Arts, Culture & Media

A Profile of the Italian Tom Waits

It's summer. You're loving the warm weather. But transport yourself -- if you would -- four months back to the cold of the northeast winter. The scene: the Paramount theater in Middletown, New York, about an hour north of the city.

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That's an old Wurlitzer organ. There aren't many of them still working. But this functioning Wurlitzer was tracked down for the benefit of an Italian musician who just had to have its all-American baseball park-carny sound.

�It was built for silent movies, so it sounds like an orchestra, but an unreal orchestra.�

That's Vinicio Capossela. He wasn't playing the Wurlitzer.

Cameron Carpenter, one of the masters of the Wurlitzer, was the one pulling out all the stops.

Vinicio Capossela is a musician and songwriter who happens to have a fetish for odd instruments.

On this day, he was focused on this Wurlitzer at the Paramount theater.

�It's perfect for fantasy. So I thank the organ national society that has taken care of the Wurlitzer like the animal in way of extinction.�

If Capossela is fascinated by things on the verge of extinction it may be because he is always reinventing his music to remain vital.

Vinicio Capossela has been described as a cross between his dusky-voiced countryman Paolo Conte and the crusty voiced Tom Waits.

It's wiser though to compare Vincio Capossela to a filmmaker and a novelist: Federico Fellini and Jack Kerouac.

�Why thank you, it's a great compliment.�

Fellini's unique Italian mythology and Kerouac's quirky American world constantly appear throughout Capossela's music. Take his song "Medusa Cha Cha Cha."

Despite Vinicio Capossela's adoration of the vastness and individualism of the US, he keeps bumping into a quintessentially American loneliness.

And recently Capossela's been feeling it more when he comes here.

He sees it a lot on American roads, he says, unwittingly quoting the title of one of Fellini's great films.

�La strada is something that permits people to meet each other, no? But I have the feeling that now, in the United States la strada is a big road to make more isolation between the people, I have this feeling no? All these people alone, moving only by car, don't go by foot, don't meet each other. There are many contradictions in the American way of life.�

Last March, I met Vinicio Capossela in Austin, Texas. He was totally jazzed because he had just been to a rodeo for the first time. He likened the rodeo to a modern American version of the myth of the minotaur.

And in his ongoing obsession about the Wurlitzer organ, Capossela was hoping to go to a Wurlitzer monument of sorts.

�A friend of mine find this Organ Pizza stop in Mesa, Arizona.�

Sometimes it takes an eccentric Italian musician to remind us of our own mythology: a roadside pizzeria in the desert with a house organist.

Capossela wanted to shoot a music video there.

Tomorrow night in New York, Vinicio Capossela plays the last of his American gigs for some months.

Rumor has it that, in his quest to experience Americana through an Italian prism, Capossela will also be doing a photo shoot amongst the vintage rides at Coney Island.