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The life lesson of Ernesto Assante

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The life lesson of Ernesto Assante

The only time I went on stage and couldn’t speak, luckily Ernesto Assante was there. Mine wasn’t shyness: I simply had a damaged vocal cord and I only noticed it when they turned on the microphones and instead of my voice a scratched breath came out. I was shocked: I said to Ernesto “today you do everything” and I left behind the stage distraught. But he came to take me, literally by the hand, and he said “come here little brother, let’s do this together”. Ernesto Assante was like those athletes who, if another stops due to an injury, pick him up and cross the finish line together. For him, life was not a race to win against others but an opportunity to do beautiful things with others. It was June 1, 2021: we had known each other for thirty years but I think we really became friends that evening.

Ernesto Assante

Coming here today I thought that I have never seen Ernesto sad. Not that he didn’t have difficult moments, but he was never sad. When something went wrong, he thought of the solution and if there was no solution, he looked for an alternative. The result was that it was impossible to be sad when he was around. It is said that there are people capable of changing the temperature of the rooms they enter. He changed the mood of the people he met.

But above all Ernesto Assante had a lot of fun. In a category, ours, where frustration and complaints reign supreme, he knew very well that he was doing the best job in the world. And look: he wasn’t having fun because he was successful, but he was successful because he was having fun. He conveyed joy. For him, a phrase that Vittorio Zucconi once used when he died as a great American journalist applies: it is said that he gave his life for music and journalism, but it is music and journalism that gave him life. For filling her with dreams and love.

It has rightly been said that the Rome auditorium was his home, the home of the legendary rock lessons with Gino Castaldo. But I’ve seen him give these rock lessons everywhere: one evening he told me they were having one in a remote place in Ciampino, and I went there, and there were a lot of people eating burgers and chips while they talked, like only they knew how to make rock history. And he had fun like a child. But Ernesto did even more: recently he had been persuaded to do shows on cruise ships. Now it is possible, as Maurizio Caprara said, that it was also a way to anesthetize the pain of having left Repubblica; but I can guarantee you that he enjoyed himself like crazy telling cruise passengers, in all the languages ​​he knew, about the eternal challenge between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Once I told him: but you are the great Ernesto Assante, but who makes you do it? And he responded by sending me the video in which he, who was the absolute master of the stage, of every stage, ends up on the ground with his legs in the air while the cruise passengers dance. That day he taught me that even if you are the best of all, you must never take yourself too seriously.

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But this lightness was not superficiality. I had absolute certainty of this a few months ago, in the last event we did together, the Italian Tech Week in Turin. Ernesto, who was also a great expert in technology and innovation, participated every time by bringing a singer to discuss the future of music. Last year, however, he had a different idea: he told me that he wanted to stage a show entitled “The future of automobiles”, he explained to me that everything was born from the historic collaboration between the poet Roberto Roversi and Lucio Dalla, from which several songs were born, some of which had never been set to music by Dalla and were still unpublished. Together with a progressive rock band from Bologna that I had never heard of, the Zois, Ernesto had written the show and wanted to bring it to the stage in Turin. It seemed like a great idea and I immediately said yes, why should I have any doubts? “Because among these songs there is also a historic imaginary interview by Lucio Dalla with the Lawyer”. The Lawyer Agnelli? “That’s him”. And what is this interview like? “It’s a wonderful joke”. the problem obviously was that the editor of Repubblica, and also of Italian Tech Week, is the nephew of that lawyer and Ernesto feared that I would get kicked out. I asked him: “But is that interview good?” “It’s refined art”. And so we decided to dedicate an evening to the Future of Automobiles, hoping for the publisher’s tolerance. For reasons that I still don’t understand, that was the only time the theater wasn’t packed and yet the show was remarkable I had placed myself in the front row right in front of the singer who seemed phenomenal to me. That evening Ernesto did not limit himself to presenting: between one song and another he entered, stood in front of the lectern, put on his glasses and read some beautiful lyrics that spoke of the 70s, of the workers’ movement, of those who wanted to change the world to make it better, even with just a song. Those lyrics were deep, intense, full of cultural references. Complex. In the end I went to congratulate them and I was so silly to ask him: but who wrote them? And he, with that sweet smile of his: “Me”. Then, that evening, I understood that the lightness that Ernesto put into every one of his gestures was a precise choice: he was only trying to make the burden that each of us feels we carry on our shoulders, less heavy.

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In recent years we spoke almost every day to make plans. But at a certain point in January he sent me a different message: “I wrote an article for Repubblica, they didn’t ask me but before proposing it I would like you to read it…”. Now, music certainly didn’t need a second reading from me. but this was about young people and social networks. This was about our future. “Read if you like.” That article, his last article for La Repubblica, said many important things. Like “The people of the web don’t exist”; and explained that this demonization of algorithms that occurs every day in the newspapers is a little exaggerated. And then he ended with what he called “one last note.” I’ll read it to you, because inside there is so much of his vision of the future and the attitude of trust that we should have towards young people.

“A final note: smartphones are considered by many, too many, as tools through which people, young people in particular, isolate themselves, machines that lead to loneliness, compensated by the frenzy of social communication. It’s difficult to deny that this is the case, especially when on any given evening at a restaurant we see everyone with a fork in one hand and a cell phone in the other. But the same loneliness is found in millions of homes of lonely people who spend their time in front of the television, in this case as simple passive ‘spectators’. And many of them have become less alone with smartphones and social media. And another thing must also be said: young people who grow up with a cell phone in their hand are part of the first generation in history, since the dawn of time, who grows up with the entire human knowledge in their pocket. We don’t know what this can produce, but it will certainly produce something new and good, because ignorance has never produced anything other than darkness, violence, terror, retreat.”

I also have “one final note”. In his last days of life, without having the slightest idea that they would be the last, Ernesto was a hotbed of ideas and projects. Sometimes we think we have our whole life ahead of us and instead it is about to end. And we better remember to say “thank you” and “sorry” to everyone we should say it to; and don’t be shy about saying “I love you”. This morning before coming I wrote a love letter to my daughter so that she will never forget how much I love her. And there is another phrase that Ernesto passed on to me and that we should make our own. The phrase with which he spoke to the others, with everyone else, was: what can I do for you? Think about it, how wonderful it is to approach the rest of the world by saying “what can I do for you?”. If we all did this the world would be a better place. More than a rock lesson, in my opinion, Ernesto Assante leaves us a life lesson.

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(this is the text of the speech given at the Teatro Studio of the Auditorium on 29 February 2024 on the occasion of Ernesto Assante’s funeral. When the news of his death arrived on Tuesday 27th I remembered him with another post)

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