The storied Argentine rocker spoke exclusively to Billboard Argentina for the cover story of the magazine's debut issue. Translated by Judy Cantor-Navas
In contrast to more chaotic days when Charly himself would answer the phone in his legendary apartment at the corner of Coronel Díaz and Santa Fe [in Buenos Aires' Barrio Norte], in recent times his contact with the press has been relatively infrequent. Maybe a few interviews a year. Nevertheless, he immediately accepted the proposal to be on the cover of the first issue of Billboard Argentina, and for several hours Garcia, 61, posed for photos and talked into a recorder, revisiting his career with reflections on his past, present and future.
Seated on armchairs in the living room, close to a red grand piano and a large painting by [Argentine artist] Milo Lockett, he began by talking about Pablo Picasso, nonetheless. "I never understood him! I recognize that there is an awesome artist there, but I think he's a little bit overvalued. Maybe I was influenced by books and movies that portray him as a difficult guy. He was bad, fucked up!"
The connection to music couldn't be far behind. It was enough to mention another painter, Joan Miro. "One of his paintings is on the cover of an album by the Dave Brubeck Quartet (Time out, 1959), and the music is an interpretation of this painting. In the concert at the Colón there will be something between art and music. It's all about vibrations."
Have you ever played at the Colon?
Yes, once. I played the National Anthem the day of los cacerolazos [Pot banging protests in Argentina in 2002]. I didn't even know there were cacerolazos! But it was very nice: I came out of the pit with a Yamaha piano CP-70 and a little amplifier. It's magic, it's the surround of all surrounds. It's better than perfect acoustics.
You're going to play there two more times: September 23 and 30…Who is going to direct the orchestra?
I am. It's a 50-member orchestra. I'm going to make a pulpit like Marilyn Manson's and I'll have my back to the audience. It's going tp be amazing. That will be together with my group, the synthesizers and percussion that is in the middle of the piece. It's like everything starts with a big bang and the lasers come out from there.
Are there places that you've played that bring back certain memories or that you identify with a particular show?
Yes. Obras stadium is when we debuted with Serú Girán and they threw all kinds of things at us. Luna Park is "Adiós Sui Generis" and the presentation of the album "Clics Modernos". I also remember in Auditorio Kraft, where we played when Serú had just begun. I remember everything! In Israel we played in a stone amphitheatre from Roman times, with amazing acoustics. I remember Mendoza, where they pulled me of the stage and arrested me, something that also happened to me in Ecuador because I smashed my guitar, and I explained to them that I didn't smash a human being, it was my own guitar! I prefer to play in a big theater or a closed stadium better than in the open air, but sometimes that's impossible. I remember Serú Girán at River, where the music just goes: the wind carries it! Boca is a nice stadium to perform in, although my team is River. I played "Sinfonías Para Adolescentes" there and the sound really gets you. Vélez would be in the middle, between Boca and River.
Do you feel that there was a period of your career the was not understood at the time? Like Serú Girán when you first performed at Obras Stadium in [November, 1978, and the group-backed by a full orchestra- was not well received by the audience]?
Yes, but people liked the group when the album came out. Later, when we released "La Grasa de las Capitales" we had a good strategy, which was to rent a hall in on the Calle Florida and we played for 300 people, everyday. At the Obras concert, because of the orchestra and the cold, nobody was prepared to see a bunch of crazy guys who came from Buzios. I remember we did something making fun of disco music, a parody, and people thought we were serious. I don't know who said, maybe it was Bob Dylan, that it's good to fail. Once in a while it's good to fail because it makes you stronger and motivates you.
Was "Pequeñas Anécdotas sobre las Instituciones" as well received as other albums by Sui Generis?
I'll tell you the way it was originally, because you know that I draw everything. The cover was like "The Wall," the same, with the bricks! And it said "The Communist Manifesto." Because it was the Communist Manifesto of rock, and it ended with "Proletariats Of the World Unite" and all that! But that didn't even get on the demo. It was the time when I got my hands on electronic instruments, like the Fender piano, the synthesizer and the string ensemble. I had been doing 200,000 shows with an upright piano that no one could hear, so because of that I extended myself a lot in the instrumental parts and I tried to combine the music and the lyrics to make them bigger. Like Steely Dan, whose lyrics are all about drugs but the music is so perfect that you think it's Ray Conniff. So I took aim at the institutions and each of the songs took on one of them. I think we really turned it up a notch. I'm not going to say that the dictatorship was something good by any means, but a song gets better when you have to make that leap so that some people understand it and other don't. In addition to the intellectual and emotional elements of composing, it's what we had to do.
Was it a motivation?
It was a necessity! Because I wanted to say what I wanted to say, Like after with the walruses and the tortoises and all of that [Refers to the allegorical lyrics of the1980 Seru Girán song "Canción de Alicia en el País" written during the military dictatorship ]
The typical protest song of the Seventies was very direct, but rock took a more metaphorical route.
It was the road that Luis Alberto Spinetta opened as far as the lyrics and the sound in Spanish, that sometimes isn't very well adapted to rock. He did it perfectly! I remember that in the beginning he said that I wrote about the everyday and he didn't, but later we realized that that it was the same thing. So in the period of the song "Instituciones"… I took some of that Spinettian language to fly with it and create a story about a censor who sees a movie at home and the actress comes out of the screen and kills him. And since [label head/producer] Jorge Álvarez said we had to take out the songs "Botas Locas" and "Juan Represión," I did Casandra ("El Tuerto y los Ciegos") y "Tango en Segunda", which are better songs.