Missed Voicemail

I like music and I rarely stay in silence while I’m working or writing, or traveling (but, mostly, working). I sing too, mainly while I’m driving or under the shower. And, as you might have guessed from my previous assertion, I’m not a music expert. I rarely dabble into the topic on these pages: this blog […]

I like music and I rarely stay in silence while I’m working or writing, or traveling (but, mostly, working). I sing too, mainly while I’m driving or under the shower. And, as you might have guessed from my previous assertion, I’m not a music expert. I rarely dabble into the topic on these pages: this blog has, I think, only two musical reviews (one being the album of a friend, so I’m not even sure that counts) and it always surprises me that I have the category at all.

Still, I’m addressing this post to an amazing singer and songwriter, Amanda MacKinnon Gaiman Palmer, better known as AFP (Amanda Fucking Palmer).

Why, do you ask?

Well, something happened, this week. And it frankly left me in a state that I can only describe as stunned and astonished, right before anger kicked in.

You can read about the full story in this beautiful article on Medium. It’s titled Singing About Abortion Isn’t Quite Allowed Yet. But it should be. (or: What Happened When I Tried to Play My Song About Abortion on Irish Television). The title of the article is pretty self-explanatory. I’ll give you the time to read it and be back. I’ll listen to the song again, while you are on the other page.

Welcome back.
All done?

Now, in order to understand why I’m so pissed, you should really listen to the song in question, called Voicemail for Jill. It’s a deep, personal song: it’s a song about solidarity between women in a world where the subject of abortion (and miscarriage, for all that matters) is still a taboo, something we don’t talk about, in public or with each other. It’s a song from a woman to another woman named Jill, a message over the phone, telling Jill that she knows what she’s going through and that she understands that Jill must feel really alone and that she can drop by with friends and bring Jill all the comfort she needs. To many women facing the difficult situation of abortion, Amanda is being that friend, over the phone. Singing that it’s possible to talk about these things, that you don’t necessarily need to be alone and marginalized.
Except, apparently, you can’t talk about it. Let alone sing about it on late-night television.

Voicemail for Jill is a song with no political subtext whatsoever. We don’t know if it’s for will or health. We don’t know if Jill is headed for a legal abortion or if she’s forced to have an underground procedure (like many women will be forced to do in Alabama, just to name one). We don’t know anything. As Amanda puts it in her article…

We don’t know why Jill is going, or what exactly happened;
we don’t know whether Jill is married, single, a schoolgirl or an older woman, Catholic, Buddhist,
or whether she needs this abortion for life-saving medical reasons.

We just know that there’s a woman facing an ordeal no one should be having to face alone.
And we know that there’s the voice of another woman, on the other side of the phone, willing to talk about it.

Lots of questioning has been going around, on social media, on why this song was banned. It isn’t the first song ever about abortion, frankly there’s a surprising lot of them, voicing a plurality of points of view on this issue, one of my favorites being River by Eminem. So what is the issue? Amanda has this theory, that lots of other songs don’t actually utter the word “abortion” and many of the more successful ones are kind of ambiguous even about that being the main topic of the song. It might be. It might also be the timing: Ireland is still fighting for civil rights in that field (see here). I have my theory. Still, I care about the reasons but I care more about the results of banning a song like Voicemail for Jill.

This is what this post is about. The results of not speaking about stuff like that.

Protester Robin Pereira had the iconic words “Never Again” tattooed on her back after the Alabama ban on abortion and if you don’t know why the wire coat hanger I’ll leave you a minute to figure it out by yourself.

My first thought was this. What you’re saying, when you have a problem with this song, is not about the legality of the procedure and the boundary you might want to put on it. It’s saying that you have a problem with the very existence of this kind of story. You are negating that the very thing itself exists.
Then it hit me. It’s not that. It’s not that you have a problem with the very existence of abortion in itself. You don’t necessarily have problems with women doing it: that is beyond the issue. You have a problem with women talking about it. You are willing to push us back into that cold loneliness where you can’t talk, you can’t scream, you can’t reach for the hand of another woman. You want us weak, and isolated, and afraid, and gagged. You want us unsupported, not only from a medical point of view but most importantly from an emotional one. You want us to spread our legs when you wish (because of course, no one is talking about banning that) and then you want everything else, starting from contraceptives and going down to abortion, to be something we have to deal with ourselves, in silence and shame.

Well, fuck you.

In the article I recommended you to read (which I know you didn’t), Amanda Palmer writes: “I’m not an idiot. I could write catchy songs about boys and break-ups and have a much easier life”.

I couldn’t wrap my head around why that sentence resonated so much with me, aside from having been and being in trouble myself for speaking out about stuff apparently you’re not supposed to talk about. I then realized I heard something like this before. And since it’s something really local, I decided to write a post in English to tell you guys about it.

There is this Italian songwriter I like a lot, his name is Francesco Guccini, he’s now 79 years old, he published over 27 albums during his 45-years career. He’s a highly political author, no questions about the side he takes, but he has often written, to put it in his own words, everyday life stanzas.
In 1976, at the beginning of his career and as part of his second album, he wrote a song about abortion, called Piccola Storia Ignobile (Small ignoble story). It’s a song written two years before the passing of law 194 – in May 22nd, 1978 – the law making abortion legal in Italy. There’s a beautiful article in Italian, here, talking about the song and the context in which it originated. It’s mainly a story about social and family shaming. There’s this book that I own, with all Guccini’s lyrics and a brief explanation of the background of the songs, and in that book, he says: «Piccola storia ignobile is a song about abortion. I had been thinking about it for a very long time, but I was afraid to say things that were not right, therefore I didn’t invent a theme and a story but I put together many stories that I had been told, trying to extract a typical story, an exemplary one».


The author has a history for publishing his own home address (it’s the title of the second album, in which Piccola Storia Ignobile is featured) and you used to be able to go to him, ring the bell and if he was home he would have listened to you. Many songs of his are stories of people living, leaving, meeting, going through life. This is a story talking about the kind of Country we were and the kind of Country we can be again if we don’t stay vigilant and tread carefully. It’s a story about bigotry and shame.

Above there’s a recording put on Youtube by a fan and I took the liberty of roughly translating the lyrics. It’s one of the less-known songs, and it’s not like the others revolve on easier subjects. The most famous song of his, it’s about God being dead. The second one is about a guy hijacking a locomotive and trying to throw himself with it against a first-class train as a social protest.
Still, very few people know this particular song. It was written more than 40 years ago and still, nowadays, we’re facing the same issues.
The author himself says in the end.
This is no material for a successful song.
And it wasn’t.

Still, we have to support artists so that they can keep on writing about the issues some people might not want them to write about.

Dear Amanda,
this whole Irish late late night tv business had one small positive side effect: I finally became your patron on Patreon.
Stay strong. Keep up. You’re not alone.
I hope you like this song. Here’s the original 1976 version.

Ma che piccola storia ignobile mi tocca raccontare,
così solita e banale come tante,
che non merita nemmeno due colonne su un giornale
o una musica o parole un po’ rimate,
che non merita nemmeno l’ attenzione della gente,
quante cose più importanti hanno da fare,
se tu te la sei voluta, a loro non importa niente,
te l’ avevan detto che finivi male…Ma se tuo padre sapesse qual’ è stata la tua colpa
rimarrebbe sopraffatto dal dolore,
uno che poteva dire “guardo tutti a testa alta”,
immaginasse appena il disonore,
lui che quando tu sei nata mise via quella bottiglia
per aprirla il giorno del tuo matrimonio,
ti sognava laureata,
era fiero di sua figlia,
se solo immaginasse la vergogna,E pensare a quel che ha fatto per la tua educazione,
buone scuole e poca e giusta compagnia,
allevata nei valori di famiglia e religione,
di ubbidienza, castità e di cortesia,
dimmi allora quel che hai fatto
chi te l’ ha mai messo in testa
o dimmi dove e quando l’hai imparato
che non hai mai visto in casa
una cosa men che onesta
e di certe cose non si è mai parlato.

E tua madre, che da madre
qualche cosa l’ ha intuita
e sa leggere da madre ogni tuo sguardo:
devi chiederle perdono, dire che ti sei pentita, che hai capito,
che disprezzi quel tuo sbaglio.
Però come farai a dirle che nessuno ti ha costretta
o dirle che provavi anche piacere,
questo non potrà capirlo, perché lei,
da donna onesta,
l’ ha fatto quasi sempre per dovere,

E di lui non dire male, sei anche stata fortunata:
in questi casi, sai, lo fanno in molti.
Sì, lo so, quando lo hai detto, come si usa, ti ha lasciata,
ma ti ha trovato l’ indirizzo e i soldi,
poi ha ragione, non potevi dimostrare che era suo
e poi non sei neanche minorenne
ed allora questo sbaglio è stato proprio tutto tuo:
noi non siamo perseguibili per legge.

E così ti sei trovata su di un tavolo di marmo
desiderando quasi di morire,
presa come un animale macellato stavi urlando,
ma quasi l’ urlo non sapeva uscire
e così ti sei trovata fra paure e fra rimorsi
davvero sola fra le mani altrui,
che pensavi nel sentire nella carne tua quei morsi
di tuo padre, di tua madre e anche di lui.

Ma che piccola storia ignobile sei venuta a raccontarmi,
non vedo proprio cosa posso fare.
Dirti qualche frase usata per provare a consolarti
o dirti: “è fatta ormai, non ci pensare”.
E’ una cosa che non serve a una canzone di successo,
non vale due colonne su un giornale,
se tu te la sei voluta cosa vuoi mai farci adesso
e i politici han ben altro a cui pensare.

What a small ignoble story you came here to tell me,
it’s so usual, so banal, so similar to many others,
it’s a story that doesn’t even deserve a couple of columns on a newspaper,
or some music, or a handful of rhymed words.
It’s a story that doesn’t even deserve people’s attention,
they have so many more important things to do.
And if you went looking for this, they don’t care about it.
They’ve been telling you that you would eventually end up badly.If only your father would know what your sin has been,
he would be overpowered by grief.
A man who could say “I can walk with my head held high”,
if only he could fathom this disgrace,
he, who put away that bottle when you were born
and he was going to open it on the day of your wedding,
he was dreaming to see you graduate,
he was proud of his daughter,
if only he could fathom the shame.And to think of all the things he did for your education,
good schools, few and selected friends for company,
he brought you up with values of family and religion,
obedience, chastity, and courtesy,
therefore you must tell me, after what you did,
who put those thoughts into your head
and tell me when or where did you learn those things,
because in your house no one has ever seen
anything that was less than honest
and certain things weren’t even spoken out loud.

And your mother, being your mother,
has sensed that something was off
and she can read your every glance, being your mother:
you have to ask for her forgiveness, tell her that you are sorry,
that you understood, that you despise that mistake of yours.
But how you’ll be able to tell her that no one forced you,
or to tell her that you were even feeling pleasure,
this she’ll never be able to understand: she,
being an honest woman,
has done it almost always as a duty.

And don’t speak ill of him, in the end, you were lucky:
in these situations, you know, lots of people do that.
Yes, I know, he left you when you told him, it’s customary,
but he found you an address and the money;
and at the end, you know, he’s right, you can’t prove it’s his
and you’re not even a minor;
and therefore, you see, this mistake really is only yours to bear:
we’re not prosecutable by law.

And therefore you found yourself lying on a marble table,
almost wishing you would die,
caught like a slaughtered animal you were screaming,
but that scream almost couldn’t find its way out;
and therefore you found yourself tangled in fears and regrets,
really alone in strangers’ hands,
and you were thinking, while you felt your flesh being mauled away,
about your father, your mother and even about him.

What a small ignoble story you came here to tell me,
I really don’t see what can I do about it.
I can tell you some usual phrase to try and comfort you
or tell you “it’s done, at this point, don’t think about it”.
It’s a story that’s not useful to become a successful song,
it’s not worth two columns in the newspaper,
and if you went looking for it what do you want to do about it now?
politicians have more important stuff to deal with.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.