It is not so common to find one of the most outstanding independent Italian sing songwriters – who is also a successful novelist since a bunch of years – reading poetry…and what a choice: the lines of T.S. Eliot.
Emidio Clementi is one of the most meaningful voices of post rock in Italy with his band, Massimo Volume plus with his long solo career. He ‘reads’ rather than singing and diversifies from the music score thanks to a quite unique vocal rhythm making the listening a kind of revolutionary act.
I met him for the first time in my life in the last place I would have thought about. It was not a club, nor a theatre, but a luxury mall clung over Rialto Bridge, Venice, of which we’ve already told you by reviewing a book on its architecture. The stylish rooftop is open to the city and its inhabitants by often hosting literature and music classy events.
The events hall was crowded and audience was of a very mixed age: I’ve just listened to his music and now started to read his novels, starting from the last one, L’Amante Imperfetto of which we publish a teaser in its original language, Italian.
Try to get him back to you by drenching in one of his writings. Before writing this dialogue I listened to his music – while I did, I again listened to his interpretation of T.S. Eliot Four Quartets . It is in Italian but you, foreign readers loving very much that text in its original language and knowing a bit of Italian, could listen to the Italian reading by following it on a book in your language…
Your dense life is online with a perfect biography on Wiki. In a few lines I would love to know what is not there. Maybe the years of your learning which were the most unknown ones or the dreams you’re caressing as a child about the Emidio you wished to be
When I was 12, maybe, I wanted to become a soccer player or to win the Olympics. But, then, if I have to look carefully back, my passions were always the same ones since I was a teenager.
Even if I was not believing to them totally, I would have been a writer or a musician.
What was really important in my early ages was to be moving in Bologna when I was 18. Once here (this interview happens by phone, he answers from Bologna), I was not having already clear in my mind to work in the artistic milieu: I just loved the city and here I also found people listening to me, wanting to read what was well locked in my drawer.
It has been a very crucial passage in my life: it gifted me with confidence and incitements. All then arrived by chance and with a sort of confusion until I got that my career would have been this one.
The hand-to-hand with writing is like a parallel course in you: voice/writing, song/poetry and prose, each rail is characterized by its own readings and its own stylistic choices. As a writer you seem to delve more in the prose but for your sing-songwriting or for your performative ‘soul’ you seem to prefer poetry. Can you tell something more about this?
They are two different languages: when it comes to music, there is the rhythm helping you a lot and also there is a kind of atmosphere which also gives you lots of helps in the text writing. The song has also a more restricted time, from 3 to 3 minutes and half in which you have to succeed to be evocative and comunicative. Here the act of writing differs by the so-called ‘blank page’, where you are the only one entitled to create the rhythm and where, maybe, you’ve more responsibilities.
Both the languages are hard for me. It was never easy to write either for the music and for the prose. And, also, of course, it has been very rewarding when something good is published (or something I feel it is good): I don’t think there is any other similar, fantastic, feeling.
There were certain times where I was forced to write either for songs and for short stories in the same day: it is very hard also to cross from one voice to another. It is also true that it always means to deal with writing, so I made it happen anyway.
It is right: I do not use the same ‘voice’, this has been noted also by who was only knowing me as novelist and then started to listen to my music (or the other way around). The two voices of mine are not overlapping.
When you’re handling a song where you have only 3 minutes and you’ve also to take in account rhythm and musicality, it’s clear you end up in the poetry ‘territories’. And this happened to me more and more, as the years were passing.
If you look back at the first Massimo Volume records, there were also some short stories I put in music with a sort of adaptation. Nowadays, maybe, I’m prioritizing musicality with a rhythm fitting into it.
I’m not a ‘real’ poet, especially because I am not knowing the rules of rimes and metrics. My form of poetry is a bit spurious even if very close to the original one.
When I write in prose, when I write novels, I am a realist writer. I really bet on clarity, on a dryness in style. And, therefore, I define myself a ‘traditionalist’.
The biographical form or module (ad the ‘verisimilitude’ – using the sense of the word the Italian writer Pier Vittorio Tondelli explained in his novel Rimini) in the songs or in the novel are taking different paths (I’m quoting Tondelli not just because of ‘his’ verisimilitude but also for his very tight relation with Bologna as yours).
Do you believe on the difference of genres? Do you differ in the use of the biography because you want to speak to different audiences by using different intentions or different styles?
It is very rare I ask myself to which audience I want to speak (or being read from) before I create. I end to speak always of myself because – within all the possible doubts – is what I know better and more. And even if it may happen I do not know everything of myself in a precise segment, at least I know and I understand what happens around me. I tell what is necessary or what I master. In addition, given I operate a selection of elements in a possible plot, I am more able to select something from a scene, a place or a dialogue because they’re clearer to me having priorly being lived in.
Without being too reductive, self-biography can be a style in which you ancor (or mock to ancor) a a plot to a life and so you’re in advantage thanks to that verisimilitude each artwork needs because anyone ends to believe to it. Also the act of inserting dates and real places is important because, so, to identify in someone else is easier.
It’s hard to know exactly which is the difference in my storytelling for a novel or for a song. In this latter one I can forget for a while the clarity because I have already two languages (the music and the wording). On the contrary, I have to totally care on clarity when I write a short story or a novel.
Maybe the two Clementi’s creative souls are in peace and speak with one voice when you read poetry with music. It’s one year you tour with an outstanding reading of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets where you declamate together with Corrado Nuccini’s music (Italian musician born on 1974 who already worked with Clemente on other projects). What did you learn from Italian audience there? Is it true, so, that poetry is not yet dead? When and where the next performances?
We’ve been on tour for more than a year with Quattro Quartetti, we’ve been in Apulia (Gioia Del Colle on February, 2) recently and we’ll be in Parma on February 23 and I presume these will be the last gigs.
We’ve toured mainly in ‘our’ ambient – the clubs – and therefore the audience was mainly our people from the concerts of Massimo Volume and this was making me happy.
I was surprised to discover that no one was there for Eliot (I use to talk with the people after every show, that’s why I knew). I mean, people who were fan of the poet or of the text but was not priorly knowing my work or Corrado’s one. This saddened me because in Eliot’s case we deal with a very musical text even if difficult.
It has also to be said that when it comes to a performance, the people expect to enjoy a spectacle so it’s right that some parts of the text may get lost between interpretation and music. I just hope that someone, once back at home, was looking for a copy of the Four Quartets to get in depth with a fantastic text.
I was already performing readings in the past, I was used to read just my texts by selecting them among my short stories and my novels. I changed with Notturno Americano where for the first time I’d chosen to read in music Primo Dio by Emanuel Carnevali (that was the case of a writer and a text I was knowing very well). I would never risk to bring on the scene a spectacle with words I feel distant in some ways. When I read the Four Quartets it is like I’m reading something of mine.
Will you continue to perform spoken word of other writers in the future?
Of course. I believe and hope, yes. If you like to ask me what and who now, I would be a bit unease to reply. For instance, a book I liked a lot – and that I find rhythmic, so suitable – is Motel Chronicles by Sam Shepard. It will maybe happen. I have to find not just a text I can get in love with (I have hundreds of them!) but one that can fit me like a perfect dress and there the selection is harder.
You as a reader when maybe you’re looking just for an evasion and not for food for soul (it’s hard to separate the two needs, I know): which genres, which places and which rhythms? Which are the books and the music you’re listening to, apart the one you’re working on?
Let’s start from the place: the studio of my house because I have a sort of chaise-longue where is fantastic to read. You know, it’s not easy to find a good time to read and when I am not reading since some days I feel a kind of urge, mostly physical. And so I try to beat the time and find my moments to read!
I love to read narrative, especially the authors I like and where I find closer worlds.
I also read a bit of philosophy, when it’s written in a not so technical language which is not inviting for me.
I’m now reading a Marco Vannini’s book on mystic. But I’m a bit messy: I like to smell here and there and then I’ve lots of blanks.
It’s also true that creatives are differing from pure literary critics or editors, we just look for what we need. You never know if this will end to a maturation and when. I also happened to read back a book or a reading I had months earlier by looking exactly for a single sentence or a word because it gives to me the right click with the situation I want to depict.
I am a curious person, an average ignorant, but curious.
As for the music, today I was waking up with a Neil Young’s record and yesterday I listened to Bartók’s quartets. I am an onnivore listener: I can switch from classic to jazz, I still listen a lot to rock music, I like electronic and ambient music.
Who’s a young Italian sing-songwriter you follow?
No one in particular, but I’m still caring the scene. I don’t know, I can name Vasco Brondi, I followed him since his debut, I like also Alessandro Grazian who is from Padua. I’m curious also in this field but I miss so many names because I do not closely follow what is published even if I am able to get later on what interests me. Maybe with one or two years of delay. I do not read music magazines, I read very rarely literary magazines (also for time scarcity).
A talent you have, the one you miss
Maybe I have the voice – even when I was a primary school kid the teacher was used to say ‘Clementi, you read because you’ve a nice voice’. I am a self taught, I never worked so much on my voice.
Since then, I was getting the sense of punctuation even if I was not getting exactly what I was reading. When I read, it was always like I was very emphatic but it was not always true!
Without modesty, I think there are lots of talents I miss, for instance I am not gifted as a musician.
I am maybe good to catch states of mind or acts of people beside me. I miss the whole, I miss a sort of structure. Also in the novels or in the songs. In the first ones, the edit is always the most dramatic phase while with the songs is easier because I work in a team.
Just a biographical flash of our ‘people from this world’: the 99% answers to this question by saying they wanted to be singers or musicians. Does not matter at which latitude they are in or which is their business. They love music and are avid consumers, but they wanted to become musicians.
More than writing, I guess that is music to be liberating.
It gifts also more epiphanies that maybe later you build more with further food for soul after a simple listening.
What do you think to give to your city and what do you think Bologna is giving you back even if the town is passing through a darker cultural time?
Bologna gave me a part of myself I was not yet knowing, then it gave me a wife and two daughters. So, it let me being – without too much exaggeration – what I am.
What did I give back to Bologna? I described it in my way, which is surely not impartial. I told about the streets, especially about Via del Pratello. And I continue to do so.
You know, Diana, it’s hard to tell if the city is crossing a darker time because when you live here you do not have the right distance to evaluate well.
It is probably true that if you compare previous years to these ones, the city is less culturally challenging but in the same time, if you search for cultural stimuli here you can find them all. Every week there are groups playing, there are lots of cinema. Maybe we produce less culture than in the past. You’ve less the impression you’re living in a lively city but I’m fatalist: it will born again, there will be another generation which will be keen and will have more interest in a dialogue with their peers. If I should think to a city in which to move (I am 50 and do not die to change it), I am all in all happy of Bologna.
A secret place where you take shelter when you look for slowness if you like to do so?
My studio, where I store my records and my books and the chaise long I was introducing before: it is welcoming and relaxing.
There is another place located in San Benedetto del Tronto (Marche Regione, which is his native land: he was precisely born in Ascoli Piceno), it’s a street close to the harbor (Via Vasco de Gama), it gifts me with a dreamy atmosphere and recall to me the America depicted by Steinbeck (John Ernst).
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Always in Bologna if there will not be a cataclysm! Life, of course, brings over lots of surprises, who knows: I already tour a lot for my music career and I would love maybe to be around in just one place for a few months.
What did you learn from life so far?
It’s able to amaze you. You can, yes, have a little annoyed glance on it – it happens also to me time by time – but if you’re keen you can see it is full of surprises. It is still amazing me now that I’m 50 (actually it is amazing me even more now than when I was 20, because I can get more contradictions or because I have less certainties). For better or for worse (even if there is lots of worse out there) I still get very fascinated by existence.
To know more about Emidio Clementi’s last novel and to buy it (in Italian), L’Amante Imperfetto (Fandango editore, 2017, ISBN: 978-88-99452-12-4): https://www.fandangoeditore.it/shop/autori/lamante-imperfetto/
To read our teaser: http://www.slow-words.com/lamante-imperfetto/
(Image cover: Simona Pampallona)