“Who will come to visit you at the pizzuti trees, what will they find written on the tomb?”, the journalist asked him (for non-Romans, “the pizzuti trees” are the cemetery). And he, without hesitation, before letting go of a touching smile, replied: “I don’t rule out returning.” The title of the song that Federico Zampaglione of Tiromancino had written thinking of him had become a manifesto for Franco Califano, the perfect synthesis of his poetics. It was 2005, nineteen years ago, when the Roman singer-songwriter – whose human and artistic parable will relive theFebruary 11th on Rai1 with “Califano”, with Leo Gassmann in the role of the protagonist – took the stage of the Ariston Theater for the last time in his life, wanted by his friend Paolo Bonolis among the Champions (Classic category) competing at the Sanremo Festival of that year.
Among the many episodes that dot the Caliph’s extremely rock’n’roll life, the story of that last participation in the event is perhaps one of the least known. It wasn’t a success: the singer-songwriter.he was eliminated at the end of the third eveningwithout having the possibility of accessing the final, after just two performances (and he didn’t take it very well: “Paolo Bonolis is a friend of mine and the fact that I was eliminated testifies to his honesty. With Pippo Baudo this would not have happened”, he ruled – Bonolis thanked for the first part of the statement, but dissociated himself from the second). Yet watching the video of the Caliph’s passage on the Ariston stage today, the interpretation is almost moving.
“I don’t rule out returning” was basically the testament of a man who had squeezed out life and been squeezed out of life, an artist outside the box, romantic playboy and scoundrel, ironic, disenchanted and melancholic author, in some ways uncomfortable, libertarian and non-conformist. “I would like to arrive at death tired. But ‘I don’t rule out returning’ is what I want to write on my tomb”, he said. Five years before that participation in the Sanremo Festival she had published a book now considered a cult, “The heart in sex”. Subtitle: “Book on eroticism, courtship and love written by a practical person”. A few months after the event he would enter the loft of “Music Farm”, a reality show, also now considered cult, which had the aim of relaunching old glories of Italian music. In one of the episodes of the program, hosted by Simona Ventura, he made “Vita spericolata” his own: after all, his life had certainly not been less rock than that of Vasco Rossi.
Two years before Federico Zampaglione of Tiromancino proposed him to interpret his “Non escludo il return”, the Virgin record companies had thought about repositioning the Caliph on a recording level, having him record the album “The lights of the night” (with Zampaglione himself he had sung “L’ultima beach” on that album: “This album is to remember that I have been a singer-songwriter for forty years. I have written more than a thousand songs, but I have always done everything by myself, I’ve always been a maverick. It’s the first time that such an important record company supports me. In this album I have collected what in 40 years others have never understood”, she vented.
In “Non escludo il return” there was a lot of the author of “Due destini”, but also a lot of Califano, of his philosophy, of his melancholy: “I had written this piece, music and words. Then I took it to Franco and he said to me: ‘I want to change some things’. The piece began like this: ‘You know that I don’t sleep at night, but I wanted to call you’. He told me: ‘I want to change the beginning’. And he said: ‘You know that I don’t sleep at night and I wanted to call you.’ I said to him: ‘But in what sense?’. And he said: ‘I’ll call whenever the fuck I want’. I had written the entire romantic side of the chorus, but only one sentence was missing. I said to him: ‘What do we put here?’. And he: ‘I don’t rule out returning!’. Because otherwise she (the woman to whom the song was dedicated, ed.) would have gone to her head. Instead he wanted to say: we don’t know if I’ll be back or not”, Zampaglione would have recalled.
On the Ariston stage, the old lion seemed to have lost the swagger and roar of the past. The emotion did not allow him to bring home a perfect interpretation, but as the manager of the time Roberto Gregori would have underlined, even that suffering contributed to the strength of that passage: “he was very emotional. He tried to meet the operator’s knowing glance or pat on the shoulder. He needed to feel encouraged.” Today “I don’t rule out returning”, as well as camping as it were epitaph on the tombstone of Franco Califano, who rests in the cemetery of Ardea, a small town south of Rome chosen by the voice of “Everything else is boredom” as his final resting place (his lifelong friends wanted to remember him by setting up a room in the historic center some corners of the artist’s home, in a permanent house museum), is a phrase that has now entered the collective imagination.
Among the first to make it a cult. Luciano Spalletti. It was 2017 when the coach, now on the national team’s bench, ended his experience as Roma coach like this: “There is a quote from an important Roman singer-songwriter, who had this epitaph written on his tomb: ‘I don’t rule out a return. ‘. I like this.”