Book Review | A recent biography of Carlos Gardel is probably the most thorough and truthful book published about the tango king

Carlos Gardel’s Argentine biographers don’t want to leave anything to guesswork and assumptions.


Julián Barsky & Osvaldo Barsky: Carlos Gardel of the World (Gardel – El Cantor del tango). Finnish Anna-Leea Häkli. Aviador. 387 p. And image attachment.

Midsummer In the Wednesday after 2000, Helsingin Sanomat reported on the devastating collision of two passenger planes far away in South America, at Medellín Airport in Colombia. In the indescribable news of one column on the inside, three of the fourteen dead named men were mentioned, the most enlightened readers of which could already identify, at that time, in June 1935, at least one.

He was “a well-known Argentine tenor and movie star Carlos Gardel“, witnessed by a” terrible accident “, thousands of admirers who arrived at the airport had to watch him.

But the news and the next day’s follow-up news did not mention a word tango and tango singer or refer to Carlos Gardel (1890–1935) as the tango king of any country. Not to mention the world, as in the more grandiose name of a rather recent biography now translated into Finnish.

Where stage and with what achievements did Gardel then develop into the “king of the world tango” as it seems to be quite commonly thought today? And how much has his potential immortality been helped by a dramatic and tragic end – in almost the best artistic tone and in the ascension of an even more international career?

The Argentine authors of the biography have a pretty clear view of this, as they summarize in the last short chapter of their concluding remarks on page 365 of the book World Tango King Carlos Gardel:

“This is the end of worldly vanities. Carlos Gardel’s story, on the other hand, is just beginning.”

And how will it continue after death?

Julián and Osvaldo Barsky

Thence Argentines Julian Barsky and Osvaldo Barsky say nothing but almost everything imaginable until the plane crash. Gardel, who also deserved to be a composer, had sung as many as 969 songs on the record in 23 years, of which 66.6 per cent were tangos – as the Barskys, who liked the numbers, have calculated.

Published ten years ago in Argentina Gardel – El Cantor del tango that is, in Finnish King of the World Tango Carlos Gardel it is probably the most thorough, accurate and possibly the most truthful work mapping the stages of Gardel’s life. And most of all, the stages – as a private person he stays distant, as a personal singer as well.

Over time, breaking down stories, claims, and deliberate lies that have become myths has also been one of the central goals of the writers, all the way back to Gardel’s origins. He was born in Toulouse, France under the name Charles Gardes and grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina – except for fans of neighboring Gardel.

Some of them are still convinced that Gardel was born instead of Toulouse in Tacuarembo, Uruguay, a small inland town four hundred kilometers northeast of Buenos Aires.

And why? Because Gardel, who himself distorted his origins, once claimed a bit in his emergency, when he obtained the identity card he needed for Argentine citizenship and a passport.

Complicated? Yes, and even more multi-step in a book that explains the reasons for this persistent misunderstanding in fifteen pages. But the Barskys, who emphasize accurate documentation — father and son, a sociologist, and a conservatory-educated musician — don’t want to leave anything to guesswork and assumptions, and truths condensed over the years.

The background work has obviously been thorough, as the long list of sources suggests – albeit only halfway. Now published in Finnish with 387 pages Carlos Gardel, King of the World Tango is based on an almost thousand-page biography of a couple of authors Gardel – La biografía (2004), which they had summarized in a format suitable for the publisher from a two-thousand-page manuscript.

Thoroughness and meticulousness also have their downsides, of course. Despite the hard work, the chronological narrative style of the writers, especially in Gardel’s later international years, is at times rather dry: strangled by dates, places, names, and details. There are also far more personal names than the approximately 180 that are alphabetized in the end directory.

The book does not fully meet the expectations set by its first third, focusing on Gardel’s early years. But it already goes quite a long way, for the time of Buenos Aires is essential for understanding the later Gardel. It was a multicultural metropolis quickly swollen by immigrants, with more than a million inhabitants as early as Gardel’s teens, as well as music for many departures.

Gardel’s own starting points for artist life were still not strange, at least not in relation to achievements. He was just one of many young people who spent a lot of time on the streets, working as an ironman. Berthe Gardesin unmarried, fatherless son. However, her mother made sure she finished elementary school, which was still rare at the time: “It gave her lunch to move on to her determined career later,” Barsky concludes.

Determination, then, is the quality that comes to mind from the artist they outline after all. Gardel did not develop into an international star out of the whim of lucky coincidence or the graces of others, but he made himself such a product.

He was constantly developing his musical talents, was obsessed with his appearance and dress, and sought to modify his physical appearance — using hidden heels, even cutting his nose, among other things. Like later pop stars, he was also aptly generous with his own past, forging it from time to time to suit the situation.

Gardelin efforts were also aided by the new mass media that hit the active years – radio, film sound film – the possibilities of which, according to the authors, he was very well aware of. Gardel, who started his career as a paid clapper and stage assistant in the theater, did not want to remain an entertaining entertainer and record singer. He also wanted to be a movie star for whom the roles in the films shot in France were just rehearsals.

For the last year and a half of his life, Gardel set the stage for his acting career in New York, where his Éxito company produced four Spanish-language music films with Paramount, reportedly “found by critics.”

Gardel had not yet reached the level of his charismatic singer self, but the Barskies firmly believe that “he would have developed into a strong and confident actor.” Perhaps even as good as performing a digestible singer and charmer known as Carlos Gardelin – the very “ordinary corner guy” whose “special virtues were kindness and generosity.”



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