“Taro” by Alt-J

According to this song’s co-writer and Alt-J frontman Joe Newman, the entire narrative of Taro transpires within a four-second time span. And what it centers on is the last moments of one Robert Capa, who was actually a historical figure. 

Capa (1913-1954), who was born in Austria and also held American citizenship, was more to the point a war photographer. And the aforenoted four seconds are supposed to encapsulate the last moments of his life, as he died in the line of duty, covering the First Indochina War, which was waged from 1946-1954.

Capa is severely Injured

So at the beginning of the first verse, the scene is set in Indochina. And Capa, who is in a French army Jeep, decides to exit the vehicle so that he can get a better shot of the action. Shortly thereafter, there is a “very yellow-white flash”. What that terminology most notably represents is Capa stepping on the landmine which proceeded to take his life. 

Or more specifically, if you want the gory details, his leg was severed from his body, on top of the photographer suffering other injuries. And as the song also depicts it, he had wandered too far away from the rest of the company to receive the prompt medical attention that he sorely needs.

Gerda Taro

Then you’ll notice in the chorus that now the vocalist, seemingly taking on the role of Capa himself, references one “Taro” being ‘sprayed into his eyes’. Gerda Taro (1910-1937) was another war photographer and the former co-worker/lover of Robert Capa. 

In fact it was Gerda Taro who helped create the name Robert Capa and vice versa. (Capa was actually born Endre Friedmann.) So their careers were intertwined. Also like Capa she had met a similar fate while engaged in her craft during the Spanish Civil War. 

So what Alt-J is saying is that during his final moments Capa’s mind, even if only briefly, recollected Gerda Taro, perhaps due to the fact of how they shared similar fates.

Death Cometh

Then in the second verse the scene shifts back to the third person, with the vocalist observing Capa from the outside. And to make a long story short, he dies in what appears to be a considerable degree of pain but is then embraced in the ‘painlessly’ of the afterlife. 

It may also be implied that his passing will now allow him the opportunity to reunite with his true love, Gerda Taro, who again died almost two decades prior.

What “Taro” is all about

So this is a somewhat complete biographical song, even if it only details the very last moments in Robert Capa’s life.  For instance we know what he lived for – war photography. In fact he loved his craft so much that he died in the pursuit of it. 

And we also know who the main love of his life was, Gerda Taro. No, the song doesn’t depict Capa as a hero. In fact it can be argued, to some degree, that Alt-J is even mocking the way in which he died, risking his life in an extremely dangerous situation for a chance to snap pics. 

But it’s still a compelling story nonetheless, especially if the listener knows the actual historical background of the individual being sung about.

"Taro"

Credits for “Taro”

Joe Newman wrote this track with assists from the following:

  • Gus Unger-Hamilton
  • Thom Sonny Green
  • Gwilym Sainsbury

The production of “Taro” done by one Charlie Andrew.

Joe Newman discusses "Taro"

When was “Taro” released?

Alt-J officially released it on the 13th of October, 2011. It appears on Alt-J’s “An Awesome Wave” project.

Was “Taro” a single release?

 No.

Covers:

  • Inner Sail – 2015
  • Diego Pazos – 2017
  • Michal – 2020
  • Tina veronica – 2013
  • Sean Daniel – 2017
  • Ina Kleemann – 2013
  • Mat Records – 2013
  • Tully – 2021
"Taro"

The “An Awesome Wave” Album

Alt-J released Taro in May 2012 as the last song off their 2012 maiden album, An Awesome WaveTaro is a combination of various elements, including sad dispensary girl-style post-rock strings and bells, unique vocal tone, Indian pop, and a history lesson.

The song narrates the story of two 20th-century war photojournalists and their deaths in the line of duty.

Awesome Wave has gained numerous recognitions and is regarded by many music lovers as one of the best albums by an English indie rock band.

The title of the album, “An Awesome Wave”, was a quotation from the American-Canadian film American Psycho, released in 2000.

The album reached number thirteen on the UK Albums Chart. It was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in August 2013, indicating that it has sold over 300,000 units in the UK.

In addition, it received the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Album of the Year in 2013.

It initially charted in the United States at number 134 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2012. However, in May of 2013, it rose to number 80 on the Billboard 200 chart.

War Photographers Gerda Taro and Robert Capa

German Jewish war photographer Gerta Pohorylle (Gerda Taro) from Stuttgart was particularly active during the Spanish Civil War. She moved to Paris escaping the regime of Nazi Germany and met Hungarian Jewish Photographer Endre Friedmann.

Endre had also left Germany for Paris during the reigning period of the Nazi Germans. She understudied Endre and became his personal assistant. Soon, their relationship grew into a non-platonic one.

Gerda Taro taking a photograph in Spain in July of 1937. She died few weeks later.

Gerta and Endre devised a plan that was to gain them an upper hand in the American market which was a very lucrative one. The plan was to use a fake alias, an American Photographer named Robert Capa and sell their work to Americans through that alias.

Endre later decided to adopt the name Robert Capa for himself while Gerta renamed herself Gerda Taro, inspired by a Japanese artist and Swedish actress.

Gerda and Robert, relocated to Barcelona, Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War. Here, they succeeded in their professional careers under their fake aliases.

While covering some shots at the Battle of Brunete, Taro was involved in a crash on the battlefield. She died a day after on the 26th July 1937. Her death made the first female photojournalist to die on the war frontline. Robert was killed during the First Indochina War on 25th May 1954.

Robert Capa in May of 1937.

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