THE MYSTERY WE UNDERSTAND
|PLAYLIST1. SOY GARDEL, Alberto Paz
2. LA CANCION DE BUENOS AIRES, Carlos Gardel
3. VIEJO RINCON, Carlos Gardel
4. EL PANGARE, Carlos Gardel
5. EL MORO, Carlos Gardel
6. EL CIRUJA, Carlos Gardel
7. SILBANDO, Carlos Gardel
8. EL CARRETERO, Carlos Gardel
9. MI NOCHE TRISTE, Carlos Gardel
10. MILONGUITA, Carlos Gardel
11. POBRE PAICA, Carlos Gardel
12. MANO A MANO, Carlos Gardel
13. BAJO BELGRANO, Carlos Gardel
14. SOY UNA FIERA, Carlos Gardel
15. TOMO Y OBLIGO, Carlos Gardel
16. MELODIA DE ARRABAL, Carlos Gardel
17. SILENCIO, Carlos Gardel
18. VOLVER, Carlos Gardel
19. CUESTA ABAJO, Carlos Gardel
20. EL DIA QUE ME QUIERAS, Carlos Gardel
Every year on this date, June 24th, we’re haunted by the imagery of the fiery airplane crash that took the lives of Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Lepera in 1935. For most folks born outside South America, it is nearly impossible to understand what it meant for the nation of Argentina, and many other South American countries, to wake up on the morning of June 25, 1935 to the chilling news shaped in bold letters headlines that, except for minor variations in copy, were saying the same unthinkable fact: GARDEL IS DEAD.
Gardel and Lepera had become very successful partners in the tango-for-films department. Under contract with Paramount, Carlos Gardel was becoming a box office attraction in South America because of his personal appeal, his baritone voice, and his successful tours around Western Europe. Yet, the underlying attraction of Gardel, the music and lyrics of his tangos, had presented a public relations problem for the Hollywood suits. There was something about the language and jargon embedded in the lyrics of the tangos Gardel sang that didn’t fly very well outside Buenos Aires.
So they brought Alfredo Lepera, a Brazilian born writer and poet then living in Buenos Aires. His mission was to write new lyrics in a more pure Castilian language that would be universally understood and appreciated in all of South America and Spanish speaking Europe. The resulting body of work represents the most popular and celebrated songs that are easily recognized by people all over the world, even when many may not realize that they were all written for films starring Carlos Gardel. Can you remember hearing any of these titles: Cuesta abajo, Volver, Melodia de arrabal, El dia que me quieras, Por una cabeza…? It was during a promotional tour for his latest film, El dia que quieras, that Gardel and Lepera met their untimely deaths. First Puerto Rico, then Cuba and finally Colombia were visits that attracted large crowds eager to see, touch and listen to Carlos Gardel.
Towards the end of the tour, Gardel and his entourage boarded a plane at Medellin airport for a short flight to Cali, where he would make his final appearance on a radio program before returning to New York, in time to board a ship to Buenos Aires to fulfill a promise he had made to his mother, that is, spending more time with her. The aircraft never got completely airborne as it suddenly veered of course and slammed into another aircraft waiting to enter the runway. Among a twisted pile of melting metal and an infernal blaze, Gardel ended his mortal existence.
Almost instantly he became immortal, and his image, his legacy and his works eternally became the subject of a religious adoration and veneration for a large majority of people spanning many generations.
When his remains arrived in Buenos Aires almost a year later, the city came to a grinding halt. He laid in wake for a day at the Luna Park stadium, located where Avenida Corrientes begins its growth up into the heart of the city. Dignitaries, musicians, singers, artists, and plain people all shed tears of sorrow and mourning before his casket began its final journey along Corrientes Avenue to the cemetery of Chacarita where he was laid to rest. The slow pace of the funeral march was accentuated by a shower of flowers and tears being cast from every balcony and every door along the way.
So, if shouldn’t come as a surprise that every June 24th, as it has been happening since 1935, men and women in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico will listen to Gardel with a very special purpose, to continue paying respect to his memory, to continue admiring a singer that sings better every day.
Perhaps what it is most important to understand about Gardel, the man, the myth, the icon, is the identification that the common people of Buenos Aires have with his rise to fame from humble beginnings. With his unmatched fame and success, and his eternal smile, he has been shining a ray of hope over the tribulations of those who face life challenges from a less than ideal social standing. Gardel is the epitome of the socially challenged immigrant who made it out of the tenement and into the royal palaces of Europe all the while retaining the modesty, humility, loyalty and generosity of those who never forget the friends they make on their way up because they know that they’ll still be there when it’s time to come down. The eternal smile reminds us of that.