(Chapter 1 - English version)
People say that, if you put your ear to the cracks in the asphalt of a city, like you do with sea shells, you can hear the voices of the pioneers who founded it, and the hammering noise of the drums and the rock drills that built it. If you listen deeply, you can hear even the songs of the souls of those who defended it from steel and fire. It's the sound of the city, the deep pulse of the life of a place, the song of the force that has been flowing underground for centuries. It's the blues of the city.
I wanted to grow up to be a musician. Fortunately I ended up to be a writer, so I avoided the trouble of carrying instruments and heavy amplifiers on and off stage, playing in dingy venues in front of a bored audience, and above all I avoided the stress of the number of copies sold. However, having written and published "unsuccessful novels" has allowed me to play my music and keep buying guitars around the world. I soon realized that while doing these two things, I had come across extraordinary stories and perfect characters for my books.
Like Columbus before us, the gold diggers, the actors of Hollywood, war refugees and the people persecuted by the Nazis, Francesca and I decided to celebrate our fortieth birthdays by going west, just like the Led Zeppelin song. Los Angeles is too spread out, too crazy, too surreal, too unattainable and sexy not to run away there for a couple of weeks, away from everyone. Our teenage children would have survived the freezing Bolognese winter without any major traumas.
Officially, I would be writing a piece on the "sound of the desert", on the charm that a particular region outside Los Angeles has on artists and musicians, a large geographical area that lies between California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The same area was a big "water basin" in prehistory and it is now inhabited by rattlesnakes, creosote bushes and weird artists. It was also clear to Francesca, though, that I probably wouldn’t have been able to sell this story to anyone. We would leave for our little adventure anyway, with a couple of email addresses, a few notes, a handful of CDs and books and movies that had something to do with the Great American Desert. We knew something would happen; we would meet someone along the way. We may as well have changed direction.
Just setting foot in LA, to our great surprise, the doors to this amazing story opened wide, a story that would take us across the world, home to Europe and back to America again. This story spoke to us not only about music but, basically, about the wonders of life.
Los Angeles is pure instinct: we feel light, pushed gently by the same wind that gets caught in the wings of the Angelus Novus drawn by Paul Klee in 1920 that, as Walter Benjamin described it, relentlessly heads towards the future, to which he turns his back to, while the pile of rubble grows big, skyward, before him. Before being a place of escape, Los Angeles is reinvention of the world. We move like water diviners among the villas of Hollywood and the sand of the desert. We track down the thin wires that lead us to the hidden treasure of the lives that take place in front of our eyes full of amazement.
We go back home after two weeks but I can not sit still. The call of Berlin is too strong, so we are back to the past, going in the opposite direction to the many Germans that fled to Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Ángeles, in a timeless city that until now bears the deep scar that has cut it in two. There, in the city of angels of Wim Wenders, we hear the call of his "American sister", Detroit, the Motor Town, which has destroyed herself and, looking across at Berlin, is searching for a future among its own ruins.
Los Angeles, Berlin, Detroit: a magical triangle where musicians, artists, architects, whores and motherfuckers have woven their lives in the last not so distant century, which has produced the most rousing music, the most inventive architecture, the most extraordinary literature, timeless movies, the most dazzling dreams.
"Son, if you write a book like this, you’ll get arrested" my father tells me, as he helps me to sort out the thousands of characters and events of this odd story that I undertook to write. "You can not put in there David Bowie and Frank Lloyd Wright and Bertolt Brecht, and Henry Ford and Nick Cave and Diego Rivera and Mies Van der Rohe and techno music ... otherwise they will arrest you or you’ll go insane!" It's peculiar, I know, but this is his way of encouraging me. And this is my journey, my story.
(translated by Giuseppe Bono & Sonja Finco)