"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bufalo Bill by Francesco De Gregori

 
He sings of the prairie

 
In the 1980s and 90s I lived in Italy and there I became an admirer or the work of Roman singer-songwriter Francesco De Gregori. I had several of his albums but my favorite (unsurprisingly, given my love for all things Western) was the 1976 record, Bufalo Bill (the buffalo only has one L in Italian).
 
 
The title track is glorious: melodic, triste, hopeful, and altogether beautiful.
I thought you might like to hear it. I know some of my readers might struggle a little with the Italian text so I have translated it for you, and you’ll find it below with the original words below that.
 
Francesco de Gregori (then)
 
Click here for the song on YouTube.

Buffalo Bill did of course tour Italy, and I remember going to the site in Florence where he pitched his tents and put on his show. Perhaps that was the start of the love affair the country has had with the Western.
 
Cody and Indian friends in Venice
 

Lyrics:

The country was very young,
The cavalry was its defense.
The brilliant green of the prairie
Proved, in a shining way, the existence of God,
The God who pushes forward the frontier and builds the railroads.
At that time I was a boy
Playing rummy, whistling at the girls.
Gullible and romantic, with mustaches that made me a man
If I could have chosen between life and death,
Between life and death, I would have chosen America.
The difference between a locomotive and a buffalo is obvious:
The locomotive has its path marked out,
The buffalo can swerve to the side and fall.
This decided the fate of the buffalo,
The future of my mustaches and my profession.
Now I want to tell you: there are those who kill in order to steal
And those who kill for love
The hunter kills for sport
I killed to be the best.
My father, a cowherd,
My mother, a countrywoman,
I, their only son, almost as blond as Jesus,
I wasn’t many years old, and twenty years indeed seem few,
Then you turn and look at them and they aren’t there any more.
And in fact I remember a sad afternoon,
There I am with my pal ‘Rubber Ass’, a famous mechanic,
On the edge of a road, looking at America.
Fewer horses, more optimism.
I was fifty and they presented me with a contract
To tour Europe with a circus
And I signed, with my name, and I signed
And my name was Buffalo Bill.

 
Il paese era molto giovane,
i soldati a cavallo erano la sua difesa.
Il verde brillante della prateria
dimostrava in maniera lampante l'esistenza di Dio,
del Dio che progetta la frontiera e costruisce la ferrovia.
A quel tempo io ero un ragazzo
che giocava a ramino, fischiava alle donne.
Credulone e romantico, con due baffi da uomo.
Se avessi potuto scegliere fra la vita e la morte,
fra la vita e la morte, avrei scelto l'America.
Tra bufalo e locomotiva la differenza salta agli occhi:
la locomotiva ha la strada segnata,
il bufalo può scartare di lato e cadere.
Questo decise la sorte del bufalo,
l'avvenire dei miei baffi e il mio mestiere.
Ora ti voglio dire: c'è chi uccide per rubare
e c'è chi uccide per amore,
il cacciatore uccide sempre per giocare,
io uccidevo per essere il migliore.
Mio padre guardiano di mucche,
mia madre una contadina.
Io, unico figlio biondo quasi come Gesù,
avevo pochi anni e vent'anni sembran pochi,
poi ti volti a guardarli e non li trovi più.
E mi ricordo infatti di un pomeriggio triste,
io, col mio amico 'Culo di gomma', famoso meccanico,
sul ciglio di una strada a contemplare l'America,
diminuzione dei cavalli, aumento dell'ottimismo.
Mi presentarono i miei cinquant'anni
e un contratto col circo "Pacebbeene" a girare l'Europa.
E firmai, col mio nome e firmai,
e il mio nome era Bufalo Bill.
 

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