Fabrizio De André Biography
De André was born in Genova, welcomed into the world by Gino Marinuzzi's "Country Waltz" on the home gramophone. Twenty-five years later, Fabrizio De André would set his "Waltz for a Love" to Marinuzzi's waltz tune.
When the war broke out, the De André family had to seek refuge in a country farm near Revignano (an hamlet of Asti), in Piedmont. Fabrizio's father, who was an Anti-fascist and was pursued by the police, joined the partisans. In 1945 the De André came back to Genoa. Fabrizio went to the primary school, first at the Marcellian Sisters' School and, later, at the Cesare Battisti public school. He went on to the Liceo Classico "Cristoforo Colombo"; after his final examination, he enrolled in the Law School of the University of Genoa; but he did not graduate (he gave up when he was missing only few exams). De André practiced first the violin, then the guitar, and joined a number of local jazz bands (jazz was his "first love").
In 1961 De André recorded his first two songs, "Nuvole barocche" ("Baroque Clouds") and "E fu la notte" ("Then Night Came"); in 1962 he married Puny Rignon, a Genoese woman nearly ten years older. The same year the couple had their first and only son, Cristiano, who would follow his father's steps and become also a musician and a songwriter.
In the following years De André wrote a number of songs which made him known by a larger public and soon became classic hits: "La guerra di Piero" ("Peter's War"), "La ballata dell'eroe" ("Hero's Ballad"), "Il testamento di Tito" ("Titus' Will"), "La Ballata del Michè" ("The Ballad of Poor Mike"), "Via del Campo" (literally "Field Street", a famous street of Genoa), "La canzone dell'amore perduto" ("Song for a Lost Love"), "La città vecchia" ("Old Downtown"), "Carlo Martello ritorna dalla battaglia di Poitiers" ("Charles Martel on His Way Back from Poitiers" -written together with actor Paolo Villaggio, one of De André closest friends-), and "La canzone di Marinella" ("Marinella's Song"). In 1968, "Marinella" was recorded and sung by one of the most celebrated Italian singers, Mina, and its author was greeted as the most important Italian "cantautore", or singer-songwriter.
De André's first LP, Volume 1, was issued shortly after (1968), followed by Tutti morimmo a stento ("We All Died Agonizingly") and Volume 3; both LPs reached soon the top of the Italian hit-parade. The former contained a personal version of "Eroina" ("Heroin") by the poet Riccardo Mannerini, entitled "Cantico dei drogati" ("Canticle of the Junkies").
In 1970 De André wrote La buona novella ("The Good News" - a literal rendition of the etymology of gospel), a controversial concept album based on Christ's life as told in the Apocrypha. The album was very controversial, especially in the song "Il testamento di Tito" ("Titus' Will"), in which one of the thieves crucified together with Jesus confutes violently the Ten Commandments. He had written a number of songs (like "Preghiera in Gennaio", "Prayer in January", and "Si chiamava Gesù", "His Name Was Jesus") in which he showed a Christian-like spirit, and these songs were also sung in parishes and churches; "Titus' Will" was not.
In 1971 he wrote another celebrated concept album, Non al denaro non all'amore né al cielo ("Neither to gold, nor to love, nor to heaven"), based on Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology; the LP was introduced by an interview to Fernanda Pivano, the first Italian translator of the "Anthology" and one of Cesare Pavese's most intimate friends. The name of Fabrizio De André began to be associated with literature and poetry, and some of his songs found their way in school books.
In 1973 he wrote his most "political" album, Storia di un impiegato ("The Story of a White-Collar").
The following year, De André issued Canzoni ("Songs"), a collection of his translations from Georges Brassens, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. The album also included a number of his old songs from the 1960s.
In 1975 De André (who, in the meanwhile, had divorced his wife Puny and started a relationship with the folksinger Dori Ghezzi) wrote together with another famous Italian singer-songwriter, Francesco De Gregori, his Volume 8. With this album, he broke off with his "tradition" to find new ways for his poetry and music. The lyrics show how deep is the influence of modern poetry on De André's work. 1975 marked a real change in De André's life: he began to perform in a series of memorable concerts (after his first performances of the early 1960s, he had always refused to appear in public, except for a couple of TV broadcastings), and planned to move to Sardinia together with his new love. To this purpose, he bought the Agnata homestead, near Tempio Pausania, in the northern part of the island, devoting himself to farming and cattle breeding.
In 1977 the couple had a daughter, Luisa Vittoria (nicknamed "Luvi"). The following year De André issued a new LP, Rimini. Most songs included on this album were written together with a young Veronese singer-songwriter, Massimo Bubola.
1979 was another milestone in De André's life. The year began with a series of famous live concerts from which a double LP is drawn; De André was accompanied by one of the most renowned Italian progressive rock bands, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM). At the end of August, however, a most striking episode occurred: De André and Ghezzi were kidnapped for ransom by a gang of Sardinian bandits and held prisoners in the Supramonte mountain. The couple was released four months later; ransom was reportedly paid; as De André states in some interviews he was helped by his father in finding the money, and had to start a tour shortly after the release of the "Indiano" album to repay him. When the bandits were apprehended by the police, De André was called as witness before the Court. He showed compassion for some of his kidnappers, since he was well treated by his "guardians" and declared his own solidarity with them. "They were the real prisoners, not I", he said. This declaration is a good example of De André's viewpoint and approach. He said he understood they were driven by need; he did not show any compassion for people belonging to the higher echelon of the group that organized his kidnapping, since they were already rich people.
This dramatic episode, and the hard life of the Sardinian people, gave him inspiration for his following album, released in 1981. The album is untitled, but, from the image of a Native American appearing on the cover, the mass-media call it "The Indian". In De André's poetical vision, the Redskins merged with Sardinian poor shepherds as an allegory of the marginalization and subjugation of "diverse" people. The album contains one of his most famous songs, "Fiume Sand Creek" ("Sand Creek River"): it tells in De André's unique, allusive way the episode of the massacre of defenceless Native Americans on 29 November 1864 by US Army troops.
In 1984 he turned to his native Genoese dialect and wrote, in collaboration with former PFM member Mauro Pagani, one of his most celebrated albums, Crêuza de mä ("Path to the sea", the term "Crêuza" actually indicates a narrow road bordered by low walls, typical of Genoa and Liguria in general). The songs are a tribute to the traditional music from the Mediterranean basin. The album was awarded an unending series of prizes and was greeted as "the best Italian album of the 1980s". It was named by David Byrne as one of his favourite albums. As Pagani has repeatedly stated, De Andrè wrote the lyrics for the album, while the music was almost entirely Pagani's.
In 1989 De André married Ghezzi; the following year a new album was issued, Le nuvole ("The Clouds"), which included two more songs in the Genoese dialect, one in the Gallurese dialect of Northern Sardinia ("Monti di Mola") and one in the Neapolitan dialect, the highly ironic "Don Raffaè". A new series of triumphal live concerts followed, from which a double LP, 1991 Concerti ("Concerts 1991"), was drawn. In 1992 he started a new series of live concerts, performing in a number of theatres for the first time.
De André's last original album, Anime salve ("Saved Souls"), was issued in 1996. Written in collaboration with Ivano Fossati, it represents a sort of "spiritual will", and includes songs such as "Khorakhané" (dedicated to the Muslim Roma people), "Disamistade" (a return to his beloved Sardinian themes, which has been translated into English and sung by The Walkabouts) and "Smisurata preghiera" ("An Infinite Prayer"), based on the Colombian writer and storyteller Álvaro Mutis' The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll. De André also sang a Spanish version of this song.
In 1997, he started a new tour of theatre concerts and a new song collection, called M'innamoravo di tutto ("I Used to Fall in Love with Everything", a quote from one of his older songs), was issued. This tribute album included a version of "La canzone di Marinella" in duet with Mina. The Anime salve concert tour went on up to the late summer of 1998, when De André stopped at the first symptoms of a serious disease, which was later diagnosed as lung cancer.
De André died in Milan on 11 January 1999, at 2:30 am. Two days later, he was buried in his native town, Genoa; the ceremony was attended by an immense crowd of about 20,000. He rests in the monumental Staglieno cemetery, in the De André family chapel.