COMMENTARY BY CLAUDIO GIUNTA.

“Mezzogiorno” is the metaphorical midway point of life. Jovanotti’s refrain in Mezzogiorno elaborates on this metaphor—not original, of course, but neither is it at the top of the scale of obvious clichés—in order to define the generation to which Jovanotti belongs (he was born in 1966, the song was released in 2008) and the phase of full maturity which this generation has reached: “We’re like the sun at noon / With no more shadow around us.” Maturity is nothing to fear; in fact, it produces a certain euphoria, a feeling that is echoed by the brightness of the melody: we are at the height of our lives, in the center of things, this is our moment; just as when the sun is at its peak, it does not cast shadows (where shadow is perhaps, metaphorically, ‘what until now has prevented us from reaching maturity’; or more simply, ‘life’s problems’; or perhaps with no more shadow around should not be read as a metaphor, but only as a filler which repeats the concept of ‘full sun’).

 

But this refrain is not the most interesting part of the song. The interesting part lies in the remainder. Mezzogiorno, in fact, neatly illustrates a structural feature common to many contemporary songs. Songs ‘of the past’ would use the stanzas to develop a basic concept or image in order to pursue a certain semantic consistency. Here we have Claudio Villa’s Binario (but it is also the case for Sinatra’s My Way, and most any older song):

 

Vecchio casellante che fermo te ne stai
dimmi come mai non vedi che il mio amore
fugge via lontano e lo inseguo invano
ferma tu quel treno che muoio di dolore
fallo per favore fa ch’io possa rivederla ancor.
Binario triste e solitario tu che portasti via
col treno dell’amor la giovinezza mia.
Odo ancora lo stringere del freno
ora vedo allontanarsi il treno con lei che se ne va.
Old signalman, you sit still
Tell me why you cannot see that my love
Is going far away and I am chasing her in vain
Stop that train because I am dying of sorrow
Do it please, so I can see her again.
Railway, you are sad and lonely and you took away
My youth on the train of love.
I can still hear the screech of the brakes
Now I can see the train moving off as she leaves.

 

The woman has departed with the train, the lover who speaks in the text begs the ticket collector to stop the train so that he can “see her again.” The lyrics are simple, but they offer one message, with the same clarity that you might find in a page of prose (only the lexicon and syntax are “poetic”: refined terms such as odo (I hear), and anastrophes like “fermo te ne stai” (still you sit), “giovinezza mia” (youth of mine)). In the stanza of Mezzogiorno, instead, not only are there verses that seem to have no relationship with the overall meaning of the song, beginning with the first, “Caselli d’autostrada tutto il tempo si consuma” (tollbooths on the highway all time is consumed), but even when this relationship exists, the verses follow one another, for the most part, without there being any cogent semantic tie between them. There is no relationship of logical implication between “Venere [che] riappare sempre fresca dalla schiuma” (Venus always reappears cool from the waves) and “La foto della scuola non mi assomiglia più” (my school photo no longer resembles me), or between “Un bacio e poi un bacio e poi un bacio e poi altri cento” (a kiss and then a kiss and then a kiss and one hundred more) and “Teoricamente il mondo è più leggero di una piuma” (In theory the world’s as light as a feather).

 

At the same time, it would be incorrect to say that there is no logical implication between the verses of the song. This implication is there, even if the gaps are wider than those which hold together the text of Claudio Villa’s Binario. The theme of the song is that of assuming the responsibility that comes with age, and that also brings with it a new way of seeing the world, a new wisdom: you accept that things will change (“E giorno dopo giorno passeranno le stagioni” (and day by day the seasons will go by)), but you also realize with relief that the change leaves something intact, that “non tutto quel che brucia si consuma” (not all that burns is consumed): the face of the child in the photo is no longer that of the adult, but his defects, his character, are still the same; and the scars are “autografi di Dio” (God’s autographs), in the sense that even the painful experiences of the adult looking at the photo are as blessed and sacred as life itself and, in other words, they made life worth living. There exists, therefore, a certain semantic consistency. But this consistency is not a given; it is a consistency which the listener must reconstruct with care and effort, by looking for the common denominator that holds together the various statements. In this collage, even the defects, even the gaps in meaning ultimately contribute to its aesthetic pleasure, thanks to the agogic force—I cannot find a less erudite word to say the same thing—which music has, as if the mere sound were enough to establish a link between words and phrases that do not have the same link when read on the page: verses such as “Un bacio e poi un bacio e poi un bacio e poi altri cento, / teoricamente il mondo è più leggero di una piuma” (A kiss and then a kiss and then a kiss and one hundred more / In theory the world’s as light as a feather) mean nothing in prose, are acceptable but corny in poetry, but are delicious once put to music, this music.

 

The register of the song is euphoric, as I said. To be at the high noon of life, be the high noon of life, fills the lyricist (lyricists, to be accurate: Riccardo Onori, Saturnino Celani and Jovanotti) with optimism and a desire to be active. The consent he gives to existence is characteristic of pop songs, which in most cases seek to show us the bright side of life. We like them for this very reason. Poets ponder the negative side of life. It falls to the poet to reflect, for example, on the fact that just one minute after having reached high noon, or the fullness of life, our sunset begins: “But oh, love’s day is short, if love decay. / Love is a growing, or full constant light, / And his first minute, after noon, is night” (John Donne, A Lecture upon the Shadow).