MILAN – Three small hand-held cameras, a walk around Milan’s down-at-the-heals but lively, warm neighborhood of the Via Padova and an idea from the director of the local TAC Teatro, Ornella Bonventre. That’s all it took to for a cool trip through the lives of the people of this passionate neighborhood and find out what drives them, how they see the world, and above all, what are their dreams.
The last thing I expected on my last night in Milan was to have a wonderful jam and an educational and cool cultural experience. But thanks to my friend Emiliano, the didgeridoo-playing anarchist, I had both – and more. We played for two or three hours at the Leoncavallo social center, which is one of the most important of these squat-like places (called a Spazio Pubblico Autogestito) that I will describe in a moment. Emiliano, I just wanted to mention, was someone I met two years ago in Milan during my first open mic adventure. Milan had proven to be one of the world’s most difficult cities to find a jam or open mic in, but it turned out there was indeed an open jam session on the Saturday night I was there, at the Circolo Anarchico Ponte della Ghisolfa, which is the longest lasting anarchist’s association in Italy.
That jam turned out to be a wonderful, almost family affair, in the association’s club locale on the Viale Monza, and there I met the former university professor, PhD and didgeridoo player Emiliano, and his wife Barbara. I won’t go into the details on that one, but simply say that when Emiliano learned I would be there again this year and was looking for a jam session, he decided to set one up at either the club or elsewhere. He chose the Leoncavallo social center, and so I got a history and culture lesson. The place, as I said, looks like a squat and reminds me of the Szimpla space in Hungary. There is graffiti everywhere, it has several different buildings, rooms, gathering spots. It has bars, computers for the public, baby foot tables, ping pong tables, gardens and massive gathering spaces.
The movement of the social center was born a few decades ago, particularly in the 1970s when there was a housing problem in Italy and people did not even have many of the basic needs either from a home or a community. So abandoned buildings were squatted and the social centers were born. The Leoncavallo is one of the biggest – Emiliano said it could hold thousands of people – and it had been closed down by the police periodically in its history. There seems to be some sort of legal status to these social centers, however, which makes them seem a little different than the squat.
In any case, Emiliano brought a couple of his didgeridoos and there was the bass player Fabio, another guy who dropped in to play didgeridoo alone with Emiliano – we had two going with my Borderline song – and Abdul and Willy – they are of Moroccan origin – played percussion, sang and played guitar. It was pretty wild playing Borderline in this situation, but we did some plain old jamming of the never-ending-song kind as well. Later, I interviewed Emiliano in a different room at the Leoncavallo for my film about open mics and jams around the world.
The total of my four night trip to Milan and Monza, therefore, came to two jam sessions in Milan, one at a bar and one at the social center, and playing in a restaurant in Monza with a band. Far, far more than I ever expected, and I revise my previous idea of Milan as being a city without live music jams and open mics!
I am still working like mad on the book of my worldwide open mic adventure of 2009, in which I played my music in 17 countries, nearly 30 cities and all continents except Africa and Antarctica in less than a year. Towards the end of the year my trips became so closely spaced that I did not have the time between trip to write down all the experiences for the book. So I ended up dictating several chapters while driving my car to and from the Formula One races that provided the backbone to most of the trip.
Podcast of Open Mic Book Milan Dictation by Brad Spurgeon:
Lately I have been transcribing the chapter of my visit to Milan, Italy – where the Italian Grand Prix took place in the suburb of Monza – and it occurred to me that there was an amusing little story that sounded kind of fun as a potential podcast. So I decided to put that up here on the blog, a little podcast, a little radio show of me talking about my visit to Milan and my disappointments, and the sudden discovery of hope for the next night – which would indeed fulfill itself. Up to then I had been really let down and depressed with the music scene in Milan, in fact, it remained a huge let down a city where opera was big but live pop music, jams and open mics in bars was almost non-existent.
My goal, remember, was to play in an open mic or jam session around the world at each venue I went to. The book is a look not only at the venues, the musicians, the kind of people who host and play in the open mics, but it was also a personal journal and travelogue. That is mostly what this particular segment of the chapter is about. I actually dictated this segment while driving from Milan to Monza in my rental car the day after it happened. So this was dictated in September 2009.
Please keep in mind that this dictated version will be edited and re-written to a degree in the final book version. But I wanted to share the moment with you, despite all the hesitations and rewording that I do as I talk to myself in the car! If you did not already click the audio player above, then below the same link leads to the 10-minute dictation in MP3 format of part of the Milan chapter of my work-in-progress OPEN MIC : A MUSICAL JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD: