Thursday, July 7

20 anecdotes for 20 years without Carlos Berlanga

The chosen of the gods die young and twenty years after his death, the composer and singer from Madrid continues to arouse admiration and also intrigue a group of fans that may not be so small. Here are twenty anecdotes gathered with the simple intention of sharing the memory of Carlos Berlanga that those of us who knew him in life keep.

Due to common tastes and hobbies and our Valencian roots, I maintained a lot of complicity with the singer during the first years of his career. His self-destructive tendency and his cohort of sycophants separated us when success began to disrupt the life and mood of a hypersensitive and insecure young man who was able to get great songs from no one knows where…


Audiences who went to see Alaska and the Pegamoids had no way of knowing if this handsome, lanky boy belonged to the group or not. In the company of Javier Pérez-Grueso (the painter and musician Javier Furia), as thin as he was, Carlos Berlanga appeared and disappeared from the stage, always glued to the biggest amplifier. Moving as if they wanted to split in two, they shook their heads like those puppies in the cars, sang some choruses at the top of their voices and quickly disappeared while the group continued their performance.


Carlos Berlanga was introverted and shy. However, the first words I crossed with him were not those of a shy person: “Who are you?” he snapped at me point blank. We are at the Ateneo de Madrid and the group of the great Herminio Molero, Radio Futura, in which Carlos had been a member, has just debuted.

Those were times of New Wave and proto-Movida: very young people were joining Madrid’s musical society who cut new standards and imposed a new scale of values ​​and also a new way of dressing that served for its components to recognize each other.

A bit confused, I asked Zurdo (Fernando Márquez, Carlos’ ex-partner in Kaka de Luxe): “Introduce us, please.” Carlos had read some of my first articles and launched into proclaiming his love for Donna Summer and Diana Ross, reporting on his summers in Oropesa (Castelló) and the forbidden books that his father (Luis García Berlanga) bought in a bookstore in Castelló where they confused him with Juan Antonio Bardem. I told him that my father was one of the suppliers of books at El Ruedo Ibérico and I took the opportunity to tell him that my mother had met the seer girl from Les Coves d’Avinromá who had inspired her father in miracle thursdays.


Carlos used to ask you directly about his musical tastes: Do you like this one, do you like that one, do you like the other one? Do you like Blondie, do you like Brazilian music, do you like Cristina Monet? His musical tastes tended to be sophisticated and atypical, clashing with those of his group, and frustrated by his lack of musical training. It wasn’t until the times of Dinarama when, after a lot of tension and with a good recording budget, he manages to make his preferences come out on his records.


He really liked what they now call yacht music: Michael McDonald, Daryl Hall & John Oates or even a singer like Carly Simon. Once he left me an Alessi record: twins with 70s hair that was excessively airbrushed but whose music I have no memory of.

Carlos really liked a Julie London record that was in his house. His favorites were the inevitable Bowie and Roxy Music.


It was he who informed me that the Autonomous University accepted all file transfers and that if they accepted mine from the University of Valencia, we would go to class together.

There were other music people studying at the Autonomous University: Isabel San Gabino, then guitarist of Los Bólidos, and several members of Aviador Dro, although I only remember speaking with Servando Carballar on the bus from Plaza de Castilla.


Carlos was a compulsive cartoonist. As in music, he lacked technique—he was suspended from Arts and Crafts—but he had innate ability. All of his friends have had his caricatures and sketches on napkins, catalogues, note sheets, etc. Talking about Alaska in the college bar, Carlos drew her legs with stiletto heels and a miniskirt on the first piece of paper he had at hand… Four pen strokes but the young singer was recognizable at first sight. Throughout his life, Carlos Berlanga insisted that he preferred to be considered a painter rather than a singer.


Carlos had details like buying sandwiches to share with announcers and radio technicians and snacking during the interview. I have countless memories and anecdotes about a sweet and charming boy, hypersensitive, friendly and attentive although a little disdainful of the things that he did not like. Returning from Tres Cantos, he accompanied me to the first interview I had on Radio España FM Onda 2 with his director, Jorge de Antón.


In order to flatter their artists, record companies and distributors prefer a large audience to attend their events. Whatever it was, the people at RCA weren’t happy about acknowledging Carlos who was accompanying me to the Hall & Oates press conference. We received a high-voltage rap and it was the Onda 2 programmer, Gonzalo Garrido, who interceded for us.

Musically unskilled, the Pegamoides took a little longer than what the chronicles say to be accepted in the musical world.


Mavi Margarida, from Línea Vienasa and Los Garridos and a collaborator with Dinarama, keeps an autograph from Carlos that seems to be from the DDT comics magazine: “For Mavi, the vocalist, who besides being pretty is smart”. Always attentive to her friends, she showed me in a storage room a bag of women’s shoes of varied sizes and styles, perhaps from her father’s films. There was no my number but I chose some sadomaso pumps that, due to their microscopic size, I could never wear. What I keep as gold in cloth is a wonderful gift of a wad of precious Nancy Wilson American LPs.


During the summer of 1980, the Berlanga family did not go to Levante for the summer and Carlos sent me little letters with drawings recounting the problems they had with Hispavox, the record company that had signed them. They were going to make a common front with Nacha Pop who was in the same situation. It’s easy to figure out that the label’s scouts, at some point of modernist weakness, had signed a series of inexperienced groups with whom they now didn’t know what to do. After the failure of Radio Futura, in the spring of 1980, they did not decide to risk more money.


Gradually, Carlos was gaining prominence in the Pegamoides. He was the only one who composed but he didn’t have the makings of a boss, nor enough courage to be one.

The group had had a hard time getting a stable lineup. When they achieved it in the spring of 1980 —with Ana Curra Fernández and Eduardo Benavente—, they released a first album in the summer but, about to release the second and before the end of the year, they had already separated. The quintet would meet in 1981 to record and promote their first and only album.


In one of the many desperate moments of the group, Carlos announces that he is going to continue the group with Olvido and Ana Curra while Nacho and Eduardo form Permanent Paralysis, a punk group that interested him little. I don’t know if Olvido found out, but I know Curra’s surprise when I recently told him about Carlos’s plan.


Carlos did not belong to the group when, in 1981, the Pegamoides get free hours at the Hispavox studio to record their LP. I don’t remember when he left or got kicked out, because they used to split up and get together day in and day out: lots of mixed personalities, some deep friendships, and too many expectations of fame and fortune. Conflicts popped up like mushrooms.

We were his friends who insisted that he participate in the sessions since his songs were going to be recorded and, whatever his relationship with his colleagues, a contract continued to bind him to Hispavox.


A vocational and sometimes reckless enthusiasm led the Pegamoides to accept concerts in precarious conditions. To save money, they all traveled in the van with the equipment: in the dark, without ventilation, half lying on a mat, recklessly violating the Highway Code and risking their lives happily. Carlos refused to do so and for a long time Ángel Altolaguirre, Donosti’s Iggy Pop, replaced him on guitar.


A couple of ill-intentioned but not offensive anecdotes: when phone booths with low-level telephones for wheelchair users began to appear, Carlos said: “Come on, forget it!”.

Returning from seeing Depeche Mode at the Escuela de Caminos with Pedro Almodóvar, faced with the impossibility of hailing a taxi in the avalanche of spectators, Carlos blurted out: “The most famous in Madrid and we are going to have to return on foot”. Postmodern irony has many readings.


Carlos was fascinated by Bernardo Bonezzi. He often repeated the mantra: “I’m going to make a group with Bernardo”, but when he had the opportunity to collaborate with him in high neighborhoods, the film by his brother José Luis, he let himself be carried away by laziness —and perhaps his inhibitions— and ended up leaving the job in the hands of Bonezzi.


Nacho Canut and Carlos Berlanga used to get together to write the lyrics for their songs. Between jokes and laughter, they dedicated a song to the Valencian population of Burjasot and Carlos, emboldened, could come to propose things like: “Get out of my life, evaporate, sink into the moiré waters of my Louis XVI armchair”. Both songs, with their definitive lyrics, appear on the album It’s not a sin of the next group of the two friends, Dinarama.


During the first recording phase of said album at Hispavox, Carlos, who used to leave everything to the last minute, brought a new song every day that he simply sang on his guitar. With his strange creativity, he composed beyond his possibilities and often had to say to the musicians: “You put that chord, I don’t know”.


Carlos had a loft in the back garden of the father’s house. She didn’t bother to fix it and coolly greeted friends and interviewers on a mat on the floor. In her later years, she complained a lot about the alternative labels he had landed on. From that time I fondly remember that, in a report for Rolling Stone about the university, he said that the best thing about his time at the Autonomous University had been our trips on the subway talking about music.


A mutual friend, Pablo Sycet, a painter and lyricist, tells me: “Carlos fell into a self-destructive process when his expectations stopped living up to what he wanted and had enjoyed before. Everything tasted little to him and life ceased to interest him.

I stand here. As Nacho Canut says in the exhibition catalog Journey around Carlos Berlanga (2009/10), I hate talking about Carlos in the past tense.