He was a favorite son, one of the greats of Italian popular music. His song “Caruso” (see below), inspired by another Italian musical legend Enrico Caruso, was covered by Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli and even Josh Groban.
Singer songwriter Lucio Dalla died of a heart attack on March 1 after performing in Montreux, Switzerland. On Sunday 50,000 Italians gathered in Dalla’s home town of Bologna to pay tribute. Hundreds of thousands more watched his funeral mass broadcast live on television from the city’s cathedral.
Now that the tributes have been made, Italians are talking about something else, something Dalla kept secret while he was alive. Lucio Dalla was gay. What does the fact that he chose to keep this under wraps say about Italy?
We asked Italian journalist Carlo de Blasio for his take.
He was a short man. But Lucio Dalla’s stature in Italian music and culture was that of a mammoth. There is no Italian, no matter what age, sex, political orientation or favorite soccer team, who could not whistle one of his songs, let alone cite by heart his poetic lyrics.
Lucio Dalla was a formidable artist. And he was also gay. But he never, ever talked about it in any interviews, concerts and radio and TV performances he appeared in over his long career. Everybody knew about it. And everybody accepted it, among them many of Dalla’s friends in the Catholic Church. It was maybe for that very reason that Dalla chose the understatement approach (or better yet, the no statement). He was a believer and a church-goer. He mentioned God often in his songwriting. So nobody paid attention to his “small secret”: no comments, no public exposure, no visibility.
But now Dalla is dead and now the issue is emerging in a tumultuous way. He was so influential, say many gays, so important, so respected. He could have come out and helped all Italian gays to feel more accepted in a country where their status is still difficult and often discriminated against.
Others answer by paying tribute to a sort of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy which – for homosexuals all over the world – is already uneasy to stomach whether it be in the U.S. military or Italian show business.
This is the level of public debate about homosexuality in Italy. A ‘short’ but relevant story like this says a lot… while the majority stays silent.