Raimon: "Annalisa and I will leave everything at the Centre Raimon in Xàtiva"
Interview with the singer, who turns 80
BarcelonaPerhaps Raimon had never mentioned Annalisa so many times in an interview as in this one. It would seem that his ability to write lyrics with a high concentration of precise words has been transferred to his vital moment: Raimon now introduces himself as the artist who, once he has left the stage forever, returns home for good and arranges the stuff that will stay for posterity. And he does so in the company of his partner, co-author of his career, with a relationship that is more than half a century old. The two have reached the third act of Shakespeare and are faced with the need to leave everything clean and finished. Ramon Pelegero and Sanchis, Raimon, (Xàtiva, 2 December 1940) will be 80 years old on Wednesday. An octogenarian, he has walked from his home to the ARA - which is just turning ten years old.
Raimon, congratulations on turning eighty.
Thanks a lot.
How does it feel?
[Laughs] It feels like, of all the friends I had in my twenties, almost no one is left, which has a certain effect on you. And in this pandemic situation that we are living, all of that hurts more.
In the previous chapter, we saw you singing on May 28th 2017 at the Palau de la Música, saying goodbye to the stage forever. Since then, what is a day in your life like?
Until 2018 we were finishing to prepare the pack to transform the first and second recitals into one, and a book with all the songs translated into French, English and Spanish. And from 2019, I have been doing typical things of my age. I have begun to know that the body is full of organs and I have been to doctors a lot, check-ups here and there... There are some musician diseases, and others that are typical of old age. Overall, we have had little time to put ourselves together. Annalisa and I have a fifty-five year backlog of material and we are trying to catalog it. We have been in Xàbia all summer, facing the sea and the outdoors, without a mask, which is something that is very annoying. And from now on I will be a sensible person, I will start to think about what I will do when I grow up.
In other words, the pandemic is punishing you particularly.
People of my age – and let alone those that are older -, we are not here to give away time.
Do you write?
No, I don't write, I don't write. I read a lot, yes, but even things that I had written that I thought could be useful, now it seems to me that maybe they are not. I look at them, but I don't quite like them.
What do you plan to do with all these documents?
Annalisa and I plan to leave a part in Xàtiva, one in Valencia, and another in Barcelona, but that is very complicated. And I say to the mayor of Xàtiva, Roger Cerdà: "I would like to leave everything here, because it would be better if everything was together". And the mayor, who is a sensible and reasonable person, tells me: "You can count on it”. It turns out that there is a convent and no one knows what to do with it. There are 2,000 square meters.
And what will it be called?
Center Raimon d’Activitats Culturals, where there will be all our history and everything, everything. Annalisa and I will make a will so that when we leave, everything goes to the Centre Cultural. All the documentation will be there, but at the same time we will make a small theater and an exhibition hall. In other words, it will be something alive and the only ones dead will be us [laughs].
Does turning eighty represent some kind of milestone for you?
No. Neither Annalisa nor I have considered it. In 1987 we thought that she would not make it. I don't even want to think about it, because she was very ill. And then she recovered – and recovered the joy of living. At the very least, bang, it hits you like a gust of brutal pessimism.
But you have an easy smile.
Yes, it is my character. My mother was the same and my father too: they both had a great sense of humor. To the point that sometimes they would tease you! My father died at 65. My mother turned 93. My father didn't have a penny, but he worked hard and we could go on living.
And from your mother, what have you inherited?
From my mother... You make me think, I think a certain tenderness. And at the same time, the feeling of, when something needs fixing, fixing it.
When you look back, are you aware of different stages in your life?
Yes, before Annalisa arrived, and then with Annalisa. And in this part you can already make small subdivisions.
You fell very much in love.
I did! She arrived in Valencia in 64. She came with a friend from the Liceo and I went to meet her at the airport.
Do you remember the moment you saw her for the first time?
Ah, I do. I had another girlfriend and I said to myself: "This is over”. And then she came to Xàtiva and I said: "I don't want to miss this". And we called each other, we wrote to each other, and in June 1966 Annalisa came to Paris, I was singing at that time, and in August we got married. She also thought a lot about it because she had to leave Italy and the family.
54 years. Coexistence is not always easy.
I think ours is. We send each other to hell from time to time, of course, but in the end we have always slept at home and in the same bed.
Has not having children been a voluntary choice?
At first, yes, because of the type of job I did in those years, because from 1963 to 1979 things were tough. I had been called to the police station a few times because "I had sung this", a song against the Pope, which was Elogi dels diners, from the 14th century! And then I had to sign an autograph for the police typist.
Do you remember when you were 25 years old, how you managed discovering that through your voice, through your guitar, and through the lyrics you were able to represent and sublimate the feelings of thousands of people?
I managed this by making more songs and putting myself at the service of what I thought I had to be. I have sung for free many times, more than people can imagine. But I made songs, although it has always been difficult for me to make them. I have not made many, if you think of all the years I’ve been singing.
About 150 something. I have made more, but I have broken many, I have been very demanding because I want to do my best. I managed it with the way of singing, singing in a minority language. Sometimes I say to myself: "How is it possible that you have sung in so many places in the world in Catalan?" Well look, work stuff. Life is very casual. Obviously, if you don't project, you won't do things, but there are many things that come your way and break the project you had and point you the other way.
What did you put your songs at the service of? Of language and class struggle?
Of class struggle I couldn't tell you, of the subaltern classes, yes, the people who, for obvious reasons (poverty or not enough education), never have an alternative to what there is, and live as subalterns... It is not feudalism, but they always take advantage of their work. And the language, yes, that is very important. And above all, it is internationalized. How is it possible? Well, because I'm lucky to know Pete Seeger through some friends. And we had Pete come, between Annalisa and I, in 1971. But boy, I think chance played a big part. For example: to me, Al vent, it doesn't seem like a bad song.
Well, that comes out of a motorcycle, and I didn't know any more chords. Three chords.
I guess luck has to be worked on. By reading, for example.
I was going to become a historian. I had done theater with Morera and Sanchis Sinisterra, and I went to an open gathering where Fuster and his friends were. And Fuster was the first person in my life who made me see that Valencian is Catalan. I read a book called El descrèdit de la realitat about art, made by him, and I said to myself: "This is not worse than the French or the Italian books I read”.
I wrote to Fuster, and I said: "Look, Juanito, I have made music on a poem of his, and I want to ask his permission and such..." Then he wrote him a letter. Espriu replied that he waas very happy, and puts him on the phone. I called him, and he said, "I deeply admire you". The day I went to see him it must have been eight in the afternoon, we didn't have dinner, he smoked three or four cigarettes and I almost smoked a packet. He drank a little bit of brandy and I drank two or three glasses. We stayed until two or three in the morning chatting about poetry and everything. I was dazzled.
How was the conversation with Espriu?
We laughed a lot, it was a lot of fun. Also, when he made a caricature of someone it was hilarious.
And then came the debut at Olimpia in Paris, when you were 25. You must have felt like you were on top of the world.
Yes, but I have never seen it that way. I think I have not yet reached heaven. There have been very beautiful moments in our life, yes. And look, at least if certain resignations have been worth it, then that’s OK.
You did not sing in Spanish, for example?
With Spanish right away, they told you: "You will have this, you will have that", it is immediate, from the first album.
Why do you say no to singing in Spanish?
Because it is not my language. And look, the language in which I sing, my own language, I am learning it in those same moments, because at school no one has taught me to say even good morning. And then there is, as I would say, an affirmation of saying no, this language is mine and I don't have to give it up - and that's it. I feel comfortable with it, the words have a resonance that they do not have in other languages. And at the University of Valencia I began to see that it is not only my language, but also that of Fuster or Espriu.
What utopias were you pursuing at that time?
Utopia would not be the right word. We, the people of that age who had certain concerns, we thought that we could get rid of the Franco regime with a popular, non-violent reaction, because I have never been a supporter of violence. We thought it could be done, and for some time in the 70s it seemed possible, right?
You sang 'I come from an old and very long silence', and at that time it was like that. Now we cannot longer say it, first because you filled that silence, and then we have all been able to speak. What quality is the material with which we have filled this time?
I couldn't tell you. I hoped that there was something more sensible, that desire was not superior to reasoning, because there was a time when it seemed that everything was possible. I've never seen it like this. And then the corruption of a sector of the ruling class is also ball breaking, speaking clearly, because I did not expect it from people you know, who have been close to you. All of this disappoints you. And now I wish they governed society, not trying other things without knowing when they will happen. The creation of a Catalan state in the current circumstances is not the most important thing that the population needs - that is my impression. Now, I can be wrong and tomorrow we have a very fine state. But I very much doubt that any existing state will allow a part of its territory to become another state. Imagine France, imagine Italy.
The Scots managed to be asked.
After many years and within the law. It is another approach. And also they have not succeeded. What do you want me to say, I see it that way, but if I'm wrong I’ll come to terms with it right away.
It does not seem to you that autonomism can make us residual.
Autonomism? Of course, it depends on what kind of autonomy.
The one we have known so far.
OK, but it could be made wider. In Euskadi they are achieving things that have not been tried here. I don't know, I am not a political leader. As a citizen, what I do think is that these things can go differently. Now, the legal structures we have: we are still dragging a lot with us. And, obviously, the prison sentences are disproportionate for what has been done... I don't think that one part has done it wonderfully and the others badly. Now, there are guys who have shit on me, with a brutal fanaticism. Sorry, I have not imposed my thinking on anyone. When you want others to be like you, it is bad.
There are people who took it badly.
I too would like to have these people who think differently by my side, because there is sympathy and recognition of honesty, on both sides. And why don't we agree? Because sometimes, with the people you love the most, things aren’t clarified. I would have loved putting together seven or eight musicians to do an Ausiàs Marc, but I couldn’t do it because there wasn’t enough money.
Who wants to limit your dreams?
No, no, I have never had limits. And I have sung that "I live fighting against these limits." And look, I have sung in Catalan in Japan, in the United States, Argentina, Uruguay, Bulgaria, I don't know where, it was not easy to predict. It was not conceivable to sing in Catalan and do it at the Faculty of Economics in Madrid. In other words, I have not set myself limits, I have done everything to break them.
Have you worn a red shirt again?
No. I haven't even played the guitar, which surprises me more. I have held back. I have it there and I say: mmm... no. I have another in Xàbia. And no. Maybe one day I'll say yes, but I still can't. But I haven't given the red shirts, I have them in the closet. And I plan to wear them, but not in public. I don't know if I could do a recital like the ones I did. The voice yes, but I should be sitting down.
Since the last interview was when you turned 75, let’s meet again…
... at 85, if we get there. Or if I get there. Because you still have a long time left until you turn 85.
You already know that we are here today and we are gone tomorrow.
And furthermore, "we are a light that flees" Som was sung by Camilo Sesto, and I understand that his mother, like certain women from Xàtiva, liked Som a lot.
What do the lyrics say?
"We are a light that flees, we are a light that is extinguished, we are a light that is not light, we are the great smoke of the earth. From earth we come, to earth we will go; on earth we live, on earth we will be. We are".