A life lived through song
The lead singer of Els Pets, Lluís Gavaldà, has published ’Sona la cançó’, a musical and personal memoir based on 60 songs that have helped make him the person and the musician he is today
I always have a song in my head and I identify everything with music,” says Lluís Gavaldà on the phone from his home in England. The lead singer of one of Catalonia’s best-loved pop groups, Els Pets, is talking about his new book, ’Sona la cançó’. In the book, Gavaldà picks 60 of his favourite songs and uses them to explain associated key moments in his life and career.
“I didn’t pick anything strange or unknown just to look cool. It’s a very eclectic choice of songs that remind me of moments in my life: my first concert, my parents’ cassettes, and so on. The English publish a lot of books like this, which are somewhere between musical memoir and autobiography.
“When [Catalan language publisher] Rosa dels Vents commissioned the book the idea wasn’t for me to write about myself, just the songs I like. But when I got started, I saw that I was choosing many of the songs for non-musical reasons and I was writing a lot about myself through the songs,” says Gavaldà, who turned 59 in April and who has fronted Els Pets for 36 years.
The veteran pop band from Constantí in Tarragona is about to release a new album, entitled 1963, which was the year Joan Reig, Falín Cáceres and Gavaldà – the group’s three founders – were all born. It was also the year that The Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me. In fact, Liverpool’s Fab Four are the only ones in the book to get more than one song, with three entries.
“I’m not really a musician at all, nor do I have a special talent for writing songs. I’m more of a music listener than a musician. Over the years, I’ve come to realise that all the songs I’ve done are in some way reworkings of other songs I like. I think that God forgives you for copying as long as you copy from the best,” adds this inveterate music lover who says he listens to music all the time in all the formats at his disposal, from vinyl records and CDs to digital platforms.
As Gavaldà says, the selection of songs in his book is very varied, beginning with Los Sírex and continuing with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Roberto Carlos, King Crimson, Joan Manuel Serrat, Deep Purple, Claudio Baglioni, Sisa, ABBA, Springsteen, Ia & Batiste, Elton John, David Bowie, The Smiths, Sinatra, Wilco, Debussy and the Ramones.
The song that Gavaldà chooses by the New York punk rockers is Questioningly, from their fourth album, Road to Ruin (1978), an unusual choice in that it is a song rarely included among the Ramones classics. Yet Gavaldà explains that the song in question reminds him of a fleeting nocturnal encounter he had with Joey Ramone in the Bowery in New York. While Gavaldà insists he’s not one to harass any celebrity he might run into, on that day he could not help but make an exception and so he followed the Ramones frontman to the bar. Tapping his idol on the shoulder, his courage deserted him and it all ended in a timid apology. “I never like meeting my idols out of fear of being disappointed. I know this from my own personal experience: I’m boring, rude and weird.”
Gavaldà’s selection also includes less well-known artists and their music, for example, the beautiful Els cotxes et refreguen al passar, recorded 30 years ago by the group from Igualada, U-tòpics, who at that time shared a record label with Els Pets. “It’s a way of vindicating groups that didn’t have much of an impact in the midst of the avalanche of bands that emerged in those years around the phenomenon of Catalan rock (rock català). It’s also a great song that describes very well the ravages of heroin, and at that time we lived very close in the Tarragona countryside,” he says.
Gavaldà acknowledges in the book that the main shortcoming of his selection is the limited number of female artists he has chosen, although he does point out that he included the song Brass in Pocket, sung by Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.
“While writing the book, I realised how few women there are in the first 20 years of my life as a listener of music. This was rectified later, from punk onwards, which is where Chrissie Hynde comes into it. Things are now very different and I’d even say that the majority of the most interesting musical acts today are women.”
Yet this book is not meant to be a comprehensive history of music but rather Gavaldà’s personal history seen through his musical tastes: “I haven’t looked at the proportions of genres in the list, but I suppose that what I like most predominates: pop with guitars, and good melodies,” he says.
Also a devourer of music books, Gavaldà recommends Ian Hunter’s Diary of a Rock ’n’ Roll Star, but also the “fun” biographies of Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne. Meanwhile, a must-read for him is Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! by Bob Stanley, which tells the chronological story of the modern pop era.
And is the singer happy with the public reception of his book, which has now reached its second edition? “People seem to have taken to it. But I had so much fun writing it that just that alone is enough to make me happy with it,” he says.