Ivan Graziani

IVAN GRAZIANI (Teramo 1945 – Novafeltria 1997)

by Ernesto Livorni (University of Wisconsin – Madison)

In his short-lived career, Ivan Graziani was a member of two bands, before launching his solo career in 1972. After attending the Istituto Statale d’Arte in Ascoli Piceno and the Istituto di Arte Grafica in Urbino, Graziani enjoyed his activity as a cartoonist in the early years of his career as solo artist and session musician. His popularity stems from his talent as a rocker and a guitarist, as these iconic songs testify: “Lugano addio,” “Firenze,” “Il Chitarrista.” He recorded 16 albums and 6 compilations, often live recordings (6 more compilations and a DVD+CD appeared after his death).

Graziani started his career as a guitarist first in the band Nino Dale and His Modernists, where he was also the singer for one of the group’s songs, “E adesso te ne puoi andar.” When Graziani was admitted to the Istituto di Arte Grafica in Urbino, he left Nino Dale’s band and he formed another band in 1964, called Ivan e i Saggi, which soon changed its name to Anonima Sound. With Anonima Sound, Graziani went through two main phases: Italian beat (Francesco Guccini’s album Folk Beat n.1 was released in 1967) and progressive rock (again, the first successful and trademark song of the Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” was released in 1967). The late Sixties and the early Seventies were the years in which several British bands promoted progressive rock: Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Gentle Giant, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Jethro Tull. Anonima Sound took inspiration from those bands, although the group lasted only until 1972. Graziani left the band in 1971, to complete his compulsory year in the army, but in 1972 he occasionally returned to play with the band as a bassist.

In 1973, Graziani released his first solo albums: Desperation (under the pseudonym Rockleberry Roll), with songs in English, and La città che io vorrei (released with the title Ivan Graziani Special in 1980). In 1974 he released Tato Tomaso’s Guitars, dedicated to his wife Anna for the birth of their son Tommaso. Yet his most notable activity was as a session musician for numerous Italian cantautori and singers, including Lucio Battisti and Bruno Lauzi, Francesco De Gregori and Antonello Venditti. It was in the second half of the Seventies that Graziani found popular success, after releasing Ballata per 4 stagioni in 1976 and especially I Lupi in 1977. The latter album includes the song “Lugano addio,” which enjoyed great popularity and was a definite hit:

“Lugano addio” cantavi
mentre la mano mi tenevi
“Canta con me” tu mi dicevi
ed io cantavo di un posto che
non avevo visto mai

(“Goodbye Lugano” you sang
as you held my hand
“Sing with me” you said
and I would sing of a place
that I had never seen.)

Graziani launched his first tour in 1978, after the release of the album Pigro, which was also very popular and included a number of hit songs (“Pigro,” “Monna Lisa,” “Paolina,” “Gabriele D’Annunzio”). This was a period of great creativity for Graziani and he released another successful album in 1979, Agnese dolce Agnese, with enduring songs such as “Agnese,” “Taglia la testa al gallo,” and “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” “Agnese” begins with a clear tribute to the Beatles’ “While My Guitar gently Weeps,” and notably Phil Collins’ song “A Groovy Kind of Love” is musically very similar to Graziani’s “Agnese,” very likely because they both took inspiration from the18th-century composer Muzio Clementi:

Se la mia chitarra
piange dolcemente
stasera non è sera
di vedere gente
e i giochi nella strada
che ho chiusi dentro al petto
mi voglio ricordare

(If my guitar
gently weeps
tonight it is no time
to meet people
and I want to remember
the games on the streets
that I’ve locked up in my chest)

The Eighties opened with two albums whose titles point to the two facets of Graziani’s rock. In 1980, Viaggi e Intemperie presented perhaps the most popular song by Graziani, “Firenze (canzone triste),” the melody of which contrasts with other songs such as “Tutto questo cosa c’entra con il Rock & Roll.” In 1981, the album Seni e Coseni formally separates the melodic songs from genuinely rock songs on the two sides of the LP. This decade witnessed the release of several albums, nearly one every year, although they were not as successful as the first two: Parla tu, a double live album released in 1982 (this is also the year in which Graziani makes two cameo appearances in the films Italian Boys by Umberto Smaila and Arrivano i Miei by Nini Salerno); Ivan Graziani, in 1983; Nove, in 1984, which Graziani himself considered one of his best works; and Piknic, in 1986, which later the guitarist himself considered his least interesting album. In the second half of the Eighties, Graziani was dissatisfied with the limitations that music companies imposed on his artistic freedom and he spent a few years looking for solutions that allowed him to combine his vision and the market’s demands. The album Ivangarage and the anthology Segni d’amore attempt to summarize Graziani’s musical experiences over the years.

The Nineties opened with the novel 1991 album Cicli e Tricicli, in which the ballad prevails over the rock songs of the previous albums. This was followed by Malelingue, in 1994, and the live album titled Fragili fiori … livan, in 1995, which ended up being the last album that he released after his cancer diagnosis. In this last album, the songs alternate unevenly along new paths, such as the song for which the album is named, and they revisit themes from the first albums, especially La Città che io vorrei, as the song “Eri bella” seems to confirm its echoes of “Il Campo della Fiera:”

Era strana la tua casa, alta come un palazzone,
si stagliava contro il cielo, dietro un grigio muraglione
e un albero gigante, che arrivava al primo piano
tutto rosa in primavera, come le dita di una mano.
E il nastro della strada, bianco e silenzioso
alla luce della luna, diventava luminoso
di fosforo e di miele si accendeva nella sera
per i nostri appuntamenti giù al Campo della Fiera…
e restavamo lì a parlare accanto ai tuoi cancelli
e a volte i fari delle auto ti illuminavano i capelli…

(Your house was strange, high like a big building,
It stood against the sky, behind a big gray wall
and a gigantic tree, which reached the first floor
all pink in spring, like the fingers of a hand.
and the ribbon-like road, white and silent
in the moonlight, became luminous
with phosphorus and honey, it lit up at sunset
for our dates down at the Campo della Fiera…
and we stayed there talking next to your gates
and sometimes the car lights lit up your hair…)

After his death, several unreleased songs were included in posthumously published albums or in those where other artists (Renato Zero, Antonello Venditti, Biagio Antonacci, Umberto Tozzi) paid homage to Graziani’s songs. There are also a few publications highlighting other artistic aspects of Graziani’s talent are highlighted. One of them is the book of cartoons and drawings that Graziani agreed to publish in collaboration with Vincenzo Mollica and Claudio Strinati: Cartelle di sogno (Urbino: Comune di Urbino, Assessorato alla Cultura, 1998), which gathers unpublished material revelatory of the links between his drawings and his songs. He also wrote a book, Arcipelago Chieti (Pescara: Tracce Edizioni, 1988), in which he narrates the year that he spent in that city in Abruzzo during his military service.

Graziani’s talent was cut short by his sudden death. However, he remains the author of memorable songs, a genuine rocker and a guitarist who truly gave voice to his Gibson, which he called “mamma chitarra.”

Translated songs: