By Marianna Orsi (University of Hawaii at Manoa).
Gino Paoli is a cantautore of the first generation belonging to the important group of the so called “Scuola Genovese.” (Genoese school). He is considered a founder of the Italian songwriter tradition. His songs, almost always focusing on the theme of love, separate him from the dominant vision of the woman and of love traditionally crowned in marriage.
Paoli was born in Monfalcone, in the north-eastern region of Friuli Venezia-Giulia, on September 23, 1934. His father, Aldo, was a naval engineer from Campiglia Marittima (near Livorno, Tuscany), while his mother, Rina, hailed from an affluent family of the Venezia-Giulia region. She was a pianist and passed on her love for music to the young Gino. Rina’s side of the family was involved in the forced migration from the areas of Venezia-Giulia and Dalmatia during WWII. Some fell victims to ethnic cleansing by Yugoslavian partisans in the foibe massacres.
A few months after the end of the war, the Paolis moved to the residential Genovese neighborhood of Pegli. The Ligurian city would become Gino’s true home town.
In 1952 an eighteen-year-old Gino Paoli moved to a small attic apartment in the neighboring mariners’ village of Boccadasse with his cat Ciacola (‘chat’ in Venetian dialect), who would become the protagonist of the 1960 hit “La gatta,” a song whose lyrics were written by Giulio Rapetti, soon to become famous for authoring the lyrics of Lucio Battisti’s songs under the name “Mogol”. In Genoa he made friends with important musicians and songwriters: Luigi Tenco, Bruno Lauzi, Fabrizio De André, Umberto Bindi, Joe Sentieri, Giorgio Calabrese, Gian Piero Reverberi and Gianfranco Reverberi. With Tenco, Lauzi and others Paoli founded a rock band named “I Diavoli del Rock,” and in 1959 he married Anna Fabbri, whom he had met in a rock ’n roll dance contest. After this rock beginning, Paoli went solo and returned to a more melodic style close to that of the French chansonniers. He listened to and collaborated with francophone songwriters such as George Brassens, Boris Vian, Jacques Brel, Marcel Mouloudji and Charles Aznavour. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Paoli’s songs become the soundtrack of Italy’s new society: during the years of economic growth which transformed a poor agricultural country into an industrial economic power, Gino Paoli recorded several hits for the Ricordi music label: “Il cielo in una stanza” (1959), “La gatta” (1960, with lyrics by Mogol), “Senza fine” (1961), “Sapore di sale” (1963), “Che cosa c’è” (1963). He also wrote for other singers: Italy’s most famous female artists such as Ornella Vanoni and Mina imbued Paoli’s tunes and lyrics with the vocal quality that consecrated Gino as a founding father of the Italian songwriter tradition.
The year 1962 marked the beginning of a series of life-changing events: he fell in love with young actress Stefania Sandrelli and in 1964 had a child with her while divorcing Anna Fabbri. In 1962, while driving his Giulietta Spider, Paoli was involved in a serious car accident in which his friend and guitarist Victor Van der Faber died. Paoli was distraught and would fall into depression lasting many years, eventually attempting suicide in 1963. Paoli would later comment: “it was a deliberate, self-aware act. I was convinced there was nothing left to live for, my song ‘Sapore di sale’ was playing everywhere, I was very famous, the man of the day. It was a fear of boredom, a fear of endless repetition. I had money, women, what more could I wish for? […] Suicide is the only means to choose: you don’t get to choose the really important things in life such as being born, falling in love, dying. Suicide is the only arrogant way that man can decide for himself.”
In 1961 and 1964 he participated in the Festival di Sanremo, and again in 1966, but at this point his golden star seems to be in decline. After receiving minor injuries in a car accident in 1965, he moved to Levanto on the Ligurian coast in 1968, where he opened a music bar and hosted performances by several musician friends. Paoli did not recognize himself in the political songs that permeated Italy during these years. He continued to write about love, but in a way that challenges the dominant views of women as moral beings. After a few years’ silence, he recorded a trilogy of music albums in 1971 and became politically active. Paoli would become a member of Italy’s parliament until 1992.
A new wave of success would come in the 1980s thanks to the women of his life: in 1984 he wrote the soundtrack for Paolo Quaregna’s Una donna allo specchio, featuring Stefania Sandrelli, and in 1985 he went on tour with Ornella Vanoni. In 1991 “Quattro amici al bar” dominated the hit parade, and with his daughter Amanda Sandrelli he recorded “La bella e la bestia,” the Italian language soundtrack to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Ornella Vanoni, Gino Paoli, Enrico De Angelis, Noi due, una lunga storia, Milan, Mondadori, 2004.