By Francesco Ciabattoni (Georgetown University)
A married man meets a woman in a cafè, has an affair with her, completely oblivious of his wife and deeply enthralled by the new sexual adventure. The next morning he wakes up and calls his wife, a regular conversation takes place, but an awkward feeling is perceptible in their exchanges. “29 settembre” is a perfect example of a song whose focus is on an individual’s private life, with no concern for political or collective issues, and yet the language and the pop sound are far removed from the mannerism of the Sanremo melodic tradition, Battisti’s voice sounds rough and authentically singer-songwritery. What makes “29 settembre” something more than just another escapist song, is its historical context and obvious calendrical recurrence in the title.
Written by Battist and Mogol, “29 settembre” was first recorded by Equipe 84 in 1967. In this version, a background voice from an unspecified radio news program mentions the recurrence of an important anniversary, September 29th. Although the radio voice fades out before it can give further information, the reference is easy to understand: on September 29, 1944 the Nazi killed at least 770 civilians in the town of Marzabotto, south of Bologna. According to Ezio Guaitamacchi (1000 canzoni che ci hanno cambiato la vita, Rizzoli, 2009, p. 253), the radio news was an idea of Ricordi’s production manager Paolo Ruggeri, however Equipe ’84 must have approved the feature. The insertion of a voice over about a Nazi war crime seems to confirm the Modenese pop band’s interest in human rights and collective memory, since one in 1966 the band had recorded Francesco Guccini‘s “Auschwitz“. In Lucio Battisti’s 1969 recording, however, the radio voice over was eliminated, but the song’s title reminds us of the ever-present historical and collective memory that lingers over our individual and private lives. No matter how hard we try to leave history behind, it somehow resurfaces in our minds. One wonders, however, whether the song should be read as the assertion of a self-centered adulterous affair overwriting collective memory and the remembrance of WWII wounds, as an indictment of such attitude, or as pure entertainment.
It is unclear whose decision it was to include the radio news in the background: apparently Maurizio Vandelli (Equipe 84 lead singer), Mogol (lyricist) and Paolo Ruggero (producer) all claimed credit for it (Guaitamacchi, 1000 canzoni che ci hanno cambiato la vita, 2009). The song was also recorded by English pop band The Bevis Frond.