When I recently searched Dieselpunks.org for the name Carlos Gardel but found no mention of him I was flabbergasted. I decided to rectify this glaring oversight in a website championing interbellum Western pop culture.
If you have not heard of Senor Gardel, that is understandable for several reasons: First, he performed in the musical genre of tango which is not as popular as it was in the Teens, Twenties, and Thirties. Second, he died on June 24 1935, before Frank Sinatra began his public career in the autumn of that year. In fact, Gardel was killed in an airplane accident on a journey that was supposed to end with his arrival in Hollywood and the beginning of a career acting in American movies. Third, Gardel was born in France and grew up and performed mostly in Argentina singing and recording in Spanish.
Gardel was one of the best-selling recording artists of the Twentieth Century. He is credited with writing some of the best-known tango music, including Por Una Cabeza (“By A Head” in which a man compares his luck/ unluckiness in love to a horserace. If you have seen at least either the movie Schindler’s List or Scent Of A Woman you have heard Por Una Cabeza). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dStp5hq294Another of his trademark recordings was Silencio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO3ytWP9i78 (“Silence” in Spanish, inspired by the French version of the Sullivans’ incident). Thousands of mourners attended Senor Gardel’s funeral and interment, similar to that of Rudolf Valentino. There is a lifelike statue of Gardel on his tomb and to this day it is said that its palm always holds a lit cigarette.
Tango is Dieselpunk for various reasons. Tango experienced its Golden Age during the Dieselpunk era of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Tango was developed by immigrants from Southern Europe to the cities of Buenos Aires, Argentina and nearby Montevideo, Uruguay. Tango dealt with urban issues such as love, infidelity, jealousy, revenge, murder, and knife fighting. If German Expressionism and Film Noir are considered Dieselpunk (or at least dieselpulp) then the musical expression of the same ideas certainly is. Both tango and Dieselpunk are characterized by men in fedoras and women in fishnet stockings. Dieselpunks.org has an album of photos taken by Horacio Coppola in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a city at the time drunk on tango or as they’d say “emborracho de tango.”
Immediately before his death in a collision between two Ford Trimotor airliners in Medellin Colombia, Gardel had been living and recording in New York City for several months. He performed down the Eastern Seaboard and across the Caribbean. Appropriately I will conclude this article with Senor Gardel singing the song which is traditionally played at the end of a milonga, a tango party: La Cumparsita
Collier, Simon (1986). The Life, Music, and Times of Carlos Gardel. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0822984989.