The funeral today in Bologna, on what would have been his 69th birthday, brought a public outpouring of grief and affection for singer-songwriter, Lucio Dalla.

While I have been aware of Dalla’s songs, I didn’t grow up listening to his music his passing doesn’t have the same impact. It’s times like this that bring home how much of a cultural outsider I still am, despite having lived in Italy for the past 15 years.

His sudden death is barely reported in the English media but it’s clear from the fact that an estimated 50,000 came to bid a last farewell  that his passing is felt not just as a loss to the world of entertainment but as a loss to the nation.

His songs clearly struck a chord but Dalla’s widespread appeal can also be attributed to the fact that he was such a down to earth character. He didn’t live his life in an ivory tower but followed his local soccer and basketball teams and mixed freely with ‘ordinary’ people in the city. He was someone who commanded admiration and respect even amongst those were not big fans of his music.  The fact that he was openly gay did nothing to dent his reputation; an encouraging fact given that Italy is well known for its institutionalised homophobia.

It is his songs that will bring him a measure of immortality. Caruso, dedicated to the great opera singer, is one his best loved and includes the now poignant lines “Ah si, e’ la vita che finisce ma lui non ci pensò poi tanto – anzi si sentiva felice e ricominciò il suo canto”, which roughly translates as  ‘Ah, yes, life ends but he did not dwell on this ,on the contrary – he was happy and continued his song’.