What Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens are for France, what Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan are for the English speaking world, Fabrizio De André, Francesco De Gregori, and Lucio Dalla are for Italy. Of this Holy Trinity of cantautori, only De Gregori still lives and works. Their ballads, written in the 70s and 80s, combine melodious music with verses that usually tackle political and social problems.
There are also some love songs and, in the case of De André, songs written after research of medieval music, regional dialects, etc. One of his best-known songs translates into “The Ballad of Blind Love (or of Vanity),” a rather Freudian and ghoulish song.
It recounts the love of a man for a woman who wouldn’t appreciate or reciprocate his feelings. So little did she care for him, that she would ask him to bring her the heart of his mother (one thinks of Salome asking Herod for the head of the Baptist) to feed her dogs.
The man, in the frenzy of his love, goes to his mother and kills her, tearing her heart and presenting it to the woman he loves. But she, still not content, wanting to satisfy her vanity even further, asks him to cut his veins. Happy to oblige, he obeys, but in the end there is nothing more to do for her. He dies happy and she remains all alone.
There are many motives here, familiar to everyone who has loved without having been loved back.
You try to satisfy the other person’s needs, you give up everything for her or for him. But because it is not meant to be, you realize at a certain point that all your sacrifices were in vain.
To take the side of your newfound love and go against your family is another motive, common to everyone who falls madly in love and forgets their circle of friends or relatives. It is often our friends or our mother who warn us against a bad romantic choice. Sometimes our love is so strong that we prefer to sacrifice the mother, go against her, and kill her metaphorically.
Freud, turning to ancient Greek mythology, talks about the killing of the father by the son who is subconsciously in love with the mother. But that’s another story.
De André’s song “The Ballad of Blind Love” has been inspired by the French poem “The Mother’s Heart” (Jean Richepin). The beginning is identical; only the ending is different. In the French poem – which was turned into a song in the 20th century – as the man is bringing his mother’s heart to the cruel woman, he stumbles and falls.
The heart rolls away, and he hears his mother’s voice telling him affectionately: “Have you been hurt, my boy?”
Richepin’s ruddy poem must have been translated or adapted in many languages. I know the Greek version by Angelos Vlachos, where the man falls in love with the daughter of a witch. Somehow it would seem rather normal for a witch’s daughter to ask for something so gruesome as a human heart for her dog.
The tralalalalatralalaleru in De André’s ballad gives a surrealistic tone to this melodramatic story. Is it his way of ridiculing the tragedy? Or just a comment warning us not to take love very seriously?
You can listen to the song and decide for yourself.
The Ballad of Blind Love (or of Vanity)
An honest man, a sincere man
fell madly in love
with one who did not love him at all.
She told him “Bring me tomorrow”
said “Bring me tomorrow
the heart of your mother
for my dogs. ”
He went by his mother and killed her
tore the heart out
and to his love he returned.
It was not the heart, it was not the heart
was not enough horror
she wanted another proof of his blind love.
She told him “Love, if you do love me”
said, “Love, if you do love me
cut the four veins of your wrists. ”
The veins he cut of his wrists,
and as soon as the blood flowed
he like a madman ran back to her.
She told him with a loud laugh
she said laughing loudly
“The last test will be your death.”
And as the blood slowly came out
and his color has now changed color
her cold vanity rejoiced
a man had killed himself for her love.
Outside the wind blew sweetly
but she was seized with terror
when she saw him die happy.
To die happy and in love
Whereas for her was nothing left
neither his love, nor his kindness
but only the dried blood of his veins.