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Who will sing the praises of visionary Italian musician Samuel Katarro who, last night, opened for my band in Prato, Italy? Herein, I praise the music of visionary Italian musician Samuel Katarro.
Beyond the obvious—-that he is an Italian man with an acoustic guitar—-I do not know much about Samuel Katarro, and my conversation with him did little to enlighten me. This conversation is reproduced below, verbatim:
Me: Hello, I am Justin. Samuel Katarro: Yes. Me: My band plays with you tonight. SK: Yes. (At this point, I realized that Samuel Katarro may not be a master of the English language. Because I am not a master of the Italian language and we are not yet equipped with Star Trek Universal Translators, I intuited that I would be unable to have a meaningful conversation with Samuel Katarro.) Me: I enjoy your music. I want to thank you for playing with me. SK: Yes.
Though I cannot communicate verbally with Samuel Katarro, I can describe Samuel Katarro’s aesthetics in the decadent lexicon of ethnomusicology. (After all, I have earned an undergraduate degree in music from a prestigious East Coast liberal arts university.) Like the music of Syd Barrett, Samuel Katarro’s songs are blues-based and vaguely psychedelic. This Italian wunderkind is an accomplished instrumentalist, but is not interested in mere guitar virtuosity. An aggressive player, Samuel Katarro’s swipes at John Lee Hooker-dom often unexpectedly collapse into Ex-ish noise breakdowns. Samuel Katarro’s voice is unforgettable—-a bizarre banshee wail that knows pitch, register, or native tongue. Many Italian musicians fret over whether to sing in English or Italian. Italian is, after all, their lingua franca, but, beyond Italy, has little currency. Samuel Katarro ignores matters of linguistics—-like Entrance, or an unplugged My Bloody Valentine, he sings in no language but the language of the heart.
The music of Samuel Katarro is not for everyone. Recordings do not convey his genius. He is not “in tune.” He is not ‘well-dressed.” He is “photogenic,” but not “danceable” or “clever.” Certainly, Samuel Katarro was not an appropriate choice as an opener for my band in Prato, Italy. (My band is, of course, frequently “in tune,” often “well-dressed,” sometimes “danceable,” occasionally “photogenic,” and, ever and always, “clever.”) However, I wondered after my set—-which was much loathed by Samuel Katarro’s crowd—-whether Samuel Katarro had not excavated music that was beyond me, much like 1955 Doc Brown in Back to the Future could not understand 1985 Doc Brown’s flux capacitor.
In the 19th century, feted American historian Frederick Jackson Turner formulated what has come to be called “frontier theory.” Though implicitly racist and built on the tedious architecture of American exceptionalism, frontier theory encapsulates a powerful idea: when one is forced into an alien environment, one will prove atypically open to new ideas, unusual experiences, and novel self-definition. Put simply: when you leave home, you act funny.
I will admit that the music of Samuel Katarro may represent a musical dead end. However, I love the music of Samuel Katarro. Out here—-in a tiny club in an industrial park in a suburb of Florence on the European frontier—-one must love something.