Lelio Luttazzi – Interview by Lele Cerri

Interview by Lele Cerri

Here they are in the square, overlooking the valley and toward the sea; that behind the rooftops is the chimney of his house, white clouds of smoke promising a delicious roast.
His wife Rossana opens the door for me, kisses and hugs that hymn a beautiful slice of life spent together, and there, behind, in the hallway with walls and background of books, with the look I was expecting, Lelio Luttazzi; yes, the one from Antonioni’s “L’avventura,” the one who wooed the ladies under Dino Risi’s “L’ombrellone,” but especially the one from Souvenir d’Italie, Il giovanotto matto, Legata ad uno scoglio, Canto anche se sono stonato and, and here we come to us, from the verse and the dichotomicopernondireschizofrenico attack of “Una zebra a polka dot.”
The moved nostalgic is me. Him for nothing. It’s cool, Lelio, he’s one from Battleship Potemkin and soon after from 3 different rave parties on the same night believing he was always at the same one. I strongly suspect that underneath he spends nights out in disguise rapping. It comes to me, not as I hoped, but as I expected:
Lelio Luttazzi – “Hello, how are you? You look good. I know why you are here! But I don’t know anything!, I don’t remember anything! Ask me what my mother’s name was!…I don’t remember!…I don’t remember!….” And he has in his eyes all Louis Asrmstrong minute by minute, all jazz minute by minute-and Mina.

I embrace him, forcefully, and I feel like I can hear sections of an allied orchestra firing.

L.C. “Hi Lelio. I’d like to ask you a few questions, just like that–about Jole Nagel and the Viennese magazines, about the Trieste pastry shop, about Piazza Unità, about the daring pier, and about the American Command in Trieste.” (Here we go. From the looks he makes, from what Mina calls “Lelio’s little face,” he may be on his way to destroying all his previous diving records…).

L.L. “Mina–yes, all right, Mina!……… let’s talk about the “meeting Mina” effect! How do you want to be when you turn the corner and she is in front of you? You try to pretend that everything is as before!…she suddenly came! suddenly she became my landscape and panorama. And horizon too!: a total territory…. There, I’ve told you, I’ve told you everything, now stop…”

That enough there, as he said it, reassures me. It means there is more to it. Incalzo fortified by his sprint:

L.C. “It was 1960, it was summer, as Giant would say, and it was “Sentimental” on TV. People were saying, ‘Is Mina on TV tonight?’ No? So I’m going out….” You had by your side, for her first time on TV as a leading lady, what Giorgio Bocca would shortly later, at the end of that year, call “the greatest soubrette of the postwar period…”

L.L. There, you see you remember everything, you!!! And that thing there, of the great soubrette, yes, if Bocca said it at Christmas that year I thought of it in the summer, of course, while we were doing “Sentimental,” so if that’s the case, I would have thought of it a good six months in advance. But with this?…I feel like I’m in a bicycle race, does Bocca win or do I win? She called me the day before yesterday, Mina. I picked up the phone and heard “Hello sciu Lèlu,” in a language we had made up. She still calls me “sciu Lèlu, Uncle Lelio.” The trouble is that he was calling me even then, during “Sentimental.” When we were free, he would take the car, she would stay in a hotel downtown, she was alone, and she would come to my house. We would spend evenings and evenings on the couch listening to music, Sinatra and company. And she would call me “sciu Lèlu!” I would watch her like a fish waiting for mayonnaise. There was nothing to be done, not even to try: I was head over heels in love, and she would kiss me on the cheek and say, “buonanooootte sciu Lèlu.” Good night.
If I ever had to write an autobiography, you know of the “A man who had it all” kind, I would have absolutely demanded to put on the cover as a subtitle “and would have given it up for Mina.”

L.C. So, Lelio, “Sentimental,” 1960, for some the “boom” season…

L.L. But, yes… …but I don’t remember it as the “boom” of the season… I remember the song… (hums) “Sentimental are you… so I love you….”, that’s it, that’s how I remember, that’s where we met…. But then, suddenly, my memory, goes to the evenings on the couch all television and music … to her, who being in Rome … in the evenings … I was staying in a bomboniere made by Coltellacci, the set designer, and she, who was staying in a big hotel downtown, would take a cab and come to me … there it is, my most burning memory … because I was in love like crazy … and she would come to me and we would spend the evenings watching TV, like two children!… me crazy in love, inside me cooked like a shingle, and she … she loved me, yes, she loved me very much … but I, for her, I was crazy, crazy! just crazy crazy crazy. And I had this great falling in love…. Who stayed, who stays all my life… and not only me… With Mina we are, we have been in love in several. Except, then, there was that period, there, of the Compass, and in the theater, of the pictures, yes, that black stocking and away, where she was of a goodness, a boundless goodness!… and that I remember.

L.C. Lelio, I don’t want to … but you said it before … I understand eternal passion … but then what? What else?

L.L. Eeee… and then… that, nothing, that even then I said to myself, I said, “This…, like this, there will be no one else in the world.” And I insist, there will never again be anyone else in the world who can sing like that, and of such atrocious intelligence, so fierce, so… so… an intelligence that becomes culture, frightening: and frightening memory, musicality, note-taking, singing “brava brava,” would have struggled the Ella Fitzgerald, I mean, to tell the truth.

L.C. The scan-addition of note-syllables?

L.L. Yes, that, bravo, bravo… But the musical memory! The memory in general!… and then the notes!… (goes into crescendo ed.) and then the extension!… and then the, the sensuality!, which… which is still there!!… it’s still there… (calms down ed.) it’s still there in these last records here… Only there’s a different recording from then, because for me it’s a little bit technically overpowered… by the electric instruments, by everything behind it. This was and is Mina.

L.C. How? Already finished?…

L.L. Then, some time passed, I saw her again, we met at the Ferrio’s, a few times….

L.C. How. “some times?” If we’ve been having the time of our lives!…

L.L. Yes, for a while, courses of life permitting, a big family … with our nice big games of billiards, with Mina mercifully scoring us an extra point every now and then, because you and I as a couple were so tragic … and then the evenings of choirs, and Christmas, and New Year’s and springs… the far west of the Roman countryside… and me watching her and thinking again that she had always loved me “very well,” like “sciu Lèlu”… and that was it! He still loves me, though, and when he still calls me “sciu Lèlu!”, I kind of console myself with that big, absolute, cinemascopic, total “whitening.”

L.C. Clarify “bleached.”

L.L. My complete gone blank.

L.C. A question that will surprise you, focus: do you remember the very first meeting with her?

L.L. No. I don’t remember anything. I did these things, I know, but I don’t remember them. Will it be a disease? Does Mina remember them?

L.C. No. At least that’s what he likes to say.

L.L. Ah, thank goodness!

L.C. I give up surprising you again. You name it.

L.L. Ask me a question.

L.C. How are you?

L.L. Good.

L.C. I want to congratulate you on your introduction of Mina, that “Gentlemen… Mina!” in Studio One ’65. I always promised myself to make them for you but then I always forgot… I do it now: beautiful, essential….

L.L. Yes, “Gentlemen … Mina.” I liked to do it that way, yes … because it was no longer the “ladies and gentlemen” … it was more precise … more dry … a “gentlemen …” that preceded what, then, which in my opinion was the ultimate … “… Mina.” With in the announcement the pause…just…waiting for the event that was his arrival. And then, I have to say that, memory scarce as I always was, drying up the lines more and more helped me… …although, it goes without saying, to make that ad, I certainly wouldn’t have needed the teleprompter… …which as everyone knows is that thing that everyone works on on television reading what they have to say…
I always used the teleprompter a lot; like in our little skits with Salce, a great dear friend of mine whom I regret very much, whom I loved very much….

L.C. You had that fall-out-of-your-chair column on Studio One ’65, you and Salce….

L.L. Yes, I don’t remember which Studio One it was, but I remember the column… He would write the texts. And I used to get everything written on cue cards… because I was the one who was first in line, always, who had to ask him the questions, who always had to start and raise them with topics in succession… and without that tool I would never have remembered anything… I never trusted my memory: One day I had to introduce a new band… I asked what they were called… they said, “that’s easy, Pooh!” All right, give me the teleprompter! I needed the teleprompter for even one syllable! I’ve always had this great capacity for “not remembering,” these unrelenting bouts of amnesia… That also stopped me from certain jobs… for example in film… aside from the face, in my opinion “denied,” for cinema…. but at certain times, you know when you stagger a bit? When you think you don’t really know what’s going to happen with us?… at such a stage, with cinema I even tried, why not?… but the memory… If between the moment when I had sent the lines to memory and the clapperboard there was a pause, very small, an instant of light control, at the clapperboard I already couldn’t remember what I had to say… I did “L’avventura,” with Antonioni. There was a scene where I had four lines, with Esmeralda Ruspoli, I didn’t even know what character I was doing, and I remember everybody laughed like crazy because I …to get me to say twenty words, we did about twenty claps!… in one I forgot ten, in another, the other ten… and so on… and I’m telling you about things I know I did but of which I remember very little.

L.C. Here’s something else that you certainly don’t remember, “because you did”; but I remember it, I remember you, at the Compass, you and her… …that is, each on his own, but in the same season: summer 1962. The ladies were crazy about you, Lelio.

L.L. But they didn’t even think about it, going crazy for me. In fact, there was poor Bernardini who I think was a little disappointed in me. He expected me to do who-knows-what social evenings, but I didn’t feel like being on stage for so long before and after the show. Also before and after Mina’s, of course.

L.C. In tuxedos, inescapably in tuxedos.

L.L. Mina in a tuxedo at the Compass, I don’t remember her. Maybe it was in Studio One.

L.C. No, Lelio, there was you in a tuxedo, at the Compass, on the piano, with abat-jour on the lectern.

L.L. Oh yes, of course. I used to tell you that Bernardini thought I was going to be a socialite, that I was going to go among people–to the important tables. Yes, sometimes I used to sit at somebody’s table…. But I would show up only at the last moment, and I would do that when Bruno Martino was there, who also played his two hours a night… I liked to listen to him, and, then, yes, when he played I would stand at a table, in the hall… And of course it happened that way for Mina’s shows, too. I only went to the hall to listen to what I liked. But for others, for others that I didn’t care about, without naming names, I didn’t go to the hall at all. I had a rented cottage nearby, and I would come from there to play and return there afterwards. Unless there were some people I was interested in being with… So, I don’t even think I gave the ladies an opportunity to think about a social after-show… I wasn’t being a charmeur or charmant. I used to do my “Tied to a rock” and those things there, and then, what happened happened, with no plans… Yes, Mina and the others, then, played cards, with Chef Pirovano bringing flurries of his famous “risottini”… but I, who hates cards, and those who play cards bore me even seen from the back of my head, did not stay… And then, not really having any more hope, with her, I would leave so as not to suffer…. I saw her now only as the greatest singer of all time, and a friend, for whom, if I stayed, I would strum, in my own way, the piano, grand, which stood away from them, without watching them play…

L.C. Lelio, but how many things you remember!…

L.L. I remember as far as Mina gives a chance to keep up with her. And fast as it has always been, it certainly hasn’t helped us keep chronologies and periods and things like that in mind. You would see it one way and two days later it had already changed, evolved, grown bigger and bigger. What a scare!

L.C. Mina says you are always perfectly recognizable; I extend the concept: she says that people who have listened to two of your pieces, listening to a third one recognize it as yours.

L.L. Nice, that’s a nice appreciation; I can also think that a little bit corresponds to the truth and I’m glad you said that. I will thank her.

L.C. Thank her by writing a nice piece for her.

L.L. Right now I wouldn’t know where to start.

L.C. Then tell them from here. Even talking a little bit bad about her, about some of her faults, as we try to do, sometimes, sub-final, to give a sugar to any detractors.

L.L. No, I would never do that to thank you publicly. Also because I would fall into the trite of the usual truths from which, precisely because they are true truths, there is no escape. Because, sure not to fall into praise, but to stick to the pure truth, I would have to say that it is unrepeatable, and unrepeatable worldwide… And avoid making comparisons, even with certain American women, please… and for the simple reason that some of them, good as they are, are a bit of church choir singers by comparison… by comparison… By comparison with what? Compared to Mina’s sensuality when she sings. And if we want to make a comparison, let’s make it with the highest of the highs, Ella Fitzgerald, or Sarah Vaughan… … but there we are in jazz, they had `that’ `perfect’ language… But Mina can do everything… she can also make beautiful, beautiful songs that I, reading them in a part `for piano, would not give any value to… Even the last records, with songs too complex for me, for my mentality, so full of notes, of notines one after another, without a melody that… in short…. I as a jazzophile all this I should also love it, but I can’t get into it much more… here… all that, done by Mina, is always a concert, of music, of almost serious music… And then she also put this juxtaposition with a jazz band, which gives me an extra joy. And even when they tell me – here, did you want the defect? – when I am told that Mina sometimes makes mistakes in choosing pieces, choosing certain ones that are not great and rejecting certain ones that later become hits for others, I think that somehow, for some reason incomprehensible to us, she is right there too. Because there is always an order of extraordinary intelligence in what he does. And this order gives meaning to every choice, even the seemingly wrong ones.

L.C. So what?

L.L. And then I remember, finally, that once I was surprised, but not so much, actually not at all, by an article, by Mino Guerrini, I think. I immediately found myself in full agreement with the subtitle, which said, “Of Mina, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein one can say: because Mina is Mina is Mina is Mina…”

© Lele Cerri

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They say about her

11 November 2023


Giorgio Bocca – The jukebox is too tight for Mina – ll Giorno 11.12.1960

Tonight Mina has crazy hair and a dress on which sequins shine. Pale. Slender, her eyes dilated with neurotic rage, the girl wrings her hands to overcome the disgust of strangers breathing down on her.
We are in a dance hall on the outskirts of Turin. With two thousand five hundred liras each (almost two days’ work) the young men of the neighborhood paid themselves, for one hour, for the physical presence of Italy’s most famous “screamer”; the lucky ones, now, surround her little table, under the orchestra.

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Oriana Fallaci – The siren of twenty years – The European 05.02.1961

But who, then, is this girl who in not even two years has become a kind of myth of Italians young and old, poor and rich, suckers and smart, communists and Catholics, and in one minute earns as much as a magistrate earns in a month (one hundred and fifty thousand traffic circles), in one week collects six covers of authoritative weeklies, and if you say you have never seen her sing they treat you as an ignoramus, a traitor to the fatherland, or a cretin?

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Tony di Corcia from “Mina Viva lei” – Clichy Editions 2023

It has become very difficult to write about Mina.
This oh-so-round and fateful birthday of 80, which falls today, has already been consumed by streams of words, hordes of footage, odd images.
Everything seems already said. Premature retirement in 1978-an anti-media seclusion-made her forever young.

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Natalia Aspesi – Here is Mina fatter more beautiful and better – La Repubblica 04.07.1978

Fifty years? It could be 30 or 90, it would be the same. Tomorrow Mina turns half a century old, and the occasion only serves to make it clear how the singer has become, in Italian custom, a symbol rather than a living person. A symbol of an Italy as good as she was, glorious and optimistic, that of the boom years with which her rise coincided; but also, for most of those over 30, a sentimental symbol in the fullest sense of the word.

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