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Oct 02

EVERY WORD IS TRUE – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”

FT/9 comments • 29,390 views

Introduction
It was about 2 in the morning and I was trying to get a handle on Alexander the Great. I had a final exam coming up and I’d missed half the syllabus – and something else was missing; a way into the man’s head. Alexander had single-handedly destroyed the world’s largest Empire and put an even larger one in its place, had conquered places hardly known to exist, had convinced himself he was the son of a God, had done most of this before he hit 30. That stuff was easy to understand though: what was harder was working out how he’d managed to keep the loyalty of his army, ordinary Greek farmer-soldiers who’d been on the march, away from home and family, for ten years. What was eluding me was the intuitive grasp of how a leader could do that, a fix on the mix of eloquence, megalomania and neediness Alexander must have had.

You won’t believe me, you’ll think it’s strange, but I played “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” that night and I had my answers. I wasn’t looking for them – I just didn’t have anything else I wanted to put on and Julie Covington’s 7″ was lying around. Nerves, melodrama and caffeine convinced me that just under the surface of this song was a secret – a secret about politics, the crowd, fame and power. The exam went fine and an intermittent obsession was born.

“Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” opens Act II of Evita, a musical I’ve never seen about a woman I know little of. I only found out today where in the musical it comes – I’d assumed it was a finale, but no. Eva Peron sings it as the wife of Argentina’s new president – the song is her address to the crowd who – we know from the start of the show – will come to adore her. Andrew Lloyd-Webber wrote the music, Tim Rice the lyrics. It’s a classic show-stopper: dramatic, lavishly orchestrated, and (potentially) catastrophically over-the-top. It’s also the only Lloyd-Webber/Rice song to have become more-or-less a standard – which is odd, given Evita‘s very specific political context and content.

But something obviously registered – the song is corny enough to be memorable and subtle enough to be a challenge to anyone taking it on. It can stand alone, and “Argentina” can stand for anything you want. Which is just as well, since from the brief readings I’ve since made of Argentinian history Peronism is not my cup of mate. In the context of Latin America an authoritarian populist is surely preferable to the endless parade of Generals, and the word “fascist” has a meaning too specific to use lightly, but it sticks enough to taint the song in some eyes. I got flamed on a file-sharing website for uploading one version – “an ode to a bloodythirsty dictator’s wife” wrote a fellow-member. This is unfair in context – where Eva’s politics are constantly questioned by the young radical Che – and out of context, where the song is too abstract to be an endorsement of anything much.

But that’s not to say it’s not a political song. Evita the musical premiered the year after Margaret Thatcher won the Tory leadership. Evita the film opened the Autumn before Princess Diana died. Three years after that you could – perhaps? – catch an echo of “…Argentina”s tear-soaked strings as Hillary Clinton tried to win New Yorkers’ hearts. One reason “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” is a fascinating song is that it resonates so much in an era when women are entering and operating in the public arena at last; an arena whose rules, like the song, are written by men. The song’s mix of empathy, spin and steel, though, is not specifically ‘feminine’ – it’s just modern. Thatcher is not the modern Prime Minister who “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” most fits, nor is Hillary the only Clinton.

A few weeks ago, at about 2 in the morning, I wanted to hear the song again. I typed “Argentina” into a file-sharing browser window and was half-amazed at the range of people who’d covered it. So I started hunting for a perfect version. This is what I found.

Comments

  1. 1
    bobbie on 12 Feb 2007 #

    I asked for music but they don’t gimie no music!

  2. 2
    David on 20 Apr 2007 #

    I have the ‘ABBA’ version, it is really Madonna. They sync to the second (except that the ‘ABBA version is cut off’

  3. 3
    Andrea on 25 Aug 2007 #

    I know this was posted five years ago but I was just sorting out my mp3s and came across a random version of ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ that I initially thought was ABBA too. Turns out it’s actually the Ray Conniff Singers. So that’s nice to know.

  4. 4
    accentmonkey on 17 Mar 2008 #

    I understand from “sources” that the original hook line of the song, rather than “don’t cry for me Argentina”, was to be “it’s only your lover returning”, and that it was to be a fairly straightforward song of penance. Apparently that is the only line they changed, which is probably why the rest of the song seems so apolitical and vague.

    I can’t remember where this information comes from originally.

  5. 5
    Mark Regan on 24 May 2008 #

    You are SOOOO right on target in your comments about Sinead’s version. I cry EVERY time I watch it. She shows the subtle psychological core of the song with her vulnerability and modest downward glances. Simply amazing. I wish I could see her sing it in person. So much better than EVERY other version of that song. And I also agree with your about the words. Rice and Lloyd-Webber are to be congratulated for coming up with such delicate, meaningful lyrics.

    Another artist I’d like to hear sing this song is Hayley Westenra. She can really show her humility and emotions just like Sinead. And the wording is perfect for Hayley — except I’d change the country name to New Zealand to reflect her love for that country.

  6. 6
    Nette on 20 Sep 2008 #

    [...] “..One reason “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” is a fascinating song is that it resonates so much in an era when women are entering and operating in the public arena at last; an arena whose rules, like the song, are written by men. The song’s mix of empathy, spin and steel, though, is not specifically ‘feminine’ – it’s just modern. ” – by Tom [...]

  7. 7
    ALEXANDER on 27 Dec 2008 #

    DONT YOU LIKE ARGENTINA Mark Regan?
    I ASK BECAUSE YOU SAID THAT NEW Zealand WILL BE BETER THAN ARGENTINA WHY?
    I THINK THAT ARGENTINA IS A GREATE COUNTRYY, IN 1998 Y WHENT TO ARGENTINA TO LIVE AN I SAY THAT ITS WOMDEFULL, PEOPLE, TRADITIONS ECT…
    BYEE

  8. 8
    Jeffery Lee on 9 Aug 2009 #

    Don’t cry for me, Formosa !
    To relace Agintina with Formosa
    surly makes green peace with sweeter fragrance after all.

  9. 9
    cajethan aka brutz matz on 20 Oct 2012 #

    oh what a soulmating tone, the first day i heard this song, i cried and reflect it to my present feelings about the world. Infact, it’s a perfect song i will like to share with my world. Tim rice, webber lloyd and eva peron did great with this song. I song that can thrill millions of people and melts a stonny hearth. How i wish i’ll watch this song perform live. Note: i’ll sing this song in nigerian idols compitition next week saturday and give feedback how people feel about it

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