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.
There’s a lot more instrumentation in “Tango en Segunda” than in what Sui Generis had been doing before.
I tell you, I was really blown away when the Fender piano, the mini-Moog and the mellotron arrived. Do you know how I wrote “Tango en Segunda”? I remember perfectly: I was in a cab at three in the morning…the guy was going in second gear and between the rhythm going over the potholes makes, and there was little bit of fog, I got into the groove and right there I started humming the melody.
How did “Cuando ya me empiece a quedar solo” come about?
I did it in a small hotel where I lived with [the singer] María Rosa Yorio, and I think it was without instruments. The first phrase came to me, “My eyes will be very far away…”, and I imagined the character, a cigarette in his mouth…
And “Desarma y sangra”?
In that one, I am playing the piano and at one point I play a note and I think it’s wrong, but then I realize that it’s the beginning of a modulation and that’s where the song begins…
Everything classical that you have inside came out on that one.
I don’t think that’s ever gone away. Though I’m really not a guy who writes down a score and starts playing, I’ve done it a lot. I was born that way, you could say. As a little boy, until I was 12, I gave a concert a year and I prepared three or four pieces. Chopin’s “Polonaise” is really complicated for a kid! My “rock savior,” to put it one way, was Elton John. When I heard “Madman Across the Water” I said to myself, “this guy sings like me,” for the way he accompanied himself. It really opened my head up and I saw how I could apply what came naturally to me.
Is songwriting done better coming from sadness and suffering than from happiness?
No. Well, from both. My piano teacher instilled the idea in me that the great composers suffered a lot and when you suffer a lot you rise up. Bullshit! Jesus Christ died for the sins of others, not for mine. Both. You need motivation. It is very hard to write songs if you don’t do anything. I wrote all my songs between the ages of 15 and 20, or pieces of them, and then I remembered them. I wrote these little songs and then I used pieces of them. Experience begets creation, but I created songs at 17 and talked about things that I didn’t know about. I had never been with a woman, for example, when I wrote “Quizás Porque”. I wrote “Cuando ya me empiece a quedar solo” and that had never happened to me. You shouuldn’t underestimate the imagination either. Protest songs, for example, said things that were good, but they didn’t hold together artistically, because they didn’t have scenic beauty. The message was vulgar…On the other hand, Dylan, without ever saying Death to the United States,” said “the answer is blowin’ in the wind”.
The first album by Sui Generis came out almost five years after you started playing.
Yes, but we needed that, like The Beatles needed Hamburg. Look at the statue [of us] that’s in Mar del Plata: it’s Nito Mestre and I passing out flyers. The statue is fantastic!
In April you released an album on vinyl, a format you always liked. Did you regard the CD with suspicion when it came out?
I hated it. I listen to music on CD and it does nothing for me. At first it was the novelty, there’s no noise and all that, but it doesn’t hit you. The music isn’t there, something’s missing. When I listened to “Adiós Sui Generis” on CD, it sounded like instead of Luna Park we were playing in a pub like La Bola Loca. Because yes, it erases the noise, but it erases everything: the sounds of the public and everything are very low. I remember the last album on vinyl [of mine] that was made in Argentina was “Radio Pinti” (1991), and the first CD, Parte De La Religión (1987). The dynamic range that vinyl has can’t be compared to a CD…Like Jimi Hendrix, Stravinsky, and I have also said, music isn’t the notes it’s the space between the notes. The CD wipes out that space.
Is releasing music on vinyl a revolt, a whim or what?
No, it’s not a whim. It‘s a necessity as a musician, because it’s disappointing and frustrating to record an album and it doesn’t make you feel anything when you listen to it at home. Vinyl makes you want to record a thousand more records. I’m not going to make more CDs, I’m going to do vinyl. I think people are going to tire of listening to everything so small. And then there’s that philosophy of having 200 thousand songs on a device. And nobody listens to 200 hundred thousand songs!