The new edition of Páez is somehow both a return to the past and a leap into the future. The book was written when the glory years of Cerdos & Pesos had already come to an end, and when Andrea Álvarez Mujica was still Vera Land. In the Argentina of the time, the Spanish-language rock scene was a hit-making machine and journalism had its feet and its heart firmly planted in the streets; rock, poetry, and literature came together in ventures that could only be the product of a country coming out of a horrific dictatorship. This new edition of Páez gives resounding proof of Fito’s precociousness and brilliance (which are, perhaps, one and the same), but also proves that Páez as a biography, as a work of investigative journalism, jumped the gun on what we now call “Latin American chronicle” by a couple of decades. It’s impossible to finish reading Páez without feeling like you’ve watched some sort of movie, narrated by multiple voices, whose main character is a mind-bending figure traversing his own history—among friends, musicians, tours, and gigs—writing a story that now forms part of what we call, with a certain pride, not only rock argentino but also rock en español.
Marcelo Rioseco: When I first saw the cover of Páez (2023), I noticed the press behind the book is now Cerdos & Peces, which transported me immediately to the first edition from 1995, published when Fito was just 32 years old. Let’s take a quick look back at the past: how and why did the idea of making a book about such a young musician come about? Why did you choose to publish a new edition now with Cerdos & Peces?
Vera Land: The urge to do projects together, that’s what motivated us in that moment. Fito had been close to our magazines, he had supported our independent journalistic endeavors; he came to our offices, sometimes before the sun came up. He told us what he thought about our cover stories, it was an informal thing, friendly. Then we made plans for three books. The first was Invitación al abismo (Espasa Calpe, 1994), a compilation of texts by Enrique Symns, where Fito took part in the selection and wrote the prologue. The next book was the biography, and, lastly, a book that never came together. I’ve forgotten what that one was about. Fito was young, but his work was already realized to a great extent. I think that was clear.
As far as the new edition with Cerdos & Peces, I did the relaunch for old times’ sake. I have an ambivalent and unresolved relationship with Cerdos & Peces: I take a critical eye to much of the magazine’s content. It was that way in the moment, but much more so now. At the same time, I’m the person who was there for the longest time and who contributed the most, sometimes trying to act as a counterweight to postures or premises I didn’t share, but always generating the conditions for the magazine to exist and get to the presses because I loved the fact that we were making a magazine. There were periods of time when every issue felt like pushing a boat through sand and others when it floated through the city in airy ecstasy. I constantly miss how artists would mill around my desk at Cerdos & Peces. Writing a tagline or coming up with a title surrounded by people and interruptions was really formative. I don’t need a favorable environment to concentrate.
In 2018, when I started writing the biography of Estelares, an Argentine rock band, I connected with two previous biographies I had coauthored with Symns: Los Tres, la última canción (Aguilar, 2002) and Páez (Espasa Calpe, 1995). Both books were out of print, and I thought, “after publishing the Estelares book, I have to put out new editions.” I wasn’t in touch with Symns over the past ten years. A few months after the release of Estelares, detrás de las canciones (Hormigas Negras, 2022), I sent him a message through a mutual friend, asking if he was on board with the new edition of Páez. He responded with a concise “yes.” I finally got up the nerve to go visit him. He was convalescent and, his having been a person with extraordinary physical strength, it wasn’t easy for me to see him bedridden. On my second visit, I realized that bringing him the new edition was going to give him a little bit of joy in the midst of that dull everyday existence, which he wasn’t going to escape. I pushed up the schedule so I could walk into his sickroom with the book. The morning I finished writing the prologue, I added the date: San Telmo, March 16, 2023. I went out to buy oranges and, not long after, I got the news of his passing.
M.R.: You’re credited in the book as Vera Land, not Andrea Álvarez Mujica. What’s it like being two literary persons in 2023? Does the Vera who wrote with Enrique Symns in the nineties still exist?
V.L.: I’m handling the issue of being two literary persons well, at the moment. A few years ago it was very complicated for me. I wanted to get away and have a new life, without a past. That lasted for a while, and it was interesting. That Vera Land from the mid-nineties to the early two-thousands still exists, she’s within me. But the Vera Land character from 1986 to 1991 evaporated. Readers miss that phase in my writing, when I was 20 to 25 years old, but since I have nothing more to give along those lines, in terms of writing and in terms of the character, to be honest and so as not to create false expectations, I’m very careful with how I use my pseudonym. I save it for new texts connected to materials from the past. I’ve been thinking about a compilation of my earliest articles to satisfy the relative expectation for that brief period of my career as a young writer. What came before, the poetry I wrote between the ages of 13 and 20, was never published and is now lost. I have somehow managed to get my new music books, my current novels, and my new poems to coexist with my pieces that have almost faded away entirely.
M.R.: A very powerful part of the book are the narrative and journalistic techniques with which you wrote Fito’s biography. It’s a book that even seems to preempt what we now call the “Latin American chronicle.” There are reports, interviews, informal conversations captured on hidden tape recorders, personal testimonies (from main and supporting characters), opinions from friends, and even drawings, among many other narrative and journalistic resources and strategies. Where did that idea come from? Was that something that was already being done in Argentina at that time?
V.L.: The idea of the narrative techniques came from Symns. When we wrote the biography of Fito Páez, very few rock books were being published in Argentina. But still, there was the tradition of the multivocal rock book that arranged and compiled fragments of testimonies, touching on different subjects with no intervention from the author or authors. We used that model for some sections. But the determining factor as far as the form and structure of Páez was Symns’ initial idea: applying the subgenres of journalism to biography. “A book that reads like a magazine, with sections,” he said at our first meeting. Of course, that wasn’t being done at that time. I think that’s the source of the novelty that still feels fresh thirty years later. I learned how to be a journalist in the second half of the eighties in the editorial offices of print magazines and the nearby bars that were extensions of the workplace, for meetings and arguments. At the time when we were working on Fito’s biography, I was so saturated with journalistic work that playing with subgenres was more important than the subject matter itself. And, at the same time, I was fascinated by Fito’s dizzying life. I was born in ‘66. Fito is a point of reference for my generation.
M.R.: What do you make of Argentine rock today? In Páez there is a motif that’s repeated with a certain insistence: the musicians who did well, the ones who made it to the other side. Now that Fito has made it all the way down the path to success (which is fantastic), do you have any thoughts coming out of this book on the relationship between rock and power, success, money, and those spaces of freedom and true rebellion that seemed so proper to Argentina’s underground rock scene?
V.L.: The rock from the end of the dictatorship that I grew up with, the rock we listened to bringing albums from one house to another while the plainclothes or uniformed police were stopping us and interrogating us under suspicion of belonging to a terrorist cell, is a great national anthem today. Banned songs and the new, festive songs that boomed with the coming of democracy form part of our popular identity. These songs didn’t change the world, but they did change our country. Many of our rock forefathers have died or are now convalescent and inactive—one exception, among others, is Fito Páez. It’s not clear who their heirs are, but we can glimpse an overwhelming feminine presence. In 1995, when we wrote the biography, Fito was touring behind Circo Beat (1994) and had just been filling stadiums with El amor después del amor (1993). He was one of the musical focal points of the era. He had been questioned for abandoning the bohemian lifestyle, years had already passed since his famous statement at Prix D’Ami: “Be brave, quit cocaine.” He had attained financial wellbeing and massive success. That’s why the subjects of power, money, and convictions appear in the book.
We were halfway through Menemism and every time he was near a microphone, Fito tossed out a statement against the Riojan. This generated tension because in Argentina there is a relative consensus that all artists who attain financial success through their work lose the right to speak up in favor of the people or the impoverished masses. To be able to make such statements cleanly, the artist has to renounce the privileges of money. This is obviously a dogmatic position that serves to delegitimize or neutralize voices that hold sway over the crowds that might rise up against the powers that be. This controversial role that Fito embodied in the nineties was taken over by Indio Solari in the two thousands.
M.R.: I’m interested in the topic of friendship. In Páez there are good things and bad things about life, Fito’s friends, and some of his partners. But the book always treats him with great fondness, without ever being condescending. It’s very natural. How did you deal with the subject of friendship in this book? Your own friendship with Fito? Fito’s friendship with his people and vice versa?
V.L.: Fito has the sensitivity to bring his friends together for artistic projects, and the determination to make them sign contracts with clear rules. He moves in that somewhat oxymoronic space of giving freedom while setting the limits of that freedom. I see it as a happy pendulum between chaos and control, for him and his surroundings. That’s the special thing about him—that comfortable movement between order and disorder sets him apart. Friends, partners, and exes have worked and still work with him on albums, movies, and tours. I think he conceived of a oneness between daily life and art, and that’s why his friends go with him, they form part of his troupe, his “Circo Beat.” We work with a lot of freedom and a lot of support from Fito. He opened all the doors to his world for us, without restrictions and with absolute trust.
M.R.: A number of times, Fito is mentioned as a poet. We understand this is in the context of the music he makes. What do you make of his relationship with literature and art in general? He is clearly very well read and has seen a great many films. Is Fito, more than a musician, an artist?
V.L.: He’s an artist who takes risks. Who explores the places that aren’t conducive to him, as well as developing in his safe spots. He’s persistent, and if something doesn’t work out for him he waits and then tries again. He’s all-encompassing. He’s an urban artist who feeds on city scenes. Sometimes he spits out words like a torrent, other times he captures the spirit of the age in four lines. For him, literature is a source of inspiration and dialogue between disciplines. His discography between the ages of twenty and thirty touched the hearts of three generations—his own, the one before his, and the one after—and that’s very unusual. The eight albums he released between 1984 and 1994 are the ones people love. From Del 63 to Circo Beat. His work over that decade sets itself apart album by album, along with the renown of certain favorite songs. They’re albums you listen to all the way through. I’m not saying they’re better than the ones that came after—that would have to be studied over time, but these releases marked the arrival of something unique for his fans. They became something like soundtracks to his listeners’ lives. Of course, changes in technology and communication also gradually modified the way people listen to music.
M.R.: Today we see Fito as a successful musician, a master of rock music, of popular music, but the book shows us a much more underground, sometimes countercultural world. Readers will appreciate those moments when we “see” all these musicians blazing a trail, hand in hand—that combination of youth, friendship, and the will to make things happen. How do you evaluate those moments in an artist’s life? Is it something specific to youth, to their beginnings, or is it rather something that’s lost over time when things get stuck in “the old scripts of the world,” in the institutionality of attained wellbeing?
V.L.: When you write a rock biography, you know the story is richest between anonymity and visibility. From the margins to the center, or the subsoil to the surface. That’s where you find the gems, the treasures, the epic. In Fito’s case, his work started to develop early, when he was 14, in the midst of the dictatorship, and he was recognized almost immediately. But he joined the ranks of the canon with El amor después del amor. His success story has to be told and is welcome, but a biographer knows the best part of the book will be found in those pages where the artist is fighting back against adversity.
Translated by Arthur Malcolm Dixon
Photo: Argentine writer and journalist Vera Land.