Like “The Ballad of the Hero,” it’s a simple snapshot of the profound private pain that is the by-product of war. While the lyrics of “Hero” are more universal and iconic in nature, those of “Sidon” are specific to the invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982, and De André said the death the song portrays is a metaphor for the death of a civilization.
For some musical context, The Kingston Trio had a big hit the same year that "Ballad of the Hero" was released with Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”
And in 1984, the year "Sidon" was released, Culture Club put out “The War Song,” which is a pretty fair example of the musical aesthetic that De André wanted to counter with Creuza de mä.
Another war song from the same year with a radically different aesthetic was “No Fuckin’ War” by The Dicks, then based in San Francisco.
And here's a snapshot of what I was up to in 1984:
Not sure what the musical aesthetic was there, but closer to The Dicks than to Culture Club for sure!
We'll return to the music of De André when the spirit moves me again - hope you find it of interest.
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