The Band Who Sang a Generation
(By Eleonora Buonocore, University of Calgary)
883 was an Italian rock and pop band mostly active in the 90s. Although critics often doubted their musical capabilities and accused them of being ‘too commercial’, the group’s success among Italian youth was outstanding and immediate. They quickly became the voice of a generation, especially among the young people of the periferia, the outskirts of northern Italian cities.
The band formed when singer Max Pezzali met base player Mauro Repetto during their high school years in Pavia, and the two decided to write songs together about their life experiences. 883, after their beloved Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle, became the official name for the group in 1991, before their first appearance at the Castrocaro Music Festival, and after the two entered into the entourage of producer Claudio Cecchetto, who was their ticket to fame.
The newly named band achieved their first real success in the summer of 1992, when they released their album Hanno ucciso l’Uomo Ragno (They Have Killed Spider Man), which quickly became a hit, and eventually the top selling album in Italy, carried by the success of the single by the same name.
As an album, Hanno ucciso l’Uomo Ragno reflected the simple life of young Italians, including their struggle with money (“Con un Deca” – “With a 10,000 Lira Bill”), and with their parents’ expectations (“Questa casa non è un albergo” – “This House Is Not a Hotel”). Conversely, the song, “Hanno ucciso l’Uomo Ragno” (“They Have Killed Spider Man”) can be seen as a metaphor of modern society, and in particular of the upheaval in Italian society at the beginning of the 90s:“solita notte da lupi nel Bronx/ nel locale stan suonando un blues degli Stones” (“Same old night for wolves in the Bronx/in the pub they are playing a blues song by the Stones”). The band, though, rejected the notion of any outright political meaning in their lyrics; in the words of Max Pezzali: “L’uomo ragno rappresentava la purezza adolescenziale ammazzata dal mondo degli adulti” (“Spider Man represented the purity of adolescence killed by the adult world.”)
The following year, 1993, saw the definitive coronation of 883 as a pop-rock youth band in Italy, with the release of the album considered to be their masterpiece: Nord Sud Ovest Est (North, South, West, East). This album contains some of their most famous songs, and nearly every single became a hit. More lyrical than their first release, the album aimed to express the feelings of the generation which the band describes, while also managing to cross the generational barrier. The lyrics speak of simple feelings, such as waiting for an unrequited love in “Come mai” (“How Come”), expressing admiration for an exceptional girl who turns out to be much more normal than expected in “Sei un mito” (“You Are a Myth,” ), or searching for the perfect way to express love in “Una canzone d’amore” (“A Love Song”) which consists in a long series of hypotheticals, listing of all the things a lover would do for his beloved if only he could, including the act of writing a love song for her:
Se solo avessi le parole te lo direi anche se mi farebbe male se io sapessi cosa dire io lo farei, lo farei lo sai. Se lo potessi immaginare, dipingerei, il sogno di poterti amare. Se io sapessi come fare ti scriverei, ti scriverei una canzone d’amore … (If only I had the words I could tell you even if it would hurt me If I knew what to say I would do it, I would do it, you know it. If I could imagine it I would draw it the dream of loving you. If I knew how to do it I would write for you, I would write for you a love song… )
1994 marked the end of the original 883 group, when Mauro Repetto decided to leave the band and bequeath the 883 brand to his friend Pezzali in order to pursue a career in cinema, which would not be very successful.
In 1995, therefore, Pezzali became the sole leader of 883 and attracted other artists within his circle, including backup vocalists Paola e Chiara, who would launch a career of their own as a duo starting in 1997. In June of 1995, this newly re-created band produced their first album La donna, il sogno ed il grande incubo (The Woman, the Dream and the Great Nightmare), containing the very danceable rhythmic piece “Tieni il tempo” (“Keep the Beat”) which won the Festivalbar in 1995, as well as the iconic song “Gli anni” (“The Years”), which quickly became a hit and came to represent the nostalgic view with which 883 described the story of a generation. The years, ‘gli anni,’ which constitute the refrain of the song, are quite clearly the 80s: “gli anni d’oro del Grande Real, gli anni di Happy Days e di Ralph Malph” (“the golden years of the Great Real (Madrid), the years of Happy Days and of Ralph Malph.”) The entire song casts a rosy hue over memories of what it meant to be young in the 80s in small-town Italy: “gli anni in motorino sempre in due” (“the years on a motorbike, always in two.”) What made those years memorable was the sense of company that the author can still feel “gli anni del tranquillo siamo qui noi, siamo qui noi” (“the years of ‘don’t worry we are here, we are here.’”)
The newly assembled band toured for the entire summer of 1995 and for the winter of 1996, with more than seventy concerts throughout Italy, but did not release any new album that year.
Their next album was released in 1997, inspired by Max Pezzali’s passion for soccer and reminiscent of a collector album for soccer player cards. Pezzali was and still is a devoted fan of FC Inter, and the song that is the namesake of the album, “La dura legge del gol” (“The Hard Law of the Goal”), expresses the feelings of pride and frustration that comes along with being part of a team that favors playing well rather than winning, and concludes that it does not matter who will win, “perché in fondo lo squadrone siamo noi” (“because in the end we are all the team.”) As a whole, La dura legge del gol is an album with a decisive pop sound, alternating easy fun pieces such as “La regola dell’amico” (“The Rule of Being a Friend”) and love ballads such as “Innamorare tanto” (“Falling in Love a Lot”) with more complex and sad songs such as “Nessun rimpianto” (“No Regrets”) and “Se tornerai” (“If You Come Back”). The album was very well received and prompted another tour, in which the band adopted visual imagery based on a soccer match.
The year 1998 saw the first “greatest hits” album of the band, aptly titled Gli anni (The Years), a collection which celebrated the first years of successes by 883. At the same time, this album marked the beginning of the end for 883. Despite the fact that the band released another original album in 1999, Grazie mille (A Thousand Thanks), and a final one in 2001, Uno in più (One More), the original inspiration for 883, found within the milieu of small-town Italian youth, seemed to have come to an end.
Pezzali, over thirty-five years old at the time, decided to begin a new career as a solo artist, abandoning the 883 band name completely in 2003.