Bella senz’anima

Lyrics: Marco Luberti, Paolo Amerigo Cassella; Music: Riccardo Cocciante (1974)

E adesso siediti
su quella seggiola,
stavolta ascoltami
senza interrompere,
è tanto tempo che
volevo dirtelo.
Vivere insieme a te
è stato inutile:
tutto senza allegria,
senza una lacrima,
niente da aggiungere
né da dividere.
Nella tua trappola
ci son caduto anch’io,
avanti il prossimo,
gli lascio il posto mio…

Povero diavolo,
che pena mi fa!
E quando a letto lui
ti chiederà di più
glielo concederai
perché tu fai così!
Come sai fingere
se ti fa comodo!

E adesso so chi sei
e non ci soffro più,
e se verrai di là
te lo dimostrerò,
e questa volta tu
te lo ricorderai…

E adesso spogliati
come sai fare tu,
ma non illuderti
io non ci casco più!
Tu mi rimpiangerai
bella senz’anima!

Na na na na ra na ..
na na na na ra na …
ah ah ah ah ah ah…

Beauty Without a Soul

Translated by: Ernesto Virgulti

Now sit over there,
on that chair.
Listen to me this time,
without interrupting.
For a long time now
I’ve wanted to tell you this.
Living together with you
has been pointless;
all without happiness,
without a tear.
not a moment of happiness,
nor a tear.
there’s nothing more to add,
nothing more to share.
Into your trap,
I fell as well.
Bring in the next one,
He can take my place.

Poor devil,
How I feel sorry for him!
And when he’s in bed with you,
he will ask for more.
And you’ll give in to him,
because that’s what you do.
You can pretend so well
whenever it suits you!
But now I know who you are,
and I won’t suffer anymore,
and if you come over there,
I will prove it to you.
And this time, you
will remember it.

And now take off your clothes
like you do so well;
But don’t fool yourself,
I won’t fall for it anymore!
You will long for me
my beauty without a soul.

Na na na na ra na ..
na na na na ra na …
ah ah ah ah ah ah…

“Bella senz’anima”: When Love Turns to Anger 

Included in Cocciante’s 1974 album Anima, “Bella senz’anima” was also released as a single that shot up the charts rapidly to number One.  It had already been performed the previous year in a tour with other up-and-coming singer-songwriters that included Antonello Venditti and Francesco De Gregori.  While “Bella senz’anima” was Cocciante’s first big hit, and decidedly established him as an original new talent, it also managed to stir some controversy.

The song is essentially a one-sided dialogue involving a couple on the verge of a break-up.  The singer’s relationship with his soon-to-be former lover has been devoid of any amorous feelings or emotions (“senza allegria, / senza una lacrima”).  Perhaps the liaison was merely physical or convenient; perhaps there was some infidelity.  Like the dialogue, the relationship has been one-sided, with the singer more emotionally invested than his partner, whose ongoing indifference (intended or not) has rendered it pointless to continue (“Vivere insieme a te / è stato inutile”).  For reasons not stated, the singer feels used and manipulated, victim in a scheme devised by his lover (“nella tua trappola / ci son caduto anch’io”).  He was easily lured by the her beauty and sexuality, but soon found himself heavily entangled in love’s snare (a poetic device dating back to at least Petrarch).  Is it a case of unrequited love or did she hurt him in other ways?  Whatever the reason, is his ensuing anger justified?  Coming to the realization that he has just been a pawn in her game, he is finally ready to break free from the trap.  Likely unaffected, the beauty without a soul will have no problem finding another lover, who will likewise fall prey to her seduction (“avanti il prossimo / gli lascio il posto mio”).

Feeling sorry for the next ‘povero diavolo’, while simultaneously motivated by deep-seated jealously, the singer imagines the new lover in bed with his ex, who will grant him every desire (“e quando a letto lui / ti chiederà di più / glielo concederai” [“when he’s in bed with you, / he will ask for more. / And you’ll give in to him”]).  Accusing the Beauty of feigning passion, perhaps even sexual satisfaction, whenever it suited her (“come sai fingere / se ti fa comodo” [“You can pretend so well
whenever it suits you!”]) is certainly intended as a cutting rebuke, but it also implies that she never experienced real gratification with the singer.  Finally aware of her falseness, he will no longer play the suffering fool (“E adesso so chi sei / e non ci soffro più” [“But now I know who you are,
/ and I won’t suffer anymore”]).  Motivated by some sort of misguided macho revenge, as a final farewell, the singer wants one last sexual encounter with the Beauty in order to display his masculine prowess and to prove he no longer cares for her:

se verrai di là
te lo dimostrerò,
e questa volta tu
te lo ricorderai.

[if you come over there,
I will prove it to you.
And this time, you
will remember it]

Following the logic that if there is ‘make-up sex’, then there must be ‘break-up sex’, the singer tells the bella senz’anima to take off her clothes (“E adesso spogliati”) for one last, unforgettable act of intimacy.  This time, however, he will not succumb to her allure (“ma non illuderti / io non ci casco più”).  Intent on playing her game, he will remain emotionally indifferent during this final, passionate encounter, while the Beauty will be forever remorseful and full of longing: “tu mi rimpiangerai / bella senz’anima”.  Considering the nature of the ‘soulless beauty’, this final outcome seems to be more a projection of the singer’s male fantasy, than a reality.

As mentioned, “Bella senz’anima” sparked some controversy. Not surprising for 1972, the line: “E adesso spogliati” was censored for RAI Radio and TV, but more serious was the allegation that the song was anti-feminist, a charge that Cocciante fervidly denies.  However, one cannot ignore the image of a woman being silenced and berated.  The Beauty has no voice (or defence) and remains the object of accusations, reinforced by a number of imperatives:

siediti – ascoltami – senza interrompere – spogliati – non illuderti
[sit over there – isten to me-  without interrupting – take off your clothes – don’t fool yourself]

Although one can recognize how love can turn to anger in cases of infidelity, Luberti’s lyrics fail to justify the motivation for the pent-up aggression.  Cocciante has claimed that “Bella senz’anima” is allegorical and not directed to women or a woman in particular.  For the singer, it represents, instead, a desperate cry for the public’s attention at the beginning of his career.  A more intriguing allegorical interpretation emerged from Spain and South American countries like Chile, which were afflicted by dictatorships at the time.  The Spanish version of the song was more about political tyranny than the tyranny of love. The couple on the verge of a break-up (and expressions like: “senza allegria”, “nella tua trappola, ci son caduto”, “non ci casco più”) came to represent the desire of the people to break with the dictatorial regimes that initially ‘seduced’ them.  For the oppressed people of the above-mentioned Hispanic countries who were trapped in, and seeking to escape the snares of authoritarian regimes, “Bella senz’anima” became a revolutionary cry for freedom.  The power of allegory!

Whatever the interpretation, “Bella senz’anima” established Cocciante as a major player on the music scene, and also cemented his distinct sound and innovative vocal style.  Compositionally, with this and other songs on the Anima album, Cocciante subverted the standard musical structure of the pop song (two verses + chorus), replacing it, instead, with one prolonged verse that develops gradually into an explosive crescendo.  This structural choice was not gratuitous.  In well-written songs such as “Bella senz’anima” the musical structure does not function independently from the melody and the lyrics.  The various components are all interconnected.  Thus, the long single verse allows not only for a progressive, uninterrupted crescendo, but also for the development of the narrative, without the usual repetition in the chorus.  Vocally, the song, along with the corresponding music, begins softly with Riccardo’s mellifluous voice and minimal instruments (piano, oboe, a few strings), then slowly starts to build with back-up vocals and more instruments at the mention of his partner’s next lover (“povero diavolo”).  Riccardo’s voice gradually becomes stronger and raspier as the musical crescendo kicks in (approximately 2 minutes into the song) when the singer visualizes his partner in bed with another man: “E quando a letto lui, ti chiederà di più”.  From that point on, both the music and the vocals intensify before erupting at the last verse with Riccardo’s gravelly scream: “E adesso spogliati / come sai fare tu”.  Whether that scream is a command, a shout for attention, or a cry for freedom is a question of interpretation.