Michele Serra – A reckless voice – La Repubblica 24.03.2000

By Michele Serra – La Repubblica
24.03.2000

The “Tiger of Cremona” turns 60 years old tomorrow. From lavish black-and-white TV show-woman to sophisticated lady of a thousand songs Mina turns sixty, and you almost can’t believe it. There are really very few of them, as many as are barely enough to make a long-distance girl. Very few to measure the long road of his steely voice, which has pierced all the ages of our age, the very many ages we have been fortunate enough to live through leaning against each other, clenched like books suffocating in a shelf that is too short. Designed for fewer words than were later published.
She would have to be at least two hundred years old, the lady, to convince us that she is really the same bachelorish young lady as the polka dot zebra, then the sumptuous hostess of Studio One, then the virtuous Sophisticated Lady of a thousand songs orchestrated in his honor, finally the eccentric muse who smuggled his pounds of talent to Switzerland.
It is a happy birthday for us. (I hope for you too: best wishes, best wishes). Because it reveals to us how little time, after all, we have consumed in spending such a strenuous road. From the crisp black and white of the old television to the shattered kaleidoscope of the new, from the early anti-melodic ( and anti-hypocritical) avant-garde to the execrable conformity of compulsory transgression, from the summer mischief of the Compass (and the Muretto, and Saint Tropez), to the perennial mass transhumance in the discos, from the Overtaking to the film (never made) that is supposed to document the end of the race, from the early 1960s shaking off the last trappings of the postwar era (with the Boom, the yé yé, the thousand blue bubbles) to the post-Everything 2000s. In short, from when anything could happen, and indeed did happen, to when everything seems to have already happened to us, in overwhelming sequence.
There has been much talk of her now 20-year disappearance, broken barely by the sending of record-streaks, ghost-singer of herself, and a few (seldom futile) newspaper articles. Whether or not she has calculated the ways, and especially the times, the fact remains that Mina defected in more or less precise coincidence with the exhaustion of the shock wave of the “modern,” when we rightly christened “reflux” the screwing of society and custom around the totem of well-being.
Born riding the first Boom, when she squealed happily in a miniskirt, Mina snubbed the second. Too modern to be post-modern. Modern, it seems to me, is the adjective that best suits her, even as she airs to date; inevitably, even her admittedly prodigious artistic career. Mina’s appearance was, in her Italian and therefore peripheral way, parallel to that of Brigitte Bardot. Not so disruptive as an erotic icon (although she made her considerable figure, elegant and tall, strong features, somewhere between a less buff Vitti and a less haughty Mangano), it was, however, her voice, repertoire, and aplomb on stage that gave the idea of an unprecedented and greedy feminine freedom.
Her dynamism was invaluable, and measurable, today, only if we can truly remember how fearful was, in the Italy of forty years ago, the beautiful bearing of singers and girls in general. When Mina appeared on the scene, it was still close to the days when Nila Pizzi won at Sanremo and it caused a scandal that Jula De Palma sang Tua, with remote suggestions of intercourse (but really remote).
Two very different people (Gorgio Gaber and Paolo Conte) spoke to me years ago in very similar accents about Mina’s vitality and witty intelligence, Gaber, in particular, his playfulness, which delighted his fellow workers. The magazines of the time were busy stalking the bad girl along the very eventful course of her love affairs. At least not, the one with Corrado Pani, blamed for having, the two stowaways, even fathered a child.
But even more than private liberality, which, moreover, especially impressed the kiss-asses (many, but not enough to curb the Italians’ sweet-natured eagerness), it was the voice that broke the mold. Powerful, almost cold in the metallic timbre of the high notes and almost masculine when she descended into the low end of the sound, Mina’s voice literally disfigured the singing tradition. It simply did not fit. He would force it or even smash it.
If for Modugno and In the blue painted blue was discomfited, with full reason (even philological) Chagall, who had inspired the lyricist Migliacci, it is certainly no coincidence that the first three big hits of the screaming Mina (first stage name, Baby Gate) are all, from the title, loaded with pictorial suggestions: Moon Tint, A Polka Dot Zebra and A Thousand Blue Bubbles.. Pop art or Dadaism it may have been, the intention then exploded into a song so new and reckless that it thrilled (or left one dumbfounded). Like unexpectedly running into an abstractionist in an exhibition of neoclassical landscapes.
That unforgettable start, which for the writer was a fascinating childhood shock, was followed by long years of a majestic career. Shifted, at least in song, from miniskirts to evening gowns, and at times a little caged in a sophistication that tasted a little too much like a nightclub, the exuberant and communicative Mina of her early days remained, however, in our homes as a luxury show-woman on Saturday nights on television. And she is dear and well present to us even now that she denies us familiarity with her large female body, which we cannot even intuit because the voice that comes out of it is still the same as the skinny, leggy, and extravagantly hairstyled Mina we have video familiar with.
And in short, and finally: it’s really nice to be able to remember us by celebrating the living and well rather than mourning the dead. We should do this more often. Mina, Morandi and Celentano (there is something for everyone) are a comforting and solid Italian trinity. Nor are they escapees or survivors, simply contemporaries of half a century of our own stuff. Of old age, no way: at best it is persevering maturity. If it is no longer riding the storm that weaned us, that we see them traveling today, it is still with us floating and singing.
There is still plenty of time. Crack blood sugar and cholesterol. The only diagram we are interested in is that of the voice going up, up, up and never stopping. Long live the tiger of Cremona. And a cake as big as his hunger for life.
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They say about her

11 November 2023

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