Passing time in Fiumicino Airport in Rome recently, I drifted into Feltrinelli. Since I had zilch carry-on space, buying an Italian book really wasn’t a viable option. But then I spotted the CD rack. I heard my Italian tutor Gabriella’s voice, “Listening to Italian music is a great way to learn the language.” [Read more…]
From the shady side of the Magazine Street, Jim Russell Records shop didn’t look like the Top 10 of anything — let alone one of the Top 10 record stores on earth as my daughter Tess had advertised. It was a simple store front with a weather-beaten sign that was probably the original from 1969.
The front door was open. It was warm inside the store. Denise Russell, daughter-in-law of Jim Russell, was behind the counter. She greeted us and we said hi.
The store extends deep to the back walls. Bins of CDs, deeper bins of vinyl LPs and slats of single 45s, 78s, tapes, movies, and all sorts of music-related memorabilia covered the walls. Tess began to explore.
I told Denise that we were visiting New Orleans and Tess had read that Jim Russell Records was famous. Denise nodded and said, “It is kind of famous.” Maybe even more famous to people living outside of the city.
She went on to tell stories about renowned performers who have visited the store. Most were friendly and real like Bruce Springsteen who appreciated the store and Jim Russell himself.
Denise went on to say that she gets lots of international visitors, and that Jim Russell’s has been written up in many foreign tourist guides as a must see in New Orleans.
As if on cue, in walked the Italians. They were a 30-ish couple, casual but stylish, great sun glasses and both sporting nifty miniature backpacks. They began looking around. In a few minutes the woman came up to put some purchases on the counter while her companion continued to shop.
Italians can seem jaded about the idyllic promise of romantic love. And who can blame them? They’ve been at the dating game for thousands of years longer than we have. As a culture they’ve known youthful passion, mature affection, illicit sensuality and unrequited love—over, and over, and over again. Millennia are just a long time to keep chasing “happily ever after.”
Paolo Conte, the idiosyncratic Italian singer-songwriter, set me pondering love in all of its complexity. The other night as I listened to Gelato al Limon, one of his early hits, I felt compelled to pick up the liner notes and read the lyrics, poetry really.
In his rough baritone, accompanying himself on jazz piano, Conte brilliantly uses the metaphor of gelato al limon, tart-sweet lemon ice cream, to represent bittersweet love, the passing of time, the loss of youth and fleeting pleasures.
“A lemon ice cream. It’s real lemon—do you like it? Another summer’s bound to end.”
We fear that the guy in the song has just given up. . .he sings of “the sensuality of desperate lives,” and “woman just entering my life. . . don’t be afraid that it may already be over.”
Ah, but then a sanguine saxophone wells up behind the piano and the mood changes. He lets us know, with humor, that he’s still up for the game. . . “This man can still give you much more. E un gelato al limon, gelato al limon. Gelato al limon.”
For a more complete introduction to the musical genius of Conte, check out the 1998 compilation CD The Best of Paolo Conte (Nonesuch)
Also, a very good fan site is at Paolo Conte online.