Archivo de la categoría: Artículos de opinión

Breaking Doors to the other Side in 1967

The Doors

With an intoxicating, genre-blending sound, provocative and uncompromising songs, and the mesmerizing power of singer Jim Morrison’s poetry and presence, The Doors had a transformative impact not only on popular music but on popular culture.

The Doors’ arrival on the rock scene in 1967 marked not only the start of a string of hit singles and albums that would become stone classics, but also of something much bigger – a new and deeper relationship between creators and audience. Refusing to be mere entertainers, the Los Angeles quartet relentlessly challenged, confronted and inspired their fans, leaping headfirst into the heart of darkness while other bands warbled about peace and love. Though they’ve had scores of imitators, there’s never been another band quite like them. And 50 years after their debut album, The Doors’ music and legacy are more influential than ever before.

Morrison’s mystical command of the frontman role may be the iconic heart of The Doors, but the group’s extraordinary power would hardly have been possible without the virtuosic keyboard tapestries of Ray Manzarek, the gritty, expressive fretwork of guitarist Robby Krieger and the supple, dynamically rich grooves of drummer John Densmore. From baroque art-rock to jazz-infused pop to gutbucket blues, the band’s instrumental triad could navigate any musical territory with aplomb – and all three contributed mightily as songwriters.

The group was born when Morrison and Manzarek – who’d met at UCLA’s film school – met again, unexpectedly, on the beach in Venice, CA, during the summer of 1965. Though he’d never intended to be a singer, Morrison was invited to join Manzarek’s group Rick and the Ravens on the strength of his poetry. Krieger and Densmore, who’d played together in the band Psychedelic Rangers, were recruited soon thereafter; though several bassists auditioned of the new collective, none could furnish the bottom end as effectively as Manzarek’s left hand. Taking their name from Aldous Huxley’s psychotropic monograph The Doors of Perception, the band signed to Elektra Records following a now-legendary gig at the Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip.

Their eponymous first album, released in January 1967, kicked off with “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” and also featured the chart smash “Light My Fire”, the scorching “Back Door Man” and the visionary masterpiece “The End”. The Doors arrived fully formed, capable of rocking the pop charts and the avant-garde with one staggering disc. Before ’67 was over, they’d issued the ambitious follow-up Strange Days, with such gems as “Love Me Two Times”, “People Are Strange” and “When the Music’s Over”.

Next came 1968’s Waiting for the Sun, boasting “Hello, I Love You”, “Love Street” and “Five to One”. Over the next few years they minded over new territory on such albums as 1969’s The Soft Parade (featuring “Touch Me” and “Tell All the People”), 1970’s Morrison Hotel (which includes “Roadhouse Blues”, “Peace Frog” and “Queen of the Highway”) and 1971’s L.A. Woman (boasting “Rider’s on the Storm”, “Love Her Madly” and the title track).

They released six studio albums in all, as well as a live album and a compilation, before Morrison’s death in 1971. Their electrifying achievements in the studio and onstage were unmatched in the annals of rock; and though Morrison’s death meant the end of an era, Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore collaborated on two more original Doors albums, Other Voices and Full Circle, and a set of tracks they composed to accompany Morrison’s 1969 recording of his poetry, released in 1978 as An American Prayer. They also pursued individual music projects, books, theatrical productions and other enterprises – and remain restlessly creative to this day.

In the decades since the Doors’ heyday, the foursome has loomed ever larger in the pantheon of rock – and they remain a touchstone of insurrectionary culture for writers, activists, visual artists and other creative communities. Their songs, featured in an ever-increasing number of films, TV shows, video games and remixes, always sound uncannily contemporary. No matter how the musical and cultural tides turn, The Doors will always be ready to help a new wave of listeners break on through to the other side.

The Doors were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.

JIM MORRISON Singer for The Doors

At the center of The Doors’ mystique is the magnetic presence of singer-poet Jim Morrison, the leather-clad “Lizard King” who brought the riveting power of a shaman to the microphone.

Morrison was a film student at UCLA when he met keyboardist Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach in 1965. Upon hearing Morrison’s poetry, Manzarek immediately suggested they form a band; the singer took the group’s name from Aldous Huxley’s infamous psychedelic memoir, “The Doors of Perception.”

Constantly challenging censorship and conventional wisdom, Morrison’s lyrics delved into primal issues of sex, violence, freedom and the spirit. He outraged authority figures, braved intimidation and arrest, and followed the road of excess (as one of his muses, the poet William Blake, famously put it) toward the palace of wisdom.

Over the course of six extraordinary albums and countless boundary-smashing live performances, he inexorably changed the course of rock music – and died in 1971 at the age of 27. He was buried in Paris, and fans from around the world regularly make pilgrimages to his grave.

In 1978, the surviving members of the band – keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore – reunited to record the accompanying music for An American Prayer, a compilation of Morrison’s poetry readings. He remains the very template of the rock frontman, and his singing, poetry and Dionysian demeanor continue to inspire artists and audiences around the world.

RAY MANZAREKKeyboardist for The Doors

Ray Manzarek was the architect of The Doors’ intoxicating keyboard sound. Manzarek’s evocative playing fused rock, jazz, blues, bossa nova and an array of other styles into something utterly, dazzlingly new.

The group was born in 1965, when Jim Morrison and Chicago native Manzarek — both UCLA film students — met on Venice Beach. The singer’s poetry was a perfect fit for the classically trained keyboardist’s musical ideas, and eventually they decided to form a band. Though several bassists auditioned for the group, none could match the bass lines provided by Manzarek’s left hand. Signed to Elektra Records, The Doors released six studio albums, a live album and a compilation before Morrison’s untimely demise in 1971.

Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore released two albums as a trio under the Doors moniker, with Manzarek and Krieger handling vocals. Manzarek next formed the group Nite City, which invited comparisons to Mott the Hoople and Aerosmith; the quintet released its one album in 1977.

The surviving Doors reunited to create a musical backdrop for Morrison’s recorded poetry on the 1978 release An American Prayer. Manzarek produced and performed on five of the L.A. band X’s albums, including Los Angeles, which remains one of the high-water marks of the punk movement. The keyboardist authored several books, and recorded numerous solo albums. Ray lived with his wife of 45 years, Dorothy, in Napa, CA until his passing in May of 2013 following his ultimately fatal bout with bile duct cancer.

JOHN DENSMORE Drummer for The Doors

Drummer John Densmore was far more than merely the rhythmic engine of The Doors. Strongly influenced by jazz skinsmen like Elvin Jones and the supple grooves of the Brazilian wave, he brought a highly evolved sense of dynamics, structure and musicality to his beats.

Inexorably drawn to music from childhood, Los Angeles-born Densmore honed his sense of dynamics playing with his high school marching band. In the mid-’60s he joined guitarist Robby Krieger in a band called Psychedelic Rangers; shortly thereafter they hooked up with keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Morrison, and an explosive chapter in the development of rock ‘n’ roll began. A raft of paradigm-shifting recordings and epochal live performances would follow.

Morrison’s death in 1971 marked the end of an era, though the surviving trio recorded two more albums of songs and an instrumental backdrop for the late singer’s recorded poetry.

The versatile musician explored reggae and jazz in subsequent projects, wrote books and articles and became active in L.A.’s adventurous theater community. He earned an L.A. Weekly Theatre Award for the music he created for the Tim Robbins-directed stage production Methusalem. He also co-produced the play Rounds, which was given the NAACP award for theatre in 1987.

Densmore’s autobiography, Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors, was published in 1991 and was a New York Times bestseller. He’s written articles and essays for Rolling Stone, London Guardian, The Nation, and many nationally syndicated newspapers.

ROBBY KRIEGER Guitarist for The Doors

With a flair for wicked bottleneck slide, exploratory solos and gutbucket grooves, guitarist Robby Krieger brought a stinging, sinuous intensity to the sound of The Doors. But he was also a key songwriter in the band and penned some of their biggest hits – notably their mesmerizing #1 hit, “Light My Fire.”

Before picking up the guitar at age 17, the L.A. native studied trumpet and piano. The inspiration for switching to guitar came not from rock ‘n’ roll, but Spanish flamenco music. His first guitar hero, however, was jazz legend Wes Montgomery.

After Morrison’s death in 1971, Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore carried on as a trio. They released two more albums as the Doors before calling it quits in 1973, though they did reconvene a few years later to create music for poetry Morrison had recorded shortly before his death, released as the 1978 album An American Prayer.

Krieger went on to enjoy success as a jazz guitarist, recording a handful of records with the Robby Krieger Band in the 1970s and ’80s. Versions (1983) and No Habla(1986) amply demonstrate his versatility. “I think playing guitar is probably the one thing that gets better with age,” he says.Robby Krieger is listed among Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”


History of the album «The Doors» (1967)

«The Doors» is the first album of Americans united in the band of the same name. It was published by Elektra at the very beginning of 1967. Recognized as the best album of the group, and indeed collected a number of compositions that are rightfully considered masterpieces. On the initial release of the record – the label «Electra» with the image of a butterfly. Further re-releases of the album in this studio with the same catalog number EKS-47007 in the 1970s came out with red labels.

Creation of the group and the birth of its name

The group was formed after a sudden meeting between Jim Morrison and Ray on Venice Beach in Los Angeles in the summer of 1965. Having received a university education, Morrison lived as a representative of the «golden youth» and practically did not leave this beach. He knew Manzarek before – they studied at the film school of the University of California, and Morrison admitted to a former classmate that he composes songs.

Manzarek became curious, after which Morrison sang «Moonlight Drive» to him (this composition will become the main one in the group’s next album). Shocked Manzarek inspired Morrison to create a group.

He already had a similar musical experience – in «Rick & the Ravens» – two of his brothers played there – Rick and Jim. The band included drummer John Densmore of The Psychedelic Rangers (Psychedelic Hawks), whom Manzarek knew from teaching meditation training, and bassist Pat Sullivan was later added to the team. With this lineup, on September 2, 1965, they made a trial recording of 6 compositions on an acetate record at the World Pacific studio. Among them were «Moonlight Drive», «My Eyes Have Seen You», «Hello, I Love You», «Go Insane» (later known as «A Little Game» from the suite «Celebration of the Lizard»), «End of the Night» and «Summer’s Almost Gone». They only recorded three hours, but Morrison was impressed with his own voice on the recording. Only five copies were published, and one of them belonging to Morrison is preserved by Manzarek. For a long time the recording went in bootlegs, and then the studio decided to include it in the CD «The Doors’ box set» in 1997.

There were many attempts to promote this record, but – unsuccessful. After some time, disappointed with the result, the Manzarek brothers – Rick and Jim – left the group, predicting her imminent death. The new line-up included guitarist Robbie Krieger from the same band as Densmore. Sullivan also left the band after Manzarek started playing the bass part on Fender Rhodes keyboards.

It was then that the group began calling themselves «The Doors», a reference to Aldous Huxley’s novel The Doors of Perception (1954). And the author himself borrowed it from the lines of the English-speaking poet and artist William Blake. The idea is that when the «doors of perception» are clear, then all objects appear before consciousness in their original form: in infinity.

Special sound and first luck

The group had its own distinctive character and turned out to be quite noticeable among rock groups: they did not have a bass guitar at concert performances. Manzarek played bass parts with his left hand on the newly created Fender Rhodes Piano Bass module for the Fender Rhodes electric piano, while playing all other parts with his right hand. The debut album was recorded without a bassist, despite the fact that later they began to invite third-party musicians. A number of hits «The Doors» was the result of a joint work. Morrison or Krieger wrote the texts and the initial melody, then adjustments were made after a general discussion, the rhythm and melody changed, and sometimes even individual fragments of the composition: in particular, Manzarek with the organ prelude to “Light My Fire” was remembered.

By 1966, the group had finally become «their own», popular and recognized in the Whiskey a Go Go nightclub in the western part of Hollywood, on Sunset Boulevard. He was famous throughout California: The Byrds, Alice Cooper, Buffalo Springfield and Love periodically gave their concerts there. Then Frank Zappa and his «Mothers of Invention» entered into an agreement – it was after one of these club gigs. This famous club glorified Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, there were Englishmen – «The Kinks», «The Who», «Cream», «Led Zeppelin», «Roxy Music» and «Oasis».

It was here that The Doors were noticed by the head of the Elektra studio, Jack Holtzman, who attended the concert on the advice of Arthur Lee from the Love group, who collaborated with the Elektra studio. Together with Elektra producer Paul A. Rothschild, he was pleasantly surprised by the level of The Doors, and on August 18, 1966, a contract was signed. It must be admitted that this turned out to be most welcome for the musicians: a couple of days later they were scandalously dismissed from the nightclub. During the last concert, while playing the long composition «The End», Morrison, under the influence of drugs, hoarsely read his own version of the familiar Greek myth about Oedipus, talking about the intricacies of the famous «Oedipus complex», and then cursed loudly and dirty in front of the audience.

Birth of The Doors (1967)

Less than a week later, the musicians recorded their first record in the studio. The recording was actually live, some compositions – literally from the initial take. The first song «Break on Through (To the Other Side)» and the final one – «The End» – were originally released in abbreviated form – for censorship reasons. In the opening composition, Morrison endlessly and monotonously said: “She gets high She gets high She gets high” (Which means: “She’s crazy …”), and in the final of the last song of the album, “fuck” was repeated in the same tedious and monotonous way. In subsequent editions, these moments were accurately reproduced, as they were intended. And before the band had to accept the requirements of censorship, although the musicians still performed «Girl we couldn’t get much higher» on the famous television show with Ed Sullivan.

«Alabama Song» is a composition created by renowned playwright Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil for their joint opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. «Back Door Man» is a cover of Howlin’ Wolfe.

To sell the album, a film clip was made with the opening song, which was released as the single «Break On Through (To the Other Side)». At this stage, a serious foundation was laid for finalizing the video, shot specifically for the music. The next single «Light My Fire» broke records of popularity: it was published in the summer of 1967 and sold out in a million copies, remaining the leader of the Billboard for three whole weeks! After this precedent, the group began to be compared with the most popular representatives of the American counterculture – «The Byrds» and «Jefferson Airplane».

“Light My Fire” was then shortened for radio broadcast: if the original length of the song was 6:50, then in this version it is 2:52.

The gloomy mood of the album, the gloomy sexuality of leader Jim Morrison, his bohemian lifestyle impressed the Californian public. This rock album is recognized as one of the main ones that stood at the origins of the active protest movement of youth and the development of counterculture. In 1998, Q magazine ranked this album at number 93 on its list of the best of all music history. And «Rolling Stone» in 2003 ranked it at 42nd position among the 500 best.


The Legacy of Jim Morrison and the Doors

Nearly twenty-five years ago, in the middle of a season in which rock & roll was seeking to define itself as the binding force of a new youth community, the Doors became the house band for an American apocalypse that wasn’t even yet upon us. Indeed, the Los Angeles-based quartet’s stunning and rousing debut LP, The Doors, flew in the face of rock’s emerging positivist ethos and in effect helped form the basis for a schism that still persists in popular music. While groups like the Beatles or the many bands emerging from the Bay Area were earnestly touting a fusion of music, drugs and idealism that they hoped would reform — and redeem — a troubled age, the Doors had fashioned an album that looked at prospects of hedonism and violence, of revolt and chaos, and embraced those prospects unflinchingly. Clearly, the Doors — in particular the group’s thin, darkly handsome lead singer, Jim Morrison — understood a truth about their age that many other pop artists did not: namely, that these were dangerous times, and dangerous not only because youth culture was under fire for breaking away from established conventions and aspirations. On some level, Morrison realized that the danger was also internal – that the “love generation” was hardly without its own dark impulses. In fact, Morrison seemed to understand that any generation so intent on giving itself permission to go as far as it could was also giving itself a license for destruction, and he seemed to gain both delight and affirmation from that understanding.

Consequently, in those moments in the Doors’ experimental, Oedipal miniopera “The End,” when Morrison sang about wanting to kill his father and fuck his mother, he managed to take a somewhat silly notion of outrage and make it sound convincing, even somehow justified. More than the songs of Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones, Morrison’s lyrics signified a recognition that an older generation had betrayed its children, and that this betrayal called for a bitter pay-back. Little wonder, then, that the Doors’ music (“The End” in particular) became such a meaningful favorite among young Americans fighting in Vietnam, in a war in which children had been sent to kill or die for an older generation’s frightened ideals. Other groups were trying to prepare their audience for a world of hope and peace; the Doors, meanwhile, were making music for a ravenous and murderous time, and at the group’s best, the effect was thoroughly scary and thoroughly exhilarating.

Now, a generation later — at a time when, at home, antidrug and anti-obscenity sentiment has reached a fever pitch and when, abroad, the Doors’ music is once again among the favored choices of young Americans fighting in a war — Jim Morrison seems more heroic to many pop fans than ever before. A film like Oliver Stone’s Doors — which is the most ambitious, epic-minded movie yet produced about rock culture and its discontents — can even make it seem that the band, in a dark way, has won its argument with cultural history. But back in the late 1960s, it seemed rather different. To many observers, it appeared that the group had pretty much shot its vision on its first album. By the Doors’ second LP, Strange Days (October 1967), the music had lost much of its edginess — the sense of rapacity, of persistent momentum, that had made the previous album seem so undeniable — and in contrast to the atmosphere of aggression and dread that Morrison’s earlier lyrics had made palpable, the new songs tended too often to melodrama (“Strange Days”) or to flat-out pretension (“Horse Latitudes”). It was as if a musical vision that only a few months earlier had seemed shockingly original and urgent had turned merely morbid, even parodic.

In addition, Morrison himself was already deeply immersed in the patterns of drug and alcohol abuse and public misbehavior that would eventually prove so ruinous to him, his band, his friends and his family. Some of this behavior, of course, was simply expected of the new breed of rock hero: In the context of the late 1960s and its generational schisms, pop stars often made a point of flaunting their drug use or of flouting mainstream or authoritarian morality. Sometimes this impudence was merely showy or naive, though on certain other occasions — such as the December 1967 incident in which Morrison was arrested after publicly castigating police officers for their backstage brutality at a New Haven concert — these gestures of defiance helped embolden the rock audience’s emerging political sensibility. More often than not, though, Morrison’s unruliness wasn’t so much a display of countercultural bravado as it was a sign of the singer’s own raging hubris and out-of-control dissipation.

In other words, something far darker than artistic or political ambition fueled Jim Morrison’s appetite for disruption, and in March 1969, at an infamous concert in Miami, this sad truth came across with disastrous results. In the film version of this incident, Oliver Stone portrays the concert as part pageant and part travesty, and while it was perhaps a bit of both, most firsthand accounts have described the show as simply a pathetic, confusing mess. The Doors had been scheduled to perform at 10:00 p.m. but had been delayed for nearly an hour due to a dispute with the show’s promoters. By the time the group arrived onstage, Morrison was already inebriated, and he continued to hold up the performance while he solicited the audience for more to drink. A quarter-hour later, after the music had started, Morrison halted songs midway and wandered about the stage, berating the audience to commit revolution and to love him. At one point, he pulled on the front of his weatherworn leather pants and threatened to produce his penis for the crowd’s perusal. (Oddly enough, though more than twenty years have passed, and more than 10,000 people, including band members and police officers onstage, witnessed Morrison’s performance, it has never been clearly determined whether Morrison actually succeeded in exposing himself that night.) Finally, toward the end of the show, Morrison hounded audience members into swarming onstage with him, and the concert ended in an easy version of the chaos that the singer had long professed to aspire to.

At the time, the event seemed more embarrassing than outrageous, but within days the Miami Herald and some politically minded city and legal officials had inflated the pitiable debacle into a serious affront to Miami and the nation’s moral welfare; in addition, Morrison himself was sized up as the foul embodiment of youth’s supreme indecency. The Doors’ nationwide concert schedule ground to an immediate halt, and in effect the band’s touring days were finished. Interestingly, amid all the hoopla that would follow — the public debate, the shameful trial for obscenity — almost nobody saw Morrison’s gesture for what it truly was: the act of a man who had lost faith in his art and his relation to the world around him. On that fateful evening in Miami, Jim Morrison no longer knew what his audience wanted from him, or what he wanted from himself for that matter, and so he offered his most obvious totem of love and pride, as if it were the true source of his worth. The Doors’ lead singer – who only two years before had been one of rock’s smartest, scariest and sexiest heroes — was now a heart-rending alcoholic and clownish jerk. He needed help; he did not merit cheap veneration, and he certainly did not deserve the horrid, moralistic brand of jail-house punishment that the state of Florida hoped to impose on him.

Of course, Morrison never received — or at least never accepted — the help that might have saved him. By 1970 the Doors were a show-business enterprise with contracts and debts, and these obligations had been severely deepened by Morrison’s Miami antics. As a result, the band would produce five albums over the next two years, including two of the group’s most satisfying studio efforts, Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman, surprisingly authoritative, blues-steeped works that showed Morrison settling into a new, lusty and dark-humored vocal style and lyrical sensibility. But if Morrison had finally grown comfortable with the idea of rock & roll for its own sake, he also realized that he no longer had much of consequence to say in that medium. In

March 1971, Morrison took a leave of absence from the Doors, and with his common-law wife, Pamela Courson, moved to Paris, ostensibly to distance himself from the physical and spiritual rigors of rock & roll and to regenerate his vocation as a modern poet. Perhaps in time he might have come to a compassionate understanding of what he and his generation had experienced in the last few years, as the idealism of the 1960s had finally given way to a deflating sense of fear and futility. (Certainly there were glimmers in Morrison’s last few interviews that he had begun to acquire some valuable insight about the reasons for and sources of his, and his culture’s, bouts of excess.) As it turned out, Morrison simply continued to drink in a desolating way, and according to some witnesses, he sometimes lapsed into depression over his inability to reinvoke his poetic muse, taking instead to writing suicide notes.

Finally, at five in the morning on July 4th, 1971, Pamela Courson found Morrison slumped in the bathtub of their Paris flat, a sweet, still grin on his face. At first, Courson thought he was playing a game with her. On this dark morning, though, Morrison was playing no game. His skin was cold to his wife’s touch. Jim Morrison had died of heart failure at age twenty-seven, smiling into the face of a slow-coming abyss that, long before, he had decided was the most beautiful and comforting certainty of his life.

INITIALLY, MORRISON’S DEATH SEEMED TO BE the end for the Doors. The year before, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin had died as well, also of causes brought on by alcohol or drugs. Now, Morrison’s death — which had been more clearly foreseeable — made plain that early fatalities were likely to be one of the more frequent costs of rock heroism, that today’s brightest prodigy might be tomorrow’s next likely flameout. Though the surviving Doors — keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger — went on to make two albums as a trio under the band’s name, they could never really rebound from Morrison’s death. If, in some ways, Morrison had turned out to be the band’s most troubling and limiting factor, he had also been the group’s central claim to an identity or purpose, and without him the Doors weren’t even a notable name.

Today, though, twenty years after Morrison’s death, the Doors enjoy a renewed popularity that shows no signs of abating — a popularity that might have proved far more elusive had Morrison survived and returned to the group. The roots for this renewal trace back to the middle and late 1970s and to the issues surrounding the advent of the punk movement. By 1976 many younger rock & roll fans and musicians began to feel that the pop world had lost touch with its sense of daring, that much of the music of the 1970s, and the work of the surviving mainstays of the 1960s, had grown too timid in content and too obsessed with privilege and distance. As punk rose, it brought with it a reevaluation of rock history, and as a result, some of the tougher-minded bands of the late 1960s — such as the Doors, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and the Stooges, all of which had explored some difficult and often unpopular themes during their short-lived careers — enjoyed a new currency that transformed them into some of American rock’s more enduring and pervasive influences.

The Doors’ revival was also helped along by Francis Coppola’s use of the band’s music in his film Apocalypse Now. Watching Coppola’s repellently beautiful immolation of the Vietnamese jungles by napalm, accompanied by Jim Morrison intoning “The End,” made it vividly plain that the best of the Doors’ music had all along been a brilliant and irrefutable soundtrack to one of the more notorious examples of modern-day hell. And finally, the Doors’ comeback owes a great debt to No One Here Gets Out Alive, Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman’s highly sensationalistic (and probably frighteningly accurate) account of Morrison’s life and death. The book’s chief theme (a theme that has also been appropriated and advanced by Oliver Stone) is that “Jim Morrison was a god,” a dark-tempered, visionary poet who was also a heroic example of the wisdom that can be found by living a life of relentless excess.

In other words, Jim Morrison has gradually been rehabilitated into one of the more indelible, widely revered heroes of the 1960s. In part, this has happened because several of the people involved in this reclamation have a stake in redeeming Morrison’s legacy and because they have found that there is still a considerable career to be made in perpetuating his and the Doors’ history. But perhaps it is more interesting to ask why Morrison’s revival has played so well and so consistently with the modern rock audience of the last decade or so. In other words, what does a contemporary rock audience find in Morrison, or need from him, that cannot be found in the musicians of its own generation? After all, we are told repeatedly that this is a more conservative era and that in particular, today’s youth is far more conservative than the youth of the 1960s. If that’s the case, why does such a large audience continue to revere an artist who appeared to be so radically hedonistic (even nihilistic) in his outlook?

The truth is, Jim Morrison is the ideal radical hero for a conservative era. Though he may have lived a life of defiance and rebellion, it was not a defiance rooted in any clear ideology or political vision, unlike, for example, the brand of rebellion that John Lennon would come to aspire to. Morrison’s defiance had deep personal sources – it derived from a childhood spent in a family with a militaristic and authoritarian disposition. Consequently, Morrison’s mode of insurrection was hardly insignificant or without merit; indeed, it was often wielded as a badge of hard-won courage, and that courage is partly what today’s audience recognizes and loves about him.

But Morrison’s defiance often took the form of outright disregard — an absence of concern for how his impulses and temper not only could offend uptight moralists but could damage the people who loved and depended on him the most. In short, Morrison committed his outrages and cultivated his hedonism in sometimes remarkably conscienceless ways, and unfortunately, this habit may also be part of what many rock fans admire or seek to emulate about him. In a time when some pop stars try to engage their audience in various humanitarian and political causes, and in a time when numerous role models and authority figures advise the young to make a virtue of restraint or abstinence, there are many fans who are unmoved by these admonitions. A few artists, such as Guns n’ Roses, are seen as living out this bravado for today’s defiant types, but none, of course, has lived it out quite as effectively as Jim Morrison, who was fond of telling his audience, “I don’t know about you, but I intend to have my kicks before the whole fucking shit house explodes.” It isn’t so much a radical message, since radicalism aims to change something beyond the domain of the self. In a sense, it’s simply a dark extension of the philosophy of self-regard that has become so identified with the Reagan-Bush era. But the costs of this bravado can be sizable, and it would be nice if the custodians of Morrison and the Doors’ history were more scrupulous about how they portray the nobility of his excesses or the fascination of his death. But then, the myth of a young poet and libertine — who sought to test the bounds of cultural freedom and personal license; and who suffered the misunderstanding not merely of established American culture, but of family, friends and rock culture as well; and who died because he just could not reach far enough or be loved deservedly enough — is probably too good, and too damn lucrative, for any biographer to resist romanticizing or exploiting.

After all, in some respects death is the perfect preserving element of Morrison’s legacy. It has the twofold advantage of having halted the singer’s decline before he might have gone on to even worse behavior or art and, to a large degree, of helping absolve him of the failures of his last few years. It’s almost as if, somewhere, somehow, a macabre deal were struck: If Morrison would simply have the good grace to die, then we would remember him as a young, fit, handsome poet; we would forgive him his acts of disregard and cruelty and drunkenness and recall him less as a stumblebum sociopath and more as a probing mystic-poet. Plus, there’s a certain vicarious satisfaction to be found in his end. If you like, you can admire the spirit of someone who lived life and pursued death to the fullest, without having to emulate that commitment yourself. Morrison has saved his less nervy (and smarter) fans the trouble of their own willful self-negation.

And so Jim Morrison died, and then, with the help of former friends, band members and biographers, pulled off the perfect comeback: one in which the singer and his band might never disappoint our renewed faith, because there would be no new music, no new art, no new statements to test their continued growth or our continuing perceptiveness. In short, it was a comeback in which Morrison would be eternally heroic, eternally loved and eternally marketable.

Of course, it’s probably a bit graceless to beat up too much on a dead man — especially one who already beat up on himself plenty during life. So, let’s allow Jim Morrison his posthumous victory: If, in some regards, he was perhaps just a bit too mean-spirited or selfish to be an easy hero of the 1960s, he has certainly proven to be in step with the temper of the last decade. Never mind that he threw away his greatest visions and potential in an endless swirl of drugs, alcohol, insecurity and unkindness, and never mind that he is dead. Never mind, because in the end, death has been this rock hero’s most redeeming and most rewarding friend.


When You Are Strange (Documentary)

Break On Through (To the Other Side) – The Doors

You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side, yeah

… We chased our pleasures here
Dug our treasures there
But can you still recall
The time we cried
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side

… Yeah
C’mon, yeah

… Everybody loves my baby
Everybody loves my baby
She get high
She get high
She get high
She get high, yeah

… I found an island in your arms
Country in your eyes
Arms that chain us
Eyes that lie
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through, ow
Oh, yeah

… Made the scene
Week to week
Day to day
Hour to hour
The gate is straight
Deep and wide
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through
Break on through
Break on through
Break on through
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Mare Nostrum

Mar MediterráneoMare nostrum

Los antiguos romanos lo llamaban Mare nostrum (nuestro mar), mientras que el nombre común actual proviene del latín mediterraneus, que significa “entre las tierras”, por lo que mar Mediterráneo significa “mar entre las tierras”. Esta masa de agua ha tenido un papel elemental en el desarrollo de las culturas orientales y occidentales, toda vez que fue navegado por griegos, fenicios, romanos, persas y turcos otomanos, solo por mencionar algunos. Es uno de los mares más destacados por su historia y su riqueza natural.


El mar Mediterráneo es un mar intercontinental, es decir, está situado entre Europa, Asia y África al norte, este y sur, respectivamente; separa y conecta dichos continentes. Baña las costas de Albania, Argelia, Grecia, Bosnia y Herzegovina, Croacia, Chipre, Egipto, Francia, Israel, Italia, Líbano, Libia, Malta, Mónaco, Marruecos, Eslovenia, Montenegro, España, Siria, Túnez, Turquía y  varias islas que pertenecen a estos países, como las Baleares, las Cícladas, Creta, Sicilia, Cerdeña, Córcega, etcétera. En total, baña más de 20 países. Al sur está conectado con el mar Rojo por el Canal de Suez.

Abarca un área, sin incluir al mar Negro, de aproximadamente 2.5 millones de km2 y tiene una longitud máxima de unos 3,860-3,900 kilómetros. Su anchura máxima es de 1,600 kilómetros entre las partes más alejadas, y divide Europa y África por tan solo 14 kilómetros. La profundidad media del mar es de 1,500 metros, si bien cerca del Cabo Matapan alcanza hasta 5,400 metros. Su área se divide en mares más pequeños, según la Organización Hidrográfica Internacional (IHO, por sus siglas en inglés): Adriático, Egeo, Jónico Tirreno, de Liguria, Balear y de Alborán. El estrecho de Gibraltar es un cuerpo de agua también contenido en el mar.

El Mediterráneo se conecta con el océano Atlántico, su fuente de renovación y reposición de agua, únicamente por el estrecho de Gibraltar, por lo que su cuenca es casi completamente cerrada. Sus aguas poseen una salinidad superior a la del Atlántico puesto que registra poco movimiento de mareas. La evaporación es muy alta, especialmente en la parte este, y esto contribuye a aumentar el nivel de salinidad que a 5 metros de profundidad es de aproximadamente 3.8 por ciento.

Este gran cuerpo de agua es un importante modificador de clima en la región ya que disipa el calor. De hecho, existe un tipo de clima con el mismo nombre.


La formación del Mediterráneo es resultado de los movimientos geológicos que han ocurrido a lo largo de millones de años. En la actualidad se localiza donde las placas Africana y Euroasiática se conectan; la fricción entre ambas provocó hace tiempo la aparición de varios volcanes y canteras de mármol. Sin embargo, es posible que se haya originado a partir de otros cuerpos de agua: el mar de Tetis,  o quizá Neotetis.

Anteriormente se creía que la cuenca del mar Mediterráneo era un remanente tectónico directo del mar de Tetis, el cual separaba Gondwana de Laurasia durante el Mesozoico y parte del Cretácico. En el Jurásico y el Cretácico tardío, las placas Africana y Eurosiática se acercaban poco a poco, lo que llevó a lo que hoy son África, Arabia e India hacia la parte superior y a cerrar el océano Tetis. La cuenca del océano Neotetis fue resultado de la convergencia entre las placas Africana y Euroasiática.

Hace unos 6 millones de años, el cuerpo de agua que hoy se llama Mediterráneo estaba formado, pero comenzó a cerrarse en su parte oeste debido al acercamiento de África hacia Europa. Esto provocó que el agua se evaporara durante la crisis de salinidad de Messina, por lo que la cuenca se secó casi completamente hasta que a finales del Mioceno volvió a llenarse con agua del Atlántico por el estrecho de Gibraltar gracias a la inundación Zancliense. Sin embargo, es posible que el ciclo de desecación e inundación se haya repetido durante los últimos 630,000 años.


El mar Mediterráneo exhibe un bello color azul profundo que es hogar de más de 10,000 especies acuáticas. Como sus aguas provienen del Atlántico, la biodiversidad está compuesta casi exclusivamente por especies propias de dicho océano. En el Mediterráneo existen al menos 19 especies de cetáceos, por ejemplo: el delfín de Risso (Grampus griseus), el delfín listado (Stenella coeruleoalba), el delfín nariz de botella (Tursiops truncatus), el zifio de Cuvier (Ziphius cavirostris), el calderón común (Globicephala melas), el cachalote (Physeter macrocephalus), la orca (Orcinus orca) y la falsa orca (Pseudorca crassidens), solo por mencionar algunos.

Otras especies marinas comunes son la foca monje del Mediterráneo (Monachus monachus), la tortuga caguama (Caretta caretta), las merluzas, el atún rojo (Thunnus thynnus), el mejillón mediterráneo (Mytilus galloprovincialis), las sardinas, el pez espada (Xiphias gladius), la tortuga laúd (Dermochelys coriacea) y la lubina (Dicentrarchus labrax).

En este mar se reconoce un amplio rango de ecosistemas y, debido a que es más cálido y más salado que el Atlántico, mantiene varias especies que no se encuentran en otros mares u océanos, como la foca monje del Mediterráneo que es la única especie de pinnípedo en tal zona. Bajo el nivel del mar se encuentran praderas marinas, arrecifes de coral, montañas y fosas. En la cuenca, sobre el nivel del mar, habitan coníferas de las familias Ceratonia, Cupressaceae y Brassicaceae, así como olivos y demás plantas capaces de sobrevivir en el ambiente rocoso.

En total, la biodiversidad del mar Mediterráneo representa un 9.8 por ciento de la biodiversidad marina del mundo. Curiosamente, el mar representa solo un 0.7 por ciento de la superficie marina de la Tierra.


La pesca ha sido una actividad económica históricamente importante para los habitantes de la cuenca mediterránea; el lado negativo es que la sobrepesca es un problema en muchas partes del mar. Según la Agencia Europea de Medio Ambiente (European Environment Agency), más del 65 por ciento de las poblaciones de especies de la región mediterránea están fuera de los límites biológicos de seguridad. Muchas pesquerías locales están desapareciendo debido a la escasez de presas. Aunado a lo anterior, la captura incidental cobra la vida de millones de especies marinas.

Posiblemente, el principal problema del Mediterráneo es la degradación de sus hábitats, ocasionada por las múltiples actividades humanas en las poblaciones cercanas y las compañías que dependen de sus aguas y lo que hay en ellas. Existe una fuerte contaminación en muchas áreas, causada en parte por la escorrentía y el vertido de sustancias químicas de las industrias.


El mar Mediterráneo: cuna de la civilización

La cuenca del Mediterráneo ha sido la cuna de la civilización mundial desde la aparición de los primeros asentamientos en Jericó en el año 9000 a. C. Conocido en inglés y en las lenguas romances como el mar situado «entre tierras», el Mediterráneo ha recibido y recibe numerosos nombres: mar Nuestro, para los romanos, mar Blanco (Akdeniz) para los turcos, Gran Mar (Yam Gadol) para los judíos, mar Medio (Mittelmeer) para los germanos y, de forma más imprecisa, Gran Verde para los antiguos egipcios.1 El mar Nuestro desempeñó un papel fundamental en la comunicación entre los pueblos circundantes y evitó conflictos entre aquellos pueblos de diferentes zonas de la cuenca que tenían, asimismo, intereses diferentes. No existe en el mundo otra cuenca similar. El mapa mundial ilustra el carácter único de la ubicación del mar Mediterráneo en el planeta: es suficientemente grande como para albergarnos a todos pero, al mismo tiempo, debido a su peculiar forma, con sus islas, bahías y estrechos, facilita la comunicación entre la población circundante. En apariencia, se trata de un mar cerrado, pero permite habilitar una serie de rutas principales de transporte entre las zonas oriental y occidental.

 El mar Mediterráneo es símbolo de creatividad, de búsqueda del sentido de la vida y de la sabiduría, así como de amor por el ser humano y la naturaleza. Este mar siempre ha sido un entorno capaz de engendrar a destacables personalidades que han realizado notables aportaciones al desarrollo histórico de la filosofía, el arte, la música, la literatura, la ciencia y la tecnología. La cuenca fue testigo de la expansión de gloriosas civilizaciones, de este a oeste, de norte a sur, desde Mesopotamia hasta Egipto, desde la península de Anatolia y Troya hasta Macedonia, desde las ciudades-estado griegas hasta la civilización fenicia, desde Cartago hasta Roma, desde Bagdad hasta Al-Ándalus, desde Bizancio hasta el Imperio Otomano y desde Alejandría hasta Bolonia, las cuales construyeron unos sólidos cimientos para las civilizaciones mundiales. No podemos imaginar la historia del mundo sin tener en cuenta a las civilizaciones egipcia, helénica, romana y otomana.


 Fundada en el año 300 a. C., la Antigua Biblioteca de Alejandría en Egipto fue una de las mayores y más importantes bibliotecas del Mundo Antiguo. Los primeros avances en el ámbito del desarrollo intelectual surgieron en el Mediterráneo oriental y se centraron principalmente en el campo de la filosofía. La población circundante del mar Mediterráneo había tenido innumerables oportunidades para conocer otras culturas y aprender sobre el mundo y su realidad, comenzando por el Período Helénico, lo que dio lugar al surgimiento de filósofos y científicos que realizaron grandes aportaciones al desarrollo intelectual. Entre ellos podemos citar a Tales de Mileto, Anaximandro, Anaxímenes, Pitágoras, Xenófanes, así como a Diógenes de Apolonia, Hipócrates, Sócrates, Platón y Aristóteles (siglos VI, V y IV a. C.).

 La Edad Media fue la Edad de Oro para la población musulmana en la región y, entre los años 622 y 750 d. C., la expansión del Estado islámico, que tuvo su origen en la península arábiga, se extendió a Oriente Medio, parte de Asia Menor, Persia, el Norte de África y la península ibérica. Durante siglos, Al-Ándalus, en la península ibérica, y Marruecos constituyeron centros culturales alternativos a Bagdad. Desde el siglo VIII al siglo XV, muchos filósofos influyeron notablemente en el desarrollo de la filosofía islámica en la región, entre ellos, Jabir ibn Hayyan, Al Farabi, Al Biruni, Ibn Sina, Al Qushayri, Al Ghazali, Al Baghdaadi, Ibn Rushd, Jalal ad-Din Rumi e Ibn Khaldun.

 Desde la Antigüedad hasta los períodos de la Edad Media y el Renacimiento, la cuenca del Mediterráneo desempeñó un papel fundamental en la filosofía, el arte y la ciencia. Sin embargo, a partir del siglo XVIII, cuando se desarrolló la posibilidad de realizar viajes marítimos a gran distancia y se crearon nuevas rutas comerciales, la región del Mediterráneo comenzó a perder importancia en favor de otras zonas de Europa y América del Norte. De este modo, se produjo un desplazamiento en el desarrollo de la filosofía, la ciencia, la tecnología y el arte modernos, tanto de sur a norte como de este a oeste.


 La lista de las universidades más antiguas del mundo varía en función de lo que entendamos por universidad. Si consideramos la universidad como una institución que concede títulos, todas las universidades más antiguas del mundo quedarán ubicadas en Europa, donde la expedición de certificados era una práctica extendida en la década de 1100. Las siguientes afirmaciones son reflejo de una visión reducida y eurocéntrica de la universidad: “la universidad es una institución europea” o “ninguna otra institución ha logrado extenderse por todo el mundo de la manera en que lo ha hecho la universidad europea tradicional”.2 En realidad, fue en los países de la región del Mediterráneo donde se fundaron las universidades más antiguas del mundo. En general, la lista de las universidades más antiguas no tiene en cuenta las civilizaciones antiguas de Grecia, Roma, China, la India o el mundo árabe, pero las instituciones educativas que estas crearon se ajustaban a la definición tradicional de universidad y, por tanto, deberían incluirse en dicha lista.

 Si elaboramos una lista de universidades basándonos en la definición reducida de las mismas como instituciones que conceden títulos, vemos que la universidad más antigua del mundo es la Universidad de Bolonia, fundada en 1088. De las 44 universidades más antiguas, 25 se fundaron en la cuenca del Mediterráneo, siendo la península itálica la región que abarca el mayor número de ellas, con 13 universidades.3 Ocho de las diez universidades más antiguas del mundo que han desempeñado su labor ininterrumpidamente hasta la actualidad se encuentran en el área mediterránea, lo que es un indicador del gran desarrollo intelectual que existía y aún existe en la región. Aunque las instituciones otomanas no estén incluidas en la lista, la Universidad de Estambul debería figurar en ella, puesto que fue creada en 1453 por el Sultán Mehmed el Conquistador. Otra institución importante, que constituye la primera institución de educación superior del Imperio Otomano, al margen de la educación religiosa, es la Universidad Técnica de Estambul, fundada en 1773.

 Si partimos de una definición más amplia de la universidad como “una institución de educación superior autónoma e independiente” y echamos un vistazo a las diez universidades más antiguas e importantes del mundo,4 obtendremos una lista diferente. Por definición, la universidad se desarrolló en un primer momento como una institución religiosa (madrasah) surgida en el mundo medieval islámico. La primera fue la Universidad de Al-Karaouine, creada en el año 859. El resto de universidades islámicas de la cuenca fueron la Universidad de Al-Azhar, fundada en Egipto en el año 972 y la de Nizamiyya, establecida en Irán en 1065. Otras universidades de la lista son las de Bolonia, París, Oxford, Montpellier, Cambridge, Salamanca y Padua, todas ellas muy influidas por la cuenca del Mediterráneo.

 A partir de 1500, se fundaron numerosas universidades por todo el mundo y surgieron numerosos tipos diferentes de instituciones de educación superior. La educación superior aún se encuentra en una fase de transición, debido a la presión de la globalización, pero resulta evidente que el papel de la universidad como institución sigue ganando importancia y que las expectativas de la sociedad con respecto a la universidad están experimentando una rápida transformación en el cambiante contexto actual. Puede que existan diferentes maneras de definir la universidad, pero lo que es seguro es que la universidad es un producto de la región del Mediterráneo.

 No disponemos de datos fiables relativos al número de universidades que existen en la cuenca del Mediterráneo o al número de universidades mediterráneas capaz de competir a nivel mundial, pero el rico legado histórico de esta región ha creado un excepcional entorno intelectual que ha propiciado, durante siglos, el surgimiento de múltiples filósofos, artistas, músicos y científicos de fama mundial.


 La población, los países, las culturas y las instituciones circundantes del mar Mediterráneo comparten una serie de valores y características comunes que han permitido desarrollar con éxito numerosos proyectos y, seguramente, continuarán haciéndolo. Las universidades mediterráneas, cuya principal ventaja radica en su amplia cultura intelectual y en la cohesión social existente entre su personal y sus estudiantes, pueden desempeñar un papel fundamental en las relaciones entre Oriente y Occidente, así como entre Norte y Sur. Una de las ventajas evidentes es la movilidad de estudiantes y docentes. Las estadísticas del Plan de Acción de la Comunidad Europea para la Movilidad de Estudiantes Universitarios (ERASMUS) muestran que, entre 1987 y 2011, más del 46% de la movilidad de estudiantes y docentes correspondía a países mediterráneos (ANEXO 01SM: Estudiantes salientes del programa Erasmus desde el curso 1987/1988 al 2010/2011). La movilidad ayudará a las universidades mediterráneas a ampliar sus horizontes y convertirse en instituciones de carácter mundial.

 Las redes universitarias constituyen otro factor importante y, para poder comprender el papel que estas pueden desempeñar en dicho proceso, resultará útil repasar brevemente las redes existentes en la región. La Comunidad de Universidades del Mediterráneo (CUM), es una de las redes universitarias más antiguas de la región del Mediterráneo. Su creación data de 1983, cuando tenía su sede en la Universidad de Bari. Dicha red está compuesta por más de 160 universidades de 12 Estados europeos y 9 Estados árabes. La CUM también ha establecido sólidos vínculos con organizaciones de carácter supranacional, como la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura (UNESCO), la Unión Europea y el Consejo Europeo. El primer acuerdo de cooperación, firmado con la UNESCO el 7 de octubre de 1992, fue sucedido por otro firmado el 2 de agosto de 1997, que reconocía oficialmente a la CUM como organización no gubernamental. En su página web, podemos encontrar un mensaje muy ilustrativo: “múltiples voces, una sola cuenca”. En una misma región encontramos múltiples voces: la CUM queda lejos de ser la única red de universidades mediterráneas existente —de hecho, hay otras muchas—. Entre ellas están la Red Mediterránea de Escuelas de Ingeniería (RMEI), la Universidad Euromediterránea de Eslovenia, red creada por un grupo de universidades mediterráneas, la red de universidades mediterráneas Unión de Universidades del Mediterráneo, que es una de las Redes Universitarias del Banco Europeo de Inversiones, con sede en Roma y compuesta por 84 universidades miembros, y el Foro Euromediterráneo, integrado por unos 100 miembros.

 Dichas redes tienen misiones similares, pero hasta hace poco no existía una comunicación eficiente entre ellas. Hace unos diez años, la CUM y la RMEI decidieron hacer coincidir las fechas y universidades de celebración de sus reuniones. Se organizaron varias reuniones conjuntas en Rabat, Atenas y Esmirna. Asimismo, decidieron empezar a enviar recíprocamente representantes de una a las reuniones de la otra. Otro avance fue el incremento de la cooperación entre la Red de Universidades del Mar Negro, la CUM y la RMEI. Algunas universidades miembros de estas redes han desempeñado un papel importante a la hora de establecer relaciones entre estas tres organizaciones durante la última década. Lo más significativo es que, aunque es bueno contar con múltiples voces, estas redes (cada una de las cuales tiene entre 100 y 200 miembros) funciona de manera independiente. Ha llegado el momento de reflexionar sobre cómo lograr una colaboración entre todas estas redes y crear una organización coordinada más eficaz y eficiente, capaz de representar a las universidades mediterráneas en cualquier foro. Si las redes de universidades mediterráneas son capaces de organizarse por sí mismas para trabajar de manera conjunta, el impacto de dichas redes será mucho mayor, no solamente en la cuenca del Mediterráneo, sino también en el contexto europeo y mundial.

 A pesar de que históricamente han existido conflictos entre diversos grupos de la región, también han existido siempre aspiraciones y actitudes creativas e intelectuales comunes y, durante siglos, dichos grupos han trabajado juntos y aprendido mutuamente en ámbitos como el comercio, así como las artes y las ciencias. Los cambios globales experimentados en los últimos años, como el aumento de la movilidad y la comunicación internacional, pueden generar oportunidades y la necesidad de establecer una interacción y cooperación interculturales aún mayores entre las redes de universidades y dentro de ellas, con el fin de aumentar el intercambio de experiencias y recursos en la cuenca del Mediterráneo.


10 curiosidades sobre el mar Mediterráneo

El Mar Mediterráneo es una de las principales zonas de turismo del mundo, cada año millones de turistas disfrutan de su clima y visitan sus costas, conocidas pro sus magníficas playas y temperaturas agradables.

Este mar se considera uno de los principales mares del mundo, tanto por su dimensión, como por el papel clave que tuvo en el desarrollo de nombrosas civilizaciones, tanto occidentales como orientales, que pasaron a lo largo de la historia de la humanidad por esta masa de agua, tales como los egipcios, los fenicios, los griegos, los romanos o los persas, entre muchos otros.

En esta entrada profundizamos en este mar y os mostramos 10 curiosidades, con el objetivo de poder aproximaros más a el.

1. Un mar en situación exterma

El mar Mediterráneo está separado del Atlántico por el estrecho de Gibraltar, unos 14 km separan África de la Península Ibérica Pero hace más de 6 millones de años la cuenca del Mediterráneo no se encontraba de esta forma.

El Mar Mediterráneo se puede considerar descendiente del Mar Tetis, el primer mar que apareció hace unos 250 millones de años, antes de la aparicion del Océano Índico.

El periodo más difícil para el Mediterráneo fue hace 6 millones de años, las tierras, que más tarde formaron el estrecho de Gibraltar, se cerraron por el choque de las placas tectónicas, la placa Africana y la placa Euroasiática, y aislaron el Mar Mediterráneo. Este mar se fue evaporando para formar una profunda y seca cuenca, no había suficiente con la llegada de agua de los ríos Mediterráneos, y así fue como la cuenca del Mediterráneo se secó y quedó con una serie de cuencas pequeñas e hipersalinas. Este período se conoce hoy en día como la crisis del Mesiniáno, el cual llegó a su fin hace 5,33 millones de años con la apertura definitiva del estrecho de Gibraltar.

El estrecho se volvió a hundir y el Mar Mediterráneo renació con una cascada masiva del Océano Atlántico, que erosionó todavía más el estrecho de Gibraltar, haciéndolo más profundo y provocando una de las inundaciones más masivas de la historia geológica del planeta. Se cree que el Mediterráneo se volvió a llenar del todo en tan solo dos años.

2. Un mar con muchos nombres

Como este mar ha tenido un papel clave en el desarrollo e historia de diversas civilizaciones, tiene una gran diversidad de nombres. Los antiguos romanos lo denominaban «Mare nostrum», que quiere decir «mar nuestro» en latin.

Para algunos egipcios era «el Gran Verde»; en árabe se le llama «mar intermedio» («al-Baḥr al-Mutawāsiṭ”), y los turcos lo llaman «mar blanco» (“Ak Deniz”). En griego se le llama «Mesogeios Thalassa», que quiere decir «mar entre as tierras»

Finalmente, el nombre de Mar Mediterráneo proviene también del latín «Mar Medi Terraneum» y significa, igual que en griego, «mar en medio de las tierras».

3. Baña 21 países

El Mar Mediterráneo es un mar intercontinental, es decir, está situado entre Europa Asia y África. Sus aguas bañan las costas de 21 países, 69 ríos desenvocan en este mar y cuenta con diversos puertos importantes de gran actividad.

Este gran cuerpo de agua es un importante modificador del clima, ya que retiene el calor. De hecho, existe un tipo de clima que tiene su nombre: el Clima Mediterráneo. Este clima lo podemos encontrar, además de en toda la cuenca mediterránea, entre los 30º y 45º de latitud del Ecuador, partes del extremo de sur África, del oeste de Australia, de Chile, de California y Oregón.

4. Un mar salado

La cuenca del Mediterráneo se considera una cuenca semi cerrada porque su única conexión con el océano es el Estrecho de Gibraltar, que separa Europa de África, donde el punto mas estrecho es de 14,4 quilómetros. Este estrecho también era la única fuente de renovación y reposición de agua de manera natural, junto con las lluvias y los ríos.

El Mar Mediterráneo es un mar con fuerte salinidad, la cual a 5 metros de profundidad es de un 3,8%. Esta alta salinidad es debida a que pierde tres veces más agua por evaporación en comparación con el agua dulce que recibe de los 69 ríos que desembocan en él.

Actualmente hay otra conexión con un mar vecino, el Mar Rojo, mediante el canal de Suez construido por el hombre, y que tiene una enorme importancia para el abastecimiento europeo de petróleo y para el comercio mundial en general, ya que permite la comunicación marítima entre Europa y Asia sin tener que rodear continuamente África. Por otro lado este canal ha jugado un papel muy importante con las especies invasoras, ya que la mayoría de especies introducidas en el Mediterráneo provienen del Mar Rojo.

5. Representa un 1% de la superficie de los océanos

El Mar Mediterráneo es uno de los mas grandes del mundo, con unos 2.500.000Km2 aprox, una longitud máxima de 3.900 Km, un total de 46.000 Km de litoral y una anchura máxima de 1.600 Km en las partes más alejadas. Con todo esto, supone solo un 1% de la superficie oceánica total del planeta.

6. Profundidad máxima de más 5.000 metros

Tiene una profundidad media de 1,5 Km, concretamente 1.430 m, pero la costa mas profunda se encuentra en la Fosa de Matapan, en el mar Jónico y cerca de Grecia, con unos 5.121 m de profundidad. Las grandes planicies oceánicas se encuentran entre los 2.500 y los 3.000 m.

7. Mar formado por otros mares

El Mar Mediterráneo es tan grande que lo podemos dividir en otros mares más pequeños.

En total son 13 mares menores que forman el Mar Mediterráneo: El mar de Alborán, entre España y Marruecos, el mar Menor al sur-este de España, la lagúna de Nador al norte de Marruecos, la mar Balear entre la costa de la península ibérica y Cerdeña, el mar de Ligúria entre Córsega y Ligúria, El mar Tirreno, el mar Adriático, el mar Jónico, el mar Egeo entre Grecia y Turquía, el mar de Creta entre la isla de Creta y las islas Cíclades, el mar de Líbia entre los golfos de Sidra y Gabés, el mar de Silícia entre Turquía y Chipre y el mar Levantino.

8. Un mar muy fértil

Aún ocupando menos del 1% de la superficie oceánica del planeta, el Mar Mediterráneo es uno de los mares con más biodiversidad marina del planeta, posicionándose el cuarto de la lista, debajo de las aguas Australianas, las japonesas y las chinas, con más de 17.000 especies marinas descritas y un amplio rango de ecosistemas.

Posee zonas de elevada concentración de especies con imprtáncia ecológica, como por ejemplo el Estrecho de Gibraltar o el Mar de Alborán.

Se cree que mas de 2.000 millones de aves de 150 especies diferentes realizan cada año sus migraciones a lo largo de este mar.

Como sus aguas provienen también del Atlántico, la biodiversidad está compuesta por muchas de las especies de este océano. Hay catalogadas unas 10.000 especies animales, de las cuales 12 son cetáceos – delfines, ballenas – entre las cuales se incluyen los delfines Mulares (Tursiops truncatus), los Cachalotes (Physeter macrocephalus) y los Rorcuales (Balaenoptera physalus).

Pero también encontramos especies endémicas, es decir, que solo se encuentran en el Mar Mediterráneo, por el hecho de que es más cálido y salado que el Atlántico; como la Posidónia (Posidonia oceanica), una planta que forma los hábitats principales de muchos peces y anémonas, o el viejo marino, una foca que solo vive aquí (Monachus monachus) y es el único pinnípedo de la zona.

9. Nº1 de especies invasoras

Aún con su gran diversidad, aproximadamente un 4% de las especies que habitan este mar son especies invasoras; se han listado un total de 637 especies invasoras, de las cuales más de 200 son moluscos y 106 crustáceos.

Estas más de 600 especies conforman una gran diferencia con la segunda masa de agua con más invasoras de la lista, la zona europea del océano Atlántico, que cuenta con unas 245 especies invasoras. Los científicos creen que la gran mayoría de estas especies provienen del Mar Rojo, las cuales entraron en el Mediterráneo a través del Canal de Suez.

10. Un mar en amenaza

La pesca ha sido y es una actividad económica e históricamente importante para los habitantes de la cuenca del Mediterráneo, pero las nuevas tecnologías y la demanda de alimento han comportado que la sobrepesca sea un problema en muchas partes del mar.

Según la Agencia Europea del Medio Ambiente (European Enviroment Agency), más del 65% de las poblaciones de especies de la región están fuera de los límites biológicos de seguridad; muchas pesqueras locales desaparecen a causa de la escasez de presas. El Mediterráneo es, según el informe  SOFIA 2018 de la FAO, el mar más sobre explotado del mundo juntamente con el mar Negro, y el 62,2% de su estoc de pesca se encuentra en una situación de insostenibilidad.

El cambio climático está aumentando las temperaturas superficiales de las aguas, a un ritmo muy acelerado en concreto en el Mediterráneo, a la vez que aumenta su evaporación y a consecuencia su salinidad, con lo que afecta a todos los organismos que habitan este mar.

Por otro lado, las especies invasoras mencionadas anteriormente también son una amenaza, ya que compiten directamente con las especies autóctonas y provocan cambios y desequilibrios en la red trófica. El cambio climático también favorece la llegada de especies invasoras, naturales de aguas históricamente más calientes que las del Mediterráneo.

También existe una fuerte contaminación en muchas áreas costeras, causada en parte por la escorrentía y el vertido de substancias químicas industriales, el Mediterráneo es considerado el más contaminado por tener las tasas más elevadas de hidrocarburos y contaminantes del mundo.

Para acabar, la gran demanda de turismo también provoca problemas con la masiva edificación de las costas o la gran contaminación que provocan los cruceros entre otros.

Aun así, el principal problema del Mediterráneo es la degradación de sus hábitats, ocasionada por las múltiples actividades humanas en las poblaciones cercanas; la desaparición de las praderías de Posidonia oceánica, declarada patrimonio de la humanidad por la UNESCO, causa graves problemas a los ecosistemas naturales, ya que muchas especies se quedan sin hábitat donde resguardarse de las corrientes, donde reproducirse, o alimentarse y la mayoría no encuentran como adaptarse a estos cambios.


Salva el Mediterráneo

Nuestro mar está sobreexplotado, contaminado por vertidos y sofocado por un tráfico marítimo y turismo excesivos. ¡Protección para el Mediterráneo Ya!

El Mediterráneo, el Mare Nostrum, no sólo es la cuna de antiguas civilizaciones y uno de los lugares más concurridos del planeta, sino también una de las áreas más importantes para la biodiversidad marina en nuestro planeta. 

Aunque representa menos del 1% de la superficie de los océanos del planeta, este mar alberga 1 de cada 10 especies marinas, de las que el 28% son únicas. Entre otras destacan las poblaciones residentes de 8 especies de cetáceos, además de poblaciones de tortuga boba y verde, foca monje y más de 70 especies de tiburones y rayas. 


Pero también se trata de uno de los mares más amenazados y que sufren las mayores presiones por parte del ser humano. Los 200 millones de turistas anuales que visitan la costa mediterránea generan grandes presiones urbanísticas en la costa, contribuyen al incremento de la contaminación y de los vertidos de plásticos al mar e impiden que las tortugas marinas puedan hacer sus nidos en sus áreas habituales.

El Mediterráneo es el mar más contaminado del mundo y está considerado la sexta zona de mayor acumulación de residuos marinos, concentrando el 7% de los microplásticos del planeta. Esto es un grave problema para todo el ecosistema y para especies tan emblemáticas como tortugas o cetáceos que pueden al ingerir grandes trozos de plásticos.


Además, son vícitmas de  las llamadas redes fantasma, restos de redes y aparejos de pesca abandonados en las que se enredan distintas especies, lo que provocan la muerte. Globalmente el 45% de los mamíferos marinos, el 21% de las aves marinas y todas las especies de tortugas marinas se han visto afectadas por estos desechos marinos. La intensa actividad pesquera también produce un grave impacto en muchas especies: el 75% de las pesquerías evaluadas están sobreexplotadas. 


El Mediterráneo concentra el 25% del tráfico marítimo mundial, lo que supone graves daños para los mamíferos marinos (ruido, colisiones, molestias etc.) Un nivel de tráfico que se ha duplicado desde 2002. Este aumento ha disparado el número de pasajeros de cruceros en Mediterráneo de 8,7 a 30 millones en tan solo una década.  El turismo de lujo también está sofocando nuestros mares: más de la mitad de los superyates del mundo surcan las aguas del Mediterráneo cada verano con un incremento de las necesidades de infraestructuras en la costa.

Los resultados de todas estas presiones son realmente dramáticos. Desde ballenas que son golpeadas por barcos, tortugas que ingieren plástico y compiten con los turistas en sus playas de anidación, hasta tiburones amenazados por la sobrepesca. Como consecuencia las poblaciones de mamíferos marinos se han reducido en un 41% en los últimos 50 años. Más de la mitad de las especies de tiburones y rayas que se encuentran en el Mediterráneo están clasificadas como en peligro de extinción. Solo quedan unas 400 focas monje en el Mediterráneo.  


El mar Mediterráneo está sufriendo de manera muy directa el impacto del cambio climático y se calienta un 20% más rápido que la media mundial. Desde zonas más cálidas ya han aparecido al menos 1.000 especies invasoras que desplazan a las autóctonas y destruyen hábitats importantes.


Solo el 1.27% del Mediterráneo está protegido de una forma efectiva,  mientras que los acuerdos internacionales establecen un mínimo de un 10% y los principales científicos del mundo recomiendan que, al menos, el 30% del mar debería estar protegido a través de espacios marinos protegidos y otras medidas de conservación y gestión de los ecosistemas más vulnerables. 


Con nuestro trabajo demostramos que la protección de los mares es una solución posible y necesaria. Además de luchar contra la contaminación por plásticos y promover la pesca sostenible, desde WWF estamos impulsando la creación de una red de áreas protegidas donde las especies pueden encontrar refugio y recuperar sus poblaciones, donde actividades como la pesca sean sostenibles y donde el tráfico marino no cause daños a la fauna marina. Las Reservas Marinas de Tagomago, de las Islas Medas, de Tabarca, de Columbretes, el Parque Nacional de Cabrera, entre otros muchos casos demuestran que es posible.

El Mediterráneo nos está llamando y pidiendo ayuda urgente. Lo estamos asfixiando cada vez más. Tenemos que actuar ya.


La historia tras ‘Mediterráneo‘, la gran canción de Joan Manuel Serrat

Joan Manuel Serrat ha anunciado recientemente que se retira de los escenarios después de más de 50 años. Lo hará a lo grande, con El vicio de cantar 1965-2022, una última gira que le permita despedirse como él quiere y no de la forma precipitada en que la pandemia ha obligado a cancelar miles de conciertos y giras por todo el mundo.

Esta última gira tendrá comienzo en abril de 2022 en el Beacon Theatre de Nueva York, para después recalar en Sudamérica y finalmente regresar a España para la época estival, donde ofrecerá el primer concierto el 8 de junio en Murcia y el último el 23 de diciembre en el Palau Sant Jordi de Barcelona.

Pero aunque el próximo año sea la última oportunidad de poder disfrutar del cantautor catalán sobre los escenarios, su legado musical se reparte en 20 discos en castellano, 11 en catalán, ocho en directo y más de una veintena de álbumes recopilatorios; además de otros trabajos discográficos al que se le ha rendido homenaje a su figura.

‘Mediterráneo’, la canción insignia de Serrat

Son muchas las canciones de Serrat que han calado en la historia de la música popular en España y otros países de habla hispana, pero sin duda Mediterráneo es la gran canción de ‘el nen de Poble Sec’ (el niño de Poble Sec).

Este tema, incluido en el álbum con el mismo nombre publicado en 1971, fue elegida por votación popular como la mejor canción de la historia de la música popular en España en 2004 en el programa de televisión Nuestra mejor canción. Además, también fue elegida la mejor canción del pop español por la revista Rolling Stone en 2010 y en 2019 fue elegida como la mejor canción jamás cantada por votación popular en el programa de TVE con el mismo nombre.

Leyendas urbanas acerca de la historia de ‘Mediterráneo’

Existen varias leyendas urbanas que se han popularizado sobre la historia que hay detrás de esta canción. Una de ellas, cuenta que Serrat escribió Mediterráneo a finales de 1970, cuando se encerró en el Monasterio de Montserrat junto a otros intelectuales y artistas en señal de protesta contra del Proceso de Burgos.

Otras historias cuentan que Serrat había pensado llamar a esta canción Amo el mar o Hijo del Mediterráneo.

La historia real de ‘Mediterráneo’

El propio Serrat explicó durante una entrevista con El País dónde compuso Mediterráneo y qué le inspiró para hacerlo: el exilio y la añoranza a su tierra.

“Estaba en México, llevaba semanas en el interior. Soñaba, literalmente con él. Agarré el coche y me fui a un lago, aunque sólo fuera por hacerme a la idea del mar que yo añoraba. Es en esos casos cuando me doy cuenta de que para mí, el mar, y concretamente el Mediterráneo es una identidad: una identidad feliz«.

En muchas ocasiones los artistas terminan aborreciendo la canción que más fama les ha dado, algo que nunca va a pasar en el caso de Joan Manuel: «Jamás, jamás, renegaré de esta o de cualquier otra de mis canciones. Me sentiré eternamente agradecido, son ellas quienes me han hecho lo que soy. Así que siempre la cantaré por obligación, pero lo que es más importante, por gusto«.

«Quizá porque mi niñez sigue jugando en tu playa»

La primera frase de la canción nos sitúa donde empieza toda la historia de Mediterráneo: «Quizá porque mi niñez sigue jugando en tu playa».

De su niñez, Serrat explicó que tiene dos paisajes fundamentales; el mar y el campo. El campo del tiempo que pasó en Viana, Navarra, en casa de una amiga de su madre; y el mar de su ciudad. «El mar es la Barceloneta de mi niñez, con todo lo que representaba el recorrido desde la casa hasta la playa. Primero, trincar algo de comer en casa, bocadillo, toalla y bañador, la indumentaria que nosotros necesitábamos; colarte en el tranvía, colarte en los baños que entonces no eran públicos, para llegar a las instalaciones con piscinas y duchas», reveló en otra entrevista para El País.


Medio siglo de ‘Mediterráneo’, el álbum emblemático de Serrat

Joan Manuel Serrat, soñador de pelo largo, tal como se autorretrataba en su canción Señora, entra en un estudio de Milán para grabar un disco que va a llamarse Mediterráneo. El cantautor no ha entrado aún en la treintena. Lleva más de un lustro de éxitos resonantes, de giras, grabaciones con Edigsa y Zafiro y affaires como el eurovisivo. Ya reza como cantautor bilingüe, capaz de firmar discos magistrales en dos lenguas distintas, tal como sucede en los albores de 1970 con Serrat 4 y con el que se conoce como Disco Blanco, donde se cruzan prodigios como Mi niñez o Fiesta.

Cuando Serrat entra en el estudio milanés para grabar Mediterráneo no parece haber conciencia de perennidad, porque el estudio no permitía grandes alardes que pudieran plantear futuras ediciones especiales del disco con tomas alternativas. Había que grabar lo más rápido posible y dejar el estudio libre para el siguiente grupo o solista que lo requiriera.

Serrat trae diez canciones nuevas, terminadas de alumbrar en la Costa Brava, en su retiro de Calella de Palafrugell, entre las idas y venidas del mar Mediterráneo. Toda la filosofía serratiana va a estar concentrada en ese disco en el que va a ser su particular Blonde on blonde y como tal un disco infinito, inagotable, tan melancólico como hedonista, que cruza a Josep Pla con León Felipe. Mediterráneo terminará siendo el santo y seña, el libro de estilo de más de una generación, esa obra perfecta de la cultura española que hay que escuchar como se contemplan Las meninas de Velázquez o se disfruta El amor brujo de Falla. Absténganse negacionistas o revisionistas que dirán que Mediterráneo no es para tanto o que es disco sobrevalorado, esa etiqueta que cualquier pseudomoderno puede ponerle a Casablanca o a Cien años de soledad según con qué pie se levante por la mañana.

Serrat graba en Milán aquello de “Quizá porque mi niñez sigue jugando en tu playa…”. Y en esa evocación destellante del verso inaugural de la canción Mediterráneo, en el imponente arreglo calderoniano –de Juan Carlos Calderón– parece bullir el espíritu de toda una época. El mar como principio y final, impreso en el destino del marinero cantor que parece un poeta viejo y sabio en el modo de mascar las palabras y los acentos. Hasta en el modo de glosar el amor perdido en Lucía, un amor real, tan fugaz como eterno. “No hay nada más bello / que lo que nunca he tenido / nada más amado / que lo que perdí”. El libro amoroso de Serrat, carnal y verdadero, en una de sus páginas más gloriosas.

Mediterráneo podría razonarse como rutilante disco pop y no, desde luego, como disco de cantautor al uso, guitarra y voz y pare usted de contar. Gian Piero Reverberi, Antoni Ros Marbá y el citado Juan Carlos Calderón con su impronta jazzística forman el terceto de arreglistas de un disco que vibra y brilla en la instrumentación y está lleno de estampas poéticas que se fijan en la memoria del oyente. Canciones descomunales, bellamente nostálgicas como Aquellas pequeñas cosas, canción prodigiosamente minimalista, o Barquito de papel. Otras canciones funcionan a modo de manifiestos libérrimos como la pletórica Vagabundear. Serrat aúna épica y lírica, barroquismo y desnudez. Vencidos incorpora magistralmente a León Felipe en su nómina de poetas cantados. Pueblo blanco es una canción enorme, narración deslumbrante, fantasmagórica, llena de simbología. Mediterráneo es un disco de contrastes, pero a su vez muy conceptual, que puede pasar de la sensualidad de La mujer que yo quiero a Qué va a ser de ti, una canción ubicada entre la Anduriña de Juan y Junior y el She’s leaving home de los Beatles, y a la que David Broza convertiría en himno hebreo.

El Serrat de los setenta se despliega en Mediterráneo en toda su plenitud. Lo influye ya Latinoamérica, el impacto de todo un continente. Nos deja hasta un homenaje en tiempo de vals a su amigo Alberto Puig Palau, un hombre de muchas vidas en una sola, parte de ese fresco palpitante, sugeridor, que es Mediterráneo, donde la genista, la brea, la luna que araña el mar, el extraño arenal, el vuelo de palomas, el cometa de caña y de papel se quedan grabados dentro de nosotros, perseguidores eternos de esta obra maestra.

Un disco del que no supo verse su grandeza en su tiempo, por mucho que le acompañara el impacto popular desde su aparición a finales de 1971. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, en su ensayo sobre el cantautor, afirmaba que ni temática ni poéticamente añadía algo nuevo al anterior Serrat. Olvidaba que musicalmente sí lo hacía. En la Cataluña de los puristas ortodoxos y lingüísticos, el Serrat en castellano era permanentemente ninguneado tal como abanderaba en los años setenta Jordi García Soler –que luego se desdijo– en ensayos como el titulado La Nova Cancó. Pero Mediterráneo ha podido con todo, disco de cabecera de roqueros, poperos, indies, flamencos, melódicos y cantautores. Desde su icónica portada y las fotos de Colita, que tanto contribuyera, cámara en mano, a la iconografía serratiana.

Cabe imaginar a Serrat en el estudio de Milán. El humo del tabaco, el sorbo de whisky, la complicidad con los músicos, la canción a medio terminar. Cabe pensar en esos músicos italianos que lo acompañaron, nunca acreditados, responsables de la poderosa orquestación. No puede olvidarse el nombre de Plinio Chiesa como ingeniero de sonido. El cantautor catalán venía de anunciar que se retiraba, que tomaba distancia con las apabullantes giras y con la agenda a la que lo sometía su mánager Lasso de la Vega. Y esto incluía un primer distanciamiento con su arreglista favorito Ricard Miralles.

Serrat para el reloj vertiginoso, mira el mar desde un hotelito de Calella y alumbra Mediterráneo, entre rojos atardeceres y noches en vela. De ese retiro terminaron por nacer unas canciones antológicas que siguen perdurando. Cincuenta años más tarde, los diez cortes del disco azul de Serrat, grabado tras su disco blanco, lucen con la vigencia del primer día y con la fuerza de las obras atemporales.


Mediterráneo de Joan Manuel Serrat

Quizá porque mi niñez
Sigue jugando en tu playa
Y escondido tras las cañas
Duerme mi primer amor
Llevo tu luz y tu olor
Por dondequiera que vaya
Y amontonado en tu arena
Guardo amor, juegos y penas

Yo, que en la piel tengo el sabor
Amargo del llanto eterno
Que han vertido en ti cien pueblos
De Algeciras a Estambul
Para que pintes de azul
Sus largas noches de invierno
A fuerza de desventuras
Tu alma es profunda y oscura

A tus atardeceres rojos
Se acostumbraron mis ojos
Como el recodo al camino
Soy cantor, soy embustero
Me gusta el juego y el vino
Tengo alma de marinero…

¿Qué le voy a hacer, si yo
Nací en el mediterráneo?
Nací en el mediterráneo

Y te acercas, y te vas
Después de besar mi aldea
Jugando con la marea
Te vas, pensando en volver
Eres como una mujer
Perfumadita de brea
Que se añora y que se quiere
Que se conoce y se teme

Despertar entre Cádiz y Málaga

La Sierra de Cádiz: entre castillos árabes y pueblos blancos

El sueño de Washington Irving, el autor estadounidense que en el siglo XIX idealizó una Andalucía secreta y romántica en sus Cuentos de la Alhambra, se materializa en una comarca que parece haberse detenido en el tiempo: la de la Sierra de Cádiz. Situada al norte de la provincia que lleva su nombre, comprende una franja horizontal que arranca en Arcos de la Frontera, acoge el Parque Natural de Grazalema y se prolonga hacia el este para limitar, casi sin darnos cuenta con la serranía de Ronda, ya en la provincia de Málaga.

Asimismo, la región acoge un entorno natural con un altísimo valor ecológico. La sierra de Grazalema es conocida por su variedad botánica, en especial por ser el reino de una especie de abeto endémico: el pinsapo.

Desde este lugar es sencillo comenzar la famosa Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos. Una escapada a esta comarca se puede plantear, en definitiva, como ruta “panorámica” en coche a través de sus pueblos encalados y de aroma arabesco, sin renunciar a conocer su encanto natural a pie, a través de los múltiples itinerarios que por derecho propio forman parte de las mejores caminos de senderismo de Cádiz.

Pueblos de la Sierra de Cádiz. Qué ver en una escapada

Los pueblos de comarca de la Sierra de Cádiz tienen un denominador común: un pasado fronterizo entre el mundo cristiano y el musulmán, de ahí que muchos de sus nombres acaban con la coletilla “de la Frontera”. El contexto en el que surgieron, por tanto, también ha terminado por configurar la estampa que ahora nos resulta encantadora: localidades fortificadas enclavadas sobre un monte y con casas encaladas según la tradición morisca. La Sierra de Cádiz se compone de 19 pueblos, todos con este aroma pintoresco.

Arcos de la Frontera

Con casi 31.000 habitantes, Arcos de la Frontera es la localidad más relevante de la zona. Situado sobre un escarpado barranco sobre el río Guadalete, la leyenda asegura que un hijo de Noé lo fundó, aunque lo más probable es que su origen sea íbero. En época árabe, Arcos se configuró tal y como nos ha llegado, con sus callejones blancos y laberínticos, que ascienden hasta el castillo.

El corazón de esta localidad lo constituye la plaza del Cabildo. Esta plaza lleva al mirador de la Peña Nueva, desde donde se contempla una impresionante estampa de la cuenca del Guadalete que, si se presencia especialmente al atardecer, llega a sobrecoger. En la plaza del Cabildo se encuentra un castillo árabe del siglo XI que fue reconstruido por los cristianos tras la Reconquista. En un lado está la iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción, cuyo edificio original data del siglo XIII, construido sobre una mezquita árabe, y del que se suceden varios estilos como el gótico tardío, el mudéjar o el neoclásico.

El Bosque

A escasos 27 kilómetros al este de Arcos se sitúa la localidad de El Bosque. Con unos 2.100 habitantes, se trata de la puerta de entrada al Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema. El blanco de sus calles contrasta ahora más si cabe con la frondosidad del entorno. Situado en una pequeña vaguada en el centro de un gran bosque de pinos, también pueden verse encinas, álamos y quejigos. El pueblo es atravesado por el río Majaceite, donde se pescan truchas, especialidad gastronómica de la zona.


Ya en plena sierra de Grazalema aparece enclavado en el fondo de un valle un pueblo que tal vez se sienta antes por el olor que por su visión. Dicho aroma no es otro que el del cuero. De fama internacional por los productos realizados con este material, por todas las calles del centro de Ubrique aparecen talleres y tiendas donde se venden bolsos y zapatos de enorme calidad. Pueblo de gran belleza y enorme tranquilidad, también es conocido por ser la cuna del torero ya retirado Jesulín de Ubrique.


Situado en el centro del Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema, este pueblo de tan solo 2.000 habitantes es uno de los más idílicos de la zona. Enamora con sus casas impecablemente encaladas, sus tejados árabes y las ventanas enrejadas con hierro forjado, que en primavera se decoran con todos los colores que ofrecen las flores que cuelgan de ellas.

Con una industria textil que otrora llenó de riquezas al pueblo, Grazalema es la localidad con mayor índice de lluvias de España. Este aspecto condiciona la estructura del pueblo, desde el empedrado de sus calles, concebido para que discurran sin problemas las precipitaciones, los portones de las casas, las techumbres de teja o las farolas. Todos estos elementos hacen único este lugar del que parten algunas de las mejores rutas senderistas de la zona.

Zahara de la Sierra y Olvera

Tal vez el tramo más espectacular de un recorrido en coche (o en bicicleta) por la comarca de la Sierra de Cádiz sea el que conecta Grazalema con Zahara de la Sierra. La escarpada carretera pasa por el puerto de las Palomas, situado a 1.331 metros de altitud y lleno de impresionantes curvas.

Igualmente impresionante es el aspecto agreste que ofrece Zahara, rodeando una vertiginosa hendidura a los pies de la sierra. Declarada Conjunto Histórico-Artístico en 1983, esta villa concentra lo mejor de un típico pueblo blanco. Sus rincones con altas palmeras invitan a la exploración, como la ascensión a la torre del Homenaje del castillo del siglo XII. Dicho castillo fue tomado por los nazaríes en 1481 en un ataque nocturno que provocó que los Reyes Católicos lanzaran la última fase de la conquista de Granada.

Abandonando por el noreste el Parque Natural de Grazalema, nos topamos con Olvera, antiguo refugio de bandoleros y hoy localidad pujante por el auge de sus cooperativas agrícolas, especialmente de aceite. De esta localidad parte una vía verde muy frecuentada por los cicloturistas.

Setenil de las Bodegas, integrado en la montaña

Setenil de Bodegas, englobada dentro de la Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos gaditanos es tan genuina que se distingue fácilmente del conjunto de villas blancas de la Sierra de Cádiz. Su singularidad radica en que está integrada en la roca, sus casas a veces sobresalen del corazón de piedra de la colina, otras se introducen en lo más profundo, e, incluso, se encaraman sobre ella. Recorrer esta población es realizar un ejercicio constante debido a unos desniveles y escaleras que van regalando bonitas perspectivas de la población.

Las dos calles más conocidas e inmortalizadas por los viajeros que acuden a Setenil son la de Cuevas de Sol (la razón de su nombre es obvia, recibe mucha luz del astro) y Cuevas de la Sombra. No te conformes con hacer la foto, siéntate en alguna terraza y disfruta del ambiente, y de las tapas del pueblo, antes de seguir caminando por el núcleo urbano.

En tu recorrido hallarás algunos hitos a los que merece la pena prestar atención, como el aljibe y la torre del Homenaje que pertenece a una antigua fortaleza medieval del siglo XII –y a la que se puede subir para admirar las vistas de la sierra–. Igual de curiosa es la casa Consistorial, que es del siglo XVI y tiene un bellísimo artesonado mudéjar; y la casa de la Damita de Setenil, donde se exhibe una Venus con más de 5.000 años que certifica la larga vida de las cuevas. En exponentes religiosos no se pueden dejar de mencionar la iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación y las ermitas de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, y de San Sebastián.

Nuestra recomendación es que no persigas monumentos sino que te dejes llevar por la intuición hasta llegar a calles tan bonitas como Jabonería y Cabrerizas, que te regalarán rincones muy auténticos.

Senderos de la Sierra de Cádiz

Desde el punto de vista ecológico, la zona de la Sierra de Cádiz, en particular el Parque Natural de Grazalema, tiene dos peculiaridades: se trata del lugar de la Península con mayor régimen de lluvias y crece el famoso pinsapo, un precioso árbol de la familia de los pinos que no aparece en ningún otro lugar peninsular. Estos dos motivos son más que suficientes para hacer algunas de las rutas senderistas.

Para visitar los bellos caminos de la zona, en especial el Pinsapar, se requiere de un permiso que se puede obtener gratis en el centro de visitantes de El Bosque, y pedirlo al menos con una semana de antelación en temporada alta.

Ruta del Pinsapar

Se trata de una de las rutas más conocidas. El recorrido de 14 kilómetros va de Grazalema a Benamahoma y se invierten unas seis horas en realizarse. El inicio de esta pista está señalado junto a la carretera CA531, a unos 40 minutos a pie desde Grazalema.

Ruta de El Torreón

Con 1.654 metros de alto, el Torreón es el pico más alto de Cádiz. La ruta más habitual para coronarlo es comenzar desde una senda que arranca a 100 metros al este del mojón del kilómetro 40 de la carretera entre Grazalema (a unos 8 kilómetros de esta localidad) y Benamahoma. Tras 2,5 horas de caminata se alcanza cumbre. En un día despejado se puede alcanzar a ver Gibraltar, Sierra Nevada e incluso las montañas del Rif de Marruecos.

Sendero Salto del Cabrero

Fuera del Parque Natural la ruta tal vez más destacada sea el sendero Salto del Cabrero. Discurre entre Grazalema y Benaocaz, por la vía del Boyar y a través de la parte oeste de la sierra del Endrinal. Se emplean unas cinco horas en una ruta que arranca en el sendero los Charcones, en la parte alta del pueblo de Grazalema hacia el puerto del Boyar. Desde ahí ya se toma el sendero del Cabrero, que discurre cuesta abajo. Durante este camino hasta Benaocaz hay que estar atento por si se localiza alguna orquídea salvaje de la zona, en cuyo caso lo mejor es inmortalizar el momento con una buena foto y dejar a la planta en su entorno.

Actividades deportivas y turismo activo en la sierra de Cádiz

La sierra de Cádiz, con sus montes moteados de pueblecitos blancos, también brindan al amante del deporte y la aventura un buen número de actividades emocionantes. Lo idóneo es realizarlas con agencias que tengan personal especializado para evitar situaciones peligrosas. No es un entorno montañoso muy conocido en el mundo activo a nivel nacional pero te sorprenderá conocer la cantidad de deportes que permite realizar.

Uno de nuestros deportes favoritos es el barranquismo, que se puede practicar en lugares como la Garganta Verde, en Zahara de la Sierra. Quienes prefieran las vías ferratas no quedarán decepcionados después de hacer la de Benaoján (ya en territorio malagueño). Y los aficionados a la espeleología disfrutarán en las grutas de Villaluenga del Rosario, Benaocaz, Zahara de la Sierra y Grazalema. En esta sierra, una de las cavidades más conocidas y accesibles es la ‘cueva del Susto’.

Aunque, a priori, puede sorprender la práctica de kayak entre montañas, tiene fácil explicación ya que hay lugares como el pantano de Zahara de la Sierra, el pantano de Grazalema o el embalse de los Hurones que se prestan a ello. Y la perspectiva desde el agua es absolutamente impresionante.

Para ver la sierra desde las alturas, nada mejor que el parapente, tanto si eres un experto como si quieres iniciarte haciendo un vuelo en biplaza, tu lugar es el pueblo de Algodonales donde encontrarás unas excelentes condiciones para volar.

Para los viajeros más tranquilos y que les guste admirar el paisaje con calma les recomendamos una ruta senderista por el Pinsapar, entre un sorprendente bosque de pinsapos. Y a quien le guste montar en bicicleta que se anime a recorrer los parques naturales de los Alcornocales o de la sierra de Grazalema, y la vía verde de la Sierra desde Puerto Serrano a Olvera.

Por último, una actividad muy divertida con la que complementar tu viaje a la Sierra de Cádiz es el paintball. Es un juego que requiere de ciertas habilidades y que está en auge. Lo puedes practicar en Olvera, El Bosque y Villaluenga del Rosario.


19 Pueblos Blancos de Cádiz

ajo el potente sol andaluz, los pueblos blancos se esparcen por la geografía el sur de España. Las calles empinadas, angostas, de muros encalados y rebosantes de flores parecen una postal. Esa es la realidad que te deslumbra a poco de adentrarte en Andalucía.

Tanto en la costa como en el interior, estos pueblos blancos hacen gala de la herencia árabe que ayudó a forjarlos. A veces como enclave productivo, otras veces como cruce de caminos o a partir de atalayas defensivas. En otras ocasiones, nacidos sobre restos más antiguos o en siglos más cercanos pero siguiendo las líneas heredadas. Siempre el blanco bajo el sol.

Alcalá del Valle

Enclavada en un valle entre Málaga y Cádiz, conserva la arquitectura popular que ofrece un claro testimonio de su origen árabe, con sus calles de casas encaladas y de balcones repletos de flores. La villa actual fue fundada en el siglo XV por los musulmanes residentes en Setenil de las Bodegas.

En tu visita debes ver los Dólmenes del Tomillo, conjunto megalítico con un menhir único en la provincia, en medio de un hermoso entorno. Otros puntos a visitar es la iglesia barroca de Santa María del Valle, el Cortijo de la Cacería (del siglo XVI) y la ermita del Cristo de la Misericordia. Y no puede dejarlo sin probar el agua fresca de la Fuente Grande.


Situada entre los parques naturales de la Sierra de Grazalema y Los Alcornocales, ha sido poblada desde el Neolítico como lo demuestra el yacimiento arqueológico de la Cueva de la Dehesilla.

Gracias a su emplazamiento es ideal para tomarla como punto de parida para actividades de ocio al aire libre: senderismo por el Tajo del Ágila, pesca en el río Majaceite o el piragüismoo en el Embalce de Guadalcacín II.

en esta pequeña población se encuentran varios de los talleres donde se producen las piezas más finas para las grandes marcas como Chanel, Vuitton o Tous. Puedes visitarlos (pregunta por el taller Rovi) y llevarte a casa una buena pieza por mucho menor dinero (sin logotipo, claro).

A la sobra de la Sierra de Lijar se encuentra este encantador pueblo blanco con calles bordeadas de naranjos. Sus 12 fuentes aseguran el murmullo y el frescor del agua.


A los yacimientos prehistóricos de Cueva Santa, Chamusquina Castillejo y el Cerro de la Botinera, se suman monumentos como la Iglesia de Santa Ana de estilo barroco tardío. A corta distancia se encuentra la pedanía de La Muela desde donde se puede ascender a la Sierra de Lijar para observar el vuelo de los buitres leonados.

Un detalle para los amantes del vértigo: en Algodonales hay varias empresas que se dedican a los deportes aéreos.

Arcos de la Frontera

Puerta de entrada a la Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos, Arcos está considerado uno de los pueblos más bonitos de España. Existen huellas de sus primeros pobladores prehistóricos y romanos en el yacimiento de la Sierra de Aznar, pero la ciudad rezuma herencia musulmana.

Estrechísimas y empinadas calles, antiguos arcos, nos llevan al casco antiguo declarado Conjunto Histórico. Se conservan allí joyas monumentales como el Castillo de los Duques (del siglo XV), la Puerta de Matrera (siglos X a XIV) y los restos del recinto amurallado, sus palacios y casas señoriales, así como la Basílica de Santa María, y numerosos conventos y templos.


Otro pueblo que ha sido distinguido como Conjutno Histórico por la belleza de su casco de estrechas y laberínticas callejuelas, especialmente en el Barrio Nazarí.

Se conserva el empedrado antiguo, muchas casas populares centenarias donde abundan las flores. Y también, casas señoriales dieciochescas de amplio portones y frescos patios.

Aunque su fundación fue árabe, hay numerosos restos prehistóricos en la zona como la Sima de la Veredilla y las Cuevas de la Manga.



Ubicado a orillas del lago junto al que ha crecido desde hace más de 30.000 años, Bornos está declarado Conjunto Histórico. Aquí vivero iberos y romanos, y sete paso se observa en los restos del yacimiento de Carissa Aurelia a escasos kilometros del centro del pueblo.

Aquí debemos visitar su castillo, las casas señoriales de la Cilla (s. XVII-XVIII) y de los Ordóñez (s.XVIII) y el Colegio y Hospital de la Sangre, así como la iglesia de Santo Domingo Guzmán, el convento del Corpus Christi y el monasterio de los Jerónimos, ambos del siglo XVI.

El Bosque

En plena Sierra de Albarracín, junto al río Majaceite, entre valles, se encuentra el retiro señorial de los Duques de Arcos de la Frontera. El Bosque es ejemplo de calles blancas salpicas de fuentes y flores.

En cuanto a su arquitectura destacamos la iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, el palacio Ducal, la ermita del Calvario y la plaza de toros. Visitas especiales son la del Jardín botánico «El Castillejo» con ejemplares reptesentantes de los principales ecosistemas de la Sierra de Grazalema y a las ruinas del castillo de Tavizna, a sólo 5 kilómetros del pueblo.

El Bosque está enclavado entre frondosos bosques de una comarca atravesada por manantiales de aguas con propiedades medicinales. Un lugar ideal para practicar además el turismo activo: caminatas, rutas a caballo, vuelos en parapente o en aladelta, por ejemplo.


Encontramos restos que nos cuentan la historia de sus primeros pobladores hace más de 3.000 años: el yacimiento de Esperilla. De l época romana y muy cerca del pueblo, encontramos la antigua ciudad romana de Carissa Surelia, sobre los restos de un asentamiento íbero anterior. Allí se encuentra un museo arqueológico de sitio con grandes piezas de obra funeraria íbero-romana.

En su patrimonio monumental destacamos el Castillo de Fatetar (s.XIII-XV) que conserva parte de las antiguas murallas, la Torre del Homenaje y los aljibes. Junto a él, la ermita de Santiago donde se encuentra el patrón de la localidad: el Cristo de la Antigua.

El Gastor

Se la conoce como «el balcón de los pueblos blancos» por las magníficas panorámicas de los pueblos vecinos desde su punto mas alto. El Gastor ha sido poblado desde la prehistoria, y a su alrededor se encuentra monumentos metalíticos que lo prueban.

El pueblo se ubica sobre un cerro y muy cerca del nacimiento del río Guadalete. Es un claro ejemplo de las tradicionales villas serranas. Hablando de turismo activo, hay un par de cuevas para los amantes de la espeleología: la de Fariña y la del Susto. Y en el embalse Zahara-El Gastor se practican deportes náuticos, que se suman a las oportunidades de practicar senderismo en el Tajo de Algarín y las Grajas.


En el mismísimo corazón de la Sierra de Grazalema, se ubica este pueblo blanco de excepción. osa de un microclima propio con el índice pluviométrico más alto de la península ibérica. En los alrededores se encuentra el Dolmen de la Giganta, pero la ciudad nace de la antigua ciudad romana de Lacíbula.

En su casco antiguo protegido como Conjunto Histórico (foto inicio), encontramos todos los elementos tradicionaless de la arquitectura árabe blanca combinada con ejemplos de arquitectura señorial. A visitar la iglesia barroca de Nuestra Señora de la Aurora, la de San José o la de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación, o las ermitas del Calvario o de Los Ángeles.

Famosa por el trabajo textil de sus mantas artesanales, podemos encontrarlas en las tiendas y en el Museo de Artesanía Textil de Grazalema.



La Hippa o Hippa Nova romana se ubica a los pies de un gro risco coronado por su impresionante castillo. Ha sido declarada Conjunto Histórico y su casco urbano muestra una bella combinación de arquitectura popular con raíces andalusíes y su patrimonio monumental con sus palacios señoriales.

El Barrio de la Villa se encuentra sobre el primitivo casco, con trazado laberíntico donde encontramos iglesia como la de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios y el castillo. Estea antigua fortaleza musulmana del siglo XII, aun conserva parte de sus muros, torreones y la Torre del Homenaje.

En Olvera (foto de inicio) se encuentra el Museo Frontera de los Castillos, en un bello edificio de la antigua Casa de la Cilla, lugar de visita imprescindible para comprender el importante papel que jugó la serranía gaditana como frontera en el reino nazarí.

Prado del Rey

Tenemos que buscar el origen de esta localidad en la ciudad romana de Iptuci, yacimiento arqueológico digno de visitar. Igualmente, hay pruebas de población humana en esta zona desde los tiempos del Neolítico. La época de mayor esplendor fue la romana en especial en los siglos I y II d.C, pero ya los fenicios explotaban las salinas existentes en los alrededores.

Digno de visitar en Prado del Rey es el antiguo Pósito de Labradores, cuya estructura se mantiene intacta. Y luego, un recreo gastronómico con los platos típicos de la localidad: la alboromía de garbanzos y pimientos torrijas con miel y una copa de mosto de Pajarete.

Puerto Serrano

Al llegar nos reciben las tradicionales casas serranas rodeadas de naranjos. Puerto Serrano reúne una gran cantidad de yacimientos arqueológicos que confirman la presencia humana desde el Paleolítico, luego en tiempos romanos y durante la población hispano-musulmana. Entre estos sitios, merecen destacarse Fuente de Ramos y Almendral o el antiguo asentamiento romano de Cerro Castelar y Marciagos, a corta distancia del centro urbano.

Estamos en un rincón de la sierra gaditana ideal para practicar senderismo, cicloturismo, rutas caballo especialmente por el antiguo trazado ferroviario de Jerez-Almargen que posee 35 kilómetros transitables entre Puerto Serrano y Olvera.

Setenil de las Bodegas

Esta localidad se encuentra ubicada en un corte profundo de la sierra. Esta localización le da una singularidad y belleza que la hacen única. Las casas se adaptan al terreno y algunas se encuentran literalmente bajo la roca o en el interior de la montaña.

Calles y terrazas acomodadas a los quiebros del terreno con lugares tan especiales como las calles de la Cueva de la Sombra y de las Cuevas del Sol, donde descansar y observar la peculiaridad del pueblo tomando una cervecita fresca en sus terrazas.

Su ubicación actual es de origen medieval y en la «Villa» se asentaba el antiguo poblado almohada. El castillo que domina el pueblo es una fortaleza medieval de los siglos XIV y XV que conserva la Torre del Homenaje y un aljibe.

Torre Alháquime

Su nombre ya lo dice, estamos en una pieza clave en la frontera entre el Reino de Granada y castellano. De la época nazarí conserva los restos de la muralla medieval que rodea el casco histórico, allí se encuentra el Arco de la Villa.

Piérdete por sus calles angostas y laberínticas, muros blancos y plazas donde explota el color de las flores. Un lugar ideal para practicar slow travel. Detente y sigue el ritmo lento de la sierra.



Donde se unen los parques naturales de Grazalema y de los Alcornocales, se ubica la localidad de Ubrique. Una garantía de entorno natural de primera categoría y muchas opciones para el turismo activo: rutas de senderismo, de BTT, pesca, caza o avistamiento de aves.

Declarada Conjunto Histórico, Ubrique tiene origen romano y por aquí pasa una calzada romana que une Ubrique con el pueblo blanco de Beanocaz del que te hemos hablado en la primera entrega. Además, el yacimiento de Ocuri incluye un monumento funerario muy interesante y escaso en la península de tipo columbario.

De la época musulmana quedan los restos de la Fortaleza de Cardela o Castillo de Fátima que data del siglo XII. Ya en el casco histórico de Ubrique, podemos reconocer su trazado medieval con calles angostas, preciosos rincones y plazas con fuentes como la barroca Fuente Pública o la andalusí de los Nueve Caños.


Bajamos hacia los prados fértiles para llegarnos hasta Villamartín, un caserío con larga historia. Su ubicación le destacó desde siempre como cruce de caminos de la zona. Testigos de la historia son los dólmenes de Alberite y el yacimiento de Torrevieja.

En el casco del pueblo tenemos ejemplos de su patrimonio monumental como el Castillo de Matrera, la iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Virtudes o el Convento de San Francisco y ejemplos de casas señoriales como el Palacio de los Ríos.

Villaluenga del Rosario

A los pies de un impresionante macizo rocoso encontramos a Villaluenga, el pueblo más alto de la provincia de Cádiz (859 m.s.n.m). Ya en tiempos prehistóricos el hombre vivía por aquí aprovechando las cuevas del terreno. Una muestra de ello es el yacimiento de las Cuevas de la Manga.

Las calles de su trazado van adaptándose a los desniveles del terreno, con subidas empinadas, escaleras y los edificios integrándose con la roca: las iglesias de San Miguel y del Salvador, las ermitas de San Gregorio y del Calvario, la Fuente del Acueducto y más.

Encontramos aquí la plaza de toros más antigua de la provincia ya que data del siglo XVIII y es única: no es redonda sino poligonal con un graderío realizado en la propia piedra del lugar.

Zahara de la Sierra

El Parque Natural de Grazalema abraza a este pintoresco rincón andaluz. La fundación de la actual Zahara (foto de inicio) se debe a los árabes y su trazado es un gran ejemplo del entramado urbano andalusi. Encontramos el castillo del sigo XIII con su Torre del Homenaje y los restos de la villa medieval con brios segmentos de la antigua muralla.

Las calles van subiendo (y bajando) por la sierra sobre la que se recuesta Zahara por lo que no es raro encontrar tramos muy empinados o con escaleras. En tu paseo debes pasar por el Puente de los Palominos, o detenerte a ver la Torre del reloj y disfrutar del tiempo lento en la florida plaza central.


Grazalema: pueblos blancos y bosques milenarios en las sierras de Cádiz

El pinsapar, un bosque relicto de hace miles de años, es el principal atractivo de esta comarca situada a muy poca distancia del Estrecho de Gibraltar.

El pinsapo es una de las reliquias vegetales más raras y escasas del mundo. Esta conífera de gran porte (puede superar los 30 metros de altura) y de silueta elegante tiene sus últimos refugios en torno al Estrecho de Gibraltar: en las dos orillas. Del lado marroquí, el pinsapar se reduce a pequeñas manchas en el sorprendente Parque Nacional de Talassemtane, uno de los lugares más bonitos e intensos del norte del país alauita. Y en la orilla norte, se le puede encontrar, de manera natural, en el recientemente creado parque Nacional de la Sierra de Las Nieves, en Sierra Bermeja y en Grazalema. El pinsapo es un árbol exigente. Demanda grandes cantidades de agua durante todo el año, algo que podría considerarse poco coherente si hablamos del sur de las provincias de Cádiz y Málaga. El pinsapar es una auténtica esponja que requiere de buenas precipitaciones durante todo el año y que, como otras coníferas, tiene la capacidad de ordeñar las nubes gracias a sus hojas en forma de pequeñas agujas apretujadas. Una verdadera red que atrapa el agua y lo precipita hacia el suelo creando verdaderos vergeles en las sierras atlánticas y mediterráneas de Andalucía Occidental. El Pinsapo es la especie emblema de la Sierra de Grazalema, un lugar único de las serranías gaditanas dónde llueve casi más que en la lejana Galicia.

El Parque Natural de Grazalema se encuentra a 121 kilómetros de Sevilla, a 112 kilómetros de Cádiz y a apenas 85 kilómetros del Aeropuerto de Jerez. Así que da perfectamente para una escapada de puente o para un fin de semana. ¿Dónde alojarse? La propia localidad de Grazalema no es mala opción: aquí hay varias casas rurales y alojamientos familiares. Otras opciones a escasa distancia del parque natural son Zahara de la Sierra (con varios alojamientos rurales y un hotel) y el pueblo de Ubrique. Esta zona de las sierras de Cádiz da para mucho y lo mejor es hacer kilómetros por las carreteras de montaña e ir conectando los diferentes puntos de interés y senderos para ir descubriendo los tesoros que guarda la montaña. Pequeños pueblos; grandes bosques; dehesas; encinares; castillos; yacimientos arqueológicos…

El Pinsapar; la joya de la corona.- Lo primero que tienes que tener en cuenta antes de internarte en este bosque mágico es que para realizar la travesía del Pinsapar hay que inscribirse en el Centro de Interpretación que se encuentra en la localidad de El Bosque (Federico García Lorca, 1; Tel: (+34) 956 709 733) o, más conveniente por el escaso número de permisos diarios que se reservan, hacerlo previamente a través de correo electrónico ( El sendero lineal del Pinsapar tiene una longitud de 11,2 kilómetros y un desnivel máximo de unos 300 metros de subida (saliendo desde Benamahoma) y otros 900 de bajada hasta el parking de Las Canteras. El camino transcurre por la cara norte del Pico Torreón, que con sus 1.648 metros sobre el nivel del mar es la cima de la provincia de Cádiz. Aquí podemos ver al Pinsapar en todo su esplendor (unas 400 hectáreas de extensión); y también viejos pozos de nieve, fuentes, acequias y canalizaciones.

Benamahoma y el agua.- El pequeño pueblo de Benamahoma es una de las localidades que se encuentran en pleno parque. Y también un ejemplo de la importancia del agua en la comarca: desde el punto de vista natural y cultural. El Río Majaceite atraviesa esta parte de Grazalema y corre hacia el oeste para alimentar las vegas de El Bosque y Ubrique (en el Embalse de Los Hurones). Desde aquí parte el Sendero del Majaceite que baja junto al cauce hasta el vecino pueblo de El Río pasando por la Cascada Honda de Benamahoma. Pero antes de echarte a caminar puedes visitar el Ecomuseo del Agua del Molino de Benamahoma (Nacimiento, 37) un viejo batán industrial (máquinas movidas por el agua) que pone de manifiesto la importancia de los cauces para la economía local más allá de su aprovechamiento agrícola y ganadero.

El Castillo de Zahara de La Sierra.- Zahara de la Sierra está, por méritos propios, en el listado de pueblos más bonitos de España. Este pueblo blanco se abraza literalmente a un peñasco impresionante que sirve de fortaleza natural y mirador. Sólo por pasear por sus callejuelas y asomarse a sus miradores merece la pena la visita (con lugares bastante notables como la Iglesia de Santa María de la Mesa –con un retablo barroco muy bonito-). Pero el punto fuerte del pueblo es su antiguo castillo y recinto amurallado. La Puerta de la Villa da paso a la antigua Zahara, que en tiempos anteriores a la conquista cristiana estaba mayoritariamente encerrada por las murallas (lo puedes ver en el Centro de Interpretación de la Villa Medieval –El Fuerte, 15-). Murallas adentro podrás ver restos de la Iglesia Mayor (previamente mezquita), rastros de las antiguas casas, las murallas y la soberbia Torre del Homenaje, que corona la zona más alta del peñasco ofreciendo vistas brutales. Aprovecha que estás por aquí para visitar la Garganta Verde (CA-9104), una verdadera trinchera excavado por el Arroyo de los Ballesteros dónde puedes ver al mítico buitre leonado (hay que solicitar permiso a través del correo o en el teléfono (+34) 956 709 733).

La A-374 entre Grazalema y Ubrique.- La carretera de las maravillas. Esta ruta de 26 kilómetros recorre uno de los parajes más bonitos de toda la sierra. Casi siempre a los pies de peñas llenas de cuevas (como la de Las Dos Puertas muy cerca de Grazalema) en un ambiente que alterna grandes manchas de encinar y alcornocal con prados siempre verdes. Una ruta para ir haciendo paradas para conocer verdaderas joyas naturales como el Chaparro de las Ánimas, un enorme alcornoque singular que está íntimamente ligado a la historia del pueblo de Grazalema: el corcho de este árbol se dedicaba a la compra de aceite para las lamparillas de ánimas de la iglesia. También hay pequeños pueblos (Villaluenga del Rosario y Benaocaz) y algunos restos arqueológicos interesantes como la vieja calzada romana que atravesaba estas sierras desde Ubrique. Si te gusta andar no dejes de subir al Saltadero desde el Paraje del Cintillo, uno de los rincones más hermosos de la ruta. El camino no es largo y las vistas merecen la pena.

Ubrique: mucho más que la capital del cuero.-  Ubrique es uno de los famosos pueblos blancos de Cádiz y es conocido en Andalucía por la calidad de sus cueros que es la materia prima con la que se elaboran buena parte de los artículos de marroquinería de alta gama de Europa (aquí fabrican grandes marcas de la industria del lujo y varias empresas independientes). Una fama que no es nueva ya que las tenerías y los artesanos locales son famosos, por lo menos, desde principios del siglo XVI, aunque es probable que la tradición venga de tiempos de musulmanes o más atrás. El pueblo es muy bonito (hay que verlo desde arriba en la subida a la Cruz del Tajo). Y sólo por eso merece la visita, pero el cuero es un aliciente más. Y no es de extrañar que la punta de lanza del turismo cultural del pueblo sea un museo dedicado a la principal industria local que lleva el nombre rimbombante de Manos y Magia en la Piel (Herrera Oria, 10), que ocupa un antiguo convento de Capuchinos del siglo XVII. Muy cerca de aquí se encuentra El Rodezno, una zona bañada por las aguas que bajan desde Grazalema en la que funcionaron las tenerías del pueblo hasta casi antes de ayer.

Pero hay mucho más que ver en Ubrique. Dentro del pueblo hay que dejarse perder por sus callejuelas para ir descubriendo sus edificios más notables: la extraña San Juan de Letrán (San Juan, 9), una vieja iglesia de planta octogonal que alberga el Museo de Historia de Ubrique; la Ermita de San Antonio (La Torre, 60), construida sobre una vieja fortificación nazarí; la Casa del Dintel (San Juan, 6), un palacete del siglo XVI o la Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la O (Francisco Fatou, sn), una sencilla basílica del XVIII. Mención aparte merece la antigua Ocuri, la población romana que dio origen a Ubrique y que puede visitarse en lo alto de un cerro muy cerca del pueblo actual. Subir por la calzada romana es toda una experiencia y lo que te encuentras arriba merece mucho la pena de ver incluyendo el sorprendente Mausoleo, uno de los edificios romanos mejor conservados de España.



La llamada «Ruta de los pueblos blancos» es una ruta turística que comprende gran parte de los pueblos de la comarca de la Sierra de la provincia de Cádiz. Su nombre viene del blanco de las fachadas de las casa de los pueblos, pintadas con cal para repeler la calor.

Es una de las rutas más conocidas de Andalucía, en ella el viajero recorre más de 20 municipios de las provincias de Cádiz y Málaga. Pueblos que tienen como denominador común esas casas con fachadas de blanca cal tan características en gran parte de la comunidad andaluza.

La Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos nos llevará a conocer y disfrutar del rico y diverso patrimonio histórico, cultural y natural que guardan en su interior todas y cada una de las localidades que conforman esta oferta turística. Iglesias de diferentes estilos arquitectónicos, yacimientos arqueológicos de distintas épocas, castillos, cuevas prehistóricas, museos… y espacios naturales tan importantes como el Parque Natural de los Alcornocales o el Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema son sólo alguna de las joyas que podremos encontrar en nuestro recorrido.

Pueblos incluidos en la Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos

Alcalá del Valle | Algar | Algodonales | Arcos de la Frontera | Benaocaz | Bornos | El Bosque | El Gastor | Espera | Grazalema | Olvera | Prado del Rey | Puerto Serrano | Setenil de las Bodegas | Torre Alháquime Ubrique | Villaluenga del Rosario | Villamartín | Zahara de la Sierra

Otros municipios en la provincia de Málaga que igualmente nos sorprenderán por su situación, historia y monumentos son; RondaMontejaqueJimera de LíbarAtajateBenadalidGaucín, Cortes de la Frontera Casares.

Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos Ruta Central

Comenzamos nuestro recorrido en pleno corazón del Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema, en Zahara de la Sierra. Presidida por su castillo nazarí, está declarada Conjunto Histórico-Artístico. A continuación se encuentra Grazalema, pueblo de origen romano, sus alrededores son un paraíso para los amantes de la naturaleza, el senderismo y los deportes de montaña.

A través de una sinuosa carretera que nos ofrece unas vistas espectaculares, entre pinsapos y miradores, llegamos a Villaluenga del Rosario. Estamos en el pueblo más alto de la provincia de Cádiz, con calles empinadas y casas encaladas.

Benaocaz aparece tras seguir descendiendo por la carretera, pasando por un antiguo tramo de la calzada romana. Con maravillosos paisajes de fondo, nos llevaremos una grata impresión al divisar Ubrique. En las cercanías encontramos la antigua Ciudad Romana de Ocuri, en lo alto del Salto de la Mora. Llegar al casco antiguo de Ubrique supone un pequeño esfuerzo que es recomendable para poder disfrutar de sus balcones naturales y contemplar una panorámica admirable.

Hacia el norte espera El Bosque, zona truchera para los amantes de la pesca, posee el Premio Nacional de Embellecimiento. Tras recorrer Benamahoma, puerta de entrada al Pinsapar, la última parada nos lleva a Prado del Rey, situado entre la sierra y la campiña, entre olivos y viñedos, a sólo cuatro kilómetros nos encontramos los restos de la ciudad romana de Iptuci.

Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos Ruta Norte

Entre las sierras gaditanas y el río Guadalete se sitúa Puerto Serrano, inicio de nuestro recorrido. Pueblo blanco con casas encaladas, en él se respira tranquilidad y sosiego. Tras visitar Algodonales, con su Iglesia de Santa Ana, continuamos camino hacia El Gastor. Conocido como «Balcón de los Pueblos Blancos», desde su punto más alto se contemplan unas vistas maravillosas. De gran interés resulta la visita al Dolmen del Gigante.

La siguiente parada es Setenil de las Bodegas, con su original entramado urbano y la disposición de sus casas, excavadas en la montaña, que tienen como tejado las propias rocas.

Alcalá del Valle, refugio de moriscos, eclesiásticos y franciscanos, aprovecha las riquezas de su patrimonio monumental y natural para acoger a los que llegan en busca de descanso y calma.

Continuando por Torre Alháquime llegaremos a la última parada de esta ruta, Olvera. Declarada Conjunto Histórico-Artístico, el principal monumento de Olvera es la propia ciudad, sus casas encaladas y calles estrechas, dirigidas todas hacia la silueta imponente de su Iglesia de la Encarnación y su Castillo árabe en lo más alto del cerro. El Peñón de Zaframagón, situado en la zona más occidental del término, declarado Reserva Natural, alberga la mayor colonia de buitres leonados de Andalucía.

Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos Ruta Levante

Iniciamos esta ruta en Cortes de la Frontera, no podemos irnos sin visitar las ruinas de la ciudad romana de Saeponta, los de la Torre del Paso, la Ermita Mozárabe la Casita de Piedra y el imponente parque de La Sauceda.

Tras recorrer Algatocín con un núcleo urbano que conserva el sabor de su pasado morisco.  La siguiente parada nos lleva a Benadalid, con sus calles estrechas y tortuosas que nos trae reminiscencias árabes. Atajate con su paisaje de contrastes nos conduce a Jimera de Líbar, un lugar para descansar, un pueblo donde se respira la tranquilidad.

Benaoján se caracteriza por su relieve accidentado, las casas parecen escalar la montaña, salpicando de blanco el verde del campo. De gran importancia son las dos formaciones geológicas, el Sistema Hundidero-Gato, con sus cuevas y lagos y la Cueva de la Pileta, con pinturas prehistóricas y declarada Monumento Nacional de Arte Rupestre.

Y para finalizar, Ronda. Una de las ciudades más antiguas de España. La Cueva de la Pileta es uno de los mejores exponentes del arte rupestre del Paleolítico andaluz. Su espectacular tajo, de más de 200 metros de profundidad, divide la ciudad en dos partes unidas por un puente de piedra. Los baños árabes, el Palacio del Rey Moro, la Plaza de Toros, la Fuente de los Ocho Caños y el Mirador del Tajo son algunas de las maravillas que nos ofrece Ronda.

Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos Ruta Occidental

Puerta de entrada de los Pueblos Blancos, Arcos de la Frontera se encuentra enclavado en la cima de una roca, completamente bordeado por el río Guadalete. El conjunto urbano, por su belleza y originalidad, constituye uno de los más singulares de España, declarado Monumento Histórico-Artístico Nacional. Arcos de la Frontera tiene sabor a pueblo hecho de cal y sol, de rejas y flores.

Tras visitar Algar, bello pueblo de origen árabe, seguimos camino hacia Espera. En lo alto de una peña se encuentra el Castillo de Fatetar con su ermita adosada, donde podemos contemplar unas maravillosas vistas. Bornos es un pueblo blanco, con campos salpicados de huertas, se sitúa a orillas del pantano que lleva su nombre. Saliendo de Bornos tenemos la posibilidad de visitar la ciudad ibero-romana de Carissa Aurelia.

Villamartín nos ofrece gran variedad de paisajes entre el blanco de sus casas, el verde de la campiña y el azul del cielo y el agua. Resalta entre sus casas la torre de la Iglesia de Santa María de las Virtudes. Sin olvidar el Campo Dolménico de Alberite.


La Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos de Málaga

La famosa Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos de Andalucía comprende una serie de localidades ubicadas en terreno de las comarcas de Sierra de Cádiz y Serranía de Ronda. El eminente carácter serrano de estos lugares se refleja con facilidad en sus costumbres y tradiciones. Esto embellece el paisaje de la misma manera que lo hacen los conjuntos de fachadas encaladas, los tejados rojizos de sus casas, el trazado estrecho y empinado de sus calles. Los arquillos y pasadizos que aderezan la trama urbana en algunos de sus rincones son otro de los tesoros de esta Ruta por los Pueblos Blancos de Málaga.

La Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos de Málaga es, sin duda, una de las más famosas rutas de arquitectura popular andaluza. También es un recorrido por una tierra con historia que ha sido testigo de numerosos episodios y conflictos que han dejado su huella en forma de castillos y otros restos arqueológicos.

Pese a que los pueblos blancos andaluces comprenda localidades de las provincias de Cádiz y Málaga, nos centraremos en aquellos pueblos blancos de Málaga que, tomando como centro Ronda, quedan ubicados en tierras malagueñas.


Ronda es una de las localidades con mayor proyección turística de Málaga. Un bello lugar marcado por la presencia del impactante tajo del río Guadalevín que cuenta con atractivos de la talla de su famoso puente, sus baños árabes o su plaza de toros. Es considerada como una de las más antiguas y monumentales de España.

Tanto por sus monumentos como por su historia y cultura, Ronda se alza como indiscutible centro de los pueblos blancos malagueños. Es un destino imprescindible en el que merece la pena invertir varios días de visita.


Ubicado en terreno del Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema, Benaoján es un pequeño pueblo muy apreciado por toda clase de amantes del turismo rural y los deportes de aventura. En sus alrededores encontramos interesantes lugares como las Cuevas del Gato y de La Pileta. En el interior de esta última se conserva una serie de pinturas rupestres que evidencian una temprana presencia humana en el lugar. Componen un importante conjunto artístico de estilo paleolítico.


De origen musulmán, Montejaque es un pueblo situado también en terreno de la Sierra de Grazalema y cuyo nombre significa “Montaña Perdida”. Se trata de un lugar de notable riqueza histórica donde es posible visitar monumentos de la talla de la iglesia de Santiago el Mayor. En sus alrededores se alza el Hacho, un monte que con sus 1.075 metros de altitud da cobijo a la localidad y domina desde su cima todo el paisaje circundante.

Jimera de Líbar

Jimera de Líbar es otro núcleo de origen musulmán que llegó a albergar una importante fortaleza de la que actualmente no queda vestigio alguno. No obstante, su nombre en lengua árabe fue Inz Almaraz, cuyo significado es “castillo de la mujer”. Los alrededores del lugar, sobre los que destaca la presencia del pico Martín Gil, son un escenario para la práctica de toda clase de deportes de naturaleza.


Esta localidad malagueña de nuestra Ruta por los Pueblos Blancos de Málaga es  una de las de menor población de la provincia. Esto garantiza una relativa paz y tranquilidad en sus calles.

Atajate es actualmente famosa por la producción de mosto, último vestigio de una importante industria vinícola que vivió siglos de esplendor. Posteriormente vivió su declive debido a una fuerte plaga de filoxera que afectó a la región a finales del siglo XIX.


La siguiente parada en la Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos de Málaga es Benadalid. Cuenta con varios atractivos patrimoniales como su castillo árabe. De posible origen romano, este monumento cuenta con planta cuadrada y torres cilíndricas. En la actualidad es empleado como cementerio local.

Otros lugares de Benadalid que merecen una visita son la iglesia de San Isidoro y la cruz del Humilladero. Su construcción está ligada a dos hermanos portugueses que se asentaron aquí. Fueron los posibles responsables de la generalización del apellido Fernández en el pueblo.


Algatocín es un lugar de notable belleza cuyo perfil escalonado se adapta a la perfección al relieve del terreno. Sobre éste se asienta dando lugar a una trama urbana irregular y paisajísticamente atractiva. Entre sus puntos de interés destacan la iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario y el mirador del Genil. Ofrece excelentes vistas de un paisaje serrano de frondosa vegetación dominado por alcornoques, castaños y otras especies autóctonas.


Ubicado en el centro de un variado y rico entorno natural, Gaucín es una pequeña localidad de trazado morisco que tuvo su particular relevancia histórica en años de la reconquista. Su castillo fue considerado como un importante punto estratégico cuya toma supuso la muerte de Guzmán “el Bueno”, Señor de Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

En la actualidad, el Castillo del Águila es su principal atracción patrimonial. Su emplazamiento en la cima de un cerro a 688 metros de altitud es a su vez el destino de una de las excursiones más populares del lugar.


La Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos de Málaga termina en Casares, un lugar declarado como Monumento Histórico Artístico. Casares cuenta con importantes muestras patrimoniales como la Iglesia de la Encarnación, su castillo árabe y la ermita de San Sebastián.  Los restos de la ermita de la Vera o los baños de La Hedionda, cuyas aguas sulfurosas fueron utilizadas como fuente de salud en época romana.

Casares es, además, el lugar de nacimiento del político y escritor Blas Infante, conocido como el “Padre de la Patria Andaluza” y cuya casa natal permanece todavía en pie. Por la disposición de sus casas y sus calles en cuesta, Casares se ha ganado el sobrenombre de “Pueblo Colgante”.

La Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos de Málaga constituye, en definitiva, una de las mejores oportunidades para conocer la cultura serrana y popular de una provincia rica y variada que cuenta con un interior sorprendente.

Pese a que en esta ocasión nos centremos en las tierras de la Serranía de Ronda, conviene recordar que los pueblos blancos son una realidad muy extendida por toda la geografía andaluza. En Málaga, sin ir más lejos, pueden admirarse otros ejemplos como Mijas; o Cómpeta, Comares y Frigiliana, en la comarca de La Axarquía.


Pink sunRise-Sunset in August 1967

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd, British rock band at the forefront of 1960s psychedelia who later popularized the concept album for mass rock audiences in the 1970s. The principal members were lead guitarist Syd Barrett (original name Roger Keith Barrett; b. January 6, 1946, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England—d. July 7, 2006, Cambridge), bassist Roger Waters (b. September 6, 1943, Great Bookham, Surrey), drummer Nick Mason (b. January 27, 1945, Birmingham, West Midlands), keyboard player Rick Wright (in full Richard Wright; b. July 28, 1945, London—d. September 15, 2008, London), and guitarist David Gilmour (b. March 6, 1944, Cambridge).

Formed in 1965, the band went through several name changes before combining the first names of a pair of Carolina bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Their initial direction came from vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Barrett, whose mixture of bluesmusic hall styles, Lewis Carroll references, and dissonant psychedelia established the band as a cornerstone of the British underground scene. They signed with EMI and early in 1967 had their first British hit with the controversial “Arnold Layne,” a song about a transvestite. This was followed by their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a lush, experimental record that has since become a rock classic. Their sound was becoming increasingly adventurous, incorporating sound effects, spacy guitar and keyboards, and extended improvisation such as “Interstellar Overdrive.”

By 1968 Barrett, who had overused LSD and was struggling with schizophrenia, was replaced by guitarist Gilmour. Without Barrett’s striking lyrics, the band moved away from the singles market to concentrate on live work, continuing its innovations in sound and lighting but with varying degrees of success. After recording a series of motion-picture soundtrack albums, they entered the American charts with Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971). Making records that were song-based but thematic in approach and that included long instrumental passages, the band did much to popularize the concept album. They hit the commercial jackpot with Dark Side of the Moon (1973). A bleak treatise on death and emotional breakdown underlined by Waters’s dark songwriting, it sent Pink Floyd soaring into the megastar bracket and remained in the American pop charts for more than a decade. The follow-up, Wish You Were Here (1975), included “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a song for Barrett, and, though it went to number one in both the United States and Britain, it was considered anticlimactic and pompous by many critics.

By the release of Animals (1977), it was clear that Waters had become the band’s dominant influence, and there was increasing internal conflict within Pink Floyd. Their sense of alienation (from both one another and contemporary society) was profoundly illustrated by the tour for 1979’s best-selling album The Wall, for which a real brick wall was built between the group and the audience during performance. After the appropriately named The Final Cut (1983), Pink Floyd became inactive, and legal wrangles ensued over ownership of the band’s name. Waters, who dismissed Wright after The Wall and took over most of the songwriting, was even more firmly in control. As a result the band split, but, much to Waters’s chagrin, Gilmour, Mason, and Wright reunited, continuing as Pink Floyd. In the late 1980s Wright, Gilmour, and Mason released two albums, including the ponderous A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994), while Waters pursued a solo career. Waters reunited with his former bandmates for a single performance at the Live 8 benefit concert in 2005. Gilmour and Mason later used recordings made with Wright (who died in 2008) to create what they said was the final Pink Floyd album, The Endless River (2014). Pink Floyd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.


The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

The title of Pink Floyd’s debut album is taken from a chapter in Syd Barrett‘s favorite children’s book, The Wind in the Willows, and the lyrical imagery of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is indeed full of colorful, childlike, distinctly British whimsy, albeit filtered through the perceptive lens of LSD. Barrett‘s catchy, melodic acid pop songs are balanced with longer, more experimental pieces showcasing the group’s instrumental freak-outs, often using themes of space travel as metaphors for hallucinogenic experiences — «Astronomy Domine» is a poppier number in this vein, but tracks like «Interstellar Overdrive» are some of the earliest forays into what has been tagged space rock. But even though Barrett‘s lyrics and melodies are mostly playful and humorous, the band’s music doesn’t always bear out those sentiments — in addition to Rick Wright‘s eerie organ work, dissonance, chromaticism, weird noises, and vocal sound effects are all employed at various instances, giving the impression of chaos and confusion lurking beneath the bright surface. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn successfully captures both sides of psychedelic experimentation — the pleasures of expanding one’s mind and perception, and an underlying threat of mental disorder and even lunacy; this duality makes Piper all the more compelling in light of Barrett‘s subsequent breakdown, and ranks it as one of the best psychedelic albums of all time.


Why Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd still remains captivating: ‘The Piper At The Gates of Dawn’ review

Pink Floyd is typically thought as the transatlantic progressive rock powerhouse of the mid 70s – run on Roger Waters’ political commentary and David Gilmour’s sincerity. However, Floyd purists would probably have a fondness for the band’s original incarnation: Syd Barrett being principal songwriter, Richard Wright second in command, and Roger Waters just a bassist and multi-instrumentalist. 

When making their debut, Pink Floyd were students of psychedelic rock. They created a name for themselves in the underground scene with their entrancing live shows at the UFO club in London, and breaking through to the mainstream with terrific singles like ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn proves to be the definitive statement of a band who were unknowingly reaching the end of a short chapter in their storied career. 

‘Astronomy Domine’ is a stunning opener. This track is one which typical Pink Floyd fans would find the most digestible given its space-rock atmosphere. Barrett’s poetry is exceptional, with lines like “the sound resounds/Around the icy waters underground” providing the lyrics with fluid grace. The band does a superb job in selling the song with the last leg being particularly impressive –  the harmonizing vocals accompanied by the increasingly intense instrumental work helps the song swell into a fulfilling conclusion, leaving the track worthy of its astral chant title. 

‘Lucifer Sam’, however, is a hilarious change of pace. This is the start of many instances where Barrett displays his whimsy and in this case, he releases his inner Ray Davies (of The Kinks fame). A Batman-esc riff propels Barrett’s musing over his “siam cat” and its poppiness makes this a standout. 

‘Flaming’ is gorgeously ethereal. Its lyrics can be read as a child’s inner monologue whilst playing hide and seek or a description of an idyllic drug trip. Verses such as “lazing in the foggy dew/Sitting on a unicorn” with refrains like “yippee! You can’t see me/But I can you” create a divergence in interpretation. Waters’ usage of the slide whistle and wind-up toys helps to cultivate a celestial and delicate air. 

The hypnotic track in ‘Chapter 24’ was inspired by the 24th chapter of I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination manual and book of wisdom. Here Barrett seeks to interpret its meaning and the song’s structure is perhaps the most accessible on the whole project. The song unfolds gracefully in its tranquil beauty.

However, the listener gets transported back into Barrett’s whimsical mind with ‘The Gnome’. Norman Smith’s production does well in portraying the intimacy of the song, with the acoustic guitar and vocals foregrounded only giving way to Wright’s celesta at the chorus. You can really get a sense of Barrett playing the role of storyteller, as if around a campfire, to a small group of obedient children. 

‘Bike’ is an eerie closer. Barrett’s poetic meter is expertly off-kilter and the instrumental is slightly clownish in an aesthetic which, tied together with a forthright song structure, provides this song with a perverse innocence. 

Nonetheless, the album does falter in the middle. The instrumental ‘Pow R. Toc H.’ is not terrible in isolation or following the greatness of the first four tracks. However, its close proximity to the disappointing recording of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ renders it forgettable.

Speaking of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, the live staple for Pink Floyd up to this point does not deliver in the studio. Its beginning and end are pleasant but the six-minute stretch in between sounds more like mindless noodling. You would have to be very under the influence to develop some appreciation for this composition. It would take several listens for an established Floyd fan to accept that Waters did, in fact, write ‘Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk’. It is definitely a song that very few would entertain more than once. 

Nevertheless, Pipers definitely makes it into Pink Floyd’s top five albums – top three depending on my mood. It is exemplary of Syd Barrett’s supreme talent as a songwriter and lyricist. Pink Floyd would never be as funny, innocent or poetic as this ever again. Barrett proves to be one of the high profile casualties of 1960s excesses, and it is with good reason that his work left an impression on seminal artists like David Bowie. It is no accident that it took several years for the band to find their feet after Syd’s departure

Pink Floyd were never known for their hooks and choruses so this project generally would be an intriguing listen for the common Floyd fan. Pipers does have shades of their musical trademarks (such as extensive instrumental bridges and an atmospheric sound) but all in the constraints of 60s psychedelic rock. It’s as much an LP as it is a legitimate historical document of British psychedelia – it contains all of its brilliance, madness and ugliness. It’s Pink Floyd at their most British and it’s a project that no real fan should miss out on. 


The Piper At the Gates of Dawn

The Piper At the Gates of Dawn is the legendary debut album by Pink Floyd and the only album during their Syd Barrett-led era. This era began during the summer of 1965, when Barrett joined the established band which included his childhood friend Roger Waters and unilaterally began to call this band “The Pink Floyd Sound”, after a couple of obscure blues men he had in his record collection. By 1966, the band became part of London’s “underground” scene, gained some high connections, and played some high profile gigs attended by celebrities. In early 1967, the band signed with EMI and their debut album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Norman Smith. The sessions had their share of turmoil as Barrett was unresponsive to direction and constructive criticism.

The sessions for The Piper At the Gates of Dawn came during the middle of a turbulent, exciting, and productive year for Pink Floyd, which also saw the release and charting of three non-album singles. “See Emily Play” was the highest charting on these early singles as the follow-up to “Arnold Layne”, a controversial song as it depicted a transvestite whose primary pastime was stealing women’s clothes and undergarments from washing lines and many English radio stations refused to play the song.

The Piper At the Gates of Dawn is the legendary debut album by Pink Floyd and the only album during their Syd Barrett-led era. This era began during the summer of 1965, when Barrett joined the established band which included his childhood friend Roger Waters and unilaterally began to call this band “The Pink Floyd Sound”, after a couple of obscure blues men he had in his record collection. By 1966, the band became part of London’s “underground” scene, gained some high connections, and played some high profile gigs attended by celebrities. In early 1967, the band signed with EMI and their debut album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Norman Smith. The sessions had their share of turmoil as Barrett was unresponsive to direction and constructive criticism.

The sessions for The Piper At the Gates of Dawn came during the middle of a turbulent, exciting, and productive year for Pink Floyd, which also saw the release and charting of three non-album singles. “See Emily Play” was the highest charting on these early singles as the follow-up to “Arnold Layne”, a controversial song as it depicted a transvestite whose primary pastime was stealing women’s clothes and undergarments from washing lines and many English radio stations refused to play the song.

The album begins with “Astronomy Domine”, the ultimate space odyssey song with wild tremolo effects and a chanting vocal duet between Barrett and keyboardist Richard Wright. There is an extended instrumental section after first verse sequence before the song returns for the concluding sequence. the riff-driven “Lucifer Sam” follows with a cool, mid-sixties British groove, making the song a lot less psychedelic than those on the rest of the album.

“Matilda Mother” begins with some interplay between Waters’ bass and Wright’s organ, who plays a big role in the song by also taking on lead vocals. There are also some fine harmonies during the verses and a slow carousel-like sequence through the end. “Flaming” is another melody-driven song but with wild sound effects throughout as well as a bright acoustic guitar, overdubbed in the third and fourth verses and an odd, yet melodic middle break. “Pow R. Toc H.” is the first of two instrumentals on the album, with the heart of the song driven mainly by a blues riff (one of the few moments where Waters bass is well represented). This is a great early art piece by Pink Floyd, though there are times when the sound effects are just a tad overwhelming. According to drummer Nick Mason, the band members were present at Abbey Road when they watched The Beatles recording “Lovely Rita” for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and decided to try voice effects and noises similar for “Pow R. Toc H.”

Barrett wrote eight of the album’s eleven songs along with contributing to two instrumentals which were credited to the whole band. Waters was credited with one composition, “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”. This closer of the first side is a more frenzied piece than anything else on the album, with Mason really shines on this track with a style of over-the-top drumming which should make Keith Moon proud. Rumor has it that the band insisted in contract negotiations that “Interstellar Overdrive” remain in experimental form on the debut album. The song, which became the the unofficial theme song of the underground event “the fourteen hour technicolor dream”, was the first recorded by the band in January. This instrumental starts strong, with a strong and catchy main riff, but within a minute and a half the song begins to deteriorate into a psychedelic collage of sound effects, which goes on for about seven minutes and may have be just a bit much for any sober listener.

Barrett takes over the rest of the album, with some fine and interesting compositions. “The Gnome” is an upbeat, acoustic folk song with some exaggerated vocals by Barrett and some excellent bass by Waters. “Chapter 24” is perhaps the first deeply philosophical song by a band that would make their reputation exploring such matters. Barrett’s melody floats above the transcending musical motif with the middle part dissolving with a Middle-Eastern sounding organ. The song was inspired by by text from chapter 24 of the ancient Chinese script I Ching (The Book of Changes).

“The Scarecrow” is built on a series of percussive effects by Mason and organ flights by Wright. These at first sound disparate, but are soon held together by layered vocals in concert with tightly strummed electric guitars. An acoustic montage is later overdubbed over the whole ensemble in the outro.

“Bike” is the most brilliant and chilling song on the album, and perhaps the quintessential Syd Barrett song. Lyrically, the song is metered like a 10-year-old’s boasting rant about disparate subjects during the verse and a melancholy chorus about a “girl who fits in with my world”. Knowing of Barrett’s eventual mental demise, the song has turned out to be extremely profound. Musically, the song is driven by good piano and effects by Wright throughout and rock driven rock verses with softer, melodic choruses through the song proper, which lasts less than two minutes. The song and album concludes with a psychedelic reprise of sound collages.

After the release of the album in August 1967, Pink Floyd continued to perform in London, drawing ever larger crowds. But Barrett’s mental state continued to deteriorate and soon he got to the point where he could not perform onstage. Aside from a few more single tracks and one song on the next album, A Saucerful of Secrets, Barrett would not perform with the band again, making The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, a truly unique work.


Chapter 24 by Pink Floyd

A movement is accomplished in six stages
And the seventh brings return
The seven is the number of the young light
It forms when darkness is increased by one
Change returns success
Going and coming without error
Action brings good fortune

The time is with the month of winter solstice
When the change is due to come
Thunder in the other course of heaven
Things cannot be destroyed once and for all
Change returns success
Going and coming without error
Action brings good fortune
Sunset, sunrise

A movement is accomplished in six stages
And the seventh brings return
The seven is the number of the young light
It forms when darkness is increased by one
Change returns success
Going and coming without error
Action brings good fortune
Sunset, sunrise, sunrise, sunset

From 2019 to 2049 – Back to the Future

FUTURISTIC  Blade Runner

THE view of the future offered by Ridley Scott’s muddled yet mesmerizing »Blade Runner» is as intricately detailed as anything a science-fiction film has yet envisioned. The year is 2019, the place Los Angeles, the landscape garish but bleak. The city is a canyon bounded by industrial towers, some of which belch fire. Advertising billboards, which are everywhere, now feature lifelike electronic people who are the size of giants. The police cruise both horizontally and vertically on their patrol routes, but there is seldom anyone to arrest, because the place is much emptier than it used to be. In an age of space travel, anyone with the wherewithal has presumably gone away. Only the dregs remain.

»Blade Runner» begins with a stunning shot of this futuristic city, accompanied by the rumbling of Vangelis’s eerie, highly effective score. It proceeds to tell the story of Rick Deckard and his battle with the replicants, a story based on Philip K. Dick’s novel »Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?» In brief: replicants are manmade creatures that possess all human attributes except feelings. They have been built to serve as slaves in Earth colonies that are Off World, i.e., elsewhere. Whenever the replicants rebel, the job of eliminating them is given to a special, skilled hunter. This expert is called a blade runner.

Rick Deckard is the best of the blade runners, now retired. He is as hard-boiled as any film noir detective, with much the same world view. So when he is told, at the beginning of »Blade Runner,» that an especially dangerous group of replicants is on the loose, and is offered the job of hunting them, he can’t say no. Even in the murkiest reaches of science-fiction lore, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

»Blade Runner,» which opens today at the Criterion Center and other theaters, follows Deckard’s love affair with a beautiful replicant named Rachael, who is special assistant to the high-level industrialist who created her. It also follows Deckard’s tracking down of the runaways, most notably their white-haired, demoniclooking leader, Batty (Rutger Hauer). These events involve quite a bit of plot, but they’re nothing in the movie’s excessively busy overall scheme. »Blade Runner» is crammed to the gills with much more information than it can hold.

Science-fiction devotees may find »Blade Runner» a wonderfully meticulous movie and marvel at the comprehensiveness of its vision. Even those without a taste for gadgetry cannot fail to appreciate the degree of effort that has gone into constructing a film so ambitious and idiosyncratic. The special effects are by Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer, and they are superb. So is Laurence G. Paull’s production design. But »Blade Runner» is a film that special effects could have easily run away with, and run away with it they have.

And it’s also a mess, at least as far as its narrative is concerned. Almost nothing is explained coherently, and the plot has great lapses, from the changeable nature of one key character to the frequent disappearances of another. The story lurches along awkwardly, helped not at all by some ponderous stabs at developing Deckard’s character. As an old-fashioned detective cruising his way through the space age, Deckard is both tedious and outre.

At several points in the story, Deckard is called on to wonder whether Rachael has feelings. This seems peculiar, because the icy, poised Rachael, played by Sean Young as a 1940’s heroine with spaceage trimmings, seems a lot more expressive than Deckard, who is played by Harrison Ford. Mr. Ford is, for a movie so darkly fanciful, rather a colorless hero; he fades too easily into the bleak background. And he is often upstaged by Rutger Hauer, who in this film and in »Night Hawks» appears to be specializing in fiendish roles. Mr. Hauer is properly cold-blooded here, but there is something almost humorous behind his nastiness. In any case, he is by far the most animated performer in a film intentionally populated by automatons.

Mr. Scott, who made his mark in »Alien» by showing a creature bursting forth from the body of one of its victims, tries hard to hit the same note here. One scene takes place in an eyeball factory. Two others show Deckard in vicious, sadistic fights with women. One of these fights features strange calisthenics and unearthly shrieks.

The end of the film is both gruesome and sentimental. Mr. Scott can’t have it both ways, any more than he can expect overdecoration to carry a film that has neither strong characters nor a strong story. That hasn’t stopped him from trying, even if it perhaps should have.


Blade Runner’s chillingly prescient vision of the future

Can corporations become so powerful that they dictate the way we feel? Can machines get mad – like, really mad – at their makers? Can people learn to love machines?

These are a few of the questions raised by Ridley Scott’s influential sci-fi neo-noir film “Blade Runner” (1982), which imagines a corporation whose product tests the limits of the machine-man divide.

Looking back at the original theatrical release of “Blade Runner” – just as its sequel, “Blade Runner 2049” opens in theaters – I’m struck by the original’s ambivalence about technology and its chillingly prescient vision of corporate attempts to control human feelings.

From machine killer to machine lover

Even though the film was tepidly received at the time of its release, its detractors agreed that its imagining of Los Angeles in 2019 was wonderfully atmospheric and artfully disconcerting. Looming over a dingy, rain-soaked City of Angels is Tyrell Corporation, whose namesake, Dr. Tyrell (Joe Turkel), announces, “Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. More human than human is our motto.”

Tyrell creates robots called replicants, which are difficult to differentiate from humans. They are designed to be worker-slaves – with designations like “combat model” or “pleasure model” – and to expire after four years.

Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Darryl Hannah) are two members of a small cohort of rebelling replicants who escape their enslavement and hope to extend their lives beyond the four years allotted them by their makers. These replicant models even possess fake memories, which Tyrell implanted as a way to buffer the machine’s anxieties. Instead, the memories create a longing for an unattainable future. The machines want to be treated like people, too.

Deckard (Harrison Ford), a policeman (and maybe a replicant too), is tasked with eliminating the escaped machines. During his search, he meets a special replicant who lacks the corporate safeguard of a four-year lifespan: the beautiful Rachael (Sean Young), who shoots and kills one of her own in order to save Deckard. This opens the door for Deckard to acknowledge growing feelings towards a machine who has developed the will to live and love beyond the existence imagined for her by Tyrell Corp.

The greatest challenge to Deckard comes from combat model Batty, who has demonstrably more passion for existence than the affectless Deckard.

The film’s climax is a duel to the death between Deckard and Batty, in which Batty ends up not just sparing but saving Deckard. As Deckard watches Batty expire, he envies the replicant’s lust for life at the very moment it escapes him. Batty seems more human than the humans in this world, but Tyrell’s motto is both clue and trap.

Deckard’s end-of-film decision to escape with Rachael defies the rules of the corporation and of society. But it’s also an acknowledgment of the successful, seamless integration of machine and human life.

“Blade Runner” imagines a world in which human machines are created to serve people, but Deckard’s interactions with these replicants reveals the thinness of the line: He goes from being on assignment as a machine killer to falling in love with a machine.

A world succumbing to machines

Today, the relationship between corporations, machines and humans defines modern life in ways that Ridley Scott – even in his wildest and most dystopic imagination – couldn’t have forecast in 1982.

In “Blade Runner,” implanted memories are propped up by coveted (but fake) family photos. Yet a world in which memory is fragile and malleable seems all too possible and familiar. Recent studies have shown that people’s memories are increasingly susceptible to being warped by social media misinformation, whether it’s stories of fake terrorist attacks or Muslims celebrating after 9/11. When this misinformation spreads on social media networks, it can create and reinforce false collective memories, fomenting a crisis of reality that can skew election results or whip up small town hysteria.

Meanwhile, Facebook has studied how it can manipulate the way its users feel – and yet over a billion people a day log on to willingly participate in its massive data collection efforts.

Our entrancement with technology might seem less dramatic than the full-blown love affair that Scott imagined, but it’s no less all-consuming. We often prioritize our smartphones over human social interactions, with millennials checking their phones over 150 times a day. In fact, even as people increasingly feel that they cannot live without their smartphones, many say that the devices are ruining their relationships.

And at a time when we’re faced with the likelihood of being unable to differentiate between what’s real and what’s fake – a world of Twitter bots and doctored photographs, trolling and faux-outrage, mechanical pets and plastic surgery – we might be well served by recalling Deckard’s first conversation upon arriving at Tyrell Corp. Spotting an owl, Deckard asks, “It’s artificial?” Rachael replies, not skipping a beat, “Of course it is.”

In “Blade Runner,” reality no longer really matters.

How much longer will it matter to us?



In 1982, Blade Runner floored audiences with its technodystopian depiction of the future. Almost 40 years on, some of these projections seem eerily accurate

“Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced robot evolution into the NEXUS phase – a being virtually identical to a human known as a Replicant. … After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-World colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death…This was not called execution. It was called retirement.”
– opening text of “Blade Runner” (1982)

Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic film, Blade Runner, takes us into a dystopian future that humankind has brought on itself through the rapid, unrestrained and ultimately chaotic development of new technologies.

First and foremost, this sci-fi noir film explores the dangers, uncertainties and moral and ethical ambiguities surrounding the creation of advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The interactions between humans and the advanced androids, known as Replicants, portray a world in which the line between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ people is inextricably blurred.

In doing so, Blade Runner questions what it fundamentally means to be human, following four Replicants who have returned to Earth to meet their maker.

Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is then tasked with tracking down and eliminating the rogue AIs, who are asserting their right to live in a society that doesn’t recognise them as real people.

What is startling to remember is that the film was set in 2019. So today, well past that date, can the dark predictions of Blade Runner provoke a reflection and even a deeper understanding of our relationship with technology? How successful is art and film at predicting our future?


The Replicants of Blade Runner, as the name suggests, are essentially AI systems given advanced bioengineered bodies designed to replicate the physical abilities and intellectual capacities of humans. They’re put in dangerous scenarios without the need to risk actual human lives.

Despite many advances in this technology, these highly intelligent androids are far from existing in our world. The technology today, three years after the setting of Blade Runner, is still far from creating actual Artificially Intelligent beings.

Beings like this – sometimes called general AI – are beyond the scope of our modern AI systems and technologies available today.

AI, as we know it, consists of technologies like machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and computer vision technologies. This can work in surprising and sophisticated ways by identifying patterns and correlations to predict outcomes.

But AI is very far from understanding humans or having its own thoughts and feelings. The robots we interact with are more likely to be the cute but inert Paro aged care seal or the somewhat creepy Boston Dynamic dancing dog.

While technologists might still mull over the existence of potentially dangerous ‘almost humans’ that are nearly impossible to distinguish from ‘real’ humans, experts in the field are more concerned about the hidden black box workings of manipulative and prejudiced algorithms that are making decisions about our jobs, money and freedom.

Experts are concerned too over the digital platforms sitting in moats of data that give them the ability to manipulate what we buy or how we vote.


Although Replicants may still only exist in the realms of fantasy, Blade Runner still prompts relevant questions about human-computer interactions and the ethics of AI.

In the world of Blade Runner, Replicants are simply tools that are to be used for the benefit of their owners. So, killing a Replicant isn’t referred to as execution like “real” people – they are “retired”. And yet, the design of the Replicants intrinsically, yet also paradoxically, challenges their status as mere non-human tools and property.

Replicants are purposefully designed to be “virtually identical” to humans. They look like humans, speak like humans and without investigation from a Blade Runner, are indistinguishable from humans.

And this idea goes strictly against ethical design for AI or robotic systems.

Many contemporary scholars of AI or robot ethics see something inherently deceptive about this mimicry, which both insults the human interacting with the robot and may also degrade the robot’s innate humanity.

What does it mean if, on deciding that a robot which strongly resembles a human is non-human, a human engages in cruel or vicious treatment of that robot? In the real world, it’s been suggested that one of the new ‘laws of robotics’ should require a robot to always identify itself as a robot, ultimately responsible to the humans who deployed it.


These questions are interesting in understanding our relationships with technology and what it is to be human. But the questions prompted by the Replicants and their relationship with Blade Runner also have real and current applications.

Should the chatbots we interact with dealing with banking, telco and airline providers identify themselves as artificial? What about Alexa? Google’s AI system, Duplex, was met with controversy after demonstrating it could book a restaurant because many felt that the deception involved in this practice was inherently wrong.

In Blade Runner, Deckard’s relationship with Rachael also reflects this concern, raising questions about whether AI should mimic human affection and emotion in their language.

The ethical and moral standing of a robot is questioned in many films, and in literature and art. And often sci-fi films like Blade Runner depict robots with genuine thoughts, feelings and emotions as well as the deeply human desire to fight for their own survival.

Although humanoid robots are not likely in the foreseeable future, we do need laws to deal with the consequences of the hidden black box algorithms that are increasingly informing government and private sector decisions. For humans, there are many laws and regulations that exist for our own protection – so should we have the same laws for robots?


Baby, the Rain Must Fall

The visionary sci-fi movie “Blade Runner” has its own look, and a place in film history.

Ridley Scott, the director of the futuristic thriller “Blade Runner,” sets up the action with a crawl announcing that the time is early in the twenty-first century, and that a blade runner is a police officer who “retires”—i.e., kills—“replicants,” the powerful humanoids manufactured by genetic engineers, if they rebel against their drudgery in the space colonies and show up on Earth. A title informs us that we’re in Los Angeles in the year 2019, and then Scott plunges us into a hellish, claustrophobic city that has become a cross between Newark and old Singapore. The skies are polluted, and there’s a continual drenching rainfall. The air is so rotten that it’s dark outside, yet when we’re inside, the brightest lights are on the outside, from the giant searchlights scanning the city and shining in. A huge, squat pyramidal skyscraper (the new architecture appears to be Mayan and Egyptian in inspiration) houses the offices of the Tyrell Corporation, which produces those marvels of energy the replicants, who are faster and stronger than human beings, and even at the top, in the penthouse of Tyrell himself, there’s dust hanging in the smoky air. (You may find yourself idly wondering why this bigwig inventor can’t produce a humble little replicant to do some dusting.)

The congested-megalopolis sets are extraordinary, and they’re lovingly, perhaps obsessively, detailed; this is the future as a black market, made up of scrambled sordid aspects of the past—Chinatown, the Casbah, and Times Square, with an enormous, mesmerizing ad for Coca-Cola, and Art Deco neon signs everywhere, in a blur of languages. “Blade Runner,” which cost thirty million dollars, has its own look, and a visionary sci-fi movie that has its own look can’t be ignored—it has its place in film history. But we’re always aware of the sets as sets, partly because although the impasto of decay is fascinating, what we see doesn’t mean anything to us. (It’s 2019 back lot.) Ridley Scott isn’t great on mise en scène—we’re never sure exactly what part of the city we’re in, or where it is in relation to the scene before and the scene after. (Scott seems to be trapped in his own alleyways, without a map.) And we’re not caught up in the pulpy suspense plot, which involves the hero, Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner forced to come back to hunt down four murderous replicants who have blended into the swarming street life. (The term “blade runner” actually comes from the title of a William Burroughs novel, which has no connection with the movie.) It’s a very strange tenderloin that Ridley Scott and his associates have concocted; except for Deckard and stray Hari Krishna-ites and porcupine-headed punks, there are few Caucasians (and not many blacks, either). The population seems to be almost entirely ethnic—poor, hustling Asians and assorted foreigners, who are made to seem not quite degenerate, perhaps, but oddly subhuman. They’re all selling, dealing, struggling to get along; they never look up—they’re intent on what they’re involved in, like slot-machine zealots in Vegas. You know that Deckard is a breed apart, because he’s the only one you see who reads a newspaper. Nothing much is explained (except in that opening crawl), but we get the vague impression that the more prosperous, clean-cut types have gone off-world to some Scarsdale in space.

Here we are—only forty years from now—in a horrible electronic slum, and “Blade Runner” never asks, “How did this happen?” The picture treats this grimy, retrograde future as a given—a foregone conclusion, which we’re not meant to question. The presumption is that man is now fully realized as a spoiler of the earth. The sci-fi movies of the past were often utopian or cautionary; this film seems indifferent, blasé, and maybe, like some of the people in the audience, a little pleased by this view of a medieval future—satisfied in a slightly vengeful way. There’s a subject, though, lurking around the comic-strip edges: What does it mean to be human? Tracking down the replicants, who are assumed not to have any feelings, Deckard finds not only that they suffer and passionately want to live but that they are capable of acts of generosity. They have become far more human than the scavenging people left on Earth. Maybe Scott and the scriptwriters (Hampton Fancher and David Peoples), who adapted the 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” by the late Philip K. Dick, shied away from this subject because it has sticky, neo-Fascist aspects. But this underlying idea is the only promising one in the movie, and it has a strong visual base: when a manufactured person looks just like a person born of woman—when even the eyes don’t tell you which is which—how do you define the difference?

Scott’s creepy, oppressive vision requires some sort of overriding idea—something besides spoofy gimmicks, such as having Deckard narrate the movie in the loner-in-the-big-city manner of a Hammett or Chandler private eye. This voice-over, which is said to have been a late addition, sounds ludicrous, and it breaks the visual hold of the material. The dialogue isn’t well handled, either. Scott doesn’t seem to have a grasp of how to use words as part of the way a movie moves. “Blade Runner” is a suspenseless thriller; it appears to be a victim of its own imaginative use of hardware and miniatures and mattes. At some point, Scott and the others must have decided that the story was unimportant; maybe the booming, lewd and sultry score by Chariots-for-Hire Vangelis that seems to come out of the smoke convinced them that the audience would be moved even if vital parts of the story were trimmed. Vangelis gives the picture so much film noir overload that he fights Scott’s imagery; he chomps on it, stomps on it, and drowns it.

“Blade Runner” doesn’t engage you directly; it forces passivity on you. It sets you down in this lopsided maze of a city, with its post-human feeling, and keeps you persuaded that something bad is about to happen. Some of the scenes seem to have six subtexts but no text, and no context, either. There are suggestions of Nicolas Roeg in the odd, premonitory atmosphere, but Roeg gives promise of something perversely sexual. With Scott, it’s just something unpleasant or ugly. The dizzying architectural angles (we always seem to be looking down from perilous heights) and the buglike police cars that lift off in the street and rise straight up in the canyons between the tall buildings and drop down again give us a teasing kind of vertigo. Scott goes much further, though. He uses way-off-kilter angles that produce not nausea, exactly, but a queasiness that prepares us for the feelings of nausea that Deckard is then seen to have. And, perhaps because of the what-is-a-human-being remnant in the story, the picture keeps Deckard—and us—fixated on eyes. (The characters’ perambulations include a visit to the eyemaker who supplies the Tyrell genetic engineers with human eyes, and he turns out to be a wizened old Chinese gent—as if eyemaking were an ancient art. Maybe Tyrell picks up some used elbows in Saigon. His methods of operation for creating replicant slaves out of living cell tissue seem as haphazard as bodywork on wrecked cars.) In Nicolas Roeg’s films, the characters are drained, and they’re left soft and androgynous in an inviting way; Scott squashes his characters, and the dread that he sets up leads you to expect some release, and you know it’s not the release you want.

All we’ve got to hang on to is Deckard, and the moviemakers seem to have decided that his characterization was complete when they signed Harrison Ford for the role. Deckard’s bachelor pad is part of a 1924 Frank Lloyd Wright house with a Mayan motif. Apart from that, the only things we learn about him are that he has inexplicably latched on to private-eye lingo, that he was married, and that he’s tired of killing replicants—it has begun to sicken him. (The piano in his apartment has dozens of family pictures on it, but they’re curiously old-fashioned photos—they seem to go back to the nineteenth century—and we have no idea what happened to all those people.) The film’s visual scale makes the sloppy bit of plot about Deckard going from one oddball place to another as he tracks down the four replicants—two men, two women—seem sort of pitiable. But his encounters with the replicant women are sensationally, violently effective. As Zhora, who has found employment as an artificial-snake charmer, Joanna Cassidy has some of the fine torrid sluttiness she had in “The Late Show.” (Nobody is less like a humanoid than Joanna Cassidy; her Zhora wasn’t manufactured as an adult—she was formed by bitter experience, and that’s what gives her a screen presence.) And, in the one really shocking and magical sequence, Daryl Hannah, as the straw-haired, acrobatic Pris, does a punk variation on Olympia, the doll automaton of “The Tales of Hoffmann.”

The two male replicants give the movie problems. Leon (Brion James, who brings a sweaty wariness and suggestions of depth to the role) has found a factory job at the Tyrell Corporation itself, and his new employers, suspecting that he may be a renegade replicant, give him a highly sophisticated test. It checks his emotional responses by detecting the contractions of the pupils of his eyes as he attempts to deal with questions about his early life. But this replicant-detector test comes at the beginning of the picture, before we have registered that replicants have no early life. And it seems utterly pointless, since surely the Tyrell Corporation has photographic records of the models it has produced—and, in fact, when the police order Deckard to find and retire the four he is shown perfectly clear pictures of them. It might have been much cannier to save any testing until later in the movie, when Deckard has doubts about a very beautiful dark-eyed woman—Tyrell’s assistant, Rachael, played by Sean Young. Rachael, who has the eyes of an old Murine ad, seems more of a zombie than anyone else in the movie, because the director tries to pose her the way von Sternberg posed Dietrich, but she saves Deckard’s life, and even plays his piano. (She smokes, too, but then the whole atmosphere is smoking.) Rachael wears vamped-up versions of the mannish padded-shoulder suits and the sleek, stiff hairdos and ultra-glossy lipstick of career girls in forties movies; her shoulder comes into a room a long time before she does. And if Deckard had felt compelled to test her responses it could have been the occasion for some nifty repartee; she might have been spirited and touching. Her role is limply written, though; she’s cool at first, but she spends most of her screen time looking mysteriously afflicted—wet-eyed with yearning—and she never gets to deliver a zinger. I don’t think she even has a chance to laugh. The moviemakers haven’t learned that wonderful, simple trick of bringing a character close to the audience by giving him a joke or having him overreact to one. The people we’re watching are so remote from us they might be shadows of people who aren’t there.

The only character who gets to display a large range of emotions is the fourth of the killer replicants, and their leader—Roy Batty (the Crazed King?), played by the tall, blue-eyed blond Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, whose hair is lemon-white here. Hauer (who was Albert Speer in “Inside the Third Reich” on television last May) stares all the time; he also smiles ominously, hoo-hoos like a mad owl and howls like a wolf, and, at moments, appears to see himself as the god Pan, and as Christ crucified. He seems a shoo-in for this year’s Klaus Kinski Scenery-Chewing Award. As a humanoid in a homicidal rage because replicants are built to last only four years, he stalks through the movie like an evil Aryan superman; he brings the wrong kind of intensity to the role—an effete, self-aware irony so overscaled it’s Wagnerian. His gaga performance is an unconscious burlesque that apparently passes for great acting with the director, especially when Hauer turns noble sufferer and poses like a big hunk of sculpture. (It’s a wonder he doesn’t rust out in all that rain.) This sequence is particularly funny because there’s poor Harrison Ford, with the fingers of one hand broken, reduced to hanging on to bits of the cornice of a tall building by his one good hand—by then you’ve probably forgotten that he is Harrison Ford, the fellow who charms audiences by his boundless good humor—while the saucer-eyed Hauer rants and carries on. Ford is like Harold Lloyd stuck by mistake in the climax of “Duel in the Sun.”

Ridley Scott may not notice that when Hauer is onscreen the camera seems stalled and time breaks down, because the whole movie gives you a feeling of not getting anywhere. Deckard’s mission seems of no particular consequence. Whom is he trying to save? Those sewer-rat people in the city? They’re presented as so dehumanized that their life or death hardly matters. Deckard feels no more connection with them than Ridley Scott does. They’re just part of the film’s bluish-gray, heavy-metal chic—inertia made glamorous. Lead zeppelins could float in this smoggy air. And maybe in the moviemakers’ heads, too. Why is Deckard engaged in this urgent hunt? The replicants are due to expire anyway. All the moviemakers’ thinking must have gone into the sets. Apparently, the replicants have a motive for returning to Earth: they’re trying to reach Tyrell—they hope he can extend their life span. So if the police want to catch them, all they need to do is wait for them to show up at Tyrell’s place. And why hasn’t Deckard, the ace blade runner, figured out that if the replicants can’t have their lives extended they may want revenge for their slave existence, and that all he’s doing is protecting Tyrell? You can dope out how the story might have been presented, with Deckard as the patsy who does Tyrell’s dirty work; as it is, you can’t clear up why Tyrell isn’t better guarded—and why the movie doesn’t pull the plot strands together.

“Blade Runner” is musty even while you’re looking at it (and noting its relationship to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and to von Sternberg’s lighting techniques, and maybe to Polanski’s “Chinatown” and “Fellini’s Roma,” and so on). There are some remarkable images—for example, when the camera plays over the iron grillwork of the famous Bradbury Building in Los Angeles the iron looks tortured into shape. These images are part of the sequences about a lonely, sickly young toymaker, Sebastian (William Sanderson), who lives in the deserted building. Sebastian has used the same techniques employed in producing replicants to make living toy companions for himself, and since the first appearance of these toys has some charm, we wait to see them in action again. When the innocent, friendly Sebastian is in danger, we expect the toys to come to his aid or be upset or, later, try to take reprisals for what happens to their creator, or at least grieve. We assume that moviemakers wouldn’t go to all the trouble of devising a whole batch of toy figures only to forget about them. But this movie loses track of the few expectations it sets up, and the formlessness adds to a viewer’s demoralization—the film itself seems part of the atmosphere of decay. “Blade Runner” has nothing to give the audience—not even a second of sorrow for Sebastian. It hasn’t been thought out in human terms. If anybody comes around with a test to detect humanoids, maybe Ridley Scott and his associates should hide. With all the smoke in this movie, you feel as if everyone connected with it needs to have his flue cleaned.


Are we living in a Blade Runner world?

The 1982 sci-fi film imagined a dystopian metropolis in November 2019. But, now we’ve caught up, to what extent did it really predict our present reality, asks David Barnett.

The city stretches as far as the eye can see; the lights in the packed-together buildings shine – unlike the stars which are invisible in the smog-filled night sky… Flames belch from gigantic industrial towers. A vehicle flies into the scene, then out again, heading towards two monstrous pyramids.

An increasingly anxious man undergoes a verbal test conducted by his supervisor at the Tyrell Corporation, housed in the vast ziggurats. It doesn’t end well. We cut to another flying car, negotiating the narrow avenues of the city, framed against a digital hoarding, storeys-tall, featuring an Asian woman advertising snack foods. A booming voice cheerfully tells the unseen but presumably multitudinous denizens of this strange future world that a new life awaits them in the off-world colonies.

Except, of course, it isn’t the future, not any more. This is Blade Runner, the 1982 movie directed by Ridley Scott: (very loosely) based on Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and telling the story of Rick Deckard, a cop who works for the LAPD, tracking down and ‘retiring’ replicants – genetically-engineered, almost-human artificial people whose presence on Earth is illegal, following a replicant revolt on one of Earth’s off-world colonies.

This may sound far-flung from our own reality, but as the opening credits tell us, the film is set in Los Angeles, November 2019. In that sense, Blade Runner is no longer science fiction. It’s a contemporary thriller. The question is: in the 37 years between Blade Runner’s release and its setting – our present – how close have we come to the future presented in the movie?

On one hand, there are parts of its vision of 2019 that feel jarringly old-fashioned. There is no internet, and when we first meet Deckard he’s reading an actual newspaper, sheltering from the rain by the window of a shop that is selling bulky old cathode-ray television sets. Meanwhile when Deckard performs the Voight-Kampff test – an examination designed to distinguish replicants from humans via their emotional responses to verbal questioning  – on Sean Young’s Rachael, the assistant of Eldon Tyrell, the boss of the company that makes replicants, she is smoking! A cigarette! In an office!

The world of Blade Runner is one in which the fictional Tyrell conglomerate dominates alongside other, real-life corporations, that feature on some of the film’s massive neon advertising hoardings – tempting fate as to whether the businesses active in 1982 would still be going in 2019. Coca-Cola was a fairly safe bet, but PanAm, whose logo we glimpse in the opening scene, wasn’t; the airline went out of business in 1991.

On the other hand, we are still catching up with much of its technology, of course – though some elements are now not far beyond the bounds of possibility. A German company, Lilium, announced last month that the flying car it is developing could be in use as a taxi service by the year 2025. We don’t have artificial humans, but we have been making huge strides in gene-editing, causing concern in some quarters. And we don’t need the Voight-Kampff test yet, but how many times have you been asked to mark all the traffic lights on a grid picture to prove you’re not a robot, and gain access to a website?

What the film gets right

However, beyond particular components, Blade Runner arguably gets something much more fundamental right, which is the world’s socio-political outlook in 2019 – and that isn’t particularly welcome, according to Michi Trota, who is a media critic and the non-fiction editor of the science-fiction periodical, Uncanny Magazine.

“It’s disappointing, to say the least, that what Blade Runner ‘predicted’ accurately is a dystopian landscape shaped by corporate influence and interests, mass industrialisation’s detrimental effect on the environment, the police state, and the whims of the rich and powerful resulting in chaos and violence, suffered by the socially marginalised.”

In the movie the replicants have a fail-safe programmed into them – a lifespan of just four years – to prevent a further revolution. Trota believes there is “something prescient in the replicants’ frustration and rage at their shortened lifespans, resulting from corporate greed and indifference, that’s echoed in the current state of US healthcare and globalised exploitation of workers.” She adds: “I’d have vastly preferred the flying cars instead.”

As for the devastating effects of pollution and climate change evident in Blade Runner, as well as its 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049, “the environmental collapse the film so vividly depicts is not too far off from where we are today,” says science-fiction writer and software developer Matthew Kressel, pointing to the infamous 2013 picture of the Beijing smog that looks like a cut frame from the film. “And we’re currently undergoing the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. In addition, the film’s depiction of haves and have-nots, those who are able to live comfortable lives, while the rest live in squalor, is remarkably parallel to the immense disparity in wealth between the world’s richest and poorest today. In that sense, the film is quite accurate.”

Accurate about where, though? Blade Runner’s Los Angeles is a cultural melange, with heavy Eastern influences, and a street-level argot called Cityspeak that is a mish-mash of Japanese, Spanish, German, Korean, among other languages. Trota, who is Filipino-American, says the film is an example of “how pervasive the use of ‘exotic Asian pastiche’ is in science-fiction stories that seem to have no problem with taking the surface bits of non-European cultures to ‘spice things up’, while neglecting to include any significant characters of colour in those stories”.

As in Kressel’s comment above, Beijing has been a frequent reference point when discussing Blade Runner’s metropolis – and that’s where award-winning science-fiction author Mary Robinette Kowal has just returned from. Is the Chinese megacity more representative of the Blade Runner aesthetic than present-day LA, I wonder? “The smog was no joke, so in that respect, yes,” says Kowal. “But in the parts of Beijing that I was in, I saw a significant overlap of the old and the new. Each seemed equally celebrated. Aside from the air quality, it was a clean, modern city, interwoven with historic areas.”

What’s the point of sci-fi?

Is the question of whether Blade Runner in 1982 correctly predicted the world of 2019 even a valid one, though? Is it science fiction’s job to be predictive, or to just entertain? Or, perhaps, something more?

Kowal says she is less interested in the genre’s literally predictive qualities than in the opportunities it offers as “a playground for thought experiments. It allows us to tip our world to the side and look at the interconnected tissues and then draw logical chains of causality into the future. The best SF remains relevant, not because of the technology in it, but because of the questions it forces us to ask. Blade Runner, for instance, is asking about the morality of creating sentient life for the purpose of enslaving it.”

Trota agrees science fiction’s real potency lies in the wider philosophical issues it explores. “It can often be about the future, it can be ‘predictive’ but those predictions are also very much reflective of our grappling with present day issues, as well as our past. If there’s any ‘job’ that science fiction – and fantasy – has, to paraphrase authors Ijeoma Oluo and NK Jemisin, it’s to help us imagine entirely new ways of being, to move beyond reflexively recreating our past so we can envision other ways of living outside the systems, oppressions, and societal defaults we’ve internalised and normalised.”

Kowal’s latest novels, The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, envisage an alternate-history US, where a woman mathematician and pilot leads humanity’s mission to colonise other worlds, as an apocalyptic climate change bears down on the Earth. The author says that Blade Runner “shaped a lot of our ideas of what ‘the future’ looks like… If we think of broad strokes, I think it did surprisingly well. Pollution, talking to our computers, corporations running the country, and the ethical questions of who is considered a person. If we talk about specifics? Flying cars exist but are always going to be a terrible idea, so I’m fine with not having those in the mainstream.”

If not necessarily predictive, science fiction can also prove to have a symbiotic relationship with the present. Kowal says, “So many people in STEM fields cite science-fiction films or books as their inspiration for an invention. Did Star Trek invent the flip phone, or cause it to come into being? Did 1984 predict the Big Brother state or prevent it from being pervasive?”

And it can also provide a warning for us to mend our ways. Nobody, surely, would want to live in the November 2019 depicted by Blade Runner, would they? Don’t be too sure, says Kressel.

“In a way, Blade Runner can be thought of as the ultimate cautionary tale,” he says. “Has there ever been a vision so totally bleak, one that shows how environmental degradation, dehumanisation and personal estrangement are so harmful to the future of the world?

“And yet, if anything, Blade Runner just shows the failure of the premise that cautionary tales actually work. Instead, we have fetishised Blade Runner’s dystopian vision. Look at most art depicting the future across literature, film, visual art, and in almost all of them you will find echoes of Blade Runner’s bleak dystopia.

“Blade Runner made dystopias ‘cool’, and so here we are, careening toward environmental collapse one burned hectare of rainforest at a time. If anything, I think we should be looking at why we failed to heed its warning.”


Blade Runner 2049: The Mysteries Deepen

The good news about life on Earth, thirty-two years from now, is that people still listen to Frank Sinatra. In “Blade Runner 2049,” the land is the color of a corpse, and the skies are no better. The only tree is sapless and dead, and the only farmer is harvesting weevils for protein. The Voice, however, is unimpaired. True, Sinatra is no more than a hologram, crooning to a couple of folks in the shell of a Las Vegas hot spot, and yet, when he sings the words “Set ’em up, Joe,” you soften and melt as if it were 1954 and he were singing them to Doris Day, hushing a crowded room, in “Young at Heart.”

By a nice twist, there is a Joe around. He’s with the L.A.P.D., and he’s officially called KD6.3-7 (Ryan Gosling), or K, for short, but somebody suggests Joe, and it lends him a little flavor. He needs a real name, not least because it makes him sound like a real person—shades of Pinocchio, who longed to be a real boy. In fact, K is a Blade Runner: a synthetic human known as a replicant, physically redoubtable and emotionally dry, whose job is to find and to “retire” (a ghoulish euphemism) any early-model replicants who are still out there. They have “open-ended lifespans,” and immortality, as ever, is not to be trusted. Such is the premise of Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” which came out in 1982 and was set, with startling powers of premonition, in 2019. It starred Harrison Ford as Deckard, a cop who hunted down rogue replicants across Los Angeles—a joyless Babel, blitzed by neon glare and lashed by the whip of dirty rain. That was the future back then. How’s it looking now?

Well, the rain hasn’t stopped. Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink; most of it is contaminated, and when K takes a shower it’s over in a two-second blast. The director of photography, Roger Deakins, delights in drowning our senses: enemies clash by night in a frothing torrent, at the foot of a dam, and, in one telling image, K’s boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), is barely visible through a window, such is the deluge streaming across the panes. “It is my job to keep order,” she says, and that order is coming adrift. K has been sent out of town to confront a hulking replicant named Sapper Morton. (He is played by Dave Bautista, who gets better and more solid, if that is possible, with every film.) What K discovers, buried on Morton’s property, is a box of bones, and what the bones reveal is unthinkable: a secret that could undermine the near-fascistic system, upheld by Joshi, whereby replicants do the bidding of humanity. If replicants were to rise up or—perish the thought—to reproduce, there might be no way to contain them.

Not that the film is a hymn to revolution. It runs for nearly three hours, and it looms as large as an epic, with a score, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, that feels at times like an onslaught of monumental thuds. Yet the bastions of power—the corporate ziggurats of L.A., cliff-high and elephant gray, which viewers of the first film will recall with awe—remain in place, unbreached, and the hordes at ground level seethe not with a lust for liberation but with a busy trade in high-tech assistance and lowly sexual favors. Moreover, the plot is a small and coiled affair, involving a missing child, and the mood is as inward as anything in the annals of Philip Marlowe, with a dose of Marlowe’s glum self-bullying, as K investigates not only historical crimes but his own potential presence in the labyrinth of the past. The movie doesn’t seem slow, but its clues are minuscule—a single piano key depressed beside its neighbors, a serial number visible only under a microscope—and the action sequences flare up against a backdrop of inaction and an existential dread of getting stuck. The result is at once consuming and confounding, a private puzzle cached inside a blockbuster.

One coup, for Villeneuve, is the return of Harrison Ford, as Deckard. The surprise was sprung in a trailer, months ago, raising expectations that the new movie might clear up the conundrum that has plagued the brains of “Blade Runner” fans since 1982: Is Deckard himself a replicant? I am pleased to report that I still can’t decide. Undying he may or may not be, but he is certainly aging, with a halting gait and a bottle of Johnnie Walker close at hand. He lives alone with—guess what—a shaggy dog, pouring whiskey onto the floor for the mutt to lap at. Ford is splendidly grizzled and gruff, giving the film a necessary rasp, and he even shakes up Ryan Gosling. I happen to like Gosling in hangdog mode, when he yields to the pressure of sentiment, as in “Blue Valentine” (2010), but many of his worshippers prefer the cool constraint that he showed in “Drive” (2011), and that is mostly what we get here. K is an android, after all, who can walk away from a bloody fight without a squeak of complaint, and one purpose of the film is to probe that calm façade. Hence the two scenes in which, after a mission, he is interrogated not by a superior but by a computer that stares at him, with an unblinking lens, and performs a “Post-Trauma Baseline Test.” K must respond to certain words and phrases: “Cells,” “Interlinked,” “A Tall White Fountain Played.” The first time he takes the test, he passes. Later in the film, he fails.

What the hell is going on here, and what does it tell us about the relation of “Blade Runner 2049” to the original? Decode the test, and you realize that the computer is quoting verse:

Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

The lines come from Nabokov’s “Pale Fire,” a novel that wraps a poem inside a commentary. The mixture is rich in murder and madness, and you can go crazy, too, piecing together the components of the book; what matters is that each gorges on the other, and so it is with the two parts of “Blade Runner.” The second film doesn’t explicate the first so much as compound its mystery, and, in some respects, I envy those who don’t have to wrestle with the comparison. Younger viewers who’ve never seen Scott’s movie will be granted a delicious jolt as the fully formed dystopia rises out of nowhere to greet their virginal gaze. They can relish the spectacle of K’s police car in flight, while we veterans get a kick out of the newfangled drone that detaches from its roof and, at K’s casual command, goes sniffing around like a gundog. And, if the newbies thrill to Sylvia Hoeks as a Terminator-style replicant, assigned to track the hero in his quest, try not to ruin their fun by mentioning Rutger Hauer, who, shouldering a similar role in 1982, brought us the poetry of implacability. The new film’s idea of an arch-villain is Jared Leto, who has milky orbs for eyes, and who gives the impression, as in last year’s “Suicide Squad,” of an actor straining a little too hard, with dialogue to match: “You do not know what pain is. You will learn.”

Despite all the overlaps, this is not a simulacrum of a Ridley Scott film. It is unmistakably a Denis Villeneuve film, inviting us to tumble, tense with anticipation, into his doomy clutches. “Prisoners” (2013) was as welcoming as a dungeon, and, in “Blade Runner 2049,” the light is no longer, as Nabokov had it, “dreadfully distinct / Against the dark,” for the darkness has overcome it. San Diego is a waste dump, and Las Vegas lurks in a tangerine dream of radioactive smog. And yet, within the gloom, what miracles unfold. Brace yourself for the delivery of a new replicant, not born as a baby but slithering out from a plastic sheath as an instant adult, slimy with fabricated vernix and quaking at the shock of being alive. Suddenly, the lofty questions that swarm around artificial intelligence—Could the feelings familiar to mankind abound within the man-made? Could an operating system grow a soul?—reach a breathtaking consummation, and become flesh.

More wondrous still is Ana de Armas, who plays Joi, a digital program that in turn plays K’s live-in girlfriend. It is no coincidence that Villeneuve’s best films, “Sicario” (2015) and “Arrival” (2016), feature a woman at their center, and, whenever Joi appears, the movie’s imaginative heart begins to race. Upon request, she manifests herself in K’s apartment, switching outfits in a shimmer—a vision that smacks of servility, except that it’s he who seems beholden to her. Gosling looks happiest in these scenes, perhaps because happiness, albeit of the simulated sort, hovers within K’s grasp. And what a simulation: at one point, Joi uses an Emanator, which allows her to escape her virtual self and to experience mortal sensations—the prick of rain on her skin, naturally, and a tangible embrace. Has science fiction, you want to ask, ever conjured a moment quite as romantic as this? And how can it possibly last? It can’t; K gets a voice mail that overrides Joi and freezes her, inches short of a kiss. Love is deleted, and the Blade Runner gets back to work. The future, unlike Heaven, can’t wait. 


Blade Runner 2049 – and why eyes are so important in this vision of the future

Even a brief glimpse of Blade Runner 2049 takes you straight into Deckard’s world. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece gets the colour palette just right, perfectly capturing the tone of the original.

Achieving the look and feel of the original Blade Runner (1982) is essential because appearances, vision and eyes are key to both the experience and the story.

Blade Runner was ahead of the AI curve when it made sci-fi arguments about identity and philosophy a mainstream concern. Is Deckard a replicant? Do androids have souls? What makes us human?

In the original, seeking answers was all about looking at the eyes. The film’s Voight-Kampff “empathy test”, used by the Blade Runners to identify replicants, now has its own special place in popular culture. The striking image of a glorious blue iris reflecting fire and light has become a cinematic icon; and Rutger Hauer’s emotional final lines when his character, Roy Batty, succumbs to death are a sublime moment in film history:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to die.

And now Blade Runner 2049 appears primed to expand the exploration of eyes and identity with mind-bending visuals. In the neon flashes and noirish glimmers, Jared Leto’s character, Niander Wallace, muses on the act of creating replicants like a blind god. His white irises have a sinister and mysterious beauty, but they also belie any sense of limitation caused by his lack of sight – even though he can’t see, he has the “vision” to create or end life.

David Bowie was actually Villeneuve’s first choice for the Niander Wallace role. Seen as an influence upon Blade Runner “in many ways”, the late singer was also well-known for his distinctive mismatched eyes that gave him an otherworldly persona – an affect Leto created in his own way with “custom made contact lenses that turned his eyes totally opaque”.

Eye spy

Cinema has often used eyes as a visual code for character and morality. Traditionally, damaged eyes tend to represent “baddies” and corruption – suggesting an off-kilter world seen in a dark and dangerous way. The vicious scar Donald Pleasence has around his right eye as a highly memorable Ernst Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967) helps to make him an enduring Bond villain.

The Oscar winning Chinatown (1974), meanwhile, is full of cracked lenses, broken glasses and other means of distorting vision – ending with the disturbing shot of Faye Dunaway, as Evelyn Mulwray, with her eye socket blown apart by a bullet.

And as Carl Fogarty in A History of Violence (2005), Ed Harris relishes showing his scar tissue to the camera as he recalls his eye being ripped out with barbed wire.

Cinema also has its fair share of “old crones” with cataracts setting curses (Drag Me to Hell); blind priests who have forsaken their faith (Father Spiletto in The Omen), and “mutants” with unusual eyes spying on unwitting victims (The Hills Have Eyes).

Computers and robots add a different twist to this psychopathology. The calm red lens of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Yul Brenner’s blank metallic eyes in Westworld (1973), and the persistent red dot shining out of Arnie’s silver skull in the original Terminator (1984) all project fear through a sense of the uncanny.

If the thought of a non-human consciousness glimpsed through the eye as a “window to the soul” is consistently unnerving, it is because instead of a human connection there is something else there entirely: the terror and wonder of the unknown.

By contrast, heroes are more likely to benefit from enhanced vision. Christopher Reeve’s Superman (1978) famously has X-ray eyes, while Keanu Reeve’s “Neo” in The Matrix (1999) realises his destiny as “The One” only when he can visualise the code world and see how to change its rules from within.

New look

But our changing perception of eyes and how we see them is also visible onscreen. We now have popular blind superheroes like Daredevil, on film (2003) and TV (2015 onwards), and anti-heroes like Elliot in Mr Robot (2015 onwards) who “sees differently” due to a strange combination of dissociative identity disorder and next-level hacker skills. Rami Malek’s starring eyes, somewhere between the unblinking focus of a screen addict and the wide-eyed paranoia of a drug addict, add a mesmeric quality to his performance of Mr Robot’s complex persona.

Back in Deckard’s increasingly toxic world, it looks like Niander Wallace is set to become an iconic cinematic villain in a film already seen by some as a masterpiece. His cloudy eyes feel well suited to the shadowy undertones of Blade Runner 2049, while his ability to create artificial intelligence offer a dark vision of the future. However bleak an outlook Blade Runner 2049 might visualise, films that look as good as this make it hard to take your eyes off the screen – and offer a glimpse of our future.



Blade Runner 2049, like the original, is about what it means to be human. But the ethical implications of cloning could prophesize an ethically fraught future

In this fictional future, bio-engineered humans are known as replicants. Blade Runners “retire” or kill these replicants when they become a threat to society. In both films, we are left wondering what difference there is between a human and a replicant. In the original, rogue replicant Roy Batty – played by Rutger Hauer –comes across as more human than the humans when he delivers his famous “Tears in the Rain” speech.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.


The films raise fundamental questions about personal identity: who are we? What defines the existence of a person from one moment to the next?

Thematically, there is the suggestion that the biological mass, the body, is not what matters, but the mind. In the original, bioengineered Roy seems as human as Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard – as human as someone could be.

In 2049, the idea is extended further still. Officer K – played by Ryan Gosling – has a girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) – she is a creation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) but seems as real as the other characters.

In the Blade Runner films, it is the psychological life, the mental states including dispositions, character and memories that matter, not whether one is a natural human or a bioengineered replicant, or even AI. This implies that AI, if it were to become conscious and have the same mental states as us, should be treated as one of us.

These issues of moral status already face us today.

Scientists in the US and Japan are creating pig-human chimeras using a procedure called blastocyst complementation. A pig embryo is taken and gene editing knocks out the genes for an organ, for example the liver.

In the future, a human skin cell could be taken from a person needing a liver transplant. This would be cloned to produce induced pluripotent stem cells of that person and would then be injected into the early pig embryo. The result would be a pig-human chimera where all the cells in the body are a mixture of pig and human, except the liver. The liver would be human and could then be extracted to save the life of a sick person.

The problem is that it is difficult to predict how human or pig the chimeric organs, including the brain, would be. It is possible the brain could be quite human, but the appearance be pig-like.

How such an animal ought to be treated, and whether it is ethical to take its liver, will depend on its mental states. It could be closer to human than to pig. It will, however, be extremely difficult to assess its psychological capabilities and mental states since it would not have direct language.

The pig-human chimera would be a kind of organ replicant. How it should be treated will depend not on its species membership, or what it looks like, but on what kind of mental states it has.


Another issue raised in both films is the unjust treatment of the replicants because they are biologically different, though their mental lives turn out to be very similar to ours. In many ways, they are better than us, more humane.

Our biological origins are irrelevant to our moral status and how we ought to be treated.

I coined the term “clonism” – which describes the poor treatment of clones of existing people compared with non-clones. Clonism is what occurs in Nobel prize winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go. This issue arose in debates around in vitro fertilisation before the 1978 birth of the world’s first IVF baby.

People worried that “test tube” babies would be discriminated against, teased or treated as socially inferior. They haven’t been and nor of course should they be – the process of conception is irrelevant to their moral status and rights.

This will come up if people are genetically selected or even born as the result of gene editing. What was science fiction in 1982 is fast becoming a reality. The prospect of bioengineering human beings using gene editing is with us.

One possible use would be to prevent catastrophic genetic disease in cases where couples have a sole remaining embryo during IVF. But the possibilities could extend to endowing humans with unprecedented abilities as genes could be transferred or introduced from any part of the animal or plant kingdom.


The moral of the Blade Runner films is that what matters is the quality of mental life, not its biological origins, or even whether it is “original.” In the future, new life forms will exist with mental lives, some of these will be biological in origin and others will arise from AI.

These lives ought to be respected and treated according to psychological properties, not according to physical appearance or the origin of their “hardware.”

In the years since 1982 when Blade Runner was first made, cloning of human beings either by nuclear transfer or embryo splitting has become possible. Genetic selection using whole genome analysis of every gene in the genome is on the horizon.

Gene editing is being done on human embryos and artificial intelligence is increasing exponentially in power. Yet a failure of philosophical understanding of identity and moral status pervades our discussion of these life changing advances in science. Our scientific powers have inordinately increased in the last 35 years but our moral insight has progressed very little.


e C h O e S

’70s Pink Floyd Songs That We Will Always Remember

Their Glory Years

The 1970s was a glorious era in rock but Pink Floyd rose up and became one of prog-rock’s titans with a string of classic hits that reaffirmed their status as rockstars. Founder and frontman Syd Barrett left in 1968 due to his deteriorating mental health and his unreliability during live performances. Roger Waters stepped up and took on the role of primary lyricist. He was also mostly responsible for coming up with their iconic concept albums.

5. Echoes (Meddle, 1971)

The highlight of their sixth album Meddle, the song takes up the entire side two and clocks in at 23 minutes & 31 seconds. From the structure and texture to Gilmour’s stunning solo, Echoes evolved from some of their live performances. Its working title was Return To The Sun Of Nothing and if you think the song seems deep, that’s because it is. Waters wanted to describe “The potential that human beings have for recognizing each other’s humanity and responding to it, with empathy rather than antipathy.”

4. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Wish You Were Here, 1975)

A tribute to Syd Barrett, it’s slow and dramatic. And it perfectly conveyed Waters’ distress at seeing Barrett’s state when he wandered into their recording studio. Separated in two parts, the epic track bookends their ninth album Wish You Were Here. It’s one of the most arresting and emotive pieces in Pink Floyd’s catalog. Not surprisingly, this was also difficult to record.

3. Money (The Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973)

In the early ’70s, Pink Floyd were at their creative peak and Money is one of the proofs. From the unusual time signature to the guitar riffs and bass line, it’s as glorious as it can get. Throw in some extended guitar solos by Gilmour and we just couldn’t ask for more. In an interview with Guitar World, Gilmour revealed: “I just wanted to make a dramatic effect with the three solos. The first solo is ADT’d – Artificially Double Tracked. I think I did the first two solos on a Fender Stratocaster, but the last one was done on a different guitar – a Lewis, which was made by some guy in Vancouver. It had a whole two octaves on the neck, which meant I could get up to notes that I couldn’t play on a Stratocaster.”

2. Wish You Were Here (Wish You Were Here, 1975)

Pink Floyd can go from dreamy to fiery but for one of their most hauntingly beautiful pieces, it’s both emotive and poignant. According to Waters, this is another song inspired by Barrett whose battle with his mental health was well-known. Even with plenty of masterpieces on their catalog, this is actually one of the few times when both Waters and Gilmour wrote a song together. Gilmour called it one of their best songs “because of its resonance and the emotional weight it carries.”

1. Comfortably Numb (The Wall, 1979)

This rock anthem perfectly defines Pink Floyd’s sound. It’s one of their most popular and enduring songs. A lot of people mistakenly believed it’s about drugs but Waters has repeatedly denied that and even explained what it’s about. Speaking to Guitar World about his iconic solo, Gilmour said: “I just went out into the studio and banged out 5 or 6 solos. From there I just followed my usual procedure, which is to listen back to each solo and mark out bar lines, saying which bits are good.”


Looking back at Pink Floyd’s ambitious experiment, ‘Meddle‘ 50 years later

By 1971, Pink Floyd were one of the biggest bands in the world and drowning in touring commitments. They were restricted to only snippets of studio time as they tried to write and record Meddle. The story goes that, while messing around in the Abbey Road studio, Pink Floyd happened upon one note that would form a 23-minute song and define their output as one of the finest prog-rock bands of all time. ‘Echoes’ was the song, and it is just one part of why Meddle is one of the band’s best records.

With limited time and resources, the band’s experimental edge came to slice through the muck and deliver an LP worthy of their high praise. 50 years later, and it appears as though Meddle’s presence in the pantheon of The Floyd is ever-growing, with countless generations resisting the album to witness what accurate, precise and potent musical experimentation is.

No clue and no direction are usually two facets one would like to keep away from the art of making music. But, in the case of Pink Floyd and backed by the talents of the musicians at hand, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rick Wright and Nick Mason composed a series of novel sound experiments that would eventually turn into ‘Echoes’. This 23-minute opus would define the entire album. The record is considered a transitional moment for the group, after they had left Syd Barrett’s style behind and before Roger Waters took over lyrical duties, Meddleis blissful in its envelopment of the listener.

The band used several experimental methods to start creating the album. One such method was to ask each band member to play on a track without any knowledge of what the rest of the group had played or would play. The bandmates were also asked to experiment with tempo, with simple directions like “first two minutes romantic, next two up-tempo” being the only notes. The early experiments, titled Nothings, was soon developed into Son of Nothings, which, in turn, was followed by Return of the Son of Nothings as the working title of the LP, before they became a single side of the record, ‘Echoes’.

These experiments would not cease on the flipside of the album. ‘one of These Days’, the album opener, would feature Mason maliciously saying into the mic: “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces.” It drawls on as the bassline builds to an unfathomable climax. It, alongside ‘Echoes’, has become a signature favourite for Floyd’s fans. But the rest of the album is potent and powerful, providing a sincere reflection of Pink Floyd in their expressive pomp.

Simply put, this album was the moment when Pink Floyd moved out of the traditional rock sphere and towards forging a new genre in prog-rock. Initially, the group had been expanding the psyche-rock sound but now jumped out of the realm of rock and towards a new and progressive musical style.

Using everyday objects and brand new techniques, the group were very much on the path towards greatness. In fact, it was the first step towards their most beautiful records, and without Meddle, many of them would not have been made at all. This album is the foundation stone for all of that work, and everybody else’s within the prog-rock arena.


Classics Revisited: Pink Floyd – ‘Meddle’

Anytime I happen to listen to Meddle, or hear any of its strange and – quite frankly, confusing – array of tracks, I appreciate more and more the circumstantial limbo that this weird and beautiful album found itself conceived within (hear me out – the context is important, and slightly intriguing) – and how this ultimately birthed what is now considered one of Pink Floyd’s greatest achievements.

It’s no secret that Pink Floyd were going through a rough, and creatively inconsistent patch following the nervous breakdown and departure of founding member, frontman, and writer Syd Barrett in 1968. With new talent in the form of David Gilmour, who would later fuel Floyd’s more accessible and famous sound, they were yet to release a palpable, consistent third album – and so the group were let loose upon Abbey Road studios in early 1971, collaborating properly as a band for the first time. And in the improvisational revelry, in the search for an elusive, mysterious sound, unfolded Meddle, released in October of 1971.

I say all of this because Meddle as an album – to me at least – makes no sense. The album comprises an eclectic side A of five contrasting tracks, and a side B of only one song – the epic, mesmerising, 23-minute-long Echoes, somewhere between prog-rock and post-rock: art-rock and soundscape. Ranging from the intensity of the opening track One of These Days, to the melodic, lackadaisical central songs – music akin to floating on the clouds – and eventually, back to Echoes, which shatters the peace and resonates with a fervid grandeur that’ll somehow make you wish the 23 minutes (and 33 seconds) would never end.

In fact, it’s really not fair of me to group the central four tracks together so haphazardly. The soothing A Pillow of Winds, calms us down from the intensity: a more accessible track which slows the pace of the album down – followed by the beautiful Fearless, famously finishing with a rendition of the Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. After that we have the bluesy San Tropez, a track I can only describe positively and using the words ‘little ditty’; and 5th comes the only weakness of the album, a simple song called Seamus (About a dog of the same name): a joke track Gilmour included, meant as a small respite, but which ultimately fell short and failed to provide any real substance to the creatively dense Meddle (Gilmour later said of the song: “I guess it wasn’t really as funny to everyone else [as] it was to us»). Finally Echoes hits – powerful, grand and a little terrifying. All I’ll say is it’s really a must-listen track.

Yet, despite all of this perplexity, Floyd manages to tie each estranged and mystifying track into something more powerful than the sum of its parts – and in doing so, produces what can only be considered as a classic – an essential album which paved the way for a multitude of avant-garde genres and artists (admittedly Echoes does this almost all by itself), and showed the world the true potential of the group.

Meddle – sonically and contextually – falls between a classically Pink Floyd sound, and something entirely different. Echoes itself could be considered a standalone achievement, but the rest of the album brings together the remaining enigmatic tracks which act as a lead up to the grand finale, and should be enjoyed almost (but not quite) as much. This album will forever hold a special place for me as it was one of the cornerstone albums I listened to in school, which would pave the way for my own passion for experimental and strange music, a love which I hold to this day.


Echoes by Pink Floyd

Overhead the albatross
Hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves
In labyrinths of coral caves
The echo of a distant time
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine

And no one showed us to the land
And no one knows the where’s or why’s
But something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb toward the light

Strangers passing in the street
By chance, two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me
And do I take you by the hand
And lead you through the land
And help me understand the best I can?

And no one calls us to move on
And no one forces down our eyes
No one speaks and no one tries
No one flies around the sun

Cloudless everyday
You fall upon my waking eyes
Inviting and inciting me to rise
And through the window in the wall
Come streaming in on sunlight wings
A million bright ambassadors of morning

And no one sings me lullabies
And no one makes me close my eyes
So I throw the windows wide
And call to you across the sky

Come away with me

A Conversation With … Norah Jones

I’m always a bit apprehensive when I’m interviewing artists who have achieved huge success in an industry littered with unfulfilled aspirations of millions. 

There’s something different in play. I’m not talking money, I’m talking the vibe that comes from crossing the big music divide and finding yourself in control. Then it becomes about ­’where do I go from here?’ Norah Jones is all about the music, her music, the players, the internal design, the words and shape of songs. This I can get with!

Jones gave an impromptu performance at Toronto’s Jazz Bistro in front of media showcasing her latest endeavor, Day Breaks, due October 2016 (Blue Note/Universal). Six songs rolled from the house system, then Jones took the stage for an interview with scribe Nicholas Jennings before finally slipping behind the grand piano and playing a few of her own. I caught up with Jones early afternoon for this conversation.

 Bill King: When I was considering what to ask you I began reflecting on the late Bruce Lundvall, the former head of Blue Note Records and the gentleman who signed you. It must have been seven or eight years back at the Festival du Jazz de Montreal and Bruce was being honored when we stroll the hallways observing the history of Blue Note through album covers. During our conversation I asked him what was his greatest career regret and he replied, not signing Eva Cassidy. He didn’t make that mistake with you.

Norah Jones: I remember that. Honestly with Bruce, God I miss him. When I first met him I played this three song demo, a couple jazz standards and this one written by Jesse Harris ­ a country kinda pop song ­ it wasn’t jazz really. He listened to the three songs and after it was done he asked if I wanted to be a jazz singer or a pop singer because that one song is different. I’m sitting there in Blue Note records of course and say, a jazz singer! I was just starting to explore different kinds of music and still wasn’t sure ­ I’m twenty­one, just moved to New York to play jazz and kinda disillusioned doing it, then I started playing these singer/songwriter clubs where people were actually listening,.

Bruce gave me $6,000 to make more demos and find a sound. We did that and several of those recordings ended up on my first record; “Don’t Know Why” was one and he called me after a few weeks listening to it because he hadn’t decided to sign me yet and says, “you know Norah that song ‘Lone Star’ on here is a country song but I love it, I don’t care, I’m going to sign you, it doesn’t matter it’s fine, let’s do it.” It’s the moment he decided it wasn’t a straight record but he wanted to continue with this.

B.K: But they’ve never been straight jazz records.

N.J: Jazz is a tough term.

B.K: Are there times you find it confining to be called a jazz singer as opposed to just a singer/songwriter?

N.J: I really don’t care, people have different thoughts when they say those things and may have a different image in their minds. But for me I started out singing jazz and playing piano, that is definitely where I come from. People call my first record a jazz record . I don’t think it is. It just happened to be on Blue Note and it’s very jazz influenced. I sing like a jazz singer because that’s where I come from.

B.K: Let’s say the first phase of jazz singers, the Sarah Vaughans and Ella Fitzgeralds, they were basically interpreting songs bringing the story out of the lyric. They even called Sinatra a jazz singer but I didn’t hear that much embellishment.

N.J: Really? Sarah Vaughan and Ella, that’s some embellishment.

B.K: I’m referencing the early years when they just delivered the song rather than add many inflections.

N.J: I was most influenced by mid to late Billie Holiday.

B.K: The coming fall release is Day Breaks. Does this have more in common with the early sessions?

N.J: I haven’t played that much piano and this is more of a return to the piano. That has been the most fun thing about this album. It started out in my mind I’m going to record with Wayne Shorter and Brian Blade because we had done a song at the Kennedy Centre for the Blue Note Anniversary concert. It started out, I’m going to make music with them ­ how it will be super rhythmic, I wanted to float over the top and wanted to have good songs. I didn’t want to sing old songs. I didn’t feel the need to do an old standards record. I started writing songs for us and some less that direction and some more that direction. All of the songs were very piano driven, that was the main thread.

B.K: After all the previous hits I heard you sing “Tennessee Waltz,” ­ and that was beautiful.

N.J: I love that and love singing old songs.

B.K: You are so comfortable with that song. You have no issues with country music.

N.J: Part of the reason I stopped playing piano so much was I was writing certain songs on guitar. Some songs sounded good on piano some sounded too “pianoee” if that makes any sense. When I write on piano I kinda gravitate towards county blues, it’s the types of chords and voicings ­ I don’t play pop piano.

B.K: The same when you were young?

N.J: I didn’t play country music when I was young. I grew up in Texas and it’s definitely in the water. It was Willie Nelson and Hank Williams and that was about it. I got into jazz in about the seventh grade and from that point on that’s what I was trying to play.

B.K: I interviewed Diana Krall early in her career ­-1998 – and talked about what it was like to move from playing in a lounge to a main stage where people are watching your every mannerism, evaluating every phrase and note.

N.J: When no one’s listening, then everyone’s listening?

B.K: She also said it gave her the opportunity to develop a repertoire and learn to sing.

N.J: It’s paid practice. When I was in Texas in college and about a year and a half I played in this restaurant  twice on weekends. I’d drive into Dallas and play. It was like a nice date night Italian restaurant, kind of big though but they had a grand piano tucked away in a corner and I’d sing. Most of the time no one was listening, or if they were, no clapping then every once and awhile someone would clap after a song then everyone would look up from their diner and start clapping . That seemed more awkward, I almost didn’t want that to happen, it made me blush. It was the best gig I ever had to learn how to sing and play at the same time.

B.K: What about the first time you arrived on stage and the audience was focused on you?

N.J: When I first made it to New York I was kinda a newbie playing mostly jazz brunches, restaurants that had a piano and still nobody even listened that much. Then I started playing the Living Room with Jesse Harris, originally just singing his songs and once in awhile I’d throw one of mine in. That ended up being the first record from that experience and that band. When I played the Living Room the first time with Jesse I thought, this is so cool. People are listening, they are here to listen.

B.K: The beauty of that was “Don’t Know Why,” a massive hit made for radio.

N.J: That was a weird one to became a hit, I love the song.

B.K: It connected with people big time. What was also interesting, “Sunrise.” Why I’m mentioning is I heard that more than “Don’t Know Why” because I wasn’t tuning in radio. “Sunrise” was such a public piece.

N.J: In which way?

B.K.: At the Paramount Theatre, eventually Scotiabank Theatre, it was the only song you heard everytime the doors opened. It was a big sound and like a welcome greeting. “Sunrise” was played in so many stores around Toronto it was near impossible to escape.

N.J: Really ? That’s so weird. It’s sort of a country song I think. I love it and love that recording too, I thought it was so unique.

B.K: There was also that Toronto connection with guitarist Kevin Breit.

N.J: Yes, he played on my first record too. I loved playing with him and we toured a lot after that first record. Then after the second he said, alright, I’m done.

B.K: Do you still enjoy the touring?

N.J: I do and I’ve learned a lot about how much I can do. It’s hard when you put out an album. When I make an album I’m excited about it ­ I’m excited to play it, I’m willing to do whatever work the label throws at me, I want people to hear it and by the end of the album cycle you get a bit burned out. Since my first and second album when I got very burned out from doing everything, I’ve learned a lot and have a lot of power and control over how much I have to do and I know how to pace it. 

I also know that no matter how good a musician they are and if they aren’t a happy person on the road and fun to be around or miserable, you don’t want them on the road. You want to be surrounded by people who are excited to be there, that makes you excited to be there. If there is something going on and you aren’t feeling it, it’s almost better to cancel it. Not that I would do that, I’ve never cancelled.



Had 2020 played out like any normal year, on April 7, Norah Jones would have been onstage at the Southbank Center in London celebrating the centennial birthday of her father, legendary classical sitar player and composer Ravi Shankar, alongside her half-sister Anoushka Shankar and British musician Nitin Sawhney. Instead, she was, like so many other artists in the early days of the worldwide COVID-19 lockdown, livestreaming from the intimacy of home, sitting at her piano and singing one of his rare Western compositions, “I Am Missing You.”

As reported in Pollstar, the nine-time Grammy- winning singer-songwriter’s performance of this song was her second most viewed online performance, with over 1.6 million views. Her first, a March 19 five-minute run through Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience,” scored over 5.1 million views across various platforms, launching an intimate, delightfully low-tech weekly at-home livestream series that Jones continued throughout the year.

The series, which included a celebration of Willie Nelson’s birthday and an appearance by Sasha Dobson, Jones’ bandmate in the alt-country band Puss n Boots, earned the veteran artist a feature article in The New Yorker and the top spot by an artist on Pollstar’s Q3 chart for 2020. By the end of September, she had posted more than 30 videos (full of originals and covers from a multitude of genres) and had received more than 18 million views.

Now, nearly two decades into her stylistically eclectic, always full of surprises and unexpected collaborations career, the singer is releasing her first-ever live album, ‘Til We Meet Again. Produced by Jones and her front-of-house engineer Jamie Landry, the collection gathers 14 performances from the extensive international touring she did from 2017-2019 at venues in the U.S., France, Italy, Brazil and Argentina. The first single, her self-penned bluesy ballad “It Was You” (which originally appeared on her 2019 studio album Begin Again), was recorded at the 2018 Ohana Festival in Dana Point, California with Pete Remm on organ, Christopher Thomas on bass and Brian Blade on drums. The album closes with Jones’ 7-minute-plus piano-vocal performance of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” a tribute to Chris Cornell that was recorded at the Fox Theatre in Detroit just days after Cornell’s death following a performance at the same venue.

Other featured musicians include bassist Jesse Murphy, flutist Jorge Continentino, percussionist Marcelo Costa and guitarist Jesse Harris, who wrote “Don’t Know Why,” the 2002 breakthrough single from her Blue Note Records debut album, Come Away With Me, that earned three Grammys (Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Performance) and remains the only Jones single to reach the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100.

Reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart and (as of 2016) having sold over 27 million copies worldwide, Come Away With Me sparked a global phenomenon and an ever-evolving nearly two-decade career full of critically acclaimed and commercially successful solo recordings (the most recent of which is 2020’s Pick Me Up Off The Floor) and albums with her collective bands Puss n Boots, The Little Willies (an alt-country outfit named for Nelson) and the tongue-in-cheek alt-rock ensemble El Madmo.

Her 2010 compilation …Featuring Norah Jones included collaborations with Nelson, Outkast, Herbie Hancock and Foo Fighters. Since 2018, she has released a series of collaborative singles with a variety of artists and friends, including Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, Thomas Bartlett, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Rodrigo Amarante and Brian Blade. Her discography also includes collaborations with Billie Joe Armstrong, Ryan Adams, Keith Richards and Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest.

Music Connection: The title of the live album makes it more than a subtle wink to this strange past year with no artists on the road. What do you miss the most about being out there?

Norah Jones: I miss playing with a band and I miss the audience and action, the thrill of live performing in the moment where every time out, you can’t go back and tweak what you’ve done or make it perfect. Believe it or not, I actually miss traveling, going through security and getting on a plane. I even had a dream recently about going on tour. It had nothing to do with music. It was just me going to the airport and feeling excited about getting in a security line and taking a long plane ride. Not being onstage for so long makes me appreciate the little things I hadn’t appreciated in a long time. I miss the tour bus, hanging after a show having drinks, all of it.

MC: What were 2020 and 2021 supposed to look like, tour and release wise?

Jones: Last year we were supposed to put out Pick Me Up Off The Floor in May but it was pushed back to July. We would have done a lot of touring behind it, including a Japan tour. It’s okay, though. I made the best of it with the 40-plus livestreams that I never would have done. Raising two little kids, those were the only chances I could say I had something to do. I hadn’t been super-active on social mediabefore, so it was nice to stay in touch with fans that way.

MC: Creatively, what do you think the upsides are for musicians during this time?

Jones: I think overall we’re going to see a really big moment in music because of the way artists are responding creatively to the pandemic era and not being on the road. There’s a lot of outside-the-box thinking and it will be amazing to see what comes out of it. I got a drum machine for Christmas and I’m trying to do some stuff with it, but I’m not sure what it’s going to evolve into yet.

MC: Did the concept of putting together a live album happen before the pandemic or was it strictly in response to it?

Jones: ‘Til We Meet Again never would have happened without it. I was listening to some live performances last summer for a charity drive that a radio show was doing. I had Jamie Landry, my soundman, send me a December 2019 show I had done in Rio. I thought it was really special and I wanted to pick some songs from it. Listening to the audience made me feel warm all over. The band was great and we had so much fun on that tour, getting in the zone. We captured the essence of what live p

laying should be all about, and the energy really translates to the recording. One of my all-time favorite live albums is Bob Marley’s Live! and I always remembered the spontaneity and energy he brought to his audience. I’ve always strived for that kind of magic and hope fans can hear it on the new album.

MC: What do you like most about the performances you included on ‘Til We Meet Again?

Jones: I have had a lot of different bands over the years, and they all have something really different. This album is focused on our most recent incarnation, stripped down to a piano trio for a lot of it, with many different arrangements and a looseness in the way we re-imagined the songs. It’s nice to have a documentation for people who didn’t get to see these recent shows. I consider it a real touchstone for me. Jamie has been recording my shows since 2012 and the performances he picked for me to consider were excellent.

MC: How did you go about choosing the material and exact performances? What were your criteria?

Jones: The starting point was the Rio shows, and we ended up focusing on that vibe with Brian Blade on drums and Jesse Murphy on upright and electric bass. There were some earlier shows with Christopher Thomas on upright bass, which I also liked. Over these few years, these trios made everything feel looser. We didn’t always perform the same show, but there was a cohesiveness to what we were doing over these few years. For the album, we tried to pick a set list that would be similar to the feel of a single full show, with old and new material. I went back and forth a lot with Jamie and listened to a long list of songs and performances. He put them in a folder for me, with two or three versions of a song, broken down for me in a way I could digest without feeling overwhelmed.

For a long time, I didn’t think I wanted to include “Cold Cold Heart,” but at the last second I heard one of our versions, and it was so great I decided to open the album with it.
    The Chris Cornell song was really special, and I always get chills when I hear it. He had just played the theatre, and I worked on an arrangement of the song the day I performed there, hoping I wouldn’t mess up the tribute. It is an amazing song and I knew I had to include it.

MC: Who were the tech people involved in recording, mixing and mastering? How is what we’re hearing now different from what the audience heard when you performed these songs?

Jones: Jamie recorded the shows from the front-of-house soundboard, then multi-tracked them into Pro Tools. I got to listen to those reference mixes. He did remixes of all the tracks so they are slightly different from what the audience heard. As far as the tech goes, our whole crew was involved in getting the sounds at the shows just right, from setting up the mics on down. After Jamie remixed the tracks, they were mastered by Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound.

MC: Were there any overdubs?

Jones: No. There were a few minor edits, like we made “Black Hole Sun” a little shorter because otherwise we couldn’t fit it on the vinyl version we’re doing.

MC: What did you learn from the experience of creating this album, and how was it different from doing a studio recording?

Jones: I will say that I love playing in studio with musicians who can still capture performances like the ones we did live. I also enjoy having the opportunity to add things piece by piece and layering vocal harmonies. Live is a totally different thing, that feeling of no do-overs. Even when you record live in the studio you get a chance to do it a few times. It’s never one and done. On stage, you know this is it, whatever it is, and if you’re too fast or slow you’ve got to go with it, own it and have to make it work.

MC: What do you love the most about live performing?

Jones: It’s almost more fun when you make a mistake, because we all just loosen up after that. I love the energy of being in the moment. It’s really special. It’s hard to have that anywhere else these days, being in an environment where you’re not filling the time between takes checking your phone. It’s also nice to feel the audience. I’ve never been super chatty onstage, but I actually like when I get heckled––or is that the wrong word. You know, when the crowd gets a little rowdy, because that inspires me to talk more.

MC: What are the keys to creating a great performance?

Jones: It’s that thing you can’t chronicle or put your finger on. As I was going back and forth between two different versions for the album, there were a few times I messed up the lyrics or made mistakes, but the performance still felt good and I couldn’t deny it was the better one. That’s the thing with any art form––everything is about that unknown extra bit of magic dust and you just hope you can capture it.

MC: These gigs you chronicle from 2017-2019…what kind of venues were they? Do you prefer playing smaller venues as opposed to arenas or large outdoor venues?

Jones: They were mostly theatres, including Live au Campo in Perpignan, France, a beautiful, weird open-air amphitheatre space. I love playing those kinds of outdoor venues, but I also love playing bars in New York. Usually when I’m off tour, I play a lot in those places, and have done them over the years with Puss n Boots and other bands. I have always enjoyed performing locally, and it’s been weird to have none of that for so long.    

MC: You put out some interesting projects in 2020. The opening line to your bio for Pick Me Up Off The Floor says you didn’t mean to make another album. What does that mean in light of the fact that it’s a pretty amazing collection?

Jones: I was trying to put out singles and doing little sessions every few months, spending two to four days with somebody. It started with one of the first trio sessions I did with Chris and Brian, which got me inspired to write. It blossomed from there, and I did it with the intention to just do singles. Over time, I realized I had a lot of leftover material that was more cohesive than I expected. We added another session and had a full album to release.

MC: One of the most fascinating aspects of your career has been your ongoing collaborations with different artists in a multitude of genres and guest appearances on their albums. Why are those so essential to you and your evolving artistry?

Jones: It’s the way I came up as a musician, learning that not everybody comes from the same type of musical background. I’ll bet a lot of artists who don’t collaborate like this would get addicted to it. I’m always learning, trying new things, picking new ideas up along the way. It’s not about consciously trying to evolve, but doing it because it’s fun.

   It was fun last year playing alone at my piano for the livestreams, but nothing excites me more than working with a band and playing with great artists. At heart, I’m a New York musician wanting to play with other musicians on various projects like I did before Come Away With Me. When that album became successful, I got a lot of calls to collaborate with heroes of mine I could never have imagined meeting, let alone creating music with.

MC: In a year, you’ll be celebrating 20 years since that debut album. What was the most surprising aspect of its incredible success?

Jones: Just the fact that it was massive was surprising for everyone involved. Blue Note did a great job promoting it. We were all caught up in a crazy whirlwind for a long time. Then coming out of it after a few years, I realized that the only way to enjoy that success was to keep making music I loved. When you start off like that, there’s always the potential to experience the fear of subsequent failure––but I never had that, because I was only searching to better myself and was not afraid to try new things.

MC: What was the hardest part about being an instant superstar?

Jones: The most difficult thing was going from being just a well-intended working musician for whom music was always something very positive to being in a realm where being very successful also made you vulnerable to people saying bad things and tearing you down. That was before social media, but there were plenty of chatrooms and message boards. There is always a tipping point with successful people in our culture where that happens. I had to learn how to not let any of that affect the way I made music. There was so much that was positive, but it was easy to let the negative things about people’s wrong perceptions of me get in my head. I learned that is all a normal thing that comes with success and I learned to turn it off to focus on what made me happy.

MC: You’ve been with the legendary Blue Note label your whole career. That’s remarkable in this day and age. Why do you think that relationship has lasted so long?

Jones: They’ve been my family and so great to me since the beginning. (The late President and CEO of the Blue Note Label Group) Bruce Lundvall was my friend and mentor and he would tell me the stuff the higher-ups (at the EMI Group) would want me to do but never made me feel I had to do anything I didn’t feel was right for me. He gave me money to make demos before deciding to sign me. He said, ‘This isn’t jazz necessarily, but I love it.” Which took a lot of pressure off for me to become some great jazz singer. I can think of 10 to 15 people at the label who were always like family, hanging out, having drinks and dinner. Only (publicist) Cem Kurosman is there from my early days, but all the new people, including (current label president) Don Was, are great. I’m really lucky I fell into that group. They’re a little section of the industry that’s really special.

MC: In line with the title of the album, how do you think 2021 will play out for you?

Jones: I’m just trying to stay creative and give myself little things to look forward to. I’ve been writing a lot of songs lately and my head’s all over the place. It would be fun to play a live show at some point, but for now, I’m just gonna roll with whatever happens. Usually I’m at my best when I try different things without intending to do something new.


Norah Jones Reflects on 20 Years of Come Away with Me: ‘It Was an Intense Time’

Norah Jones is not one to live in the past.

The singer-songwriter known for her soothing serenades tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue that she much prefers to live in the moment — but now, 20 years after the release of her debut album Come Away with Me, she’s finally ready for some reflection.

«It’s nice to revisit with a calm mind,» says Jones, 43, of her whirlwind rise to fame. «I’ve come to a great place, but it was an intense time in my life. Even though it was super positive, it was a lot of bumps. But when you’re 22, things are intense, aren’t they?»

Jones is celebrating the milestone anniversary with a 44-track super deluxe version of Come Away with Me (out April 29) that’s rife with treasures for longtime fans, including 22 previously unreleased tracks, original demos and a never-before-heard version of the record called The Allaire Sessions that was ultimately shelved.

The star has also penned a lengthy series of liner notes that peel back the curtain on her mindset at the time, and describe in detail just how Come Away with Me came to be.

«It’s like an alternate universe of the record,» she says of revisiting the music that kickstarted her career. «I don’t think I got to enjoy the success of the album as much as I could have while it was happening… but it’s really nice to look back and realize that it was kind of a weird, by-chance path [to] the final record that took a lot of turns and twists. Some of it was sort of buried for so long, and it’s really beautiful that we get to let people hear it finally.»

The album, which straddled the line between jazz, pop and country, was a runaway hit upon its release in February 2002, and sold nearly 30 million copies, topped the charts in 20 countries and swept the 2003 Grammy Awards.

For more on Norah Jones, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here

Jones had lived in New York City for less than a year when she was spotted in 2000 singing at a jazz brunch by EMI Publishing executive Shell White, who quickly helped arrange a meeting with Blue Note Records head Bruce Lundvall.

«I went to college for jazz—that was the lane I came from when I moved to New York,» she says. «The truth is, I don’t really think I was worried about genre. But when Bruce, the head of a jazz label, asked what I wanted to be, of course I said jazz singer because I didn’t want to be rejected immediately. I certainly don’t think Come Away with Me is a jazz record, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a pop record. I don’t know what you would classify it as.»

Regardless of labels, the album was a massive success—and while Jones says that that success ranged from «slightly stressful and anxiety-inducting» to «crazy fun,» she never let it put pressure on her future endeavors.

«Trying to stay on top can be exhausting, and I never wanted that for myself,» she says. «I think if you focus on making music from your heart, hopefully you can get through whatever obstacles come around.»

Adds Jones: «I sort of just told myself, ‘You know what? This is bananas. You’re never going to match it, so just play the music you want to play. Don’t try to recreate your first album because that’s going to backfire.'»

She’s taken her own advice to heart over the last 20 years, and has released six studio albums, as well as a Christmas album, in the past two decades. She’s also flexed her creative muscles with collaborations with everyone from Foo Fighters and Willie Nelson to Danger Mouse.

Jones — who will tour this spring —has also rediscovered her love for her craft through the ears of the two young children she shares with her musician husband Pete Remm, 42.

«It’s just so fun for us to see stuff through their eyes. We listen to pop radio together, which is hilarious, because my husband and I have never been… we never listened to that as adults necessarily,» she says. So far they love [my music] so that makes me happy. I just love music, and I’m excited to be able to still play.»


«Come Away With Me» at 20: Norah Jones reflects on «hopeful, romantic» record but won’t call it jazz

The title of Norah Jones’ debut record, «Come Away With Me,» offers truth in advertising. Its collection of songs serves as an invitation to enchantment, blending elements of jazz, country, and singer/songwriter pop to charm the listener into a world of romance, joy, and the melancholic subtleties of deep feeling.

Released on the storied Blue Note Records label in 2002, it went from selling 10,000 copies in its first week to moving over 27 million and counting. It also won eight Grammy awards, including in the categories of Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. The record possesses beautiful intimacy and maturity throughout its 14 songs, and the massive hits that propelled its commercial success represent it well: «Don’t Know Why,» written by former bandmate and songwriting partner, Jesse Harris, a cover of «Turn Me On,» which was originally released by Mark Dinning in 1961 and later performed by Nina Simone, and the Norah Jones-penned title track. 

In the two decades that have followed, Jones has steadily built an oeuvre of remarkable consistency. Whether at her jazziest on «Day Breaks,» released in 2016, or experimenting with alternative pop on 2012’s «Little Broken Hearts,» Jones’ music is tasteful, elegant, and emotive, broadcasting the reality of Wynton Marsalis’ assertion that often the best music is «soft, but intense.

Jones has collaborated with Marsalis, in addition to many other musicians, including Willie Nelson, Wayne Shorter, Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples, Billie Joe Armstrong, and the members of her side project bands, Puss n Boots and The Little Willies. 

To celebrate the opening salvo of a brilliant career, Blue Note has released a «super deluxe edition» of «Come Away With Me.» The box set includes a remastered edition of the 2002 album, but also two discs of previously unreleased demos, outtakes, and finished songs that did not make the final cut. Most interesting and enjoyable is an alternative version of «Come Away With Me» that Jones recorded using different arrangements. Unlike the typical superstar box set, which seems superfluous, the updated and expanded «Come Away With Me» provides an essential experience for anyone interested in Jones’ artistry. 

It also contains lengthy liner notes in which the singer/songwriter explains the album’s genesis. After studying jazz piano in the late 1990s at the University of North Texas, near her hometown, she moved to New York. Armed with demos that she recorded in her high school band room, which are included on the box set, she began playing clubs and restaurants. 

On her 21st birthday, Jones played a jazz brunch with a trio at The Garage. Duly impressed by her performance, a representative from EMI publishing arranged for her to meet the late Bruce Lundvall, then president of Blue Note. Less than two years later, «Come Away With Me» hit the airwaves. 

Norah Jones and I discussed the rest of the story of «Come Away With Me,» as well as her reflections on the record over the phone.

You have such a marvelous body of work, but today we’ll spend most of our time talking about «Come Away With Me,» which was your musical introduction to most of the world. How did you develop the style that we hear on that record, combining elements of jazz, country, and singer/songwriter pop?

That’s most of it, but there is also blues and soul – all the great American musical artforms. It came from growing up in a house, listening to Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson. Then, later in high school with Bill Evans and Miles Davis, and I got deep into jazz, and that became my focus for awhile. When I moved New York, I was still deep into jazz, but was beginning to open up to other styles. I started going to the Living Room in New York City, and seeing all these songwriters. I had written a couple of songs in high school, but they embarrassed me so badly that I never wrote after that, but when I started going to singer/songwriter clubs, like the Living Room, I was inspired to start writing songs again. Also, in New York, I started missing country music. I was longing for my Texas roots. I think that’s where that came from – either missing my roots, and finding a way to bring country back into the mix, or realizing that it had been there all along. 

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this box set is to hear all of the different versions of the songs on «Come Away With Me,» and the different possibilities for the record that existed. What was your criteria for choosing the material that made it on the record – both the songs you wrote and the covers?

It was sort of an evolution. I had a meeting with Bruce. I had jazz demos, and I had songs I had written with my friend, Jesse Harris, and Bruce wanted to hear more. So, we went into the studio. I had done jazz for so long, but this band with a different sound that Jesse and me had started playing with at the Living Room, was kind of cool. So, we decided to make more recordings with that band, and that informed the recording of «Come Away With Me.» One of the demos we made was «Don’t Know Why,» we never beat the demo version. So, that’s the version that made it on the record. Once I got the record deal, I wanted to stretch out and try new things. I loved Cassandra Wilson’s record, «New Moon Daughter,» and I loved the producer Craig Street’s work. So, I asked if I could meet with him. I went into the studio with Craig and all these incredible musicians – Brian Blade on drums, Kevin Breit on guitar, Bill Frisell on guitar – and we recorded 21 songs over five days. We thought we made the record, but the label sort of rejected it. It wasn’t what they fell in love with. The demos were much more straightforward. So, I went back into the studio with producer, Arif Mardin, and he helped me put the record together from those two sessions, and we also recorded nine more songs in the same vein as the demos with same band.

Earlier you mentioned Bill Evans, and you just mentioned Cassandra Wilson. When you listen to it now, who are some of the influences that you can hear yourself assimilating into your own style?

I was always a fan of Ray Charles‘ piano playing, Aretha Franklin‘s piano playing, Bobbie Nelson, who just passed – her piano playing. Those and Bill Evans are my top four piano players who I have always tried to imitate in some way. The influence comes from, simply, listening to all their records. I wasn’t highly aware that I was doing it. It was just what I liked hearing and playing. As far as singers go, I’ve had so many influences and favorites, but I don’t think I sound like any of them on that record. More than anything I wanted to sound like myself, and I think I pulled it off on that record, even at such a young age. 

As I listened to the record over and over again recently, it stuck me how there is a quality similar to the Ernest Hemingway novel, «The Sun Also Rises.» There is a really melancholic quality to the record, but the lyrics are so romantic, and there is often a sense of joy. That makes for a moving moving emotional contrast. Was that something you were conscious of at the time, or is it something you think about now?

I definitely was thinking that exact same thing yesterday. I’ve been playing these songs to prepare for the live show we’ve put together, and I realized that I used to think that «Come Away With Me» was such a mellow record, but it is actually a sweet little record. Is it melancholy? Yes, but it also has so many hopeful notes to it. I don’t even know how to do that sometimes now (laughs), because I am usually drawn to the sad lyric – maybe it is my age now, maybe it is from just living life. But «Come Away With Me» definitely has a looking-forward, hopeful, romantic quality to it, which was age-appropriate at the time. I definitely didn’t think that at the time, though. I thought it was mellow. You know, I had grown up singing old soul songs. I used to sing «Lush Life» in high school. I didn’t even know what the song was about then, but I was always drawn to the slow songs, the ballads, the sad songs.

I’m sure that’s one reason why, in addition to how it sounds, because it is such a beautiful record, that it was so successful. 

Yes, it isn’t so dark. It is mellow, but it has a light and hopeful message. I think the combination contributed to the success. That’s true.

Speaking of the record’s success, how did you react at the time? It was staggering – millions of records sold, multiple Grammy awards.

It was pretty weird, but I just dealt with it. You just do your thing, and keep doing it. We were doing it – playing gig after gig, doing interview after interview. I thought there was no way the record could get any bigger after the first jump in sales, but then the Grammys happened, and it was just insane. 

Were there any commercial pressures in the immediate aftermath? You’ve had such authenticity and consistency in your body of work. Even when you experiment and collaborate, there aren’t any frivolous fads. But was there pressure to go in that direction?

Well, the record was already made. So, that ship was sailed. We just did what we did, and it was straight from the heart and honest. I do remember that the record company wanted a remix of «Don’t Know Why» that they could sell to pop radio. At the time, I was horrified by the idea. It went against everything that the song was to me. Now, I’d actually be more open to it, and embrace the opportunity for creative collaboration, but I said no at the time. So, we didn’t do it, but we got on pop radio anyway, and to this day, I don’t know how. It was baffling to me. Other than that, I was lucky to be on Blue Note. The whole team became my family, and everyone watched out for me. Bruce was my friend and a mentor. No one expected me not to be myself. Plus, I was pretty stubborn those days, and I was pretty hot under the collar if anyone tried to tell me to do something that didn’t make sense. I get that from my mom.

Do you ever feel like, even if jazz is just one element of your work, that, because of your success in pop that you are an ambassador for this traditional form of music?

I’ve never taken that on. I love that artform, but I’m the first to say that my first record is not a jazz record. There was some confusion there with people. It certainly leans that way, but I have too much respect for the artform of jazz to say that it was a jazz record. If I was in college and someone tried to say that something like «Come Away With Me» was a jazz record, I would have been like, «No, it’s not!» I try not to think about genre too much.

What approach did you take with «Feels Like Home,» your second record? Did the «Come Away with Me» experience change your approach to songwriting or performing?

Well, I was pretty new to songwriting at that point. There are only three songs that I wrote on «Come Away With Me.» So, during the entire period, I was really excited about writing and inspired, and so was my band. We had been on the road for a year at that point, and we had a lot of songs we had written. So, I recorded a song from everyone in my band. Lee Alexander, the bassist, and I had written several songs together. We were listening to a lot of bluegrass and country at the time. So, the record leans a little more toward the country side. But, I was excited just to be playing music, which meant that that «follow up» pressure didn’t get into the studio. We just did what we did.

That reminds me of what you said just a moment ago in reference to your vocals on «Come Away With Me»: You are just trying to sound like yourself. There are probably many people who consider that easier said than done. How do you manage that?

In high school, I was obsessed with Sarah Vaughan, specifically her live recording, «My Funny Valentine.» I was so into imitating her. I also did a pretty good Billie Holiday impression. I was even cast in the role of Billie Holiday for a high school musical. It was a Black History program that they did every year at my school. I loved mimicking other singers. I would put on Aretha Franklin records, and pretend to be one of her background singers. That was how I learned to sing. I don’t know, though. After high school, I just started to sing without worrying about the rest. Part of it was probably because I felt like a natural singer since I was young. I never felt like I had to struggle to sing, whereas with piano I had to work hard to learn. With singing, I did feel like it was a natural thing. This isn’t to say that I don’t ever sound like other people, or that I’ve never tried on different voices that don’t quite fit. I do feel, though, that I shed that by time I got to New York.

Looking back 20 years later, what do you feel that the Norah Jones of 2002 was right about, and if you could tell the Norah Jones of 2002 anything now, as an artist, what would it be?

As an artist, I don’t think there are wrongs. You are on your path. The record represents where I was at that time exactly. It is an exact record of where you are when you are making it. That’s what it means. It is a recorded moment, literally. So, «Come Away With Me» is a snapshot of my musicality of my time. I guess I would tell myself at that time to enjoy everything a little more. It is OK to stop and smell the roses. I had a lot of fun, because I was surrounded by my best friends. They were all in my band. We had a lot of fun, but I was very uptight at the time. It was a stressful time for my family. It was a weird time for me personally, and success made it weirder. But, I would tell younger self to stress less, and try to enjoy what you’re doing.


20 Years Later, Norah Jones Looks Back at ‘Come Away with Me’

The singer celebrates the 20th anniversary of her landmark album, Come Away with Me, with a U.S. tour

Norah Jones knows that the mere mention of “Don’t Know Why” is probably enough to get the tune stuck in your head. That soothing hot water bottle of a song was the centerpiece of her spectacularly pleasant debut album, Come Away with Me. Released in 2002, when Jones was just 22, Come Away with Me brought home eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Song of the Year for “Don’t Know Why,” and Best New Artist for Jones. Since then, it has sold nearly 30 million copies worldwide and anchored countless Sunday morning playlists. “It will always be my biggest success,” says the fiercely private Jones, 43, speaking via Zoom from the Brooklyn home she shares with her husband and two children. “It might be the only thing that some people know about me, and that’s fine.”

Come Away with Me turned 20 this year, an anniversary that occasioned the release of a “super deluxe” three-disc box set featuring never-before-heard demos and alternate versions of popular tracks, as well as a 25-date U.S. summer tour. Jones grew nostalgic sorting through old photos of the band, which included an ex-boyfriend, as well as her frequent collaborator Jesse Harris, who penned a portion of the album. “I only wrote two songs on my first album, because I was so embarrassed by a couple of songs I wrote in high school that I just shut down and stopped,” explains Jones, who grew up in Texas before moving to New York City. “When I listen to Come Away, I hear something that is so far from what I think of as the kind of music I make now. Each album has had steadily more of my songs.”

Not counting side projects, Jones has released 10 albums, a few of which share the jazz-pop DNA of her debut, with others evincing her diverse taste. Take 2012’s Little Broken Hearts, on which Jones brought her sultriness to the eldritch arrangements of artist/producer Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, U2): to hear her gently whisper “I’m going to smile when I take your life” on the murder ballad “Miriam” is to witness another side of the singer/multi-instrumentalist entirely. “I’ve had amazing opportunities,” she says. “I feel lucky. I feel heard.”

How does it feel to be talking about Come Away with Me 20 years later? Have your thoughts about the record changed over time?

I don’t really pore over the past often, so it was bittersweet. That’s the thing about time: It makes you want to go back, and you know you can’t. But at this point in my life, it feels really nice to revisit it. I was in a much different place around the 10th anniversary. I was putting out the album I did with Danger Mouse and I wasn’t quite ready to embrace looking back. I can appreciate the record in a different way now. I feel like [Come Away with Me] had a more hopeful circle around it than I ever realized before. Even though it was a very mellow album, mood-wise, and it had a lot of ballads and it had some melancholy moments, the songs and the lyrics are hopeful. Maybe because I was so young, starting my adult life out, and excited for love.

“Don’t Know Why” remains one of your best-known and most beloved songs. When you recorded it, did you know instantly that it was a hit?

No, I didn’t think in terms of hits back then. I didn’t think anything I did was going to be a hit. That’s not the kind of music we heard on the radio. It was basically the first thing we recorded—a snapshot of what we were trying to do, but we weren’t even sure yet what we were doing. It was me moving away from singing old jazz standards, playing piano, and singing Jesse’s songs. We knew it was a great take. We knew it had something special. It was like catching fish. We caught it and then we looked at it and decided, yes, this is what we want. Any session after that was chasing that energy, that vibe. There was no trying to beat it.

Obviously you couldn’t have known how successful this record would be. What were you doing for money at the time?

I started waiting tables when I moved to New York City in the summer of 1999. When I got this record deal, it wasn’t a lot of money. I was still waiting tables. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t great. I will say, I preferred it to playing music I didn’t want to play. For instance, I got called to do a bunch of weddings. I remember being asked to sing a lot of songs that I might’ve liked, but it wasn’t what I was trying to do with my life.

Like what, the “Chicken Dance” and “Shout” and that sort of thing?

Yeah, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But it didn’t make sense for me.

Presumably, the success of Come Away with Me came to define you in a lot of ways. But you’ve worked with so many great collaborators, including Foo Fighters, OutKast, and Jeff Tweedy. Do you feel you’ve gotten equal amounts of attention and respect for these projects, or do you get the sense that people still equate you with this first record?

Both. I don’t have a weird defensiveness over the other stuff I’ve done, because I feel like enough people have heard it and responded to it. But, yeah, I know Come Away with Me is always going to be my definitive thing. Good thing I liked it at the time. I’m proud of it. It’s a testament to following what you want to do and not compromising. What if you become successful with something you hate? That would suck. I really learned how to let go of other people’s definitions of me early on. I had to, to be able to thrive in this new environment. You can’t please everybody.

So you don’t mind that more people don’t know about El Madmo, your indie-rock side project?

Aww, no one ever asks me about El Madmo. I loved it. That was at sort of the peak of the second album [2004’s Feels Like Home]. I was a little depressed; I felt a little lost. So, yeah, I didn’t even put my name on the album, because we didn’t want it to be a Norah Jones thing. I don’t think we would have been able to do that with a bunch of weird expectations. That’s what I’ve been striving for with most things. That’s why I try not to let in other opinions. It shouldn’t matter.

What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry over the last two decades?

Streaming and social media. Everything’s completely different now. I feel glad I got to sell records when you could still sell records. And I didn’t have to worry about my Instagram account. I probably would have had a nervous breakdown.

Was it ever strange to be in your early 20s but not to be in the same spaces as your peers—like, say, at the MTV Video Music Awards or in the tabloids?

I was in the world I was in. I didn’t covet that stuff necessarily. I got nominated for an MTV2 award that year [2002], and I went, and it was so fun because I grew up watching them. I didn’t grow up in a basement with just a record player. I grew up with MTV. But, yeah, I don’t think I would survive in a tabloid life. I certainly didn’t have any regrets there.

Maybe you didn’t grow up in a basement with just a record player, but was there an album that was particularly inspirational to your own pursuit of music?

I loved Aretha Franklin. When I got into jazz, I was really into Bill Evans and Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, but I also listened to alternative radio. I got obsessed with Nevermind, and I used to air drum to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I loved the Violent Femmes. But when I was listening to that music I never thought, like, Oh, I’m going to do this. And then in high school I started playing jazz and playing gigs, and people seemed to like the way I sang. It seemed very natural. That was my calling. I didn’t have another interest. I had no backup plan. It wasn’t even a plan. I was just doing it all of a sudden.

You starred with Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, and Natalie Portman in the 2007 Wong Kar-wai film My Blueberry Nights. What was that like?

That was a crazy experience. That’s one of those things I wish I could time-travel back to. I was so stressed and freaked out the whole time and trying to stay skinny. I guess you could say I was slightly out of my element. I’m not an actor. But it was life-changing. It was so amazing to watch Wong Kar-wai work, and getting to hang out with movie stars. We had a ball. I still have very good friends from the crew from that movie.

Have you been tempted to do 0ther public-facing projects, like The Voice or a podcast or something?

I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to be a coach on The Voice. I just hate being on camera, you know? I think the biggest annoying thing for me is being asked to talk on camera. Because that’s not my job, necessarily. I feel out of my own skin when I have to do that.

You’re happily married with two children, but you’ve also done two breakup records. Do you think the saying holds true that the best art comes out of pain or heartbreak, or do you feel just as creative when you’re happy?

I definitely think being in pain doesn’t hurt the art. The way I create and write songs has changed a lot over the years. I felt very consistently creative for the last five years, and I think it’s because of the way I think of ideas. They don’t always come from a deep feeling. It comes from a little melody, and you can’t get it out of your head. But I’ve also had periods where I’m not in a lot of pain but the whole world is, and it’s really easy to look outside yourself and feel that. At this point, it’s hard to write a song that’s hopeful.

You’re about to go on tour for the first time since the pandemic. How do you feel about it?

I’m excited. I think it will be a combination of being weird and also like nothing ever happened. Not in a dismissive way; sometimes when you fall back into life it feels like, Oh, yeah, this is normal. You pick up where you left off. It’s going to be special to feel that energy again.


Come Away With Me by Norah Jones

Come away with me in the night
Come away with me
And I will write you a song

Come away with me on a bus
Come away where they can’t tempt us with their lies

And I want to walk with you
On a cloudy day
In fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high
So won’t you try to come

Come away with me and we’ll kiss
On a mountaintop
Come away with me
And I’ll never stop loving you

And I want to wake up with the rain
Falling on a tin roof
While I’m safe there in your arms
So all I ask is for you
To come away with me in the night
Come away with me

No Love Dying

Gregory Porter

Known for his warm baritone vocals, Gregory Porter rose to acclaim in the 2010s with his earthy, cross-pollinated brand of jazz, soul, and gospel. A gifted singer of standards as well as more contemporary soul material, Porter has earned favorable comparisons to his idols Nat King Cole, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder. He announced his arrival by picking up a Grammy nomination for his 2010 debut, Water. After signing to Blue Note, he gained even wider notice for his third album, 2013’s Liquid Spirit, which hit number two on the jazz charts, and won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Although his original songs are his main focus, Porter often returns to his roots, such as on his 2017 tribute album Nat King Cole & Me.

Born in Los Angeles in 1971, Porter grew up in Bakersfield, California, where his mother was a minister. It was through his mother’s record collection that he fell under the spell of Cole, learning early on how to imitate him. Along with singing, he was also a gifted athlete, and left high school with a football scholarship to San Diego State University. However, after an injury to his shoulder derailed his sports career, he moved to Brooklyn where he worked days as a chef while performing in local jazz clubs. It was during this period that he met saxophonist, composer, and pianist Kamau Kenyatta.

Kenyatta quickly became Porter’s mentor, introducing him to flutist Hubert Laws. Laws then featured Porter on a track on his 1998 album, Hubert Laws Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole. Laws’ sister, Eloise Laws, also heard Porter during the sessions and cast him as one of the leads in the musical It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, which eventually enjoyed a run on Broadway. In 2010, Porter released his debut album, Water, on Motéma Music. Well-received, it picked up a Grammy nod for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Be Good followed two years later and further showcased Porter’s growing confidence.

In September of 2013, Porter issued his third album and Blue Note debut, Liquid Spirit. Produced by Brian Bacchus, the album was a huge success, landing at number two on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart, and scooping up the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. It also became the one of the most streamed jazz albums of all time, with over 20 million streams. His second effort for Blue Note, Take Me to the Alley, was released in early 2016, and featured Porter’s own version of “Holding On,” a track he co-wrote and previously recorded with electronic act Disclosure. Also in 2016, Porter delivered the concert album Live in Berlin.

The following year he released an album that paid tribute to the artist who had been most influential on his own music. Nat King Cole & Me featured Porter’s versions of some of Cole’s most treasured classics, including “Smile” and “Mona Lisa.” The concert album One Night Only: Live at the Royal Albert Hall arrived in 2018.


Jazz legend Gregory Porter on the art of the protest song Fighting to be heard

“Songs about romantic love are important but there’s also the love song for mankind,” Gregory Porter explains. “I’m not trying to beat anybody over the head with my thoughts. The protest in my music is subtle because I want people to take the song in and consider the ideas. But I hope songs about social change will come to the fore and get more of a spotlight.”

You might not expect such fighting words from a Grammy award-winner and million-album-selling artist, but Gregory Porter’s career has been one long battle to be heard. Born in Bakersfield, California he honed his craft over decades with little-to-no recognition in dark basement jazz clubs before recording his debut, the platinum Liquid Spirit at the ripe old age of 38.

He’s since performed at Glastonbury, guest-vocalled on Disclosure’s massive hit ‘Holding On’ and burst way beyond the small soul jazz scene which birthed him. Despite the widespread acclaim, there’s a burning social critique bubbling under the surface on many of his most powerful tracks, which is present too on his new second album Take Me to the Alley.

“If we’re true to ourselves as artists, we write about conditions that are around us. If things aren’t right, that’s something we have to talk about,” Porter says. One track that stood out on Liquid Spirit, ‘1960 What’ came from a really personal place, Porter explains. “My mother had just passed and I was reconnecting with her story growing up in the South,” he recalls. “I was listening to lots of Nina Simone, lots of soul music, deep blues and thinking about the LA riots, which had happened a few years before, and this recurring story of injustice. Similar things have happened at different points in our history. Whether it’s Martin Luther King, Rodney King or the shooting of any young person, it’s that feeling of injustice that sparks emotion – when people feel their rights aren’t being respected.”

The refrain in the chorus, ‘1960, what? 1960, who?’ refers to the numerous Civil Rights Leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers, and other figures whose tragic deaths lit the touch-paper for the many incidents of social unrest during the turbulent ‘60s. “I don’t say ‘1970, what?’ or ‘1980, what?’ but the timelessness of the song is implied, for when it happens in the next ten years,” Porter explains. “I hope it doesn’t, but it probably will. It’s a recurring story if we don’t learn from history.”

First aired in Harlem jazz clubs long before Porter’s record deal and the major mobilisation following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York and the growth of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the song feels all the more poignant with each episode of injustice and reaction that hits the headlines.

Porter’s latest album Take Me To The Alley once again demonstrates his awesome voice, which always has a huge impact across the emotional spectrum, from agony to ecstasy. But when Porter chooses to speak out on society, like on the softly-spoken title track, he takes his lead from the greats of soul and jazz history. He looks back to Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone or John Coltrane, who stood at movements for change in their day.

“When you think about the best protest music, whether it’s Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ or Bob Marley, it’s beautiful music which carries a deeper meaning to the people you’re singing about,” Porter says. “It’s not always overt: there are great protest songs where it actually took us a while to know they were protest songs. But a good protest song expresses the feeling of a situation to those people being subjected to certain conditions. Great hip hop, as an example, carries interesting self reflection and, almost like CNN or the BBC, reports and broadcasts what’s really happening on the streets, with the aspiration that hope will be coming their way.”


Gregory Porter – «Music was a vent for the pain and frustration I had about losing the biggest, most important, person in my life.»

A POWERFUL baritone with a winning smile, there is no stopping Gregory Porter.

A fateful shoulder injury turned Porter from a sports star to a singing sensation as a Grammy-award winning jazz musician.

The Californian first discovered his voice in church where his mother Ruth was a minister, growing up with seven siblings and with a father who he rarely saw. 

Always framed by his trademark peaked cap with ear flaps, the 44-year-old Porter is swinging his way round the country ahead of the release of his new record Take Me To The Alley.

The Guide: You have risen to prominence slightly later in life than many artists, how do you feel this has affected your music?

Gregory Porter: For me it has been helpful. My talent does not rely on the smoothness around my eyes or my youthful sound. I think for me, musically, it took me some time to season. I have been able to go through some life experiences which probably inform my performances and my recording. I am where I am supposed to be at the right time. Would I liked to have been here when I was 25? Sure, but I am here now and I am happy.

Do you ever reflect on what could have been with regard to your sports career?

I have to say I do not think about what could of been because I think everything happens for a reason. Though it did take me a long time to get to the place where I am now, and who knows where I will be in the future. Everything does happen for a reason, the shoulder injury lead me to this place and gave me a deeper understanding of humility, which is something that features in my music. I do not reflect much on the injury, but I do think about American football. Though I love to watch, I realise I will not force my son to play because it really is a dangerous game. I will let him decide what sports he wants to play. If he wants to be a great tennis or golf player I will not frown at that and I will appreciate that.

How much did your musical talent develop while you were rehabbing the injury?

It was more when I was rehabbing from the passing of my mother. The long period of mourning I was in was eased by music, by her encouraging me on her deathbed. It was a much deeper emotional experience in losing my mother which created an avenue or a vent for the pain and frustration I had about losing the biggest, most important, person in my life. It was an emotional watershed moment and really in a way helped me think inward in terms of my songwriting and realise the personal is universal sometimes and I was not the only one going through pain, or the only one going through joy, so to express those human emotions in music came from this deep experience.

How much did winning the Grammy for Liquid Spirit mean to you?

It was a very important moment in my career and it felt wonderful being honoured by my peers. In a way it was encouragement for the way I write and perform the songs, and in using the influences from my childhood and infusing that with my approach for jazz.

How much did your large family upbringing, with seven siblings, influence you?

It was very important. Finding a way to be different and to stick out in a way to be recognised by your mother, so I was known to do things my mother liked – singing, cooking and foot massages. These were things she enjoyed and encouraged. I had so many brothers and sisters competing for attention, not love, she loved us all, but attention. But also just bouncing ideas, thoughts and experiences off your brothers and sisters is available. 

How important was your relationship with your mother to you personally and your music?

In a way much of my lyrics are a synthesis of her thoughts or maybe sometimes her sermon. Some of the things she said go through me as poetry. As I go through my music and listen to the songs, I hear a lot of her, I cannot get away from it. I think the point I decided to embrace that, as opposed to running away from it, was when my success started. Even with my voice, when I started to embrace the fact and idea my voice was nurtured in church and I started to sing like I had for years in spiritual pursuit it helped my own personal music.

You father was absent, how did that affect you?

The understanding of the loss and absence of something you desired is very important in music. You do it with lost love, this is central to songwriting and my songwriting. The understanding of something you did not have has been very important to me, so I am thankful to him for the genetics of my voice and after sometime I could positively look at it as giving me a story and a message to sing about.

Who are some of the artists who have left the biggest impact on you?

Both known and unknown artists have affected me, from little known blues artists to the great stars like Nat King Cole, Bill Weathers, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, and female singers like Carmen McCray and Abbey Lincoln. Storytellers. But in particular male singers who have had some experience in their childhood singing in church in this emotive style.

What sort of things are you exploring on Take Me To The Alley?

Mutual respect, the ups and downs of love, I have a protest song with Fan the Flames, and even the title track has some politics in there as well.

Jazz is often considered quite a niche genre, why do you think that is?

It is because of the vast umbrella that it sits up under. A person can listen to the most extreme expression of jazz and think that is the entirety of the music. Sometimes it takes great understanding and study, and even study of personality, to understand some of the music that is under the umbrella of jazz. But there is music which is accessible as well. Herbie Hancock has proven instrumental in being on both ends of that spectrum with the experimental forward-thinking music and harmonies that expand the mind as well as being on the funky, danceable music, all being under the jazz label. To say you think you know exactly what jazz is upon one listen is an impossibility, it takes years and thought to full understand it. 

What is the story behind your famous hat?

It is just my thing. It is mine.


Gregory Porter: The only reason I am here today is because of what my mother told me as she was dying

«So, are you going to have one?” High noon at a sun-dappled circular corner table at The Standard hotel in London and Gregory Porter has just ordered his preferred tipple, an Old Fashioned. If you know anything about who Gregory Porter is (a Grammy-winning jazz singer) and what he does (sell hundreds of thousands of albums on a scale not seen since Michael Bublé slid across a stage in a brushed velvet tux), the order is about as apt as Patrick Bateman calling for a Bloody Mary – or Taylor Swift for an American Dream.

Before Porter single-handedly reignited contemporary jazz with his dapper duds, a hat to remember and a voice that sounds like a cartoon lion gargling honey and dosed on CBD gummies, jazz was something fiftysomething geography dons listened to over a glass of vinegarised sherry. Not so now, as jazz has got its groove back, with Porter’s music (and his whole cosmic, cuddly vibe) adored by Spanish millennials and South Korean boomers alike. Despite having numerous dates from his European tour postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, we caught up with Porter to talk about how he flipped the jazz scene, soul-searching and all things ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop… You dig?

How’s the fame game treating you?
You know, very well, actually. I’m OK with [fame]. It’s just, you know, people trying to get close to me in some kind of way. I get the laughs, the tears. Women, mothers, lovers – these people come up to me and tell me very intimate things: “Oh, my father was dying and we had your record on” or “Your voice is what I heard when I was having my baby…” I’m like, “Oh, well, I’m glad I was in the room!” You know? They just want a little piece of that moment again and I’m happy to oblige.

You like a cocktail, I see. Have you ever tried to stop drinking?
[Laughs.] Not so much, no. I like a good gin and tonic actually, that’s my go-to. I like all the small-batch stuff, the various aromatics you can blend and mix. I like my drinks fully loaded, if you know what I mean? I dig a cold beer too. Sometimes when it’s hot you can’t beat a bit of effervescence. But all those nonalcoholic drinks? Maybe sometime. Who knows? There seems to be a lot of ways to replace the bottle. The question is, why would I try to replace it?

So as well as a new album out, All Rise, you have a podcast, The Hang? I heard the episode with Jeff Goldblum, who is also a jazz fan…
Yeah. Jeff and I met in Los Angeles airport a few years ago now. He ran right up to me, being all “Jeff”, and he was like, “I’m a big fan! I want to play with you!” He has those moments when he can seem a little possessed, right? He tells me my voice has compassion and vulnerability… I’m just thinking, “I’m talking to the damn ‘Fly’, man,” you know what I mean? I am continually shocked at where my music gets to and where it is heard. It’s a gift for me and still blows my mind.

Where did you grow up?
A place called Bakersfield, California; it’s no jazz mecca. It’s got a music vibe, sure, but not so much a live-performance vibe. The biggest names that came from there are some of the old country artists and Korn, the metal band. I went to high school with those guys. I beat them in a talent show in our junior year. They came out and killed their song; it was cool. But afterwards, as the curtain was closing, one of them jumped out and gave the judges the middle finger, so they got disqualified. They were always real rock’n’roll, real raggedy.

You usually gig 200 days a year. What do you do on rare days off in a foreign city?
Vintage shopping is a big thing for me. I love my brand-new Paul Smith suits, for sure, but it was my mother who turned me on to vintage, or what we called thrift stores back then. All my classmates, none of the kids could understand how we were dressed so smartly, because it was all tailored but secondhand, you know? We’d go into school wearing these high-waisted trousers with square-cut pockets on the side. We had those shoes – we’d call them “pilgrim” shoes – but they were the monk straps. Beautiful objects. Thing is, my mother was all about helping people. She was a nurse and a minister. I have a song called “Take Me To The Alley” and it’s about feeding and helping those people down and out on the street, how my mother would help them. She wouldn’t let us get attached to any of those clothes she bought us; she’d see a little boy who came from some Southern town with nothing to his name, go home and give all our fine clothes to him.

That’s quite a lesson to learn.
Yeah. I mean, I am not going to pretend we enjoyed that lesson at the time, but it’s stayed with me and now, of course, I am so glad she imparted that message of charity to us. Boy, my brother rebelled against it; I was more of a mama’s boy. I have a son now and I try to do the same. I get in his face and I make sure he gets bored of me. It’s funny, a critic said of my music the other day that I was too positive, that my music was too full of hope, too uplifting… They said, “Don’t you have any Leonard Cohen darkness in you? Some Bob Dylan hatred?” I actually consider myself and my music a push-back on some of the negative energy of racism, bigotry and so on out there. But have I experienced darkness? Damn right. I’ve experienced a motherfucker pissing in a beer bottle and throwing it out of a car window at my mother’s house. I’ve seen all the darkness I need to see. I just chose to channel that into something brighter for the listeners.

Was Bakersfield a tough neighbourhood to grow up in as a young black man?
They used to do all kinds of things to our house. We actually lived in a good neighbourhood, Christmas Tree Lane, one of the smartest streets in Bakersfield. My mother had bought us a house. We were one of only two black families in the area – we still know the other family, in fact. I mean, this is California, not Mississippi, but there was still racism there. People cutting down trees, burning crosses – it happened. But then I guess some of those old folks died, along with their views. Most of them anyway, although then along came Donald Trump…

We’ve had our own issues of racism here in the UK, not least concerning the treatment in the media of Meghan Markle.
There could be 101 reasons why Prince Harry and Meghan wanted to leave the UK, not least after the treatment of his mother by the press. Maybe he just wants to protect his wife and child, you know? But, no, they all have to jump on her and insist she is the reason. I am just not sure we needed the full ticktock on it; the cameras following them to Grandma’s house – excuse me, Her Majesty The Queen’s house – a 24/7 news report on cars driving back and forth. My feeling is they had talked it all through, it was arranged and then they were being stalled. So, guess what, they took it to Twitter! But, well, I don’t think we’ll ever really know and, to be honest, it’s their business, right?

This is the Heroes issue. Who were your musical heroes growing up?
My mother’s house was always filled with music. We had one of those big wooden consoles – would probably cost a fortune now, but most households had one. The turntable was one end, the eight-track was the other. My mother’s thing was gospel music – that really was the sound that resonated throughout the house. Also, she had her classic albums – Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. The only reason I am here today is because of my mother and what she told me as she was dying. I had never really believed a singing career was possible before, but as she was in hospital, almost her last words to me were to encourage me to be a professional singer. That was the spark that lit the belief.

When did you realise that you were better than average?
Well, that’s a tough one, but I remember when someone I really respected first gave me the nod, you know? There was this real cool cat, a drummer, I used to play with. He was like a Ginger Baker type: sharp clothes, shirts just perfect, hat to one side, always got a few chains around his neck. He’s a crazy cat, drumming away, taking hits of extracurricular substances in between hitting the snare, without even missing a beat. There was this song we used to play together and I remember he turned to me and was like, “You’re going to outgrow these small clubs. You about to blow up!” When I first started, another sign was all the tourists that flocked into the tiny clubs we were doing in New York City. It gave me a feeling there was a global appetite for jazz, the like of which I hadn’t noticed before. Japanese, Russian, French, they kept asking me, “Hey, when you coming over to see us?”

What was your experience of those first tours outside America?
Look, I don’t want this to sound like the beginning of a romantic drama or anything, but that first time we toured? That very first night? I met my wife, Victoria. I thought, “Wow, jazz. If I can get girls like this…” She loved jazz, which helped. We got out there and found an audience. There are people in all parts of the world, in drink-sodden, smoke-filled clubs making jazz music, man. I never forget going to Russia for the first time and playing an old bomb shelter. There was this young 19-year-old trumpeter… If you look hard enough, the scene is right there, right under your nose.

Where did that voice of yours come from?
You know, that’s a good question and one I hadn’t really asked myself until recently. My father was never around; he was close to us in LA, but never there as such, you know what I mean? The thing I always thought he gave me, the thing he never had, was that gene that said, “Let me go look after my children.” You know what he said to me once when I reached out to him? “I will forget more than you could ever learn.” I could slam my fist on the table when I think about that. It’s hard even now talking about it. It’s been a thing I’ve had to wrestle with my whole life, his absence. Yet someone asked me recently, “Where did you get your singing voice?” And I always thought it was my mother – she was a singer. But at her funeral, people came up to me and told me something I never knew: “Boy, could your daddy tear the house down.” He was a fine singer and they say I got my voice from him. So in the end I guess he did give me something significant. And I’m gonna take it and wrap his memory up in that.


Jazz singer Gregory Porter is an ex-lineman with a blues-infused soul

“I came to writing my own music not because of some love story or from some broken heart,” said jazz singer Gregory Porter. “It was my father. I had a pain in my chest about him not showing enough interest in my life as a child.”

orter — 6-feet-5 and 255 pounds — earned a San Diego State athletic scholarship in football as a lineman. But shortly after his January 1990 enrollment, he suffered a career-ending rotator cuff injury. After moving from Bakersfield, California, to the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, New York, to work as a chef at his brother’s restaurant, he began to moonlight as a crooner in the clubs, cafes and restaurants of Brooklyn and Harlem, New York. “So when I started to exorcise this pain in my heart … it came out as melody and lyric about him, and our relationship.” Four albums and two Grammys later, his velvety voice remains a funky fusion of jazz, blues, soul and gospel.

From those tiny club stages, Porter began a journey to become a male African-American jazz singer — whom BBC calls a “worryingly rare breed.” Porter signed with the Motema label and released Water in 2010. Porter’s baritone voice and mindful songwriting have placed him in the highest of ranks. He was awarded his first Grammy for 2012’s Liquid Spirit, and earned his latest Grammy for his 2016 Take Me To The Alley in the best jazz vocal album category. His voice has the rasp of Sam Cooke, but also the liquid butter sound of his favorite artist Nat “King” Cole. This is mixed with the soulful lyrics that greet you with a dose of realism and the careful arrangements of Donny Hathaway.

Porter, along with his seven siblings, was raised by his minister mother, Ruth, while his father, Rufus, a Memphis, Tennessee, native, was not there for them. Raising her children in the church and instilling in them those Christian and gospel roots, Porter’s mother remains an inspirational source in his life. She died of cancer when Porter was just 21.

“I remember standing in my apartment in San Diego, boo-hooing,” he said in 2016. “But it turned out great. I think my mother saw the positive side of my injury before I did … [she] said, ‘Now you have more flexibility to explore music, focus on your studies, and see what happens’ … I think I ended up in the right place.”

How old were when you began singing?

I was 5. There were eight kids — we were basically a choir. So there was a lot of music in the house. It always just felt like the right thing, my thing. Also, you find a way to stick out with eight kids and it was just my thing.

How did you develop your sound?

That gospel migration that came from the South. My mother was from Shreveport, Louisiana, and my father from Memphis, Tennessee. Some of those roots came to central California that I was exposed to in church. Very old roots. I was singing with a lot of older singers, 80-year-old singers, when I was a little kid. So I was probably getting something from … music from the turn of the century or the ’20s, stylistically. So, yeah. I picked up a lot from them. When it came time to do my jazz, the one thing that set me apart was I had this country, gospel, blues background. At the moment I started to utilize that in my singing was when success started to happen. It was a different sound. A more grounded, rooted sound that I was bringing into my jazz.

How did you get into in the storytelling aspect of your songwriting?

I wanted to make music that struck me the way listening to Nat Cole’s music or Sammy Davis Jr.’s music struck me. The story is most important. I realized that when writing from a personal experience, writing about grounded soulful things, I was most effective at communicating in song. I started dealing with my relationships, I started dealing with what I feel about love, and the country and … things I feel about … race, mutual respect and justice. All these things come out in my writing.

I started dealing with what I feel about love and the country and … things I feel about … race, mutual respect and justice. All these things come out in my writing.

How does your music relate to your spirituality?

I’m not trying to beat anybody over the head with spirituality … I’m trying to stretch out and touch … everybody … But my spirituality, it can’t help but find its way into the music. That’s the way that it is.

Where is your favorite place to write your music?

Planes, trains. In cars. When I’m in motion. Something about moving past people, buildings and environments, it sparks some desire for me to write. It causes me to consider where I’ve been, and in a way, where I’m going.

Do you write on your laptop, iPad — or old-school pen and paper?

All of those. I’ve even had somebody turn their camera on and just tape me for 15 seconds, and then have them send it to my email. I don’t want to miss … you know what I mean? “Our Love,” I wrote while walking around the Tower of London. “Be Good,” I wrote on my bike on my way home from getting dinner. That’s the way I write — I don’t write. I don’t sit down at a table and say, ‘OKnow it’s time to write a song.’ I can’t do it like that. However I capture it is how it happens. It has to get captured.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

It’s all a blessing … to be able to have this career. The difficulty is in the consequence of love. I begin to hate time and distance because it keeps me away from my loved ones, my family, my favorite coffee shop, my son, my dear friends. If you commit to doing 300 days on the road, then somebody’s going to suffer in terms of your friendships. I think the disconnection that I may have with my closest friends is the toughest thing. It’s like constant small heartaches — engaging people and then releasing them.

Where were you when you learned of your most recent Grammy nomination?

For some reason, they come out late at night on the East Coast. I always just remember being woken up in New York. Somebody jumping on my head and saying, ‘You got nominated!’ But this time, I was just cooking in the kitchen. I wasn’t aware of when the nominations were being announced and my wife is pretty good, she’s like, ‘Yeah, hey, you.’ She came into the kitchen and told me. I was like, ‘All right. That’s great. I’ll take that.’

Something about moving past people, buildings, and environments, it sparks some desire for me to write.

You recently did a collaboration with Kem on “Holding On.” How was that experience for you?

Great. I was a fan, and he’s an artist with a unique musical character, and so, it was a really good fit. He has a strong point of view, and when he co-produced “Holding On,” it was me, but it was with the essence of Kem. It’s still doing very well.

What’s been the most simple part of your journey?

The simplest, or the most beautifulest, is really just engaging different cultures all over the world. Whether it’s Australia, Mexico, Indonesia … when I get there, people know my name, shake my hand, and welcome me. It’s based on not some status, or some shiny suit I’m wearing. It’s based on some words I said that opened their heart. So, that’s really cool, and that makes me feel probably most proud of the music. I go so many places around the world, and it’s like there’s somebody there that knows me for some positive reason. They scream out of a car, ‘Gregory, I love you!’ That’s not negative. That feels good. I ain’t lie about that.


Gregory Porter is just a regular dude who paints fences — and wins Grammys

Grammy-winning jazz singer Gregory Porter had a to-do list before hitting the road: Paint the fence and chop down some trees.

«The way I stay grounded is by cleaning out my gutters and reorganizing the garage, changing diapers,» he said last week from Bakersfield, Calif., a day before his tour started. «I’m just a regular dude.»

There were other issues to deal with, including his organist missing the first two nights of the tour because of COVID symptoms. The singer takes COVID precautions seriously, especially after one of his brothers died of the coronavirus in 2020.

«If science and cities tell us we have to shutter again, I’m OK with that,» he said. «I’m all for keeping people safe.»

When Porter comes to St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater on Sunday, he will be cognizant of the racial reckoning in the Twin Cities with the deaths of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Winston Smith and Amir Locke at the hands of police.

«I’m conscious of current and past trauma in areas I’ve been to,» he explained. «This is entertainment but it’s much more than just entertainment; there’s a deeper thing that happens.»

Porter recalled a 2015 concert in Israel where he was confronted by a boycott over alleged Israeli human rights violations, which he wasn’t aware of when he signed the contract.

«There was so much pressure and political energy that I had to speak with my mother in the sky before I approached the stage,» said Porter, who began singing at a Bakersfield church where his late mother was a minister. «So I talked about brotherhood, and sang songs about offending the least one and looking out for your brother as a point of political differences.»

Porter, 49, is touring behind «Still Rising — The Collection,» last fall’s retrospective of 34 songs that connects the dots in a stellar career that has seen him collaborate with everyone from opera diva Renee Fleming and pop experimentalist Moby to the late crooner Nat King Cole and early rocker Buddy Holly (via technology). Many of those duets are on the double album.

«The record is a good example of respecting music by not respecting genre,» said Porter, who has won a pair of Grammys for jazz vocal albums.

«I approach things like a jazz singer. I feel like a jazz singer in my body and in my voice, but sometimes because it’s jazz, the gospel, the blues, the soul, that comes out as well. Music associated with Black American music. They are cousins; one has been built off another, one has influenced another. I don’t feel a necessity to separate them.»

«All Rise,» his 2020 album, is easily the most gospel-infused of his 12-year recording career. The singer said that direction was organic, reaching back to the first music he sang as a child.

The video for the single «Revival,» from «All Rise,» alludes to Freddie Gray, who died in the custody of Baltimore police in 2015, but Porter feels the song has a broader sweep.

«It does apply to the cloud and darkness that can be put upon you by racism and the many difficulties we have in our society [but] it’s more than that. It’s also the internal self-doubt. It pertains to all people.»

Jazz as protest music

Porter has more obvious protest songs in his repertoire, including «1960 What?» and «Mister Holland,» about how he was treated rudely by the father of a white girl he hoped to date in high school.

Grammy-winning jazz singer Gregory Porter had a to-do list before hitting the road: Paint the fence and chop down some trees.

«The way I stay grounded is by cleaning out my gutters and reorganizing the garage, changing diapers,» he said last week from Bakersfield, Calif., a day before his tour started. «I’m just a regular dude.»

There were other issues to deal with, including his organist missing the first two nights of the tour because of COVID symptoms. The singer takes COVID precautions seriously, especially after one of his brothers died of the coronavirus in 2020.

«If science and cities tell us we have to shutter again, I’m OK with that,» he said. «I’m all for keeping people safe.»

When Porter comes to St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater on Sunday, he will be cognizant of the racial reckoning in the Twin Cities with the deaths of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Winston Smith and Amir Locke at the hands of police.

«I’m conscious of current and past trauma in areas I’ve been to,» he explained. «This is entertainment but it’s much more than just entertainment; there’s a deeper thing that happens.»

Porter recalled a 2015 concert in Israel where he was confronted by a boycott over alleged Israeli human rights violations, which he wasn’t aware of when he signed the contract.

«There was so much pressure and political energy that I had to speak with my mother in the sky before I approached the stage,» said Porter, who began singing at a Bakersfield church where his late mother was a minister. «So I talked about brotherhood, and sang songs about offending the least one and looking out for your brother as a point of political differences.»

Porter, 49, is touring behind «Still Rising — The Collection,» last fall’s retrospective of 34 songs that connects the dots in a stellar career that has seen him collaborate with everyone from opera diva Renee Fleming and pop experimentalist Moby to the late crooner Nat King Cole and early rocker Buddy Holly (via technology). Many of those duets are on the double album.

«The record is a good example of respecting music by not respecting genre,» said Porter, who has won a pair of Grammys for jazz vocal albums.

«I approach things like a jazz singer. I feel like a jazz singer in my body and in my voice, but sometimes because it’s jazz, the gospel, the blues, the soul, that comes out as well. Music associated with Black American music. They are cousins; one has been built off another, one has influenced another. I don’t feel a necessity to separate them.»

«All Rise,» his 2020 album, is easily the most gospel-infused of his 12-year recording career. The singer said that direction was organic, reaching back to the first music he sang as a child.

The video for the single «Revival,» from «All Rise,» alludes to Freddie Gray, who died in the custody of Baltimore police in 2015, but Porter feels the song has a broader sweep.

«It does apply to the cloud and darkness that can be put upon you by racism and the many difficulties we have in our society [but] it’s more than that. It’s also the internal self-doubt. It pertains to all people.»

Jazz as protest music

Porter has more obvious protest songs in his repertoire, including «1960 What?» and «Mister Holland,» about how he was treated rudely by the father of a white girl he hoped to date in high school.

«Yes, protest music is an essential part of the jazz expression,» he said. «To give a full picture of singing a song about optimism, you have to talk about where you’re coming from. There’s a reason you’re crossing the River Jordan, because on this side you’re catching hell.»

Overt racism was part of Porter’s childhood in Bakersfield. There were only two Black families in his neighborhood. A 30-foot cross was burned in their yard. One of his brothers was shot while walking home from work. Bottles filled with urine were tossed through their windows.

One of seven kids whose father abandoned them when Gregory was a toddler, Porter still managed to find his way. He won a talent contest in high school by singing a gospel tune after a well-received band rocked out and then flipped off the audience. Those musicians went on to eventual fame as the metal band Korn. (Lead singer Jonathan Davis recently friended Porter on Facebook.)

Porter headed to San Diego State University on a football scholarship. Knowing that the lineman could sing, teammates Marshall Faulk and Darnay Scott (both future NFLers) asked him to perform a song at practice one day.

«All day long in the locker room, these guys were listening to hip-hop, R&B and soul music, and on the football field I sang [the jazz standard] ‘Moody’s Mood for Love.’ They had this perplexed look on their faces.»

A shoulder injury halted his football career, so Porter focused on getting a degree in urban planning. Meanwhile, his dad, whom he barely knew, died when Porter was 20, and his mother passed the next year of cancer.

«My mother was on her deathbed. I was telling her I was going to finish my degree and wear brown shoes and have two kids and everything’s going to be normal,» he recalled.

She advised him otherwise.

«With her last breath, she was encouraging me to pursue music. It gave me kind of license to pursue it even if it wasn’t bringing me immediate success.»

As for his dad, «he gave me no time, no counseling, no money, nothing. But I learned at my father’s funeral that he was a great singer. He gave me something. My voice. I’ll take that.»

Porter has a scrumptious baritone that evokes Lou Rawls, with hints of Nat King Cole, Joe Williams, Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers.

That versatility has led to invitations to sing on records with world-class cellist Yo-Yo Ma and electronic dance duo Disclosure, among others.

While his ingredients may vary from song to song, there is one constant for Porter: his Kangol Summer Spitfire hat.

He has 30 or 40 at home, but saves the black ones for the stage. «Some are for working in the yard,» he noted.

Like he said, a regular dude.


No Love Dying by Gregory Porter

There will be no love that’s dying here
The bird that flew in through my window
Simply lost his way
He broke his wing I helped him heal
And then he flew away

Well the death of love is everywhere
But I wont let it be
There will be no love dying here for me
There will be no love that’s dying here

The mirror that fell from the wall was raggedy that’s all
It rests upon a rusty nail
Before it made it’s fall
Well the bones of love are every where but I wont let it be
There will be no love dying here for me

There will be no that’s dying here
Four flowers is my aging faces, not a sign within
I payed for three a sweet old lady gave me four instead
Theres some doubt thats out about this love but I wont let it be
There will be no love thats dying here for me

There will be no love that’s dying here
The bird that flew in through my window
Simply lost his way

He broke his wings I helped him heal and then he flew away
Well the death of love is everywhere
But I wont let it be
There will be no love dying here for me
No-o-o-o oh

There will be no love that’s dying for me
There will be no love thats dying for you and me
Oh there will be no love dying here
No-o not for me

There will be no love that’s dying here
There will be no love thats dying here
No, no, no, no, no no no
There will be no lo-o-o-ve dying for me

When The Beatles had A hard day’s night

A hard day’s night

When it opened in September, 1964, «A Hard Day’s Night» was a problematic entry in a disreputable form, the rock ‘n’ roll musical. The Beatles were already a publicity phenomenon (70 million viewers watched them on «The Ed Sullivan Show»), but they were not yet cultural icons. Many critics attended the movie and prepared to condescend, but the movie could not be dismissed: It was so joyous and original that even the early reviews acknowledged it as something special. After more than three decades, it has not aged and is not dated; it stands outside its time, its genre and even rock. It is one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies.

In 1964, what we think of as «The ’60s” had not yet really emerged from the embers of the 1950s. Perhaps this was the movie that sounded the first note of the new decade–the opening chord on George Harrison’s new 12-string guitar. The film was so influential in its androgynous imagery that untold thousands of young men walked into the theater with short haircuts, and their hair started growing during the movie and didn’t get cut again until the 1970s.

It was clear from the outset that «A Hard Day’s Night» was in a different category from the rock musicals that had starred Elvis and his imitators. It was smart, it was irreverent, it didn’t take itself seriously, and it was shot and edited by Richard Lester in an electrifying black-and-white, semi-documentary style that seemed to follow the boys during a day in their lives. And it was charged with the personalities of the Beatles, whose one-liners dismissed the very process of stardom they were undergoing. “Are you a mod or a rocker?” Ringo is asked at a press conference. “I’m a mocker,” he says.

Musically, the Beatles represented a liberating breakthrough just when the original rock impetus from the 1950s was growing thin. The film is wall to wall with great songs, including «I Should Have Known Better,» «Can’t Buy Me Love,» «I Wanna Be Your Man,» «All My Loving,» «Happy Just to Dance With You,» «She Loves You,» and others, including the title song, inspired by a remark dropped by Starr and written overnight by Lennon and McCartney.

The Beatles were obviously not housebroken. The American rock stars who preceded them had been trained by their managers; Presley dutifully answered interview questions like a good boy. The Beatles had a clone look–matching hair and clothes–but they belied it with the individuality of their dialogue, and there was no doubt which one was John, Paul, George and Ringo. The original version of Alun Owen’s Oscar-nominated screenplay supplied them with short one-liners (in case they couldn’t act), but they were naturals, and new material was written to exploit that. They were the real thing.

The most powerful quality evoked by «A Hard Day’s Night» is liberation. The long hair was just the superficial sign of that. An underlying theme is the difficulty establishment types have in getting the Beatles to follow orders. (For «establishment,” read uptight conventional middle-class 1950s values.) Although their manager (Norman Rossington) tries to control them and their TV director (Victor Spinetti) goes berserk because of their improvisations during a live TV broadcast, they act according to the way they feel.

When Ringo grows thoughtful, he wanders away from the studio, and a recording session has to wait until he returns. When the boys are freed from their «job,” they run like children in an open field, and it is possible that scene (during «Can’t Buy Me Love”) snowballed into all the love-ins, be-ins and happenings in the park of the later ’60s. The notion of doing your own thing lurks within every scene.

When a film is strikingly original, its influence shapes so many others that you sometimes can’t see the newness in the first one. Godard’s jump cuts in «Breathless» (1960) turned up in every TV ad. Truffaut’s freeze frame at the end of «The 400 Blows» (1959) became a cliche. Richard Lester’s innovations in «A Hard Day’s Night» have become familiar; because the style, the subject and the stars are so suited to one another, the movie hasn’t become dated. It’s filled with the exhilaration of four musicians who were having fun and creating at the top of their form and knew it.

Movies were tamer in 1964. Big Hollywood productions used crews of 100 people and Mitchell cameras the size of motorcycles. Directors used the traditional grammar of master shot, alternating closeups, insert shots, re-establishing shots, dissolves and fades. Actors were placed in careful compositions. But the cat was already out of the bag; directors like John Cassavetes had started making movies that played like dramas but looked like documentaries. They used light 16mm cameras, hand-held shots, messy compositions that looked like they might have been snatched during moments of real life.

That was the tradition Lester drew on. In 1959 he’d directed «The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film,» starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan among others: It was hand-held, anarchic, goofy, and contains the same spirit that infects «A Hard Day’s Night.» Lester had shot documentaries and TV commercials, could work quick and dirty, and knew he had to, because his budget was $500,000 for «A Hard Day’s Night.”

In his opening sequence, which shows the Beatles mobbed at a station as they try to board a train, Lester achieves an incredible energy level: We feel the hysteria of the fans and the excitement of the Beatles, intercut with the title song (the first time movie titles had done that), implying that the songs and the adulation were sides of the same coin. Other scenes borrow the same documentary look; a lot feels improvised, although only a few scenes actually were.

Lester did not invent the techniques used in «A Hard Day’s Night,» but he brought them together into a grammar so persuasive that he influenced many other films. Today when we watch TV and see quick cutting, hand-held cameras, interviews conducted on the run with moving targets, quickly intercut snatches of dialogue, music under documentary action and all the other trademarks of the modern style, we are looking at the children of «A Hard Day’s Night.»

The film is so tightly cut, there’s hardly a down moment, but even with so many riches, it’s easy to pick the best scene: The concert footage as the Beatles sing «She Loves You.” This is one of the most sustained orgasmic sequences in the movies. As the Beatles perform, Lester shows them clearly having a lot of fun–grinning as they sing–and then intercuts them with quick shots of the audience, mostly girls, who scream without pause for the entire length of the song, cry, jump up and down, call out the names of their favorites, and create a frenzy so passionate that it still, after all these years, has the power to excite. (My favorite audience member is the tearful young blond, beside herself with ecstasy, tears running down her cheeks, crying out «George!”)

The innocence of the Beatles and «A Hard Day’s Night» was of course not to last. Ahead was the crushing pressure of being the most popular musical group of all time, and the dalliance with the mystic east, and the breakup, and the druggy fallout from the ’60s, and the death of John Lennon. The Beatles would go through a long summer, a disillusioned fall, a tragic winter. But, oh, what a lovely springtime. And it’s all in a movie.


A Hard Day’s Night: The Whole World Is Watching

If you are seeing A Hard Day’s Night (1964) for the second, fifth, or fortieth time, you’re bound to catch some perfect detail—a brazen incongruity, sneaky delight, or intangible grace note—you missed on the first, fourth, or thirty-ninth go-round. Everyone recalls the tall man in the club jumping alongside diminutive Ringo, inventing pogo dancing long before the punks embraced it. But for all these years, with my eyes glued on that Mutt and Jeff pair, I had completely missed the wondrously elongated, posh bird opposite them laughing uproariously, throwing herself into the music, the moment. She has a gangly, go-go-ing sophistication that takes the breath away (the spectator’s and her own too).

A split second before Ringo and the tall guy (Jeremy Lloyd—stage actor, Beatles acquaintance, and regular clubgoer) start jumping, on the sidelines there’s another toothy lovely in a vest, listening to John. It first looks like she has one stylish boot up on the table. But when you look more closely—and A Hard Day’s Night repays frame-by-frame examination more fully than the Zapruder film—you discover her heel is actually cupped in a companion’s hand. Furthermore, she’s wiggling it slowly, delectably, and oh-so-indolently, nibbling on whatever the in crowd nibbled in the spring of 1964. It lasts only eight or nine seconds, and amid the shimmer of “All My Loving” and the swirl of bouffant hairdos and akimbo limbs, it’s easy to miss. But once you catch it, it seems like an offhand code for a transformed social world that’s being sculpted before your eyes: it isn’t the blunt kinkiness of the image, it’s the casualness, the way the cool and wry and fetishistic are all being folded into everyday conversation, ordinary life. Roll over, Antonioni, and tell Buñuel the news . . .

Under director Richard Lester’s knowing eye, the Beatles and all the actors and extras seem less like “the cast” than a group of more or less accidental coconspirators. It’s as if the scattered cells of twenty-four-hour party people—beatniks, angry young men, frustrated young women, mods, rockers, “mockers,” art schoolers, regular schoolgirls, nouvelle vague–istes, urbane scene makers, fashion mavens—were suddenly coalescing into a movement. “I think maybe swinging London was about eight hundred people in the sixties,” Jeremy Lloyd said, looking back decades later. That scene in the Garrison Room is a picture-perfect representation of what was going down—a microcosm that was poised to go viral, international. (He started doing his pogo maneuver in that very club, as a way of keeping an eye on his girlfriend at the time—a nobody named Charlotte Rampling.) “It was like a continuation of their normal life,” he said of the Beatles’ screen representation. And A Hard Day’s Night seemed most of all like an open invitation to join in the Lennon-McCartney-occasionally-Harrison-soundtracked free-for-all. Everybody’s welcome, the more the merrier . . .

Lester’s feel for pop surrealism grew out of his background in the telegraphic, fast-track language of advertising and, especially, his work with the founders of radio’s The Goon Show, whose demented irreverence impacted the Beatles (particularly John) almost as deeply as rock and roll. Looking to translate the success of The Goon Show to television, Peter Sellers—who had seen an exceedingly odd Christmastime special called The Dick Lester Show—and fellow Goon Spike Milligan had enlisted Lester for a trio of Goon Shows–in-everything-but-name (The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d; A Show Called Fred; and Son of Fred, all 1956, all paving the way for Monty Python), where Lester’s experimental yet pragmatic nature dovetailed with their anarchic whimsies. Next came The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, the short Lester made with Sellers (and with Sellers’s 16 mm Bolex camera, editing the footage by “laying all the cuts out on his drum kit”) in 1959—the perfect calling card, as it turned out, to show he was on the Beatles’ wavelength. John, Paul, and George had seen it repeatedly in Liverpool, where the local cinema screened it on a recurring basis—“brought back by popular demand!” as Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn recounts. Deep in their private Liverpool underground, nurturing and nurtured by a small but fanatical fan base, they brought a frenzied energy to the stage that was channeled through a similar sense of impudence and fun.

The Beatles’ vernacular, working-class dreams of world conquest and revolt grew out of the liberties taken by the Goons and by the phantasmagorical figures on American records—not only the obvious Elvis–Little Richard–Chuck Berry–Gene Vincent eruptions but the emergent girl-group and Tamla-Motown sounds as well, right down to the fuzz-box guitar on Ann-Margret’s 1961 “I Just Don’t Understand”—filtered through the filth and excitement they had found in Hamburg’s red-light district and in the legendary confines of the Liverpool firetrap/incubator so appropriately called the Cavern. By the time A Hard Day’s Night started filming, they had already secured their U.S. beachhead with appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. (Photos from that sojourn look exactly like a dress rehearsal for A Hard Day’s Night: the screaming girls, the incredulous policemen, the buttoned-down, crew-cut stiffs of the press, Ed being a professional “good sport,” Walter Cronkite’s daughters visiting them during rehearsal.) The plan, conceived by their visionary manager, Brian Epstein, embraced by the band, and obliquely but fabulously executed by Lester, screenwriter Alun Owen, and their production team, was to catapult them into the wider world without a parachute. Bigger than Elvis or nothing . . .

At the time, rock and roll remained a teenage aberration, mostly left for dead—finished when Elvis was drafted, Buddy Holly’s plane crashed, or the twist caught on. It hung on in backwaters like Liverpool, but to the people who made up the London music establishment, Liverpool may as well have been Mars (or at least Siberia). However, the Beatles had other ideas, and Epstein happened to run the biggest record outlet in the north of England, which got him a foot in several doors. Record producer George Martin couldn’t grasp them at first: the rock “group” as a concept, a self-contained entity, wasn’t yet part of the industry’s vocabulary. But then a eureka! light bulb went on. They might be the male Shirelles . . . A notion no less strange, original, and absolutely gender-­subvertingly apt today than it was back then.

When Lester said that A Hard Day’s Night essentially wrote itself, taken directly from the short time he and Owen spent hanging out with the boys, he meant it was a matter of simply reproducing their private idiom, a coded language that sounded like a law unto itself. (Which, of course, was anything but simple.) He didn’t impose either an aesthetic or his ego on them, instead teasing out a situational approach based on their own proclivities and circumstances, using whatever was needed, whatever would do the trick. An ample helping of mock cinema verité, touches of François Truffaut and Jacques Tati, a pinch of Buster Keaton, a dash of the Marx Brothers, multicamera setups, jump cuts, a passel of unchaperoned girls who might’ve just gone over the wall from St. Trinian’s . . .

Everything was caught on the fly, no introductions, the barest minimum of sideways exposition. No “love interests” (except for one another) or other moon–June–spoon-fed plot points. Full speed ahead, no time to be fussy, but nevertheless a surprising tendency to let sequences linger in real time. Collective and individual identities—the John-Paul-George-Ringo lunch box and merchandise concession—are worked out and woven through a treadmill environment where the hamsters play satiric havoc with the business of light entertainment and teen merchandising. Holy shite: we’ve become a limited company.

Lester began shooting on March 2; completed on April 24, the film had its world premiere in London on July 6 (Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon in attendance). United Artists executives liked the film but wanted to redub the Beatles’ dialogue because they thought no one would understand the accents. The whole caper was a euphoric blur, but Lester stuck to his guns, the “Liverpudlian cadences” stayed, and, in the end, “we got away with it.” No one could possibly have been prepared for that opening shot of the Beatles in midgallop, hurtling down a cramped street straight at the camera—the ringing first chord of the title song sounding like a starter’s gun—pursued by a mob of fans. Imagine Hitchcock’s birds as a flock of music-mad autograph seekers. Who would have had the sheer bleeding nerve?

A new, wide-open cross-fertilization with modernism arrived with this day-in-the-pop-life field trip: Beatles aide-de-camp Shake (John Junkin) sitting on the train reading a familiar paperback, Son of Mad. Ringo thoughtfully analyzing his raging inferiority complex, later admonishing the belligerent technician who fools with his precious cymbals, “There you go, hiding behind a smoke screen of bourgeois clichés.” Not to forget the girl he tries to strike up a conversation with in front of a pawnshop, who is oblivious to his Starr-dom: “Get out of here, shorty.” There’s Lennon snorting his Coke bottle, demanding of a harrumphing Mr. I-Know-My-Rights Businessman, “Give us a kiss,” and helpfully extending himself to Norm the manager (Norman Rossington): “If you’re gonna have a barney, can I hold your coat?” Paul bats his fine lashes, interjecting an adroitly timed “Zap!” into Hamlet’s “too too solid flesh” spiel, while keeping tabs on his wayward grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell’s devious rictus grin and easily outraged feelings suggesting a convicted flasher disguised as a “very clean” Tati holidaymaker). And George, ever the quiet, even-keeled assassin, laying waste to the know-it-all trendsetting ­gobbledy­­gook of Kenneth Haigh’s strung-out adman. “Have I said something amiss?”

There is a sense in which this takes Beatle-itude to an apotheosis from which there’s nowhere to go but inward and nowhere to fall but apart. Help! (1965) found Lester in cruise-director mode, becoming (as Manny Farber put it in “Day of the Lesteroid”) “Master of the Erector Set effect.” Gone, mostly, was the ecstatic release Lester sprang with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the collective prison-­­break cry of “We’re out!” That dizzying freedom curdled in the very short time it took the band to conquer the known universe and arrive at the clutter-strewn sequel. In John’s approximate words to the director after Help! (expletive reinstated): “I’m an extra in me own fookin’ movie.”

A retroactive disappointment with A Hard Day’s Night arose with the backlash to the Beatles’ unimaginable success. As Lester Bangs indelicately put it: “Fuck the Beatles . . . It’s BLATANTLY OBVIOUS that the most rock-and-roll human being in the whole movie is the fucking grandfather! That wily old slime of Paul’s! He had more energy than the four moptops put together! Plus the spirit! He was a true anarchist!” Why couldn’t they have made, oh, a British Scorpio Rising instead, or a superprescient Performance? (As Performance amounted to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s decadent rock recasting of Joseph Losey’s The Servant, and considering playwright Joe Orton’s failed stab at writing the Beatles’ follow-up to Help!, that wasn’t an entirely far-fetched idea.) The funny thing was, in their Hamburg days, divided between low life and the avant-garde artistic circle of photographer Astrid Kirchherr, they had already lived out a Warhol movie, while Mick Jagger and Lou Reed were still clean-cut students plugging away at university. Without the Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night to open the floodgates, the paths to glory would have been a lot more circumscribed. Lester, for one, was able to parlay the movie into projects that would have been unthinkable beforehand: The Knack . . . and How to Get It (1965), How I Won the War (1967), and Petulia (1968), cinematic anomalies that reflected an attitude of commercial experimentation, cross-fertilization, and rampant eclecticism that was new to mainstream film. (The fact that Lester’s biggest fan is Steven Soderbergh speaks volumes—birds of a restless feather.)Beautifully anchored in the context of its rapidly changing times—few movies have such a serene handle on what it is to be perched on a volcano that is about to erupt—A Hard Day’s Night glided right into the history the Beatles had begun to make. Nonetheless, the novelty of their being a rock group has kept the film from taking its place alongside fellow travelers like Shoot the Piano Player; Band of Outsiders; Orson Welles’s amazing pop-Kafka riff on The Trial; or the equally giddy Dr. Strangelove (featuring the Beatles’ favorite would-be drummer, Peter Sellers). Of course, Lester’s rejection of intellectually fashionable pessimism and hand-wringing alienation didn’t endear his movie to the protest-minded either: these four were the children of Groucho Marx and Coca-Cola, and they regarded the fields of Consumer Capitalism as a subversive playground instead of a battlefield. Larking about, no respect for cultural authority a’tall.

A Hard Day’s Night’s echoes can be found in all kinds of places: directly in John Boorman’s wonderfully acerbic and melancholy knockoff Catch Us If You Can, with the all-but-forgotten Dave Clark Five; implicitly in Tony Richardson’s The Loved One and, of course, in the film that plays like Lester’s knackered version of Lolita, George Axelrod’s chaotic Lord Love a Duck. Consider if Lennon and McCartney had branched out into acting—beyond John’s spot in How I Won the War—and taken the leads in Loved One and Duck: McCartney surely could have improved on the woefully accented Robert Morse in the former, and imagine Lennon instead of an overage Roddy McDowall as the genie opposite the incandescent Tuesday Weld in the latter. “Careful. You’ll make yourself spurt.”

But to appreciate the full extent of the film’s impact, you have only to look at the loving shots of George Harrison playing his Rickenbacker twelve-string electric guitar—no one had seen or heard anything like it (it was only the second one ever manufactured). When Roger McGuinn saw it, he had a veritable religious experience: thus were born the Byrds, folk rock was launched, and a thousand chiming, eight-mile-high tunes went chasing after Harrison’s sound. Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, each responded in their own way; everyone was on notice that a whole theater of possibilities was being opened here. The game was afoot!

It wasn’t just restless youths. My favorite Andy Warhol story is from 1965: He and some of his Factory gang had gone to London for an exhibition, then on to Paris, and finally to that old beatnik-hipster sanctuary, Tangier. Coming home, they went straight from the airport to catch a revival double bill in the Village: A Hard Day’s Night and Goldfinger. As Susan Sontag wrote in her journal: “Pop art is Beatles art.”

There is a palpable sense of initiation to the movie: a mass version of a secret society. It has tendrils everywhere. The name Victor Spinetti alone evokes a whole comic version of the Mad magazine–meets–Mad Men era; he’s a supporting actor so perfectly attuned to a neurotic caricature as to elevate it to poster-­­child status. As for “Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees”—perhaps the less said the better about that Campbell’s Soup canned version of Beatlemania. Except to note, with a certain wonderment, that the infernal TV show’s creators, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, would go on to make names for themselves in film history, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and Hearts and Minds thus being linked to A Hard Day’s Night in the great daisy chain of being. Better to contemplate the Silly Putty genius of The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, that loosey-goosey Goons-Beatles-Python synergy come full circle. (If only Sellers could have been the drummer.) Or Christopher Munch’s lovely, cutting The Hours and Times, adding a little backstory/backbeat footnote about John and Brian Epstein. There’s even the quick, helium-voiced homage in Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There. That’s the thing about A Hard Day’s Night: it contains bloody multitudes.

What sticks in my mind when contemplating the enduring quality of the group’s—and the film’s—appeal is something Epstein said a few weeks before A Hard Day’s Night’s premiere. Here was this Jewish, gay, deeply bourgeois twenty-nine-year-old who connected with these scruffy lads on a deeply personal yet utterly universal level: “Everything about the Beatles was right for me—their kind of attitude to life, the attitude that comes out in their music and their rhythm and their lyrics, and their humor, and their own personal way of behaving—it was all just what I wanted. They represented the direct, unselfconscious, good-natured human relationships which I hadn’t found and had wanted and felt deprived of”; with the Beatles, he declared, “my own sense of inferiority evaporated.”


The Deep Art of A Hard Day’s Night

I first saw A Hard Day’s Night in a junior-high music class, and it thrilled me. When the schoolday ended, I booked it—as we said at the time—to the library, where I voraciously stuck in front of my face one write-up after another about the Beatles’ first film, which celebrates its 50th anniversary today.

They pretty much all said the same thing: the film was a solid, cheeky, blend of Marx Brothers style comedy—on account of the “snappy,” peppy,” “lively” dialogue—and early rock and roll films like Rock Around the Clock and Rock, Rock, Rock!

Rock Around the Clock; Rock, Rock, Rock!—those titles sound pretty generic, don’t they? That’s because they were generic, I quickly realized. You’d have Chuck Berry doing his lip-synching thing, as “the cats” juked and jived, with only the barest thread of a plot.

Even then, having no clue about film history and cinematic techniques, I knew that A Hard Day’s Night was getting undersold. And I soon learned it was wrong to call it a Beatles film, really, when it was more properly a Dick Lester film—a film that was auteured, if you will, rather than bashed out factory-style, like those other early rock films.

More than two decades and 250 screenings later, watching Criterion’s new, awesome-looking Blu-ray, I’m more blown away than ever at what you can call A Hard Day’s Night’s deep filmic art.

Right from the opening sequence at London’s Marylebone Station, with an endless gaggle of girls in pursuit of this rock band on the lam from their own stardom, you know this is a film unlike the genre had ever produced. To that point, you had the occasional sterling effort like 1958’s King Creole with Elvis turning in his best-ever performance. But by ’64, the French New Wave and the British kitchen-sink realist movement had happened, and both were going into the hopper for director Lester.

What is arguably the most famous chord in Western popular music starts the film just as it starts the title album. But here the chord cues a series of cuts that function like the cuts of some battle scene filmed by D.W. Griffith crossed with Godard at his least verbose. The Beatles are awkward in this sequence, as Lennon himself would say. They’re conscious of being in a film, but the prismatic cutting overrides that lack of actorly chops, and the viewer feels lost in the maelstrom, until, at last, the band boards the train that provides sanctuary. At which point you start to think that, hey, maybe this isn’t an extended rock-and-roll video gussied up as a film, but a legit stand-alone film with some rock and roll music in it.

The frantic realism of the opening exodus sheds freneticism and becomes, intriguingly, more realistic in the 15-minute travel section that follows. Orson Welles used to delight in telling interviewers of how he and cinematographer Gregg Toland would cut chunks out of the floor while working on Citizen Kane so they could shoot up at characters and ceilings, and we get that same mélange of angles here. High levels, low levels, shots partially obscured by doors, porters, passing travelers.

The Beatles clash with an old war vet who objects to their portable hi-fi as they share a compartment together. Funny sequence. They exit the cabin with a cheeky retort or two, and you’re pleased, that’s good, and then boom, there they are outside of the train, running and biking along, continuing the joke with the old man. It’s surrealism flecked with reality, which both Buñuel and Disney would have understood, and it manages to surprise every time you see it. We are grounded in the actual world you and I live in, but also in the world of the Beatles, which—as Lester and screenwriter Alun Owen intuited even at this early date—featured a kind of magic. No band, maybe no artists ever, had a greater capacity for displaying and inducing wonder. And here we have that wonder made visual.

Repairing to a baggage car, the band opts for a game of cards. The camera picks up on some swaying luggage, like this world has suddenly started rocking. Cut back to the Beatles, who do just that with “I Should Have Known Better.” Again, the surrealism is at play—cards have been replaced with instruments, Georges Méliès-style. But the music we all know is present too, being used for a cinematic vision. Consider the second bridge of the song. Until this point, Lennon’s vocal is double-tracked, but here it’s more natural, everything going through the one channel, and Lester, for the first and only time in the sequence, gets John in a straight-on close-up. There’s no artifice in that moment, just a synchronizing of what the ears are hearing and the eyes are seeing.

Touches like these abound. Watch the “And I Love Her” sequence, when an almost full-frame of soft white light obscures Paul McCartney’s face. It’s something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pasolini film, or a work by Carl Dreyer when he was less intent on scaring people.All of the film’s shots, with their tight quarters, lead up to the orgastic payoff.

The film’s most revolutionary scene for rock-and-roll movies occurs when the Beatles, increasingly hemmed in by the pressures of their world, bust out of a television studio to frolic in a field. All of the film’s shots, the confinement of the band into tight quarters, lead up to the orgastic payoff here.

Ringo yells “we’re out!” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” somehow always sounds louder here than it does on record. Lester undercranks his camera, so that Paul McCartney appears to come flying faster than is humanly possible right into the forefront of the frame just as the song’s ripping guitar solo begins.

Yes, the music is wickedly good, and these are some of the best songs the Beatles would ever write. But if this was some mediocre band, or some invented band, A Hard Day’s Night would still be a legit, honking, gravitas-slathered cinematic masterpiece. It’s one of the rare works of art from the ‘60s that’s in the same league as, well, the Beatles.


Amigo Lobo

Felix Rodríguez de la Fuente

Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente (Poza de la Sal, Burgos, 14 de marzo de 1928 – Shaktoolik, Alaska, Estados Unidos, 14 de marzo de 1980) fue un famoso naturalista y divulgador ambientalista español, pionero en el país en la defensa de la naturaleza, y realizador de documentales para radio y televisión, destacando entre ellos la exitosa e influyente serie El Hombre y la Tierra (1974-1980).1 Licenciado en medicina por la Universidad de Valladolid y autodidacta en biología, fue un personaje polifacético de gran carisma cuya influencia ha perdurado a pesar del paso de los años.2 Su saber abarcó campos como la cetrería3 y la etología, destacando en el estudio y convivencia con lobos. Casado con Marcelle Geneviève Parmentier Lepied.4 Rodríguez de la Fuente ejerció además como expedicionario, guía de safaris fotográficos en África, conferenciante y escritor, además de contribuir en gran medida a la concienciación ecológica de España en una época en la que el país todavía no contaba con un movimiento de defensa de la naturaleza. Su repercusión no fue sólo a nivel nacional sino también internacional y se calcula que sus series de televisión, emitidas en numerosos países y plenamente vigentes hoy en día, han sido vistas por varios cientos de millones de personas. Murió en Alaska, Estados Unidos, junto con dos colaboradores y el piloto al accidentarse la aeronave que los transportaba mientras realizaban una filmación aérea para uno de sus documentales.


Primeros años

Félix Samuel Rodríguez de la Fuente nació en el número 18 de la calle Mayor de Poza de la Sal, en la provincia de Burgos, el 14 de marzo de 1928, hijo de Samuel Rodríguez y Marcelina de la Fuente Ibáñez; tuvo una hermana menor, Mercedes. Su padre era notario de profesión, gran aficionado a la lectura y amante del castellano, por lo que en la casa se respiraba un ambiente intelectual. Debido a la Guerra Civil (1936-1939) y a que su padre no era partidario de una escolarización demasiado temprana, se ocupó él mismo de educar a sus hijos en casa, por lo que las incursiones de Félix en la naturaleza fueron continuas hasta los diez años, siendo marcado por una naturaleza virgen apenas hollada por el hombre. Él mismo describiría su lugar de nacimiento como una «comunidad humana» en «convivencia armónica con los paisajes» que configuraron su «universo zoomórfico». En este ambiente maduró sus experiencias infantiles, que repercutirían en su sensibilidad y pensamiento para crear en el futuro sus hipótesis y propuestas tanto biológicas y antropológicas como de corte filosófico que se reflejarían en su obra divulgativa. Veraneaba habitualmente en Santander (Cantabria), ciudad en la que llegó a ejercer profesionalmente su padre.5 La afición de Félix por la naturaleza le lleva a convertirse en un gran conocedor de la zoología y en una de sus excursiones campestres, al observar cómo un halcón captura un pato, comienza su afición por la cetrería. Comenzó su educación reglada en 1938 en los Sagrados Corazonistas de Vitoria como interno, época que vivió con añoranza por la libertad perdida. En 1946, por consejo de su padre, que aunque siempre respetó su afición por la naturaleza desconfiaba de sus inclinaciones naturalistas, comienza a estudiar medicina en la Universidad de Valladolid. El primer año, atraído por la libertad recuperada tras sus siete años en el internado y las nuevas experiencias que le brindaba la ciudad, no fue un buen estudiante y sólo aprobó las tres asignaturas más fáciles. En años posteriores, solía encerrarse un mes antes de los exámenes para estudiar y desde el principio destacó en las pruebas orales dada su facilidad de palabra, logrando así las más altas calificaciones. Fue un gran aficionado al deporte, logrando ganar el campeonato universitario de 400 metros lisos. En esta época causa una gran influencia sobre él el biólogo José Antonio Valverde, que alcanzaría una enorme repercusión internacional a finales de los años cincuenta al enfrentarse a los planes del Ministerio de Agricultura para desecar las marismas del Guadalquivir, lo que llevaría a la creación en la zona del Parque de Doñana. Además, Valverde compartía su pasión por la cetrería, arte que por aquel entonces llevaba siglo y medio sin practicarse en España, pero que Félix se propuso recuperar con la ayuda de los escritos medievales sobre el tema, especialmente el Libro de la caza de las aves, de Pero López de Ayala, y el Libro de la caça, de Don Juan Manuel. En 1954 es uno de los firmantes del acta de fundación de la Sociedad Española de Ornitología. En 1957 se gradúa en estomatología en Madrid, consiguiendo el Premio Extraordinario Landete Aragó, nombrado en honor del pionero de la especialidad en España. Durante dos años ejerce como odontólogo en la madrileña clínica del doctor Baldomero Sol, aunque siempre a media jornada para poder seguir dedicándose diariamente a la cetrería. Sin embargo, en 1960, tras fallecer su padre, abandona el oficio de dentista para dedicarse definitivamente a la cetrería y a la divulgación científica. En 1961 trabaja como asesor de cetrería en la película El Cid, rodada en España. En 1964, gracias a sus cada vez mayores contactos internacionales con científicos de toda Europa, presenta en el Congreso Internacional para la Protección de las Aves de Presa, celebrado en Caen (Francia), un estudio sobre la situación del halcón peregrino en España. Publica su primer libro, El arte de la cetrería.

Salto a la fama

En 1962 es encargado por el Gobierno español para capturar dos halcones peregrinos y ofrecérselos como regalo al rey Saud de Arabia Saudita, viajando a ese país para entregárselos. En octubre de 1964 organiza las Jornadas Internacionales de Cetrería, que por vez primera se celebraban en España, en la provincia de Guadalajara. El diario ABC le dedica su foto de portada del 21 de octubre con el título de «Cetrero Mayor del Reino» y en la que aparece lanzando a Durandal, una hembra de halcón entrenada por él. Al resultar ésta ganadora de la competición unos días después, es invitado a un programa de Televisión Española, donde comenzaría a ser conocido y admirado por el gran público. Félix entró en los estudios con un halcón en el puño enguantado y, aunque se trataba de una simple entrevista de tres minutos para explicar los rudimentos de la cetrería, demostró ante la audiencia sus amplísimos conocimientos con tal pasión y oratoria que más tarde el popular periodista Joaquín Soler Serrano pidió para él un puesto en la Real Academia de la Lengua por ser «el español de mejor prosodia». A los pocos días se recibieron centenares de cartas solicitando nuevas intervenciones suyas en pantalla, empezando así a colaborar en el programa Fin de semana, donde, en un breve espacio de unos cinco minutos, cada dos semanas, habla de caza, pesca, excursionismo y temas relacionados con los animales en general. Su colaboración en ese programa dura cuatro años. En 1966 se inicia en TVE el espacio Televisión Escolar y Félix es encargado de la clase de Zoología, presentado como Félix, el amigo de los animales, con el que se transforma en un personaje tremendamente popular. Es el primero que empieza a hablar de la fauna y la flora del país por sus valores intrínsecos, al margen del valor económico, el único que primaba entonces. Además, en una época de desarrollismo industrial, consigue conectar con una población trabajadora que está emigrando desde el campo a la ciudad y que siente como cercanas, por haberlas vivido en carne propia, las experiencias y conocimientos que Félix les transmite. Y todo ello adornado con una oratoria magistral y con un sentido del tiempo televisivo, ajustándose siempre, en intervenciones improvisadas y que se emitían en directo, a los pocos minutos de que disponía, pero logrando acabar siempre con la frase apropiada para mantener vivo el interés del espectador. Consigue rodar su primer documental, Señores del espacio, dedicado a la cetrería y realizado gracias al rey de Arabia Saudí y de varios aristócratas. El 5 de agosto de 1966 se casa con la francesa Marcelle Geneviève Parmentier Lepied (París, 1937),6 con la que tendría tres hijas: María de las Mercedes Geneviève (1967), Leticia Jimena (1969) y Odile Patricia (1973).7 Continúa sus colaboraciones en varios programas de televisión, como Imágenes para saber (1966) y A toda plana (1967), donde muestra su interés por los pueblos indígenas. En 1966 consigue la protección en España del halcón peregrino y de las rapaces nocturnas, lo que convierte al país en un referente, pues es el primero en que se aprueba una normativa de este tipo. En 1967 comienza a escribir artículos en la revista Blanco y Negro, dominical del diario ABC, englobados bajo los epígrafes de Serie ibérica (1967) y Serie africana (1968), que consiguen aumentar en gran medida la tirada de la revista. También redacta en esta época cuatro entusiastas series en La Actualidad Española, revista que amplía su tirada con dichos artículos, y comienza su etapa de viajes y expediciones. Estos éxitos le permiten dedicarse a otra de sus pasiones, el estudio de los lobos, para lo que, tras obtener en 1965 dos lobeznos que salvó de morir apaleados en un pueblo, los crio ayudado por su mujer y consiguió convertirse en el lobo alfa (jefe), lo que luego repetiría con varias manadas en los montes aledaños al barranco del río Dulce, en la localidad de Pelegrina (cerca de Sigüenza, Guadalajara). Comienza así a divulgar lo que consideraba «la verdad del lobo», en una época en que era un animal perseguido y acosado por considerársele enemigo del hombre y, concretamente, de la ganadería y las especies cinegéticas. Sus estudios sobre este mítico animal profundizaron en la Etología de esta especie, que, como el hombre, fue un cazador social que compartió con los humanos la cúspide trófica durante los últimos de 100.000 años de la era del Paleolítico, pacto entre estos dos depredadores que llevó hace 30.000 años a la domesticación del lobo, que se transformó en perro, y más tarde a la enemistad del hombre con los cánidos salvajes cuando los humanos domesticaron a los herbívoros para entrar en el Neolítico hace 10.000 años. Esta original visión del pasado y del futuro de Félix, y de su rebeldía personal a ser domesticado por la sociedad actual, es el eje de su última biografía, publicada en el XXX aniversario de su muerte por la editorial La Esfera de los libros bajo el título Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, su vida, mensaje de futuro. En ella se recogen muchos documentos de este divulgador de las Ciencias Naturales y «agitador de conciencias», que profundizan en ideas tan sugerentes. En 1966 dirige y presenta la película Alas y garras, de la que también es guionista, que cosechará varios premios, como el Arquero de Bronce del Festival de Cine de Gijón. Mayor oportunidad de expandir su mensaje de aproximación a la naturaleza le llega en 1968, cuando los directivos de TVE le encargan la responsabilidad de ponerse al frente de un programa propio, Fauna. Ese mismo año se le encarga, gracias a sus conocimientos en cetrería, un plan inédito en España: utilizar aves rapaces para el control de las aves potencialmente peligrosas en los aeropuertos. El éxito cosechado por el programa de televisión Fauna no impide que al coincidir esa cabecera con el de la enciclopedia del mismo nombre, que empieza a publicar en Salvat, los directivos de TVE le cambién el nombre del programa de forma unilateral y sin consultarlo con el autor por el de Animalia (1970), que pocos capítulos más tarde Félix logró cambiar por el de Vida Salvaje (1970). Aunque Félix se interesaba especialmente por la educación de los niños, consiguió llegar a todos los públicos.

Reconocimiento mundial

Entre 1970 y 1974 realiza la primera de sus grandes series que le darían reconocimiento mundial, especialmente en el ámbito hispanohablante, Planeta Azul. En diciembre de 1973 comienza su colaboración en la radio con el programa La aventura de la Vida, que se emitiría semanalmente, todos los jueves, durante los siguientes siete años, alcanzando más de 350 emisiones. Para la radio también colaboraría con Planeta agua y Objetivo: salvar la naturaleza. Paralelamente, en estos años se entrega a diversas causas conservacionistas de relevancia, como el salvamento de distintas especies animales en peligro de extinción, muy especialmente el lobo, que probablemente le debe su supervivencia en la península ibérica, al contrario de la mayoría de países de Europa Occidental, donde sí se ha extinguido, y para el que consiguió el respeto y el aprecio por parte de la sociedad, de manera similar a como lo había conseguido años antes con las aves rapaces, aunque a costa del enfrentamiento con pastores y cazadores. Otros animales que se esforzó en proteger fueron el oso ibérico, el lince, el águila real o el águila imperial. También trabajó en la preservación de diferentes ámbitos de la geografía española, como las dunas de El Saler, el Parque de Doñana, las Tablas de Daimiel, el Monte del Pardo o la laguna de Gallocanta. Además, durante toda la década, emprende diversos proyectos editoriales, como la coordinación de la Enciclopedia Salvat de la Fauna (1970-73), realizada con un equipo de jóvenes biólogos entre los que se encontraban Miguel Delibes; Javier Castroviejo, Cosme Morillo y Carlos Vallecillo, entre otros. La enciclopedia supuso un verdadero reto ya que durante tres años se publicó un fascículo semanal de 24 páginas, vendiendo sólo en España dieciocho millones de volúmenes. Posteriormente sería traducida a catorce idiomas y publicada en los cinco continentes, transformándose en una obra de referencia (Delibes recordaría años después haber visto la enciclopedia entre los libros técnicos de la mayoría de los museos de ciencias naturales de Europa). También publicó la Enciclopedia Salvat de la Fauna ibérica y europea coordinada por Joaquín Araujo, Los libros de El Hombre y la Tierra, Los cuadernos de Campo y la enciclopedia La aventura de la vida, publicada tras su fallecimiento. Entre 1973-1980 realiza para televisión la que sin duda es su serie más famosa, El Hombre y la Tierra, dividida en tres partes: las series ibérica, suramericana y norteamericana. La serie ibérica constó de tres partes y de una cuarta inconclusa. La serie suramericana se filmó en 1973 en Venezuela, en Los Llanos, el Orinoco y en el Amazonas, y aunque en principio sólo se iban a rodar ocho capítulos se ampliaron finalmente a dieciocho. Por última, de la serie norteamericana sólo se pudo filmar la parte canadiense y dos capítulos en Alaska. El rodaje de la serie, que abarcó 124 capítulos, la mayoría rodados en España, supuso todo un reto, ya que se rodó en 35 milímetros, para lo que se tenían que transportar los pesados equipos de filmación de la época. También es de destacar su sintonía, compuesta por Antón García Abril. La serie se convirtió en un referente mundial y filmó algunos animales por primera vez, como el desmán de los Pirineos. Utilizando animales troquelados (acostumbrados a la presencia humana pero que conservan sus pautas naturales de comportamiento, no han sido domesticados8 ), se consiguieron imágenes impactantes que dieron la vuelta al mundo, entre las que cabe destacar la caza de diversos animales por parte de las manadas de lobos de las que Félix era el jefe o, quizá la más espectacular y recordada, la caza de un muflón por un águila real. La serie se emitió en numerosos países con gran éxito de audiencia y cosechó premios tanto en España (Ondas, Antena de Oro) como en el extranjero (Festival de Televisión de Montecarlo). Sus ventas se realizaban más allá del telón de acero. Es de destacar que la serie se hacía sin guion y Félix improvisaba el desarrollo de cada capítulo. En abril de 1980, el Ayuntamiento de Burgos le otorga la Medalla de Oro de la Ciudad a título póstumo.9


El 4 de marzo de 1980, ante los reyes de España, Félix presentó en el Centro Cultural de la Villa de Madrid un documento titulado Estrategia mundial para la conservación de los recursos vivos y el logro de un desarrollo sostenido, propuesta de la Unión Internacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza y de los Recursos Naturales. El día 10 se trasladó junto con un equipo de El Hombre y la Tierra a Alaska, al círculo polar ártico, para filmar la «Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race», la carrera de trineo con perros más importante del mundo. Para ello contrataron los servicios de un piloto llamado Tony Oney y de su socio, Warren Dobson, cuyo hijo llegaría a ser comandante de aviación y a contraer matrimonio, casualmente, con una piloto española. Aunque la mayor parte del equipo viajaba habitualmente en la avioneta de Oney, una pequeña Cessna, ésta sufre una pequeña pérdida de aceite y Félix, que tenía miedo a volar, decide cambiar de aparato, y comenta poco antes de montar «qué lugar más hermoso para morir». Tras despegar de Unalakleet, las dos avionetas vuelan casi juntas y poco después, la que pilota Dobson se estrella como consecuencia del desprendimiento de uno de los hidropatines, que desequilibró el aparato. Este volteo no pudo ser corregido por la baja altura de vuelo del rodaje. Quizá la experiencia del piloto hubiera podido salvar el contratiempo de haber sucedido a mayor distancia del suelo. Con él fallecen, además de Félix y Dobson, el cámara de Televisión Española Teodoro Roa y el ayudante Alberto Mariano Huéscar. Oney aterriza y es el primero en alcanzar la avioneta siniestrada. El lugar exacto de la catástrofe fue Shaktoolik, población de esquimales a unos 25 kilómetros de la costa del mar de Bering, no lejos de Klondike, lugar adorado por Félix desde sus adolescentes lecturas de Jack London. La policía de Alaska recogió los cadáveres, que fueron depositados en la morgue de Nome, desde donde fueron repatriados a España. Según una persona de Nome que ayudaba a los españoles a transportar sus cámaras y sus utensilios, Rodríguez de la Fuente había estado ligeramente enfermo a principios de semana a consecuencia de fuertes dolores de muelas pero doce horas antes de su fallecimiento se hallaba en plena forma y haciendo planes para dos nuevas filmaciones, una sobre los albatros de Cordova, localidad de Alaska, y otra sobre las islas Aleutianas. Durante su estancia en Norteamérica, Rodríguez de la Fuente y su equipo habían conseguido una gran popularidad en la región canadiense de Yukón, en las ciudades de Dawson City, Whitehorse y Yellowknife; y en Alaska en Nome, Anchorage y Fairbanks. El principal diario del estado publicó en portada con grandes letras «Adiós a nuestro Jack London español». El accidente, según consta en el registro de accidentes de aviación norteamericano, ocurrió exactamente a las 12.30 del 14 de marzo de 1980 hora local de Alaska. En aquel momento existían 11 horas de diferencia con España. Por tanto, el accidente se produjo cuando eran las 23.30 del 14 de marzo en España. La noticia del accidente fue dada a conocer en España unas horas después, a primera hora de la mañana del 15 de marzo, por lo que a veces se cree equivocadamente que murió ese día, aunque en realidad fue el 14, precisamente el día en que cumplía 52 años. Su muerte conmocionó el país. Félix fue enterrado en el sencillo cementerio de su localidad natal de Poza de la Sal (Burgos) en un acto multitudinario el miércoles día 19 de marzo de 1980 sobre las 3 y media de la tarde. En junio de 1981, y por iniciativa de su viuda Marcelle Parmentier sus restos mortales fueron exhumados para ser trasladados al cementerio de Burgos, donde descansan desde entonces en un panteón realizado por el arquitecto Miguel Fisac junto con una escultura en su memoria obra del artista Pablo Serrano. El polémico traslado al cementerio de Burgos se realizó durante la madrugada para evitar enfrentamientos con los habitantes y autoridades de Poza de la Sal que se oponían frontalmente a que los restos del famoso naturalista fueran alejados de su lugar de nacimiento.

Su legado

Filosofía y propuestas

La filosofía de Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente parte de una visión de la vida según la cual los seres vivos, mediante la evolución, se perfeccionan, embellecen y adaptan. Pero no incluye necesariamente al ser humano moderno, pues Félix cree que el hombre ideal y feliz es el de la cultura de los cazadores superiores del Magdaleniense -paleolítico superior, de hace 15.000 años, que pintaron la cueva de Altamira– dotado ecológica, artística, biológica e incluso comunitaria y culturalmente, en armonía con la naturaleza que le da todo y de la que es parte. Según sus palabras, «la entrada del neolítico es la del abuso y la del sojuzgamiento, y en ella seguimos, inadaptados». Su prédica, constante, propone no regresar a un pasado paleolítico imposible, pero sí de incorporar a la actualidad sus elementos perdidos «positivos», que fueron los que nos dieron forma y que por tanto en el fondo de nuestra especie, anhelamos. Inspirado en autores como Teilhard de Chardin y Remi Chauvin, llegó a concebir un mundo futuro donde el hombre vivirá en armonía con la naturaleza y consigo mismo tras alcanzar la capacidad de una comunicación instantánea y universal en la que la palabra actuaría como una feromona capaz de transmitir el conocimiento y, por ser un conocimiento empático, una suerte de argamasa cultural que permita superar las deficiencias actuales. La creación de un pensamiento colectivo –del que la Wikipedia es un buen exponente–, el aumento del tiempo libre y la promulgación de espacios naturales protegidos eran en su opinión una esperanza de la humanidad para superar los retos ambientales e incluso sociales a los que nos enfrentamos. Su filosofía podría resumirse en un humanismo vitalista que produzca individuos sanos a ser posible destacados que mejoren la sociedad por capacitación constante. Parte de esta mejora es el recuerdo y reivindicación de la Naturaleza tal como fue. Para Félix el ser humano no es una especie más, sino una síntesis de la naturaleza, con todo lo peor y todo lo mejor de ella, creada «con la nieblas del amanecer, con el aullido del lobo, el rugido del león», en una estrecha y «compleja trama palpitante» muy interdependiente y frágil. Félix cree que la compartimentación moderna es enemiga del necesario cooperativismo y aboga por la vida en comunidades de menos de 5.000 habitantes. Contra la dispersión por egoísmos, Félix propuso el orden y el cumplimiento de las leyes. En su prédica se siente solidario con el mundo en que vive y pide a todos el compromiso, siendo un profundo rompedor de tópicos. Pero muchos mitos no comprobados que propone que rechacemos no son los del pensamiento animista, «mítico» o «infantil», sino los impulsados artificialmente por los intereses creados por nuestra sociedad mercadotécnica biocida y separada de la naturaleza y del empirismo. Profundo amante de la ciencia, de la investigación, de los progresos culturales y del conocimiento, cree que la unión de las ciencias nos hará regresar a la base de los postulados del pensamiento animista: una tierra viviente sentida, comprendida y vivida como comunidad por el hombre, el Hombre y la Tierra (título de su mejor programa televisivo). En este contexto cabría entender su pasión por la cetrería. Para él, este tipo de caza, al ejercerse con animales (halcones, azores y águilas) «sacados de la propia evolución natural», no suponía un engaño, artificio o suprema ventaja con respecto a la naturaleza, que tendría la por él denunciada caza con escopeta, «logro éste del «neolítico» y por tanto de la esclavitud del hombre o de la domesticación del animal («El halcón falla muchas veces el lance y las presas escapan», Félix, el amigo de los animales).


En una época en la que, especialmente en España, no existía aún una clara conciencia ecológica, la influencia del Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente fue decisiva en la creación de esa conciencia de defensa medioambiental y conservacionista que en sus programas de radio y televisión se hizo cada vez más patente y acuciante. En torno a su artístico y apasionado modo de mostrar la naturaleza se fue creando el denominado «fenómeno Félix», una corriente de amor a la naturaleza y a su defensa que consiguió por ejemplo cambiar la muy criticada política del ICONA, Instituto para la Conservación de la Naturaleza, o acabar con las Juntas de Extinción de Animales Dañinos y Protección a la Caza. Además, ayudó a crear la delegación española del Fondo Mundial para la Vida Silvestre, siendo vicepresidente de Adena y su máximo promotor, auspició la promulgación de Parques Naturales y Nacionales y logró la preservación por ley del halcón peregrino y el lobo. También creó, en 1975, el Refugio de Rapaces de Montejo de la Vega, con la mayor población de buitres leonados de Europa, donde organizó campamentos infantiles por los que pasaron cientos de niños. Este compromiso conservacionista le llevó a la defensa del equilibrio ecológico por encima de cada animal individualmente considerado, lo que le llevó a polémicas que siguen vigentes y a oponerse a las políticas medioambientales de diversas instituciones, como las escuelas de ingenieros de montes y de caminos o el IRYDA, lo que le valió diversas enemistades. También, según la biografía «Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, el hombre y su obra», su defensa del lobo le acarreó diversas amenazas de muerte. De su gran popularidad dan ejemplo dos datos. Según las encuestas que recoge su biógrafo, Miguel Pou, entre 1971 y 1974 en España se le consideró «el personaje más famoso después de Franco». Según Joaquín Araújo, en una información también recogida por Pou, en 1983 el 70% de los estudiantes de biológicas entrevistados decían hacer la carrera por la influencia de Rodríguez de la Fuente. A nivel internacional, la serie El Hombre y la Tierra se ha visto en los cinco continentes, incluyendo países como la república Popular China, por lo que su mensaje es susceptible de haber llegado a varios cientos de millones de espectadores. La biografía Félix, el amigo de los animales detalla pormenorizadamente su vida. La conciencia planetaria de Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente recoge sus pensamientos y teorías, que engloban sus conocimientos de antropología antigua, así como sus «adelantados avisos e interesantes propuestas (actuales) a la sociedad». En 2010, vio la luz una nueva biografía titulada «Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, su vida, mensaje de futuro», que recoge buena parte de sus documentos personales, correspondencia y reflexiones vertidas en su programa de Radio Nacional de España, hasta ese momento inéditos, que corroboran su compromiso con la conservación de la naturaleza y la vida desde muy joven.


Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, obtuvo críticas por la filmación de la muerte de animales para sus documentales, aunque su intención fuera concienciar a un país de la importancia del equilibrio ecológico. Se valió de la muerte de animales para salvar la especie y sus ecosistemas. Afirmó «¿De qué se quejan los ignorantes de la ecología si muestro como un águila mata a un chivo para que amen a las águilas, que están en peligro de extinción y nadie las protege, para que al amarlas las salven y defiendan todo su ecosistema?». También fue criticado por su fuerte personalidad, vehemente y apasionada, que le llevaba a exigir a sus colaboradores que mantuvieran el mismo nivel de trabajo que él era capaz de desarrollar. A este respecto cabe recordar que durante los años setenta desarrolló un frenético ritmo de trabajo, dirigiendo y presentando programas de radio y televisión y escribiendo libros, además de involucrarse en un sinfín de causas de defensa de la naturaleza. Tras su muerte se criticó que muchas secuencias de sus documentales, sobre todo de El Hombre y la Tierra, fueron rodadas, principalmente en la hoz de Pelegrina, con animales troquelados (acostumbrados a la presencia humana)8 que mantenía en cautividad, falseando tomas utilizando animales inmovilizados o pieles rellenas de paja.10 Sin embargo, los defensores de esta forma de trabajo sostienen que si no se hubiera hecho así hubiera sido imposible conseguir tales imágenes en plena naturaleza y que en cualquier caso los animales troquelados no sufrían ningún tipo de daño, atrayendo por contra el interés del público, lo que a la larga suponía su apoyo y concienciación en la defensa del medio ambiente.

Monumentos en su honor

Buena prueba de la influencia de Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente en la sociedad española y del recuerdo que aún perdura de su figura es el gran número de monumentos, placas conmemorativas y parques en su honor distribuidos por toda la geografía de España.11 A su muerte siguió recibiendo premios, trofeos, galardones y condecoraciones hasta un total de más de sesenta y se creó en su honor la Reserva Natural de Cabrera (Baleares). El dúo de música infantil Enrique y Ana le dedicó el tema «Amigo Félix», que se convertiría en un gran éxito.


Veinte curiosidades sobre la vida y la muerte de Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente

¿Sabías que era dentista, odiaba volar, y trabajó como asesor en la película ‘El Cid’?

Muchos son los que conocen al dedillo la obra de Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, su amor por los animales, su pasión por la cetrería y su conciencia ecológica. Falleció hace hoy 35 años y tanto su figura como su muerte siguen despertando tanta atención e interés como generó su vida. Su historia está repleta de logros, de esfuerzo y de talento. A continuación, os ofrecemos una lista con las veinte curiosidades más interesante del hombre que dicen que era el español más conocido en su tiempo después de Franco.

-Su segundo nombre era Samuel, como su padre, que era notario, gran aficionado a la lectura y amante del castellano. No era partidario de la escolarización temprana, por lo que educó él mismo a sus dos hijos: Mercedes y Félix. En el año 1938, ya con diez años, comenzó la educación reglada en los Sagrados Corazonistas de Vitoria.

– Su afición por la naturaleza comenzó en las excursiones campestres que realizaba en su localidad natal, Poza de la Sal. En una de ellas observó como un halcón capturaba un pato, y ahí nació su pasión por la cetrería.

-Gracias a la cetrería, y seguramente a su desparpajo, logró enamorar a la que sería su esposa, la madre de sus tres hijas y una fiel colaboradora, amiga y admiradora. La conoció en una fiesta y, según relató ella misma en una entrevista en ABC, «me dijo que tenía halcones, yo le contesté que no me lo creía. Me llevó a su casa de campo y me los enseñó. Yo no sabía nada de eso, era una mujer de asfalto, una mujer de París».

-Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente se licenció en Medicina por la Universidad de Valladolid. Tal vez la falta de interés académico le llevó a no ser un buen estudiante, pero su inteligencia y su facilidad de palabra le hizo destacar en las pruebas orales, donde logró las más altas calificaciones. En 1957 se graduó en Estomatología en Madrid y consiguió el Premio Extraordinario Landete Aragó, que lleva el nombre del pionero de esta especialidad en España. Su única incursión en el ámbito laboral dentro de la especialidad que había estudiado fue un trabajo que realizó en 1958 en una consulta odontoestomatológica del doctor Baldomero Sol, primero en prácticas y luego como colaborador. Dejó este empleo al poco de morir su padre.

-Fue un gran aficionado al deporte. Llegó a ganar el campeonato universitario de 400 metros lisos.

-En 1961 trabajó como asesor de cetrería en la película ‘El Cid’, rodada en España y con Charlton Heston y Sofía Loren como protagonistas.

-En 1962 el Gobierno español le encargó capturar dos halcones peregrinos para ofrecérselos como regalo al rey Saud de Arabia Saudita, donde viajó para entregárselos. Este monarca le financiaría años más tarde el rodaje de su primer documental, titulado Señores del espacio y dedicado, cómo no, a la cetrería.

-En 1964, y tras ganar una competición de cetrería, Televisión Española le invita a un programa. La pasión y oratoria que demostró en la entrevista, mientras portaba sobre su puño enguantado al imponente halcón, enamoraron al público y a la cadena, que le contrató para colaborar en el programa Fin de semana.

-Con esta hembra de halcón había sido portada de ABC el 21 de octubre de 1964. Este ave rapaz había obtenido la máxima puntuación en las Jornadas Internacionales de Cetrería, que se celebraron ese año en el coto guadalajareño de Loranca de Tajuña. El burgalés llamó a su halcón Durandal, tal vez para rendir un homenaje a la espada de Roldán, paladín y sobrino de Carlomagno. En El Bierzo existe la leyenda de que la espada de Roldán se encuentra en el lago de Carucedo, cerca de Las Médulas. Otra versión apunta a que el caballero leonés Bernardo del Carpio, tras vencer a Roldán, se quedó con la espada con la que sería enterrado a su muerte en Peña Longa, en la localidad palentina de Aguilar de Campoo.

-Fue un defensor a ultranza del lobo. En 1965 consiguió dos lobeznos a los que salvó de morir apaleados en un pueblo. Los crío y estudió ayudado por su mujer. Les llamaron Rómulo y Remo y, según relata su viuda, «con ellos aprendí a ser madre, porque les daba el biberón cada dos horas. Fueron mis primeros hijos». Félix intentó que este animal dejara de ser visto como un enemigo natural del hombre y de la ganadería.

-El alcalde de Poza de la Sal levantó en el municipio una estatua en el lugar donde el naturalista observaba los halcones. «No te preocupes le dijo- porque aunque te mueras en alguna de tus aventuras ya tienes aquí una estatua que ha de permanecer siempre. Ya te puedes lanzar a todas tus aventuras, puedes dormir tranquilo».

-Odiaba volar y se cambió de avioneta porque en la que tenía previsto rodar la carrera de trineos tirados por perros más importante de Alaska había sufrido una pérdida de aceite. Antes de subir al aparato que finalmente sufrió el accidente dicen que comentó en alto: «Qué lugar más bello para morir».

-La noticia de su muerte la dio en Televisión Española Isabel Tenaille, presentadora en ese momento del programa Siete días.

-Su viuda aseguró días más tarde que antes de salir de viaje hacia Alaska, Félix le había firmado un poder. «Fue la primera vez que hizo algo así. Yo creo que tuvo un presentimiento. Anteriormente se había ido en un sinfín de viajes y nunca había pasado nada parecido», argumentó refiriéndose a la firma del documento.

-Marcelle Parmentiere relató pocos días después del accidente que su marido estaba amargado con los problemas económicos que sufría la serie. Incluso, comentó que el burgalés le había comentado que el de Alaska era el último viaje que acometía y que quería tomarse la vida con más tranquilidad, ir al campo, escribir y pasar más tiempo con su familia.

-Uno de los cámaras que falleció al estrellarse la avioneta, concretamente Alberto Mariano Huéscar, ya había sufrió un accidente anterior grabando otro programa con Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente. Estuvo un año de baja.

-Las agencias que informaron de la noticia se confundieron con el nombre del piloto fallecido. Aseguraban que era Peter Lang, de 36 años, cuando su nombre era Warren Dobson, unos de los mejores pilotos de Alaska. Quienes le conocían aseguraban que, tal vez, a una mayor altura se hubiera podido hacer con el aparato, evitando el accidente. También hubo una pequeña confusión con la fecha de la muerte. El accidente se produjo a las 12.30 horas del 14 de marzo, hora local en Alaska y las 23.30 de España (existen once horas de diferencia). Unas horas después, se dio a conocer la muerte en su país natal. Como ya era un nuevo día, llegó a existir la confusión de que había muerto en la jornada del 15 de marzo.

-En el lugar donde cayó la avioneta se erigió una estatua en su memoria. Sin embargo, años más tarde fue destruida para construir una carretera.

-Teodoro Roa y Alberto Huéscar, los compañeros cámaras de TVE que también fallecieron en el accidente junto a Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, fueron enterrados el 19 de marzo en Fuencarral. Cuando la comitiva llegó al cementerio, comprobaron que por las normas sanitarias de traslados de cadáveres entre países, los ataúdes eran más grandes de lo normal. Familiares, amigos y compañeros tuvieron que esperar durante más de hora y media, y bajo una lluvia torrencial, a que dos enterradores pudieran agrandar las fosas para poder llevar a cabo el enterramiento.

-El mismo año en el que fallecía Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, el dúo Enrique y Ana lanzaba una de las canciones más exitosas de su carrera: Mi amigo Félix. Este tema siempre estará relacionado con el naturalista, aunque sin lugar a dudas, la música que puso la banda sonora de su vida fue la sintonía de El hombre y la Tierra, creada por el compositor y músico español Antón García-Abril ; autor, entre otras muchas, de las bandas sonoras de series míticas como Anillos de oro, Fortunata y Jacinta o Ramón y Cajal, y películas como Los santos inocentes, Segunda enseñanza o La ciudad no es para mí.


Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, el divulgador más mediático

Fue el divulgador medioambiental por excelencia en la España de los años setenta, además de un humanista y un activista que con su gran carisma logró concienciar a la audiencia del deber de proteger y salvar a las especies que se encuentran en peligro de extinción.

Aquel 14 de marzo de 1980, cuando estaba a punto de subirse a la avioneta en Unalakleet (Alaska) para rodar la carrera de trineos con perros más famosa del mundo para la serie El hombre y la Tierra, Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente les dijo a sus compañeros de rodaje que «aquel era un lugar hermoso para morir». Casualmente era el día de su cumpleaños, y a los pocos minutos de levantar el vuelo, y por causas que aún se desconocen, la avioneta se estrelló llevándose la vida de Félix Rodriguez de la Fuente, magistral divulgador del mundo natural y un héroe para muchos niños a los que había transmitido su amor por la naturaleza y su compromiso con el medioambiente.

Comunicador polifacético

Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente fue mucho más que un gran comunicador que convirtió su afición por la naturaleza en una forma de entender la vida. Su capacidad para cambiar la visión que la sociedad española de la década de 1970 tenía de los animales y la naturaleza lo convirtió en un fenómeno mediático. Con su talento, Rodríguez de la Fuente consiguió poner a la fauna ibérica en el foco de atención. Zoólogo, biólogo autodidacta, expedicionario, guía, realizador de documentales y de programas radiofónicos, y escritor, Rodríguez de la Fuente fue posiblemente el primer ecologista español en convencer con su oratoria a cientos de miles de personas.

Rodríguez de la Fuente era una persona cercana que transmitía una gran pasión y seguridad. Su característico timbre de voz, su tono y la forma de acentuar las palabras, sus explicaciones didácticas, sus reflexiones y sus documentales pioneros no han pasado de moda a pesar de los años transcurridos. Pero ni siquiera un personaje legendario como él se ha librado de las críticas. Algunos le acusaron de rodar escenas con animales «troquelados», es decir, acostumbrados a la presencia humana.

Pasión por la cetrería

Licenciado en Medicina por la Universidad de Valladolid, Félix Roriguez de la Fuente se graduó en Estomatología en Madrid con el Premio Extraordinario Landete Aragó. A pesar de obtener tal alta graduación, Félix apenas trabajó dos años en una consulta y a la muerte de su padre lo dejó todo para dedicarse a sus grandes pasiones: la cetrería y la divulgación científica.

Sus conocimientos de cetrería le valieron ejercer como asesor, en 1961, en la película El Cid, rodada en España, con Charlton Heston y Sofía Loren como protagonistas. En 1962, el Gobierno español le encargó capturar dos halcones peregrinos para ofrecérselos como regalo al rey Saud de Arabia Saudí, país al que viajó para entregárselos personalmente. El monarca saudí, a su vez, como agradecimiento le financiaría años más tarde el rodaje de su primer documental, titulado Señores del espacio, dedicado a la cetrería. En 1964, Rodríguez de la Fuente participó en el Congreso Internacional para la Protección de las Aves de Presa celebrado en Caen, Francia, donde presentó un estudio sobre la situación del halcón peregrino en España y también publicó su primer libro, El arte de la cetrería.

El gran amigo del lobo

Su carrera mediática empezó en 1962 en un programa de Televisión Española al que había acudido como invitado. En 1968, directivos de la televisión pública le pusieron al frente del programa Fauna, que más tarde se convertiría en una enciclopedia del mismo nombre. En ese mismo año, sus conocimientos de cetrería lo convirtieron en el encargado de desarrollar un plan inédito en España y que también resultó un éxito: utilizar aves rapaces para controlar a las aves potencialmente peligrosas para los motores de los aviones en los aeropuertos. Entre 1970 y 1972 inició su trayectoria como productor televisivo con el programa Planeta Azul, una serie que le daría reconocimiento y fama mundial. Un año después, en 1973, su inquietud sin límites lo llevó a hacer una incursión en la radio con el programa La aventura de la vida y otros espacios, como Planeta agua y Objetivo: salvar la naturaleza.

El amor de Rodríguez de la Fuente por la naturaleza y los animales fue tal, que muy pronto su imagen se asoció con la del lobo ibérico, un animal tan temido como repudiado en las zonas rurales y que con sus programas ayudó a preservar de la extinción. En 1965, Rodríguez de la Fuente había conseguido salvar a dos lobeznos de morir apaleados en un pueblo. El divulgador crío y estudió a los animales, a los que bautizó con los nombres de Rómulo y Remo. En Fauna, Rodríguez de la Fuente dijo los siguiente de la relación entre lobos y humanos: «Todo parece indicar que hasta la aparición de la agricultura y el pastoreo el hombre y el lobo compartieron el hemisferio Norte sin hacerse una verdadera guerra. El lobo se convirtió en un proscrito, en un animal fuera de la ley, cuando el hombre se hizo agricultor y pastor».

El hombre y la Tierra

Entre 1973 y 1980, Rodríguez de la Fuente realizó su serie más famosa y por la que siempre será reconocido y recordado: El hombre y la Tierra. Una serie que pasará también a la historia de la televisión gracias a su sintonía de tambores compuesta por Antón García Abril, sus imágenes de un sol incandescente que surge por el horizonte y la interacción entre humanos y animales.

La serie, de 124 capítulos, estuvo dividida en tres partes: ibérica, sudamericana y norteamericana. La serie ibérica constó de tres partes y de una cuarta que quedó inacabada. La dedicada a la fauna de Sudamérica se filmó en 1973 en Venezuela, concretamente en Los Llanos, el Orinoco y el Amazonas, y, aunque en principio solo se iban a rodar ocho capítulos, finalmente se rodaron 18. Fue precisamente en el capitulo 3 de la etapa venezolana, titulado Operación anaconda, cuando Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente casi perdió la vida en el transcurso del rodaje, cuando él y su equipo trasladaban una gigantesca anaconda entre el barro para salvarla, cuando la enorme serpiente se volvió hacia él y a punto estuvo de propinarle un mordisco que hubiera sido letal. Por último, de la serie norteamericana sólo se pudo filmar la parte canadiense y dos capítulos en Alaska. La serie fue todo un reto cinematográfico debido al peso de los equipos y a la dificultad para transportarlos al filmarse todos ellos en 35 milímetros.

Comprometido con la Naturaleza

A pesar de todas las dificultades, El hombre y la Tierra se convirtió en un referente mundial, y no sólo por su temática y su pedagogía, sino también porque logró captar imágenes de animales que nunca había sido posible conseguir hasta entonces, lo que le valió numerosos premios, tanto en España como en el extranjero. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente nos acercó como nadie al mundo animal. Filmaba imágenes impactantes de la vida cotidiana del azor, de la hiena, el buitre leonado o el cocodrilo que en esos momentos parecían imposibles.

La popularidad de Félix Rodriguez de la Fuente le permitió comprometerse con todo tipo de causas como la protección y el salvamento de distintas especies animales en peligro de extinción, como el ya mencionado lobo ibérico, que probablemente le debe su supervivencia, pero también se comprometió con el salvamento del oso ibérico, el lince, el águila real, el águila imperial y el muflón. La fauna de nuestro país siempre estará en deuda con él.



Una figura irrepetible. Naturalista, humanista y activista, Félix Rodriguez de la Fuente fue una figura excepcional e irrepetible. Su pasión y carisma personal lo convirtieron en un referente público, en un imán para los más jóvenes y en un maestro de la comunicación capaz de agitar conciencias, de influir en la sociedad de su época y de convencer a los gobierno de la época para aprobar nuestras primeras leyes de protección de la naturaleza.

Cuando en 1967 Peter Scott, fundador de WWF, recibió la propuesta de crear en España una delegación de esta organización internacional, recomendó contar con personas reconocidas por la sociedad española y que dominaran los nuevos medios de comunicación, para impulsar rápidamente la organización y la causa de la defensa de la naturaleza.

Rápidamente surgió el nombre de Félix Rodriguez de la Fuente, un joven naturalista conocido como el «Amigo de los Animales» que cautivaba con sus intervenciones a la audiencia del programa Fin de Semana, uno de los más populares de la televisión, que además publicaba regularmente artículos sobre animales y naturaleza en Blanco y Negro, la influyente revista dominical de ABC.

Pocos meses después, el 30 de julio de 1968, nacía ADENA con Félix Rodriguez de la Fuente como Vicepresidente. Ese mismo año Félix recibió el encargo de dirigir Fauna, su propio programa de televisión. Después vendría Planeta Azul y en 1973 el Hombre y la Tierra, que le convertirán en una de las personas más populares y queridas de España.


El reconocimiento de ADENA creció en paralelo a la popularidad de Félix Rodriguez de la Fuente, llegando a contar miles de socios por todo el país, algo inaudito en aquellos años.

Con su extraordinaria capacidad de trabajo, Félix se convirtió en un activista integral, capaz de  sensibilizar a la sociedad a través de los medios de comunicación y, con ADENA como arma, de denunciar la destrucción de la naturaleza y activar a la sociedad para defenderla en cada rincón de España.

Durante el tiempo en que Félix fue vicepresidente de ADENA, la organización se enfrentó a las políticas del controvertido ICONA y del IRYDA, declaró la guerra al uso masivo de la estricnina  y a las Juntas de Extinción de Alimañas y Protección de la Caza, que desde 1953 y organizadas en muchas provincias de España diezmaban por orden gubernativa águilas, buitres, linces, nutrias, lobos y cualquier especie que no fuera considerada útil o cinegética. Finalmente las campañas de denuncia y la presión pública dieron resultado y la Ley de Caza de 1970 introdujo por primera vez el concepto de especie protegida, retiró la recompensa por matar animales “dañinos” y terminó por fin con las juntas provinciales de extinción.


Una de las mayores pasiones de Félix fueron las rapaces, pero sin duda era el lobo la especie más odiada y perseguida en la España rural de la época y a la que Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente y ADENA dedicaron mayor esfuerzo. Mientras en televisión contaba “la verdad del lobo”, desde ADENA se hacía campaña hasta convencer al gobierno de que la especie gozará por primera vez de un mínimo estatus legal. Gracias a ello, el lobo, acorralado entonces en el noroeste de la Península Ibérica y en escasos enclaves del sur, no llegó a extinguirse, como ya había ocurrido en casi toda Europa Occidental.


Con Félix Rodriguez de La Fuente a la cabeza, ADENA puso en marcha proyectos emblemáticos como la creación del Refugio de Rapaces de Montejo de la Vega (el primer ejemplo de custodia del territorio de nuestro país) y en pleno desarrollismo se opuso abiertamente a la destrucción de enclaves tan valiosos como las Tablas de Daimiel o Doñana y promovió la protección legal de lugares como el archipiélago de Cabrera.


Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente trabajó sin descanso para formar a la nueva generación de jóvenes españoles en el amor y el respeto a la naturaleza y para activarles para defenderla, lo que consiguió gracias a la creación del Club de Linces de ADENA, que en muy poco tiempo contó con la participación entusiasta de miles de niños y niñas y grupos en toda España que se convertían así en vigilantes y protectores de su entorno. 

Se dirigía a sus ‘cachorros’ a través de cartas publicadas en la revista de ADENA animándoles a organizarse y a sumarse a la batalla por la vida natural, “… a formar parte de nuestra gran familia, la familia del amor y la protección de las criaturas salvajes, que tiene miembros en todo el mundo, y que un día no muy lejano cambiará la faz de la Tierra…”, “…hacia eso debemos caminar nosotros, queridos linces, esa debe ser nuestra misión, incidir en la Sociedad para que los hombres comprendan que si acaban con la naturaleza acabarán con ellos mismos”.

Además Félix creía firmemente en la necesidad de que los niños y niñas experimentaran el contacto directo con la naturaleza, para lo que ADENA puso en marcha los primeros campamentos de verano en las Hoces del Río Riaza, ejemplo pionero de la educación ambiental, donde chavales venidos de toda España se impregnaban de la vida en el campo y aprendían en directo a conocerla y respetarla. Todos los veranos Félix pasaba unos días con los acampados, haciendo excursiones y compartiendo historias junto a la hoguera.


Gracias al estudio y a sus viajes, Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente desarrolló una visión global e integradora del ser humano y la naturaleza adelantada a su tiempo. En un momento en que sólo algunos expertos y entidades como el Club de Roma eran capaces de predecir nuestro impacto sobre la Tierra, él ya hablaba del Planeta Azul y de la Tierra como un solo organismo vivo y alertaba desde ADENA de amenazas a escala global como la contaminación, los pesticidas, la destrucción de los ecosistemas, el consumo desmedido de recursos naturales, la deshumanización de las ciudades o la desaparición del mundo y la cultura rural y el acoso a etnias y pueblos indígenas.

Justo antes de viajar a Alaska, donde se estrellaría su avioneta, Felix presentó en Madrid la primera Estrategia Mundial para la Conservación de la Naturaleza junto con los reyes de España, el presidente Adolfo Suárez y varios ministros de su gobierno para darle la relevancia política que merecía. El documento, elaborado por el PNUMA, UICN y WWF, recogía por primera vez las prioridades y estrategias necesarias para salvar la naturaleza ante la presión creciente de la especie humana, sentando las bases de lo que hoy conocemos como desarrollo sostenible.


Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente: un pensamiento indomable

“Hoy apenas si se escucha ya el canto del lobo”. La legendaria frase de Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente denunciaba la situación de una especie amenazada. Pero iba mucho más allá. Analizada a la luz de su pensamiento, esta frase se refería también a la pérdida casi definitiva de la libertad ancestral del hombre. La libertad de vivir en y con la naturaleza y ser dueño de sí mismo.

Es sabido que nuestro naturalista más internacional dedicó buena parte de sus energías a eliminar la leyenda negra que existía sobre el lobo. Él demostró que no era un animal perverso ni sanguinario, sino que cazaba para subsistir y que su presencia era necesaria para mantener el equilibrio biológico de los ecosistemas naturales. Una frase de Félix expresa claramente su identidad con este animal y resume buena parte de su pensamiento: “Yo quiero ser un lobo y vivir en una tierra no contaminada, con bisontes pastando en las praderas como aquellos que quedaron pintados en la cueva de Altamira; y cantaría a la luna por la felicidad infinita de vivir en un mundo así”.

La idea central del pensamiento de Rodríguez de la Fuente es que no se puede disociar el hombre de la naturaleza. De ahí el nombre de su serie más conocida: El Hombre y la Tierra. Él lo dijo de una forma mucho más poética: “El hombre es síntesis del Universo, el planeta es síntesis del Universo, entre el hombre y la Tierra hay el abrazo profundo, el cordón umbilical irrompible, que puede haber entre el niño y la madre, cuando el niño está en el claustro materno. Si el cordón se rompe, el niño muere, y la propia madre está en peligro”La defensa de la Vida, el respeto a los demás y a la Naturaleza son las tres líneas argumentales que se repetirán de forma constante en todos sus planteamientos.


Rodríguez de la Fuente apareció por primera vez en pantalla en una entrevista a finales de 1964. En ella habló con entusiasmo de la estrecha comunión del hombre con la naturaleza, del sentido cósmico de la vida y de su noción de pertenencia a un todo. Los telespectadores se quedaron enamorados de su vitalidad, su voz y su pasión. Ése fue el inicio de una conexión inseparable entre Félix y los españoles. El público quería saber más sobre ese burgalés y TVE entendió el mensaje. Sus programas ‘Fauna’ en 1968‘Planeta Azul’ en 1970, y ‘El Hombre y la Tierra’ en 1973, le hicieron el hombre más popular y querido de España.

En estos programas puede entreverse el pensamiento de Rodríguez de la Fuente. Ha dejado para la posteridad cientos de horas de grabación y textos que condensan su visión del mundo. En su biografía, Benigno Varillas realizó un excelente trabajo de compilación y análisis (Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente. Su vida, mensaje de futuro). Félix fue un visionario al anticipar la actual crisis ecológica y criticar un sistema consumista (¡de los años 60 y 70!) que conducía inevitablemente a la insatisfacción permanente. Identificó la raíz de la alienación del hombre actual en el hecho de haberse desgajado de la naturaleza. La senda de la sociedad moderna sólo puede llevar a la avaricia, la banalidad y la pérdida de libertad. “El mundo es espantoso para el ciudadano medio que vive en colmenas, urbes monótonas y horrísonas, calles sucias recibiendo cultura como píldoras y mensajes que no se ha demostrado que sean perfectos. Nuestra era se recordará en un futuro feliz, si es que se llega, con verdadero terror. El hombre tiene necesidad de libertad, del campo, del cielo, de tiempo para no hacer cosas… y aprender e imaginar. Hoy no lo puede hacer”.


Rodríguez de la Fuente era un espíritu rebelde que no se dejó domesticar por nadie. Recuperó el arte de la cetrería, la caza con halcón, cuando hacía dos siglos que nadie lo hacía. Para ello exploró bibliotecas de toda España y llegó a estudiar textos medievales como el libro de la caza de las aves del canciller López de Ayala y el libro de las aves del príncipe Don Juan Manuel. Muchos vieron en ello una extravagancia folclórica. Pero no lo era. Para él era una conexión con el pasado. Leyendo tomos polvorientos averiguó que la cetrería se había practicado en muchas culturas de la antigüedad. Para nuestro naturalista, la caza con halcón era una de las últimas manifestaciones de la forma de vida libre de los cazadores nómadas, del paraíso que para él representaba el paleolítico.

Afirmaba que “quizás en el pasado se encuentren las claves del futuro”. Los depredadores del cielo le conectaban al misterio de la vida. Al recuperar la alianza entre el hombre y el halcón Félix creía volver a una época olvidada, en la que el hombre había sido libre y feliz. Según nos cuenta su biógrafo, Félix se sentía portador de una antorcha antigua que llevaba mucho tiempo apagada.

La originalidad de su pensamiento llegaba al considerar que el paleolítico había sido la edad de oro de la humanidad. En el neolítico el hombre buscó el asentamiento y la acumulación de bienes y buscó la seguridad aun a costa de perder libertad. El predominio de la caza cedió ante la implantación de la agricultura y la ganadería. “La cultura de los cazadores superiores fue barrida por una poderosa ola, al parecer procedente de Oriente, cuya característica era la modificación de la naturaleza en provecho del hombre”. Lo que el hombre no supo medir es que al domesticar la naturaleza, el hombre acabaría por domesticar al propio hombre.

En la obra de Rodríguez de la Fuente encontramos el embrión de toda una serie de corrientes de pensamiento que están cristalizando en la actualidad. De una forma intuitiva supo enlazar ideas aparentemente antagónicas. Su pensamiento cuestiona los cimientos mismos de una concepción ideológica que entiende el futuro como una huida del pasado y el progreso como una dominación de la naturaleza para maximizar el crecimiento material. Y, si se analiza bien, el productivismo y la carrera tecnológica estaban tan presentes en el bloque occidental como en el soviético. Esta lucidez de ideas, en una época en la que el mundo estaba dividido por un telón de acero, sitúa a Rodríguez de la Fuente, sin pretenderlo, en la vanguardia de una nueva síntesis de pensamiento ecológico.

A él le gustaba considerarse un agitador de conciencias. Y por supuesto que lo fue. No tenía problema en hablar a favor del lobo en una España que todavía era altamente rural. El pueblo demostró que sabía reconocer y apreciar las palabras cargadas de verdad y de nobleza, aunque en ocasiones resultaran incómodas. Félix hablaba al corazón de las personas y sus palabras consiguieron despertar un instinto indómito que parecía dormido. Tal y como señala su biógrafo, Benigno Varillas, “no aprendió de nadie, aprendió de muchos. No fue el clásico seguidor de una escuela o una filosofía muy concreta; era una persona integradora y que intentaba conciliar la izquierda con la derecha y el pasado con el futuro”.


Hoy, aniversario de su muerte, es un buen día para recordar a Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente. Nos dejó el 14 de marzo de 1980, el mismo día que cumplía 52 años. Se encontraba en su mejor momento vital y profesional. Un accidente de avioneta segó su vida mientras rodaba un documental sobre una carrera de trineos en Alaska.

En cualquier plataforma de contenidos podemos encontrar muchos de sus reportajes y entrevistas. Una de las cosas que más impresiona al verle hablar es la convicción de que hay momentos en los que desconecta de la audiencia adulta y se dirige solo a los niños. Félix quería que su mensaje llegara, sobre todo, a las generaciones futuras. Él sabía que eran los jóvenes del mañana los que podrían traer los cambios que él imaginaba. Por eso, también fue un pionero en el activismo cultural a largo plazo.

Todos conocemos su faceta como naturalista incansable. Pero Félix fue mucho más. Fue un estudioso que recuperó un arte que llevaba dos siglos olvidado. Y un vitalista que aspiró a recuperar una forma de ver el mundo que todos daban por superada. Para Félix no había nada imposibleSolo hacía falta un grupo de indomables que quisieran volver a recuperar la libertad perdida.