I always wondered why certain songs, from the very first time we listen to them, stay with us for the rest of our lives. In 1969, Ricardo Soule composed one of the most important songs of rock n’ roll: Presente. He was 18 years old back then, but now, almost 50 years later, as he reflects on Presente, he believes that there is something essential in the code of the song that is in harmony with the code of our feelings.
Soule is perhaps the humblest, brightest and most genuine of the fathers of Argentinian rock.
Presente is a poem about life’s fleetingness. Everything we though immeasurable irrevocably ends, including love. Why win today, if we’ll lose tomorrow?
In Soule’s words, the song “was conceived when I was in secondary school, during the 5th year, and I had had the experience of falling in love. I had never fallen in love, and I never again fell in love with such intensity.” It was this first love, coupled with reading Manrique’s great lyric poem to his father’s death, that gave birth to Presente. “I read some of Manrique’s Coplas that shook me because I had always thought about life and death, about finiteness of life. But this man wrote a poem, so, it really moved me.”
Soule was trained as a violinist originally and, having performed works by Bach, Pachelbel, Mozart, he was able to use his early skills and craft in the writing of Presente. The song was composed using a beat-up acoustic guitar that had been left forgotten, in the open air. It was so bowed that it could have been used to throw arrows, remembers Soule.
But, as Soule recalls, “the song was stronger than the guitar, than the place and everything. The song had to come out because it had to come out. It was as if I was there because the song had to come out, and not viceversa.”
One of the audio technicians remembers the day Presente was being recorded: “what caught our attention… was the song’s incredible content, no only of its lyrics but also of the lyrics’s philosophy. The meaning of the song.” And Willi Quiroga, who played bass and vocals along with Soule in their band Vox Dei, says that he once heard Atahualpa Yupanqui (one of the most important folk musicians of the 20th century) respond to the question of where does the real importance of a songwriter reside? with the following answer: when it becomes anonymous.
That is Presente, ubiquitous and anonymous.
But going back to Soule’s reflections on the essential code of some songs, he says “I remember once, in a concert, that we began playing Presente and, on the second stanza, people stood up and started clapping. We had never seen anything like that, we didn’t really understand, and we were paralyzed. We were shocked, we had trouble keeping on playing. We were distracted because the audience took part in what they saw, and it wasn’t because they’d heard it on the radio, because they had never heard it before.”
A tip of the hat Ricardo, so many memories, teary eyes, gratitude, love. A song that came to our hearts and stays there forever.