Thursday, 5 April 2012

ITALIAN PROGRESSIVE ROCK AND SOCIETY

In the early Seventies Italian society was going through a period of deep crisis and turmoil. The winds of change were battering against the bulwarks of conservative values and in this decade many important reforms were carried out contributing to transforming and modernizing the country in many fields as welfare, family law, labour law, civil rights and representative institutions. A new consciousness was emerging among young people, bringing huge changes in customs and music became the expression of a collective and social identity as never before. But the other side of the coin was dark. For many people the seventies begin with the shock of a bomb attack, the “Strage di Piazza Fontana” in Milan on December 12, 1969, and end with another deadly bomb attack at the railway station in Bologna on August 2, 1980, in the years between a stream of blood. Violence became a part of daily life, moreover, even disregarding physical attacks, violence used to permeate political language: some took it in a metaphorical sense while others took it literally and very seriously [1]. Since 1968 student and worker union strikes and riots had become more and more violent. “Italy was poisoned by intolerance. The conformist and massive violence of the left wing – students and workers – was counter balanced by the violence of fascist minorities, who became fanatical as they felt they were few and isolated” [2].


“Violent forms of action became more and more brutal especially in physical fights between radical members of the left and right wing, resulting in the creation by both sides of security order services, with military training and increasing autonomy from the political bodies of the movements that were their reference points. The result was an increasing spiral of reciprocal violent acts, with an increasing number of ambushes and violence frequently leading to fatal consequences. The escalation of the fights in the streets between extremists of the left and the right wing and between both of them and the police exacerbated the conflict. Some extremists joined and operated clandestine organisations” [3]. The long, sad season of terrorism that marked the whole of the Seventies in Italy causing hundreds of deaths was setting in and “brutality became a substitute for reason” [4]. In the meantime, there was also a rise in ordinary crimes, a spread of heavy drug abuse among young people, proliferation of the Mafia, ‘Ndrangheta and Camorra, some political scandals, the crisis of the economic system aggravated by the rise in the price of petrol, the consequences of the Cold War, of the plots (true and presumed) of the secret services, bomb attacks, massacres and the so called “strategia della tensione”, the strategy of tension...



I don’t think that this is the best place to try to explain “gli anni di piombo”, “the years of lead”, but it’s normal that such a kind of atmosphere had a deep influence also on the more committed young musical scene, the progressive rock scene. Vittorio Nocenzi: - It was such a strange decade, so rich that it would be limiting to speak only of just one thing. I should speak more properly of a mosaic, a puzzle, a great labyrinth made of large boulevards and narrow alleys, of horizons you could reach by running which seemed so near and suddenly were hidden by hedges springing out of nowhere. It was a period of great and general utopia, amazing but not to be celebrated in a  nostalgic way because the future is more precious than the past if you look at it with eyes drenched with desire. Another thing is the past if you look at it as a lesson to learn, in this case you have to remember it [5]. Songs used to reflect the times but despite the omnipresent violence in the streets, the lyrics of the Italian progressive scene are never trivial or vulgar and the music is sometimes so sweet as to seem surreal (nothing like  Eminem’s style, indeed!). Just a few examples: “Terra in bocca (poesia di un delitto)” by I Giganti, a whole album inspired by a Mafia murder and “Canto nomade per un prigioniero politico” by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, inspired by Salvador Allende’s death during the 1973 coup  in Chile. Vittorio Nocenzi: - In those years you used to get completely involved in what you were doing, without calculations of any other nature. I don’t know if this was true for everybody, but for us of BMS it was true and it still is today [6].



Often in the music of that period you can breathe the wind of change but also the need to escape from reality and from its daily blue mood. Well, not all the lyrics of that “era” were at the same high poetical level, of course, but one way or another the Italian Progressive Rock movement was the expression of an artistic and social commitment and gave voice to a whole generation. It was never just pure and simple entertainment. Claudio Canali, singer and flutist of Il Biglietto per l’Inferno: - Our songs were our way, perhaps veined in provincialism, to live the protest... They perfectly matched the fight against the society of consumerism, of hypocrisy and of materialism that was on the rise in the Western World [7]. Claudio Rocchi, bassist of Stormy Six and singer-songwriter linked to the prog movement: - In those years there was not only a progressive music but there was also a progressive trend of life, of society, of system, of relationships that made of that season a season shared by thousands of boys and girls on the move just to follow the pop festivals... In those years, signals from the underground used to come out not as a cultural or a musical fashion, but as a new way of life, as a reference system, as an existential paradigm [8].


Stefano Testa, singer-songwriter linked to the progressive movement: - In Italy in that period social and political engagement was mixed with the interest in culture and the need to experiment new artistic languages. The public was interested and enthusiastic about any attempts at original communication, from theatre (Carmelo Bene, Leo de Bernardinis, Dario Fo) to cinema (Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni, Bertolucci, Bellocchio, Bunuel, Altman, Pasolini) and music (Il Banco, la PFM, gli Area, etc). There was the sensation of living as protagonists the eve of a huge change. Unfortunately, the leading class didn’t manage to seize that unrepeatable opportunity [9].


[1] See G. MORO, Anni Settanta, Einaudi, Torino, 2007, p. 48
[2] I. MONTANELLI – M. CERVI, L’Italia degli anni di piombo, ed. Rizzoli, Milano, 1991, p. 75
[3] D. DELLA PORTA – H. REITER, Polizia e protesta – L’ordine pubblico dalla liberazione ai no global, ed. Il Mulino, Bologna, 2003, p. 267
[4] I. MONTANELLI – M. CERVI, L’Italia degli anni di piombo, ed. Rizzoli, Milano, 1991, p. 88
[5] Quote from an interview on the site www.pagine70.com
[6] Quote from an interview on the site www.pagine70.com
[7] Quote from G. CASIRAGHI – M. CAPPON, Un Biglietto per l’Inferno – Un viaggio lungo trent’anni, ed. La Vetraia, Milano, 2004, p. 42
[8] Quote from G. CASIRAGHI, Anni 70 – Generazione Rock, Ed. Riuniti, Roma, 2005, p. 133
[9] Quote from an interview on the site progarchives.com