Songs of Return: Tangos for the Journey Home

by Derrick Del Pilar

From the plane I watch the city unroll its carpet of tiny light points beneath me as the dusk shadows fall. The downtown core stands tall, concrete pillars blazing near the water’s edge. From there the neighborhoods of low houses spread out, flat and interminable, melting into the endless plains beyond.

Somewhere down there, on one of those long, straight roads, I waited for a bus on a chilly evening in June, my eyelids damp from allergies and tears. Somewhere down there, I paced outside a dingy corner store, choking on smoke from a cigarette I wasn’t old enough to purchase. Somewhere down there, I held hands with my grandmother as we stopped to glance at the impossible Christmas clockworks on display in a department store window. Somewhere down there, my friends are waiting, drinking champagne in the basement of someone’s parents’ house or laughing at a corner bar in my old neighborhood around a half-empty bottle of red wine.

Chicago, the town where I was born, always seems to be waiting for me when I return, always the same and always completely different. Now I live elsewhere, I’m a young man still and I’ve gone West, but when I return to the streets where as a kid I strutted and boasted and loved and lost, I feel ancient and world-weary, and like Ulysses I want “To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths/Of all the western stars, until I die.”

And yet, and yet…coming down Arthur Avenue, there is something waiting for me in the distance. The light of a single wrought iron streetlamp, the only one left on the block, illuminates the door of the house where I grew up, where my parents still live. I’m not from that city anymore, I can’t handle its winters or its unending flatness, or the memories, some too painful to recall, that wander its streets like ghosts. But under that smooth Midwestern sky a piece of my heart will always while the night away.

When I hear those tangos, the tangos of return, that speak of changed neighborhoods and lost loves of long ago who seem like strangers when they meet, I realize that I am not alone. These songs may have been written many decades and many thousands of miles away from me and my home, but like every true thing they encapsulate a shared secret.

In memories, home is more vivid, more lurid, sharper and clearer. When you click those crimson stilettos three times and wake up in your childhood bed, how do you feel? Even if you can’t put that emotion into words, you can put it into your body when you dance these songs.

Ahora no me conocés

You Don’t Know Me Anymore

“You wandered away
from the place where you were born
dreaming of far away,
never thinking that you left behind
the people who loved you,
and me in all my steadfastness.”

Orq. Ángel D’Agostino, singer Ángel Vargas (1941)
iTunes album: Grandes del Tango 10

Orq. Osvaldo Pugliese, singer Alberto Morán (1952)
iTunes album: Pasional



“And now that I am going mad
because I haven’t forgotten you,
you can’t even remember me
Gricel, Gricel!”

Orq. Aníbal Troilo, singer Francisco Fiorentino (1942)
iTunes album: Troilo – Fiorentino – Tango popular

Orq. Francisco Canaro, singer Eduardo Adrián (1942)
iTunes album: 50 Tangos de Lujo



“There’s so much snow in my soul,
so much silence at your door—
as I crossed the threshold
a bolt of sorrow stopped my heart.”

Orq. Carlos Di Sarli, singer Alberto Podestá (1944)
iTunes album: Los Grandes Cantores – Alberto Podestá

Orq. Rodolfo Biagi, singer Alberto Amor (1944)
iTunes album: 100 tangos 100 vol. 4


Just Now

“Today, just now, just now,
my life brings me again to your side—
hiding all my failures,
concealing all my wounds.
And today as I find
the protection of your steady hands
just now I realize that it hurts me
to know I’ve done you wrong.”

Orq. Ricardo Tanturi, singer Enrique Campos (1943)
iTunes album: Una emoción – Ricardo Tanturi con Enrique Campos

Orq. Pedro Laurenz, singer Alberto Podestá (1944)
iTunes album: Grandes del Tango 26

Tinta roja

Red Ink

“Where has my old neighborhood gone?
Who has stolen my childhood?
On what corner, moon of mine,
do you spill your bright, clear joy
like you used to?”

Orq. Aníbal Troilo, singer Francisco Fiorentino
iTunes album: The History of Tango – Aníbal Troilo and Francisco Fiorentino – Recordings 1939–1944


Come Back

“Return to my side,
lie to me again,
or just kill me now
because living without you
is something I can’t do.”

Orq. Adolfo Carabelli, singer Mercedes Simone (1932)
iTunes album: Adolfo Carabelli Orchestra – Recordings 1932–1933


To Return

“I’m afraid of the nights
brimming with memories
that enchain my dreams.
But the fleeing traveller
must sooner or later slow his pace...”

Orq. Osvaldo Fresedo, singer Roberto Ray (1935)
iTunes album: El Once

Carlos Gardel (1935)
iTunes album: Remasterizado año 2010


Derrick Del Pilar

Tango found Derrick Del Pilar in 2006, when he was living (and studying) in Buenos Aires, in a small apartment a few blocks from Evaristo Carriego’s house. In Buenos Aires, he studied the social dance with Lidia Ferrari, and despite the vociferous dissatisfaction expressed by the first lady he managed to cabecear in Salón Canning, he has immersed himself in tango ever since. From 2006–2008 he was a regular on the social dance scene in the up-and-coming tango community of Tucson, Arizona. From 2008-2009, while living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Derrick studied extensively with many of the world-renowned tango teachers who spend time in Northern California. He has also lived, danced, DJed, and lectured in the communities of Eugene and Portland, OR. Derrick is a thoughtful tango DJ who has shared tandas of music by the Golden Age maestros at festivals and venues in Chicago, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Southern California, and the Bay Area, including the Portland Tango Festival and the San Francisco Tango Marathon. In May 2008 Derrick received a B.A. from the University of Arizona with a double major in Spanish & Portuguese and Creative Writing, and in December 2009 he received an M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley—with a focus on the history and literature of Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th century. He also lectures on tango lyrics and history at festivals around the U.S.