Do you know who Morgan Castoldi, in arte Morgan is?
He is an Italian multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter, former founding member of top experimental pop/new wave/glam rock band Bluvertigo and maker of, arguably, the best Italian LP of the past decades, Canzoni dell’Appartamento (2003). In his later years, he has reinvented himself as a creative energy and popularizer of art as well as music with extreme but refined communicative power.
In later years, he has also garnered more publicity for his tumultuous love life and private quarrels, despite of the countless amazing projects he has been involved with. He has also had problems with taxes, lost his house and forced to live life as a nomad with a new child on the way.
In the past few days, he has been at the centre of a true pop cultural phenomenon in Italy. During the past Sanremo Music Festival – which is basically an entertainment showcase despite it being disguised as the country’s top music contest – he stirred huge controversy by publicly changing the lyrics to the song of his longtime friend, singer/songwriter Bugo, to publicly insult him in front of millions of viewers worldwide.
Bugo almost immediately walked off-stage and the song, cutting the performance short and disqualifying them from the contest in the process, as per the competition’s rules and regualtions
Press conferences and guest spots across television programs have fueled the fire in the days that ensued and the event easily became the highlight of the festival. It is still talked about to this day, and in pure Italian dramatic fashion, has once again led to a resurfacing of all of Morgan’s private life quarrels. The latest of these was a heated phonecall with his own mother (whom, allegedly, had not heard from him in a very long time) on a live daytime television show.
Public Italian consensus of Morgan is that he is a self-destructive man with delusions of grandeur. The fact that his private life has been given more exposure than his artistry on TV – beginning with his relationship with his ex-wife, actress Asia Argento – has led his greatest detractors to accuse him of being a terrible human being as well as a terrible actor.
It has, in some part, become harder to distinguish Marco Castoldi from his artistic persona, Morgan.
In short, this is the context with which I must write a bit about Morgan, whom I consider one of the most fascinating living artists I know of. His works and personal has been a quiet influence on my life as an arts presenter, beginning with the name of this very website.
Why do I like Morgan? I was born in Italy before my family moved to Ireland, where I was raised from the age of nine. When I was a child, in the mid-’90s, as I watched television, I saw the music video for “Altre F.D.V.,” a Bluvertigo song. I was immediately taken by the strange music, so unlike anything else around at the time, and especially loved their extravagant style, colorful costume and sense of mystique. From then on, I was a fan and kept up with the band’s output until their break-up sometime in the early 2000s.
From then on, Morgan embarked on an idiosyncratic solo career, which included a complete reimagining of a Fabrizio De André album, the aforementioned Canzoni dell’Appartamento, an album where aside from his experimental pop-rock and classical influences, he opened up to the influence of ’60s Italian pop songs – a meeting of orchestral arrangements with new wave sounds, and more.
A few years later, he became a household name by taking up a spot as a judge on the Italian version of X-Factor. I couldn’t stomach that show but reveled in Morgan’s approach to his work on the show, as he mentored his talent and even had them performing songs that the Italian audience has no real knowledge of – including covers by such bands as The Velvet Underground!
Meanwhile, with increased access to internet and thanks to YouTube, I rediscovered him and would binge watch his interviews, music videos, trying to keep up with anything and everything he did. Much of his personality resonated with me, including his obsessive creativity and desire to express himself via various mediums. I was also in a band at the time, which helped him become one of my favorite people.
I also loved the way I had a living Italian figure on the pop world that I would truly admire, as an Italian-born young man living abroad.
With increased exposure to the Italian mass audience, people were introduced to his eccentric antics and rebellious attitude towards the norm. Somehow, his daring ways won favor with the public and he became a record-breaking mentor of talent shows. In the process, with his antics and incredible knowledge on the art of music, he gave these shows a credibility they have never had anywhere else in the world.
Meanwhile, he wrote books, published poetry, a pair of albums (admittedly of questionable quality) where he re-imagined songs of the Italian songbook, where he showed the appreciation of such artists as Sergio Endrigo, Domenico Modugno, Piero Ciampi and more, arguably giving them the exposure and legitimacy they hadn’t been given in years.
So far, I have tried to do the best I can to condense my knowledge of Morgan’s life as I know it. Having been a fan of his for most of my life, I have also arrived at a romanticized vision of that same life, much as I have with all of my heroes – from Pier Paolo Pasolini, to Chet Baker, to Sylvia Plath and beyond…
In the lives of all my heroes, I see a tragic event that changes the course of the narrative, where the self-destructive nature of the artist arises, changing the course of a predictable trajectory that would, in my opinion, lead to a safe and sound extinguishing the flame of one’s creative drive. I must also say that to me, self-destruction is not a negative thing. In fact, it is a form or rebellion against the inevitable distruction that is imposed on us via a series of systems in place, whether in society at large, or by inevitability of our own mortality.
I have, time and time again, developed theories where I identify the artist as the ultimate figure of self-destruction. The artist, whether consciously or unconsciously, must heed the self-destructive needs in order to create. Sensibility to these impulses is equal to rebellion, for these are impulses that most people ignore or repress (these include some people who define themselves as artists).
Morgan has been sensible to these impulses throughout his life and several events have led to moments of abrupt self-destruction, which has led to a fascinating creative output in various forms, including performance art, which has always been just a part just as important as music of his “Morgan persona.” I will focus on one of these events, which I believe is a major one.
In 2010, Morgan had been announced as part of the Sanremo Music Festival lineup with a song titled “La Sera.”
The song had reportedly been beloved by the orchestra of the Festival of that year, and all of its members had applauded the complex arrangements at the end of its rehearsals. MIDI tracks of the song have since been released, showing an unprecedented sophistication for the standards of the pop-oriented festival. While it may not have become a hit song, it would most likely have been considered a masterwork by music connossieurs.
However, Morgan would never get to perform that song at the Festival – the most watched Italian programme of the year not only in Italy but abroad. Adding to the drama of what had happened in the period immediately preceding the Festival, was its ending. As winners were about to be announced, an underwhelmed orchestra passionately protested; all its musicians theatrically threw their partitures in the air, disgusted with the quality of the music.
It’s very hard to believe that the Orchestra’s outrage wasn’t somehow connected to the decision behind Morgan’s exclusion from that year’s lineup.
Why had Morgan not been allowed to play?
During an interview for a magazine in the period before the beginning of the contest, Morgan had made statements where he seemed to speak favorably of cocaine as an anti-depressant.
This caused an immediate backlash. Politicians and various gatekeepers got involved. Many called for his exclusion from the festival. Too few came to his aid. Morgan apologized but it was clearly a half-hearted apology. He later admitted that the RAI broadcasters, with whom he was contracted, had forced him to apologise. Nothing he did worked and Morgan was excluded.
To the eyes of many, Morgan became a representation of all that society must repress. Therefore, he couldn’t take part in a Festival that is often used by governing bodies as a type of propaganda program highlighting the good values of a righteous Italian society.
Since then, Morgan has continued to appear in front of cameras but was never able to shake off the weight of his statements on cocaine. Later projects all seemed to end disastrously. His ideas were never taken with the level of legitimately their ambition deserved. The conclusion I have arrived to is that Italy, unlike most other countries of the Western world, tends to repress his type of eccentricity.
Remember what happened with Paul McCartney after admitting to taking LSD? Or, can you imagine what could have happened in Italy to someone like Lou Reed?
The conclusion I have arrived at is that since 2010, people feel they have been granted with an entitlement over Morgan. They offer him another chance at fame and fortune. In return, they use his audience-grabbing personality, which instantly brings more viewers to their program, and get to do with him as they please. Morgan, however, has never allowed that. Whereas in the past, he could vocally express his disagreements with such creative attitudes, he has become more vocal in the face of the obstacles that are routinely places in his pathway.
What routinely also happens is that those who hire him in the first place dismissing with ease, losing little credibility in the eyes of a brainwashed mass audience, much of which still regards him as a bad influence with delusions of grandeur. Those who hire him then admit having made a mistake in embracing this poor junkie and wish the poor soul all the best, putting on the mask of a good samaritan.
As a public figure, Morgan doesn’t do what he is supposed to. With the years, his creative fury seems to have worsened. He has become more vocal about the injustices he has experienced and this has made him difficult to deal with. It has earned him more friends than enemies and has even alienated him from his friends, including his former band members Bluvertigo – though his brother-in-blu Andy has more or less always stuck by him despite moments of highs and lows in their relationship.
It is possible that Morgan feels the world has turned against him.
Due to tax problems and failed payments of child support, Morgan’s house was taken from him and immediately sold. When he asked for support from the world of arts and entertainment, no major artist stepped up to support him. Many even passed judgment, more or less implying that he had brought all that was happening to him on himself.
Bugo, a Milanese singer/songwriter little-known outside of his niche audience, was a friend through this awful time. Their bond and longtime friendship culminated with the announcement that they would participate together at this year’s Sanremo Music Fesival. In the lead-up to the festival, the two spoke fondly of each other and the song they were to perform, “Sincero,” dealt with the the theme of friendship with specific references to life as a misunderstood songwriter.
Nothing could have predicted the collaboration’s tragic ending.
I have been fascinated with this story, as I have been fascinated with everything that Morgan has ever done. Two years ago, I even sent him an email, telling him that I would love to document his life and art in its natural state and everyday life. I pictured following him with a camera for days, capturing his genius at work. Promising signs that followed falsely excited me. In the end, I received to response.
Not that I expected any. It was a “spotlight effect” moment on my part. Nonetheless, I still hope to document him one day. But I digress.
After much documentation, I have formed my own opinion about what happened. But first, a little context.
This year’s Sanremo Music Festival took place over an exhausting consecutive five nights. On the first two nights, each of the 24 songs in competition would slowly be introduced. On the last two nights, each song would be performed again. Three performances for each song were hence scheduled. The final night would establish a final vote, with winners announced on the last night.
Morgan and Bugo introduced their song on the first night. This was their first and last performance of their song.
“Sincero” was admittedly an underwhelmig song. Not particularly exciting or innovative. It was fun. The lyrics aren’t particularly good either. It must be said that Morgan had little to do with its composition but some of the synth sounds at the start sound as if they were taken out of something he might have written.
The song was last in the provisional rankings announced on the second last night. No surprises there. Morgan has always, I believe, ended last in the rankings at the Sanremo Music Festival. Essentially, that is because his music is quite complex. He is a mainstream figure but not a mainstream artist and it takes a while to understand the qualities of much of the work he has done.
The third night of the festival served as a bit of a fun break for all from the norm. All artists in competition were requested to choose a song to interpret from the previous editions of the Sanremo Music Festival. This was partly done to mark its 70th-anniversary. Some of the artists were quite inventive in their arrangements. Others dared but failed. Most just did some glorified karaoke version of whatever song they had selected.
“Sincero” was Bugo’s song and it is included in his new album. Morgan was appearing as little more than a featured artist. No doubt, the stature of Morgan gave the song immediate exposure. And while Morgan accepted the collaboration for some money and out of friendship, he accepted to appear with Bugo in Sanremo under one important condition: that he get creative control over the performance of the third night.
Morgan chose Sergio Endrigo’s “Canzone Per Te” as the song they would interpret. This is a song that is etched in the history of Italian pop music, with a fascinating history all its own. Among many of its fascinating aspects, this was the song that won the Festival’s 1968 edition. It was also the song that opened that year’s competition, as workers protested against the event’s glamour and all it represented outside the theatre.
“Canzone Per Te” is a song full of poetry. It is partly dedicated to Luigi Tenco, a prominent songwriter who shot himself during an edition of the festival, allegedly protesting the jury’s tastes in music. It also speaks of loneliness in an unusually positive light, with a line reciting, “the loneliness you have given me as a gift, I cultivate it like a flower.”
It is a song that also opens with one of the most famous opening lines in Italian song, which roughly translate to English as: “The celebrations that have just begun have already come to an end.” It has been said that Endrigo, who opened the Festival that year, had strongly considered leaving the stage immediately after singing these lines, in solidarity with the protesting workers.
In addition, it is a beautifully orchestrated song, full of emotive power.
Aside from the historical backdrop of “Canzone Per Te,” there was a deep personal reason for Morgan to make sure everything went perfectly on the day of the night of the performance. It is easy to imagine his thoughts returning to the events of 2010, when days before the start of the Festival, during rehearsals for “La Sera,” his orchestration and arrangements for a song they would never perform live had been applauded by the orchestra members.
In short, this performance of “Canzone Per Te” was to be Morgan’s redemption. I believe that Morgan has never really wanted to be loved by the mass audience as much as he has wanted to be respected and appreciated by fellow artists. He knows the destiny of most of the greatest artists is to be ignored or misunderstood in their life. Yet, to receive acclamation from the orchestra in front of the biggest stage in Italian music in front of a wide audience would have been as warm as a universal embrace.
In fact, this time, he had signed up to conduct the orchestra during the performance. This was to be his masterpiece.
However, things did not work out. The performance was messy. I have seen the video, which brims with awkwardness. It must be said that in the hours prior to the performance, Morgan had protested for the lack of rehearsal time he had been granted with the orchestra that day. He even said that in the months prior to the performance, he had been sabotaged. Wrong notes and music sheets were handed out to the orchestra and its director had deemed them unplayable.
Truth is that the third night performance was in no way treated as seriously by any of the artists in competition. In addition, Morgan as the featured artist, was not paid as much attention to as Bugo, who had a whole managing team and whose discographers had invested money into. To them, “Canzone Per Te” was nothing more than a fun showcase but nothing more than an afterthought.
While they were meant to be the interlocutors between Morgan and the orchestra for this peace, they handled the whole affair carelessly. Certainly, they did not consider nor cared that to Morgan, this performance meant the world.
I have seen the video of that performance many times, tried to study its dynamics very closely. This is how I can describe it.
After a brief, dramatic flurry of strings, Morgan sits at the piano and performs a heartfelt Rachmaninoff-esque intro. The whole first part of the song is accompanied by piano only, as a prelude to an orchestral crescendo leading to a rupturious finale.
But already, right from the beginning, one can tell that something is off. As Morgan does his thing on the piano, Bugo seems nervous, fidgeting with his microphone stand. He may be confused due to a lack of preparation. What I don’t understand is why he never looks at Morgan who, after all, as the conductor and curator of the performance, could give him the right queues. Instead, after singing his first line, he walks right up to the front of the stage and sits down, almost ignoring Morgan’s directons.
As he does, Morgan is trapped. He must play piano and sing; he is unable to get up from it during this first part. It seems to me that he tried to give Bugo his queues, tried to get his attention by extending his vocal notes or emphasizing his block chords on the piano. Bugo never once takes up on his queue and sings the entire song.
It must also be said that Bugo is not particularly vocally gifted. His octave range is quite limited. His interpretive skills in no way match the emotive force of the song.
By the end of this first part, as Morgan finally gets up off his piano, he rushed to the front of the stage to conduct the orchestra. It’s easy to tell that he is already frustrated by Bugo’s complete disregard of his direction. For the remainder of the song, it is as if we were looking at two individual performances simultaneously taking place on stage.
In fact, Morgan clearly begins to ignore Bugo and makes it clear to him by walking in front of him at one point, as if he were walking right through him, as a cat might. By the end, it is as if they were competing against each other while performing for the same song. Meanwhile, Morgan is distracted from conducting the orchestra, which doesn’t sound as tight as it should.
When the song ends, there is no uproarious applause. It is a weak applause, almost of relief.
Why did Bugo ignore Morgan’s direction?
Morgan has suggested that it was an attempt to get rid of him because he obscured Bugo with his charisma and stage presence. Again, we must emphasise, that Morgan was only the featured artist on this collaboration and that the money had been invested on Bugo’s latest project and album. The Sanremo Music Festival is, after all, also an advertisement for records, tour dates etc.
Then again, maybe Bugo also didn’t take the performance as seriously as he should have and simply thought of it as an afterthought.
It is easy, on the other hand, to picture Morgan’s anger. Back in his hotel room, he sends messages to everybody, full of fiery words. That feeling of the world being against him, plotting against his every ambition and ignoring his genius, begins to reemerge. A sadness and frustration that becomes pure rage, directed towards Bugo, who, meanwhile, is hampered and pampered by a whole managerial team and staff.
Morgan firmly believes that art is mistreated by the people. The long history of artists who have died in poverty and mysery only to have been celebrated after their death speaks in his favor. Morgan also comes from the school of thought of the futurists – chaos as a creative energy.
Morgan loves art because it has always been his shelter against adversities. As a child, he would lock himself in his room to draw. Art was his refuge in the face of adversities, overcoming such tragedies as the suicide of his father in his late teens and his abusive relationship with Asia Argento. It is possible that this has arrested his development in matters of real life, left him vulnerable and unable to handle situations sensibly, forcing him to leave practical matters in the hands of people who have screwed him over big time.
Then, there’s the intensity of back-to-back performances at the Sanremo Music Festival, which allows no room to think. The next night on-stage, he impulsively planned his public attack on Bugo monents before their performance. Behind-the-scene videos document a brief but intense altercation between the two.
Morgan changed the lyrics of his song to form a public attack and critique on the way he had handled himself during the festival, with specific references to the performance of “Canzone Per Te.” Bugo, who had no idea this was going to happen, had with no desire for such a confrontation and immediately walked off-stage. The orchestra stopped playing before the start of the chorus and after a few confused moments, the presenter of the festival announces that the Morgan and Bugo have been disqualified.
Later attacks that Morgan unleashed on Bugo have done the former no favors. Bugo’s responses, on the other hand, have been subdued. He is perhaps legitimately shocked with what happened. It is sad to see a friendship end this way. Then again, any meaningful relationship where there were legitimate feelings involved must have a violent conclusion.
It has been said that Morgan has used Bugo to be paid to tell his side of the tale through guest appearances at various national TV shows. This viewpoint is encouraged by public awareness of his financial struggles.
I say, he would be a fool not to take monetary gains from what he has created.