(by Sara De Angelis)
Born in Romagna in 1970, Samuele Bersani moved at a young age to Bologna, where he was noticed by Lucio Dalla, who had him open one of his concerts with his song, “Il mostro” (The Monster). So Bersani, young, personable, traveling in the same Bolognese entourage that had produced groups like the Stadium and songwriters such as Ron, immediately became famous and appeared on television’s most popular programs.
In his background there is not only music (an interest that began during his teenage years), but also a passion for film that would ultimately emerge in many of his lyrics over the course of his career. He recalled in various interviews the great degree to which film festivals had influenced him – along, of course, with Tonino Guerra, a poet from Romagna and the screenwriter of Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, with whom he had taken a screenwriting course when he was sixteen.
“Chicco e Spillo,” the first song of this emerging songwriter, became both a huge success on the radio and a summer hit, no doubt aided not only by his telegenic nature and his striking performance, but also owing to the song’s inherent power. Its catchiness is in direct contrast to its lyrics, which tell the story of two suburban boys who, looking for quick money or a cure for boredom, commit armed robbery and ultimately die in a moped accident while fleeing from the police. With an acerbic and dispassionate tone, the lyrics depict these suburbs as dirty, impoverished, and abandoned to themselves, in which two teenagers act (not differently from certain characters of literature penned by the so-called cannibal writers) seemingly in search of easy money, but perhaps even more so to escape the tedium of existence. Bersani presents himself – both on television and in the music video – with a performance that is simultaneously detached and intense, already demonstrating the characteristics for which he would come to be known. As a serious songwriter, he was attentive to the themes of existential alienation and incommunicability, and as a fierce critic of various aspects of Italian society, he decried its immobility and hypocrisy.
In the hits that followed (from the album Freak, 1995) the same themes emerged with a cutting irony that served to strikingly depict a middle class world, one both attracted to certain global seductions of the seventies (India, the peace sign, pearl necklaces…) and yet also irrevocably linked to a deep provincialism (“have you thought again about that project of exporting the piadina from Romagna?” he asks in Freak). Emotional incommunicability and difficulties relating to others, both fixtures in Bersani’s lyrics, appear again in this very same album in another of his great commercial hits, “Spaccacuore” (Heartbreak, Freak, 1995); characterized by an intimate and seemingly autobiographical tone that remains characteristic over the course of his career (“I know who I am / even if I’ve never read Freud / I know how I’m made / but I can’t change shape”), it guaranteed his great success and popularity. In this same vein one can recall “Giudizi Universali” (Final Judgments, Samuele Bersani, 1997), perhaps one of Bersani’s best lyrics (at least certainly one of the most interesting and well known). Released in ’97, it presents a first person narrator that brings to light the true difficulties of relating to and communicating with others (“Too cerebral to understand that you can be just fine without trampling on your heart / You can step on it two or three times like feet on a flowerbed”).
In spite of this great commercial success, by the end of the ’90s Bersani seemed to flee from the spotlight and appeared to be rather guarded with respect to the world of show business (even if he participated in more than one Sanremo Festival). In contrast to this private profile, he has been the object of much critical attention and has become an icon of contemporary Italian songwriters, and the winner of numerous prizes (above all for the literary quality of his lyrics). He now releases work less frequently and has instead begun various collaborations with other singers (Consoli, Concato, Pacifico, Vanoni, Cammariere and many others).
In 2003 he released Caramella smog (Candy Smog), an album that earned him two Tenco awards, and that was characterized by lyrics tied to Italian reality and its many contradictions, with particular attention to the sensory distortion carried out by mass media (primarily through television at that time). Cattiva (Bad), inspired by dark episodes from crime news, deftly narrates a certain television voyeurism that chases after and glorifies criminals (“You ask for the killer’s autograph / Look at the criminal up close / And take advantage while he’s still here / Touch his leg, ask him another question”).
Even more subtle are the lyrics of the eponymous Caramella smog (Candy Smog). On the one hand, the lyrics repeat a global phenomenon in that same theme of sensory distortion in the arena of public opinion (“With the general crisis one half / Of the factory workers could be fired / But it would be unforgivable to sell out the center forwards / That would trigger riots”). On the other, he places that same theme into the context of the suppression of a national history that is specifically Italian, making explicit reference to the abduction and murder of Aldo Moro and the many unsolved mysteries surrounding his death and imprisonment (“For the high and holy days / You could release some hostages from trunks / And admit to having corrected the letters they wrote to relatives / With a thesaurus”).
Irony (or sometimes sarcasm), and criticism of the evils of a society controlled by mass media and Italian corruption continue to be at the heart of Bersani’s production. Just as significant are his highly personal and more or less autobiographical works on the emotional incommunicability within the family (“Salto la convivenza” [I skip cohabitation], and “Meraviglia” [Marvel], bith in Caramella smog, 2003).
In 2006 Bersani released L’Aldiquà, in which the song “Lo scrutatore non votante” (The Poll-Watcher Who Doesn’t Vote) was another radio hit that satirizes a very common issue in Italian society, namely the ambivalence towards voting. He depicts this phenomenon through the contradictory attitude that combines ostensible self-righteousness with deep seated political indifference (“He’s like a practicing atheist / Seated in church on Sunday / He situates himself apart from everyone / So that he can object to the sermon”). In light of this, Bersani’s presence at a Five Stars concert is not surprising (Movimento Cinque Stelle is the movement originally conceived by Beppe Grillo that calls for a total overhaul of the Italian political system). It did not, however, amount to any further involvement on the singer’s part with the Movement. Rather, after the release of various collections and the album Nuvola numero nove (Cloud Number Nine, 2013) – which is focused on more personal and intimate themes – Bersani has been dedicating himself to live performances, concerts with orchestras, and artistic collaborations. He is slated to release a new album in 2020.