Wrapping a gift box, Neapolitan jeweler Enrico summed it up: “Pino Daniele is Naples. Naples is the real artist, the mother of all; he’s an expression of her. And only in Naples could the Piazza del Plebiscito gathering happen. Without the ‘tam-tam’ of the social network – a spontaneous union of napoletani for our Pino.”
How not to share in Naples’ final tribute to the songwriter-poet/singer who lauded his Naples in a mixture of traditional Neapolitan music, blues and rock? On January 7th, I joined the napoletani for their addio to Pino Daniele in Piazza del Plebiscito.
There’d been a funeral in Rome hours prior – where the Neapolitan singer had died of a heart attack at the age of 59 on Jan 4 – but “his” Naples merited the final addio, over 100,000 joining for a leave-taking as it should have been: all united in singing his songs after the funeral Mass.
Heading into Piazza Plebiscito in the late afternoon, I stopped in front of Café Gambrinus bordering the piazza where three guitarists had linked up to strum his songs. Two young women with strong melodic voices led the guitarists from one Pino Daniele song to another and fans enroute to the funeral paused to join in a song or two, many misty-eyed.
I reached the piazza center – already crowded – about an hour before the funeral Mass on an open stage: Pino Daniele’s last public appearance. Around me, napoletani of all ages, reminisced, telephoned far-off friends, took selfies – and spontaneously broke into song, with “Napul’e’”, a header. Some held up favorite Pino Daniele records; a young man lifted high a guitar in homage and teens stretched out blue and white Naples soccer team scarves over their heads.
I chatted with a blond young woman, Angela, next to me and after an hour of standing with barely enough room to turn around, told her I thought I’d head to a cafe’ to watch it all on a TV. She replied with a smile, “Ma perdi la napoletanita’.” I knew she was right: I’d miss the “Neapolitan-ness”, or that indescribable, indefinable essence of being a Neapolitan.
As we waited, those around me told me why they’d come. Mario, age 22 (from a town 2 hrs away): “I’ve listened to his music all my life. I had to come.”
Carmine (from Naples), age 25 “I’ve been standing here for two hours. It just wasn’t possible to say ‘addio’ from home: I needed to be here.”
Fabrizia (with her boyfriend- from Naples), age 28 “He’s accompanied us all as we grew up: the soundtrack of our lives.. For all. Of all ages.”
No view of the stage from my spot but I knew his coffin was heading up the steps to the altar when thunderous applause broke out, followed by shouts of “Pino, Pino, Pinu, Pinu” trailed by the soccer stadium refrain, “ale’ ooooo, ale’ ooooo, ale’…”
And later, as the Mass ended, all joined in song, the young of today, the young of yesterday, the guards in front of Palazzo Salerno on the piazza, a stooped elderly lady in a wheelchair, embracing older couples, hugging younger ones, the emergency rescue volunteers in front of the ambulances.
Tears slid down cheeks and umbrellas opened as a few raindrops trickled, scenes in perfect harmony with the song everyone sang together, “Quanno chiove” (in napoletano, ‘When it rains”). Voices joined in other favorites: “Voglio o Mare,” “Amore Senza Fine,” “Yes I Know My Way,” “A Testa in Giu’.”
That piazza was Pino Daniele’s that night – and so was all of Naples. And it always will be.