Last Sunday Paloma Chamorro died, aged only 68, after a long silence. I read in the many obituaries that she will be remembered as the public image of the 1980s Movida Madrileña, the musical and artistic movement which sought to sweep away the cobwebs of the dusty Spanish life inherited from Franco’s regime (1939-75). I think, however, that this limits Paloma’s influence to a specific geographic territory, whereas she managed to be a symbol far beyond that–for the whole generation born in Spain in the 1960s.
I’ll summarize the biographical details which anyone can read in her Wikipedia entry. Born in Madrid, she earned a BA degree in Philosophy and was subsequently employed by public Spanish TV in the early 1970s. She was always involved in programmes that dealt with the arts: Galería (1973-1974), Cultura 2 (1975), Encuentros con las artes y las letras (1976-1977), Trazos (1977) or Imágenes (1978-1981), first as presenter and later as director.
Her fame among us, those who were young in the 1980s, is due to her unique series, La edad de oro (1983-1985), a weekly show to which she invited an impressive selection of national and international indie music stars, some rookies others fully established, to perform live. Everyone recalls the interviews with Alaska y Dinarama, Kaka de Luxe, Los Rebeldes, Loquillo, Danza Invisible or Almodóvar & McNamara, and the performances by Lou Reed or The Smiths. I recall, rather, the smaller international acts, artists like Aztec Camera or John Foxx (see the almost complete list here https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_edad_de_oro_(programa_de_televisi%C3%B3n).
Very cowardly, Televisión Española gave yesterday the news of her death without mentioning what caused La edad de oro to be cancelled and Chamorro to abandon public television eventually. An image in a video by the British band Moon Child seen in one of its episodes (October 1984), showed a crucifix impaled in a pig’s head. Even though Chamorro’s superiors in TVE saw no objection to broadcasting the video, she was later processed for blasphemy, following a major scandal and accusations from an offended spectator which the State’s prosecutor accepted. Paloma had to wait until 1990 to be exonerated; the case was finally closed by the Tribunal Supremo in 1993. In the meantime, she directed and presented the far less known arts programmes La Estación de Perpiñán (1987, 1988) and La realidad invertida (1988-89). From 1990 onwards she only worked sporadically on television, mainly in arts documentaries, keeping a low profile for the last fifteen years. You’ll find very little about Paloma Chamorro on the internet.
Chamorro’s La edad de oro was broadcast on TVE’s second channel (now La2) in reaction against music programmes such as Aplauso (1978-1983), devoted to the blatantly commercial music then flooding Spain’s post-Saturday Night Fever new discos. Aplauso’s most popular segment was ‘La juventud baila’ (‘Youth dances’), a spectacle that could not be farther from La edad de oro. There were other music programmes on TV that tried to steer away from crass commercialism, like Popgrama (1977-83), Chamorro’s main predecessor. Yet, the novelty in her case was that La edad de oro wanted very much to be avant-garde television, placing pop and rock against the much wider background of the arts. As a spectator I was always amazed to hear in her singular interviews musicians commenting on books, films, comics, etc. Chamorro had a distinctive didactic vocation, which is why she could never be called a simple presenter. She was a popularizer, a teacher, a mentor.
Chamorro was always an inconformist. It is difficult today to realize how hard life under Franco’s censorship must have been for persons like her and how long his oppressing regime lasted beyond his death (her 1990 trial is proof of that). If she could launch La edad de oro this was only because the new Socialist Government headed by Felipe González, elected in 1982, appointed José María Calviño as TVE’s director (until 1986). Calviño’s mandate was extremely controversial (he was responsible for the cancellation of José Luis Balbín’s intellectual debate programme La Clave) but he gave unusual freedom to a number of young personalities, including Chamorro. They used national public TV to bring audiences all over Spain closer to the energies that were renewing the Spanish artistic panorama in all in fronts. Spanish society was possibly not ready yet, but we, its young people were more than ready, almost desperate.
All generations are cursed by the impossibility of narrating their youth without sounding ridiculously nostalgic. There is also the implicit claim that only the time when one is young is really memorable. I need, however, to pay homage to Chamorro from a much more personal angle than the obituaries and in reference to my own memories. I don’t know whether I watched all the shows in La edad de oro and, funnily, I haven’t even seen the DVD collection in my possession, issued in 2006, with the best moments of the Spanish artists’ performances. Nostalgia has never led me either to the section in TVE’s Videos a la Carta, offering highlights from Chamorro’s programme (https://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/la-edad-de-oro/). Watching years later what impressed you as a young person can even be embarrassing, which is why I avoid it. I don’t want, either, to invite younger people to see La edad de oro. Rather, I’d like to explain what we had then as a society back in the 1980s and what we have lost.
The irony is that while Paloma fought with all her might to widen our mental horizons with her programmes, risking much personal comfort, today she would not have a place in contemporary television. When La edad de oro was broadcast there were only two TV channels, both state-owned. This limited offer may seem a disadvantage but has turned out to be an advantage because at the time, before the entry in 1990 of private TV in Spain, national TV did have a clear public service vocation. Of which she is undeniable proof.
At the time Chamorro launched her show, 17 May de 1983, I was 16, almost 17. Although I was in the hands of excellent teachers in my secondary school, there are whole areas of culture one must learn by herself–popular music is one. My working-class family knew nothing about the arts, whether these were painting or comics, again territories outside my formal education. Paloma Chamorro became my teacher, and because I watched her show alone at home and did not comment on it with my schoolmates, I believed she was my personal mentor. It is hard to imagine something like this in our times, marked by the massive use of social networks but, yes, there was a period when individuals sharing the same deep experiences did not communicate with each other. We are only discovering now as a generation what happened to us collectively then.
I have read recently an excellent article about how the newly released Trainspotting 2 can never have the effect that the original 1996 Trainspotting had. Precisely–this is why I am anti-nostalgic. What the article also argued, and I would subscribe here, is that each generation must have its iconic texts, whether they are a book, a film, or in the case that occupies me, a TV show. Now, for this to happen there must also exist someone with a full understanding of what is needed, someone who can act as a catalyst of the aspirations and/or grievances which others feel. Irvine Welsh and Danny Boyle did that for Scottish youth in the 1990s. And because we were about to forget her, I need to proclaim that Paloma Chamorro was our collective catalyst in the 1980s. With her spidery, bushy hairdo, her thickly lipsticked mouth, her very personal dress code, she taught us in addition that a person could be truly interested in culture and still be very cool.
Two last thoughts: I’m sure that only a minority of those born in the 1960s in Spain are now mourning Paloma Chamorro, as she was by no means to everyone’s taste–yet, those of us mourning her are doing so with true emotion. It is an irony of our celebrity-addled times that the most important persons are not necessarily those best known. Second: I may be blind to what is going on in the life of the younger generations but I wish they are as lucky as we were and have cause to celebrate many decades later the life of someone in their time who changed their lives for good. Someone who expanded their mind, as Chamorro expanded mine–not for money, or fame, just because she believed it was her mission, her task as a public figure.
Thank you, Paloma Chamorro. May you be long remembered.
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