Tag Archives: places of longing

Book published

1 Jun

Fado and the Place of Longing

My book Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City is published by Ashgate today.

Nick Cave’s Place of Longing

15 Apr

Nick CaveWe all experience within us what the Portuguese call ‘saudade’, an inexplicable longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul, and it is this feeling that lives in the realms of imagination and inspiration, and is the breeding ground for the sad song, for the love song. Saudade is the desire to be transported from darkness into light, to be touched by the hand of that which is not of this world … [T]he love song is never simply happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love, without having within their lines an ache or a sigh, are not love songs at all, but rather hate songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our human-ness and our God-given right to be sad, and the airwaves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the whispers of sorrow and the echoes of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker reaches of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, magic and joy of love, for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil, so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.

(Nick Cave, ‘The Secret Life of the Love Song’, in The Complete Lyrics 1978-2007 (London: Penguin, 2007), pp. 7-8.)

This is Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave addressing an audience in 1999 on the subject of ‘the secret life of the love song’. As well as talking about saudade, Cave speaks about duende, the Spanish word associated with the heightened emotional world of flamenco and bull-fighting. He quotes Federico García Lorca on the subject and claims that rock music, the field Cave operates in, generally lacks the qualities of saudade and duende: ‘Excitement, often, anger, sometimes – but true sadness, rarely … [I]t would appear that the duende is too fragile to survive the compulsive modernity of the music industry.’
My point here is not necessarily to invoke Cave as an expert on saudade, or to question the intricacies of a lack of distinction between duende and saudade. Rather, what I find interesting is the simultaneous locality and universality in this analysis of writing love songs. This tension is set up in the words ‘we all have within us … saudade’; a universally recognizable feeling is presented via recourse to a very specific term from outside the language the speaker is using. This is, of course, a common rhetorical device and perhaps we should not take it for anything more than that. But I think it is provocative, especially coming in a discussion of the love song as something that must be happy and sad, partaking in a dialectic that is akin to the ‘episode of the interval’ that Pessoa used to define fado. Cave’s love song seems to be precisely such an interval. It becomes even more provocative when one is asked to think of Nick Cave as a fadista. This is what had happened in 1994 when the controversial novo fadista Paulo Bragança recorded a version of Cave’s song ‘Sorrows Child’ with the guitarrista Mário Pacheco. In an interview, Bragança maintained the validity of his choice: ‘Throughout his life Nick Cave has been a fadista in the broadest sense of the word and the lyric of “Sorrow’s Child” by itself is already a fado.’ (More on Bragança here and here; the second link requires a little extra navigation.)

Cave and Bragança’s opening out of the discourse echoes that of Lorca, who had the following to say about duende:

This ‘mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain,’ is, in sum, the earth-force, the same duende that fired the heart of Nietzsche, who sought it in its external forms on the Rialto Bridge, or in the music of Bizet, without ever finding it, or understanding that the duende he pursued had rebounded from the mystery-minded Greeks to the Dancers of Cádiz or the gored, Dionysian cry of Silverio’s siguiriya.

This suggestion of a larger context in which to place duende is akin to both the ‘longing for uniqueness’ that Svetlana Boym speaks of when discussing the synonyms of yearning (all of the things Lorca mentions are unique, just as all grammars of nostalgia are) and a longing for negotiation (Umberto Eco’s definition of translation is ‘negotiation’).

Henry Ryecroft’s Place of Longing

15 Apr

The Private Papers of Henry RyecroftI have been spending a week in Somerset. The right June weather put me in the mind for rambling, and my thoughts turned to the Severn Sea. I went to Glastonbury and Wells, and on to Cheddar, and so to the shore of the Channel at Clevedon, remembering my holiday of fifteen years ago, and too often losing myself in a contrast of the man I was then and what I am now. Beautiful beyond all words of description that nook of oldest England; but that I feared the moist and misty winter climate, I should have chosen some spot below the Mendips for my home and resting-place. Unspeakable the charm to my ear of those old names; exquisite the quiet of those little towns, lost amid tilth and pasture, untouched as yet by the fury of modern life, their ancient sanctuaries guarded, as it were, by noble trees and hedges overrun with flowers. In all England there is no sweeter and more varied prospect than that from the hill of the Holy Thorn at Glastonbury; in all England there is no lovelier musing place than the leafy walk beside the Palace Moat at Wells. As I think of the golden hours I spent there, a passion to which I can give no name takes hold upon me; my heart trembles with an indefinable ecstasy.

(George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (London: Archibald Constable & Co., 1904), pp. 81-2.)

Fado and the Place of Longing

7 Jan

This blog is being set up to accompany my book Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City (Ashgate, 2010). I hope to post draft extracts from the book, research notes and pictures relating to the project. While the book itself is specifically about the Portuguese musical style known as fado, I want to reflect on the “place of longing” more generally as well.

The book is a result of research I have carried out on fado over the past five or six years. This research followed a period of living and working in Lisbon, although the research really established its focus when I moved to Newcastle upon Tyne to embark on a PhD at Newcastle University. My PhD thesis, entitled ‘Loss, Memory and Nostalgia in Popular Song: Thematic Aspects and Theoretical Approaches’ included a chapter on fado alongside others on Latin American nueva canciön, black protest music in the USA (specifically the work of Nina Simone) and punk and post-punk in Britain. More information about his project can be found here, along with some downloadable papers.

I decided to expand my work on fado into a longer project after completing my doctorate, and put together a proposal early in 2008. Ashgate expressed interest in publishing the book and I wrote it between July 2008 and July 2009.

There were numerous reasons I could see to write this book. There was, I pereceived, a significant amount of interest in fado at both national (Portuguese) and international levels. The rise in global popularity of the so-called ‘new fadistas’ over the last decade had led fado to a level of visibility unmatched since the heyday of the internationally-renowned performer Amália Rodrigues. Current fado performers, in particular Mariza, had found themselves at the forefront of a star system promoted by the contemporary world music network. Fado was being regularly reviewed in the Anglophone music press, with leading world music publications such as Songlines and fRoots featuring Mariza and other performers in prominent articles. Two films had recently been completed on the contemporary fado scene, Simon Broughton’s Mariza and the Story of Fado (2007) and Carlos Saura’s Fados (2007) and the time seemed right for a thoroughly-researched English language monograph on the genre.

To date, the only book-length study of fado music in English had been Paul Vernon’s A History of the Portuguese Fado (Ashgate, 1998). The main strengths of Vernon’s book lie in its account of the Portuguese music industry in the mid-twentieth century, its presentation of archival material relating to recording sessions by key performers such as Amália Rodrigues, and its ethnological account of a fado venue in the 1980s. It suffers from a number of drawbacks, however. For a start, there is an over-reliance on English language scholarship on fado which had not progressed far from Rodney Gallop’s work in the 1930s. Vernon does not provide translations, or even summaries, of subsequent Portuguese scholarship in the area and any sense of the debates which shaped fado discourse and practice during the second half of the twentieth century is subsequently lacking.

Furthermore, Vernon’s presentations of key fado performers are rather cursory and, while a number of fados are quoted (although without Portuguese versions for reference), one does not get a sense of the full range of topics with which fado music engages. Additionally, Vernon’s book appeared shortly before the current fado ‘boom’, meaning that there is much to be updated for those wishing to place the work of current performers such as Mariza, Cristina Branco and Ana Moura in its proper historical context. I hoped my book would partly fill a gap left in the scholarship by providing translations and summaries of recent Portuguese work on fado, presenting a more full-realised historical account of fado recording in the second half of the twentieth century, giving detailed accounts of fado song texts and examining the continuities and discontinuities in current fado practice.

In addition to the filling a gap in English language work on fado, I hoped that a project such as this would have some resonance beyond its immediate subject matter by engaging with debates in the fields of memory studies, historiography and media studies. My examination of the role of the city in fado song texts can be compared to work in other areas on what M. Christine Boyer has called ‘the city of collective memory’. By engaging with theories of witnessing, I hoped to contribute to other contemporary work on the uses of memory, archival culture and the politics of reconciliation. By focussing on recent developments in fado music, I wanted to extend the existing fado historiography to suggest processes of continuity and change in the mediation of highly memory-oriented cultural practices.

Having now completed the book, I think I have been able to achieve most of these aims, with the possible exception of ‘giving detailed accounts of fado song texts’, this being largely due to the unreasonable demands of certain copyright holders who fail to see how the quotation of a few song lyrics might be considered ‘fair use’ in the context of an academic text being produced in a very limited print run and from which the author stands to gain no profit. Such intransigence is even more baffling when one reflects on how easily available many of these song texts are on the Internet. What is not possible, then, in print publishing will be acheivable in a forum such as this where links can be posted to sites hosting lyrics, recordings and videos.

My research also led me to areas I had not fully explored before, such as the fascinating spatial theories of Henri Lefebvre, Gaston Bachelard and the large number of cultural geographers influenced by them. While my work had always been about the city in one way or another – specifically the (mis)remembered city of Lisbon – these thinkers gave me a range of new perspectives that showed it was not enough merely to think about the representation of spaces, but also to try and think spatially to a similar extent to which we have all learned to think temporally. The place of longing, then, is many things. It may be a specific space – for me, for this project, the endlessly mapped city of Lisbon that saturates fado song texts. It may be an attempt to put longing itself – and its correlatives: yearning, loss, mourning, nostalgia, memory, melancholy and that wonderful Portuguese word, saudade – into some kind of context. It may be an attempt to situate a particular genre or style – in my case, fado – in a much broader field. I found myself attempting all of these tasks and more.