Life is never more than an iteration– a series of fractal experiences where we jump from one era to another, seemingly different but always the same.
Years ago, in NYC, during the end of the Koch administration when subway cars lacked AC and the lights constantly flickered, I was sitting near the door of a downtown #4 wearing a three-piece suit with a WSJ folded precisely into quarter panels— a lost art that no one seems to practice anymore. When you have traveled the underground for as many years as I have, you never need to look up to see where you are because the sounds along the route are as unique as the stations themselves. I could tell from the screeching and torquing of metal along the rails that we were approaching 14th Street and waited for the movable platforms to nudge their corroded teeth up against the cars and for the sleepy conductors to poke their heads through the windows, signaling to each other it was safe enough to open the doors. After the flush of commuters rushed in and out, an elderly blind gentleman, draped in a poncho, stepped in with an accordion and a sweeping cane fitted with a worn cup to catch loose change. As the doors wobbled shut and the train jerked into motion, he found his footing and squeezed air into his instrument. This was the third panhandler to come through and I was running low on change. What I thought was going to be yet another mariachi tune evaporated when he began to sing, his voice, not expected, angelic, almost tearful, floating above the simple chords the way a butterfly glides over a field of wildflowers. I put down the paper and listened, purposely missing my stop at Wall Street to hear him sing. The last stop in Manhattan had arrived and the doors were opening. As I waited for the last breath of air to be squeezed out of his accordion, I dropped some singles into his cup before birthing myself through the crushing doors at Bowling Green and onto the platform where the tang of ozone lingered in the stale air. I remained there, held in a trance with a feeling of love for everything, regretting not having asked the gentleman his name or the title of the song as I watched the last car with its tags of graffiti drift into the darkness beyond.
For years it haunted me, my lunch hours spent frequenting the J&R music stores along Park Row, searching through stacks of LPs in the foreign language section, looking for Mexican folk singers while asking the staff if they could identify my comically mimicking cadence of the man’s voice. My persistence carried through the decades, the Internet era, conducting endless Google searches for that needle in a haystack. Even with all this technology at my fingertips, I had given up hope of ever finding it.
Then the other night, Meredith and I were watching a movie she had picked out from Amazon Prime, “Big Night,” a 1996 release starring a cast headed up by Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Mini Driver and Isabella Rossellini to name a few. It was during the opening credits and listening to the music track when I felt the prick on my finger. There it was, the song which had haunted me for years began to play… in Italian and not Spanish. I grabbed my mobile and tapped on the Shazam App….. Bingo! “Stornelli Amorosi” by Claudio Villa.
After researching everything there was to know about the song and singer, I now understand why that man on the train played this song and why it was chosen for the film. I have researched Claudio Villa (impressive), and what Stornelli Amorosi means: A ‘love stornelli’. A stornelli is the Italian precursor to a rap battle… yes…way before it was popularized during the hip hop era of the late 80’s, where singers would brag, boast and throw insults, each trying to outdo the other. Claudio’s love for this type is singing shines bright in his “Stornelli Amorosi.” Needless to say, it is now forever in my favorites.