“But he will come to say goodbye, right?” Joan Manuel Serrat’s decision to withdraw from the stage had its immediate impact on the city of Buenos Aires, where the Catalan singer has woven such an intimate relationship that he even studied the possibility of inhabiting it. The news circulated, from one radio to another, with its background music and some nostalgic commentary. “He would come between May and June,” said the newspaper ‘La Nación’, which gave an important place on its website to the news of the farewell. So did another influential news site, ‘Infobae’. The newspaper ‘Page 12’ recalled for its part the emotional ties of the singer-songwriter with Latin America and, in particular, this country.
Not surprisingly, two years ago Tamara Smerling compiled that story in her book ‘Serrat in Argentina. Fifty years of love and adventure. ‘ “I love Argentina because as my mother says, I ate there for a long time. I have loved it even when the ‘itakas’ supported me [rifles] on my chest, when I had bomb threats on stage, “the author of ‘Cantares’ told ‘Interviú’ when he was preparing to return after seven years of prohibitions, at the end of 1983. Serrat is a cultural and political figure of such magnitude that the last dictatorship banned him as soon as he took power, on March 24, 1976.
That affective bond, which continues to the present, was built in seven years, from that October 1969 when Serrat landed in Buenos Aires. They lived under a prudish military regime that was beginning to crack. The awakening country immediately opened its arms to him. He made it his. Serrat became a point of reference.
In black and white
Television, in black and white, was his main platform. “Those appearances opened paths for me,” Serrat admitted to the newspaper ‘Clarín’, years ago. And so he became a star of the February carnivals, with six performances each night in front of an audience that knew almost all of his songs. The empathy was mutual. Serrat wanted to go through all the initiation rites in the city: he went to the football stadiums and became a fan of Boca Juniors, because it was directed by Alfredo Di Stéfano, he became passionate about tango, which had sounded in his father’s voice, he frequently visited the hippodrome and assimilated other urban ceremonials. Manuel Vázquez even said that this charm was reciprocal. “In Argentina Catalan had become fashionable among the youth.”
Serrat’s name began to circulate to the beat of an idea typical of that time, that of the revolution. He witnessed social shocks. He saw how the youth who sang his songs and read Antonio Machado and Miguel Hernandez Thank you to your discos. Many of his followers joined various leftist formations, as well as the Peronist guerrilla, Montoneros. “They were times in which many effervescent things happened to me. Later, the terrible thing: the murders, the disappearances. Everything left marks on me.” He was in Buenos Aires a few months before the coup. He had composed a song, ‘La montonera’, which he never recorded commercially, but, at one point, it testified to what extent the Argentine drama had marked him. “That topic has its legends. I wrote it, without giving out who it was, for a girl of 20, 22, who died in the jails of the dictatorship. I have never said the name and I will not do it now, because it represents all the murdered women. She is not only a girl who dies. She is a girl who dies for an idea, for a thought so strong that, despite not feeling admiration for the one who directs it, she continues to fight. ” The song however circulated clandestinely.
The return of Serrat in 1983 was an event of all kinds, including emotional, after so many years of separation. The same happened in Chile, after the defeat of the dictatorship, in the 1988 plebiscite. Those who attended his concerts, on either side of the Andes Mountains, would never forget him. Since the democratic recovery, the author of ‘Your name tastes like grass’ was a regular visitor, alone, accompanied by Ana Belén, Miguel Ríos, Víctor Manuel or, later, alongside Joaquín Sabina.
Joan Manuel claims to have a pact with his songs by which he has never spoken ill of them in public. In his own way, the generations of Argentines who were educated with him sealed the same agreement: Serrat is so personal that he is not criticized. With their farewell to the stage, they will be left without a sentimental story and a lifelong friend.