Le bellissime note di copertina dell’edizione del 1998 di Rock Bottom, a firma dello stesso Robert Wyatt: una grande storia raccontata da un grande uomo.
“This music began to emerge in Venice, during the winter of 1972, on the tiny island of Giudecca in a hugh old house overlooking the lagoon.
For a couple of months I spent the days alone, while Alfie and a bunch of friends spent their days working on a film. After years of constant work, in groups and on the road, I was uneasy about doing nothing all day. To keep me occupied, Alfie bought me a very basic little keyboard with a particular vibrato, that shimmered like the water that surrounded us. The basic structure of the music was written there, in between watching the lizards on the walls of the house and visiting the local bar to listen to out-of-work gondoliers practicing ‘O Sole Mio’.
‘Don’t Look Now’, the film that my friends were working on, centered around a series of unforseen disasters in the life of a couple. Venice itself featured as a sinister presence in the film. Alfie always remembers Nic Roeg, the director, reiterating the theme of the film;
WE ARE NOT PREPARED.
Back in London, during the spring of 1973, I began to organise a new group to perform the material I was preparing. I continued work on the music, and wrote the words for ‘Alife’, ‘Sea Song’, and ‘A Last Straw’ in Alifie’s flat on the 21st floor of a recently built council block in the Harrow Road. This block was demolished a few years ago. It was a health hazard, riddled with flaking asbestos. The space that we had occupied, where we’d got to know each other, is now just part of the sky. We often look back at that air, and imagine our ghostly young selves suspended there, unprepared for what was to come.
On June 1st 1973, the night before the new group was to have its first rehearsal, I fell from a fourth floor window and broke my spine. I was sent to Stoke Mandeville Hospital for eight months, where they saved my life and taught me how to live in a wheelchair.
I spent three months lying flat on my back, gazing at the ceiling of a surreal public dormitory amongst twenty others whose lives had also radically changed in a split of a second; victims of bad driving, industrial accidents, a misjudged somersault on a trampoline, a wrong-footed escape during a burglary. We all had to think about our future.
I came to terms with the fact that I was no longer a drummer, and that going on the road would be very problematic. I no longer needed to prepare music for a permanent group, I’d have to concentrate on recording, and I’d have to sing more. I would be able to choose different musicians for different songs. I didn’t need to have the same instruments on every song. The loss of my legs might give me a new kind of freedom. (The cat burglar was considering fraud as a new career).
Between visitors, operations and hospital bustle, I began to think about the music I’d been preparing in a different way. At the end of three months, I was given my wheelchair, and discovered an old piano in the visitors’ room. I played truant as often as I could from the activities that newly paralised people are given as therapy (archery, and glueing mosaics on bottles to make weird lamps), and escaped to the piano, whenever the room was free, to develop the songs I’d begun with the lizards by the Venice lagoon.
By the time I left the hospital, I was ready to record, but we now had nowhere to live. A kind friend, Delfina, lent us a wheelchair-friendly cottage in Wiltshire. There, at the beginning of 1974, I began to record with Virgin Records’ Mobile Studio parked in the adjoining field, while a donkey brayed in the background. In the spring we found a home in London where I prepared for the contributions from the other musicians which were recorded and mixed at the Manor Studio and CBS.
On July 26th, 1974, (the 21st anniversary of the attack on Moncada, which was the first action that led to the Cuban Revolution), Rock Bottom was released, and I married Alfie,and we lived happily ever after.”