Everybody associates pizza with Italy, notwithstanding that it is these days a joyously cosmopolitan dish, with variants of local character emanating from all around the Mediterranean, the United States and even the Far East.
Cuisine is one the things that the Italians do particularly well. Another is singing.
Think of an Italian belting out a song and the chances are the image will be one of a portly tenor, impeccably attired and motionless other than much expression with the hands as he puts everything he has into perfecting his art. The esperto, calmly reassured in his mastery of the notes.
Yet in popular music too, despite it being a largely English-speaking medium, artists of Italian descent are surprisingly commonplace, particularly for some reason amongst female solo singers. Not for nothing has the Italian word diva found its way from the opera into the world of pop.
One of the biggest female solo artists of recent decades, indeed one of the biggest names in pop itself regardless of genre, is of course Madonna. Madonna Louise Ciccone, to use her full name, is an Italian American from Bay City, Michigan. Madonna’s athletic dance routines, the way she dressed, her use of Catholic imagery (sometimes provocatively), her memorable songs and original voice all combined to make her one of the most successful artists of the 1980s. She even managed to persuade the drinks giant Pepsi to pay her five million dollars not to make a commercial for them, which is good business in anybody’s book.
Another sultry diva who emerged in Madonna’s wake was Gwen Stefani, originally Gwen Renée Stefani – another Italian American, this time from California – who was lead singer of the successful band No Doubt before launching herself as a solo artist for several years, then rejoining her old group. Like Madonna she was revered for her platinum blonde hair and good looks, which led her to be awarded the part of Jean Harlow in the 2004 biopic The Aviator.
Today’s blonde bombshell is the enigmatic Lady Gaga and yes, you’ve guessed it, she is of course an Italian American who was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Lady Gaga’s success lies in her innovative stage performances sometimes bordering on the bizarre. Her consistently changing image borrows a great deal from the artistic philosophy of David Bowie, whom she acknowledges as an influence, whilst her daring and at times gory stage act has more than a hint of Alice Cooper about it.
Which takes the author back to his own childhood, back to the dawn of time, when long before the peroxide dance routines of Madonna, Stefani and Gaga there was a little lass dressed all in leather and plucking at a bass guitar almost as big as herself. Those of a certain age will remember Suzi Quatro, a surname shortened from Quattrocchi by her paternal grandfather. A pocket battleship if ever there was one.
But if pizza could sing, there is a good chance it would be called Eco. And we challenge you to shorten that.