The Andalusian poet and playwright Federico García Lorca often entwined music into his work. He held an affinity for, shared a commonality with, and strived to possess the beauty and sadness of those musicians he believed had duende.
Unlike angels and muses, who ‘come from outside us,’ an artist ‘must awaken the duende in the remostest mansions of the blood.’ In García Lorca’s lecture ‘Play and Theory of the Duende,’ the writer warns against the traditional attitudes artists have previously held toward angels and muses. Because neither force comes from within, the works they assist in creating are not entirely of the artist’s blood. ‘The angel guides and gives like Saint Raphael, defends and avoids like Saint Michael, announces and forewarns like Saint Gabriel. The angel dazzles, but he flies high over the man’s head…’ The muse, meanwhile, ‘dictates and sometimes prompts. […] Poets who have muses hear voices and do not know where they are coming from.’ And so, the artist whose work possesses the most power and the most passion, has realised, battled, and ultimately surrendered herself to her duende.
All arts are capable of duende, but where it finds greatest range, naturally, is in music, dance, and spoken poetry, for these arts require a living body to interpret them, being forms that are born, die, and open their contours against an exact present.
All that has black sounds in it has duende.
—Manuel Torre, flamenco singer (1878-1933)
Throughout his own career, García Lorca battled his own duende in order to write his most powerful works. His Sonnets of Dark Love and Divan of the Tamarit are filled with lamentations, while his plays Blood Wedding and Yerma tell the tragic tales of his fellow people of the earth. The writer’s insistence on telling the stories of lives in rural Spain made him popular among the groups resisting the Nationalists as the rumblings of what would become the Spanish Civil War turned to tremors. The outspoken writer’s work had unfortunately grabbed the attention of the Nationalists as well; on 19 August 1936, Federico García Lorca was executed in the city in which he was also given life, Granada. It was there and then that the writer’s immortality began.
The duende is a playful hobgoblin, a household spirit fond of ruling things, breaking plates, causing noise, and making a general nuisance of himself.
editor of the García Lorca collection, In Search of Duende
Granada just announced that it will proudly name one of their town plazas after Joe Strummer, the influential co-founding member of the Clash, who spent time in the city and sang of Andalucia’s history (even referencing García Lorca) in the song ‘Spanish Bombs.’
After having taken their own country by sheer power and force, the British punk band took over much of the world with their no-holds-barred sound, wall-bouncing energy, and righteous political messages that they not only included in their songs but carried out in both their public and private behaviour.
Just after the Clash released their self-titled debut album and emerged as one of the trailblazers of the British punk movement, American music writer Lester Bangs documented three nights and two days touring with what he’d expect to be a band quickly being filled with the helium of pop-music fame. Instead, what he got was a band very much of the earth, determined to remain there in order to help change it.
You perceive that as much as this music seethes with rage and pain, it also clamps at the bit of the present system of things, lunging after some glimpse of a new and better world.
—Lester Bangs, ‘The Clash’
While he spent most of his time with Clash member Mick Jones, Bangs knew full well that Strummer was the heart and soul of the band. One night, after a somewhat lethargic performance, Bangs ‘later found out that Joe Strummer had an abscessed tooth which had turned into glandular fever, and since the rest of the band [drew] their energy off him they were all suffering. By rights he should have taken a week off and headed straight for the nearest hospital, but he refused to cancel any gigs, no mere gesture of integrity.’
Integrity, and perhaps duende. Even though García Lorca spoke of the duende more than forty years before the rise of British punk, he did maintain that duende was often found in the souls of musicians. In the preface of In Search of Duende, editor Maurer dissects the writer’s theory: ‘At least four elements can be isolated in [García Lorca’s] vision of duende: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical.’
Now here is Bangs’ description of Strummer performing onstage:
…an angry live wire whipping around the middle of the front stage, divesting himself of guitar to fall on one knee in no Elvis parody but pure outside-of-self frenzy, snarling through his shattered dental bombsite with face screwed up in all the rage you’d ever need to convince you of the Clash’s authenticity, a desperation uncontrived, unstaged, a fury unleashed on the stage and writhing in upon itself in real pain that connects with the nerves of the audience like summer thunderbolts. […] A man by all appearances trapped and screaming, and it’s not your class system, it’s not Britain-on-the-wane, it’s not even glandular fever, it’s the cage of life itself and all the anguish to break through which sometimes translates as flash or something equally petty but in any case is rock ‘n’ roll’s burning marrow.
The duende was alive in Joe Strummer, and his battling with it resulted in the pure punk aggression that steadfastly maintained throughout the Clash’s long career, the specific aggression that separated the band from all the other bands during that time that either were short-lived or disintegrated into fadism.
‘The duende,’ says García Lorca, ‘is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. […] It is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.’
And more than forty years later, Lester Bangs witnesses the same thing, that undeniable duende, in a punk musician: ‘…punk represents a fundamental and age-old Utopian dream: that if you give people the license to be as outrageous as they want in absolutely any fashion they can dream up, they’ll be creative about it, and do something good besides. […] Which also presupposes that people don’t want somebody else telling them what to do. That most people are capable of a certain spontaneity, given the option.’
Add to that thirty-five more years, to Strummer’s plaza in Granada, and the punk duende is still alive.