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.