Liner notes and song lyrics from Caetano Veloso's "Livro"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Oct 2 08:51:19 MDT 1999

Excerpt from VERDADE TROPICAL (Tropical Truth) by Caetano Veloso

American influence on Brazilian culture did not begin with rock n roll. The
older generation of my family and its circle of friends had been raised
with Francophile literary tastes. But American movies and pop music — a
strong presence in Brazilian life since the twenties — began to dominate
the scene in the forties. And if American pop music always ran into stiff
competition from the Cuban rumba, the Argentine tango, the Portuguese fado,
as well as, above all, Brazilian music itself, which was never beaten in
the national market by any import, Hollywood films met with almost no
national resistance, and fearlessly coexisted with European and Mexican
productions. I was learning some English at school and its only practical
use was that it enabled us to sing bits of American songs. We all knew
that, throughout the world, Frank Sinatra had been — and still was — the
undisputed star, and Nat King Cole even seemed, for a while, a bigger star
than Sinatra himself. Besides, next to the successful artists who produced
(sometimes extraordinarily well conceived) music typical of various regions
of Brazil (people like, for instance, Luiz Gonzaga, Jackson do Pandeiro,
and Pedro Raimundo), there was also room for someone like Bob Nelson who,
dressed like a cowboy and displaying his great talent for yodeling (which
came to be known as "tir’o Ieite" ("milk ‘em"), an ingenious adaptation
that reproduced the sound effect while at the same time alluding to the
typically rural activity of milking cows), sang Portuguese versions of
songs from the American West, or locally composed imitations. Santo Amaro
was no exception in a world where the American cowboy was a kind of
uncontested mythic hero. But we were especially entranced by the great MGM
musicals. We would return home after the movies imitating dances of Gene
Kelly and Cyd Charisse. So when Elvis Presley’s fans appeared, they seemed
to be simply the representatives of a move towards modernization, part of
our process of keeping up with American mass culture. But they were
definitely not recruited initially among those who shared with me the same
interests or judgment.

It may seem that the great Hollywood studios had plenty of reasons not to
fear European competition for the film distribution market in Brazil, but
to my friends and me, this undisputed market logic was not obvious. I do
remember a curious joke very much in vogue in Santo Amaro towards the end
of the forties, calling the interlocutor’s attention to a (non-existent)
bit of lint on his lapel, thus forcing him to twist his face somewhat
uncomfortably in the direction of his shoulder, bringing his chin close to
the shoulder blade while lowering his upper eyelids. At that point, the
person who had initiated the joke would suddenly change his tone of voice
and say, as if he had caught the interlocutor in the act of trying to
imitate a seductive gesture of Rita Hayworth’s "Look like Gilda If this
were a man, naturally the comic effect would increase. And Minha Daia, whom
we at home called Bette Davis, could be heard repeating to herself
sometimes, as if she were thinking out loud: "There never was a woman like
Gilda." It would have been incredible to have known then, as I know now,
that, as Marilyn Monroe was growing into a mythical figure, hardly any
Americans even knew who Françoise Arnou or Martine Carol were. It was
similarly unimaginable to us that anyone, anywhere in the world, would not
know them.

French and Italian films were regularly exhibited in Santo Amaro. So were
Mexican films. And if, in spite of Maria Felix’s extraordinary beauty, we
could infer a certain inferiority in the Olympus of Pelmex — Peliculas
Mexicanas, the major Mexican studio — we did not, nor imagined that anyone
would, see any difference in quality or importance between American and
European stars. Early in our adolescence, what attracted us to French
cinema was the exposure of erotic intimacy: a woman's breast, a couple
lying on the same iron bed, the indubitable indication that the characters
had a sex life, the things that could not be seen in an American film were
offered in French films quite naturally. And we were lucky not to have, at
that time, any kind of age restriction, since there wasn’t as yet any
government office with jurisdiction over minors in Santo Amaro. But as we
grew older, what increasingly interested us was Italian cinema because of
its "seriousness": neo—realism and its offshoots were offered to us
commercially and we reacted to those films with emotion as we recognized
the outlines of daily reality in the gigantic, brilliant images of the
screen. One of the most remarkable events in my personal development was
seeing Fellini’s La Strada one Sunday morning at the Cine Subaé (there were
morning shows on Sundays, and this was the best theater in town — the only
one that ever had cinemascope — of the three in Santo Amaro). I wept for
the rest of the day and I couldn’t eat anything for lunch — and from then
on we called Minha Daia Giulietta Massina. Mr. Agnelo Rato Grosso, a
stocky, illiterate mulatto who was a butcher and played trombone in the
Lira dos Artistas (one of the two music bands in the city — the other was
called Filhos de Apolo), was caught by surprise when Chico Motta, Dasinho
and I found him weeping as we left the movie theater after seeing I
Vitelloni, also by Fellini. Somewhat embarrassed, he offered this as an
excuse, as he wiped his nose on his shirt collar: "That movie is our life!"
I remember Nicinha, my oldest sister, commenting that when the actors in
American films spoke near a table where a meal was served, the cut would
always occur before they were seen putting anything in their mouths and
chewing, whereas in Italian films people ate — and sometimes even talked
with their mouths full.

This is how European beauties Hollywood later put under contract and
introduced to the American public, like Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida,
had arrived on our shores directly and — like others who were barely
noticed in the United States, such as Silvana Pampanini, Silvana Mangano,
Rossana Podestâ — were adored among us like goddesses. As a matter of fact,
back then we saw more to regret than to celebrate when Italian actresses
went to Hollywood: these simple, gorgeous girls who seemed to have been
found in the streets of Naples now looked like country bumpkins who, once
in the big city, had been given a makeover that did not suit them. (In the
provinces, to the extent that there is criticism, it tends to be more
critical of provincialism than anything one might hear in the metropolis).
In any event, nothing could induce us to think that Brigitte Bardot might
be the slightest bit inferior to Marilyn in the number of admirers, in
box-office attraction, or in her ability to represent the Zeitgeist. The
names I chose to include in the songs I composed in the sixties (which, in
tune with the pop aesthetic, introduced the names of celebrities) were
those of European stars like Claudia Cardinale, Brigitte Bardot, Alain
Delon, Jean- Paul Belmondo. Not only that, but at the end of the fifties, I
had interrupted my abstract blots to do a portrait of Sophia Loren based on
a still from the film La donna del Pa, a sub-product of neo-realism. As for
Marilyn Monroe, even though her role as beauty goddess did not seem
convincing to us, and even though we were unaware that her being American
was a necessary condition for being a global celebrity, we saw her as a
vulgar commercial imposition. If we wanted to renew our cast of divas and
find substitutes for Ava Gardner or Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Russell or
lngrid Bergman, we were more naturally inclined to look for them among the
Italians. When the image of Marilyn Monroe started gaining importance for
me in the sixties, as part of a broader interest in mass culture, she was
above all the star of Andy Warhol’s silkscreens.

But even that came to me second hand. As I say, it was Warhol’s Marilyn —
and, I could almost add, "Warhol’s Elvis" — that seemed to me a figure with
some aesthetic and cultural interest because it provided a reevaluation of
the icons of wide popular consumption. The tendency to turn them into new
information, as if the raw images were commenting on the world, and not us
on them, was something I began to sense in the frivolous conversations with
friends and frivolous newspaper articles at the turn of the fifties to the
sixties, which coincided with my moving from Santo Amaro to Salvador. But
at the dawn of that crazy decade, I had no knowledge of what was happening
in the art world in New York. In other words, the person who gave those
trends a clear meaning — who eventually made the series of portraits of
Marilyn (and Elvis) — was Andy Warhol. That is why, though I hadn’t yet
heard his name, I credit him with a kind of perception that I later
developed — but only up to a point, since, when all of this later came to
the fore, some of my friends had already gone much further. It is as if
Marilyn had existed only to be a character in Warhol’s world. We could even
say, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde on Balzac, that the twentieth century, such
as we know it, is a creation of Andy Warhols. Of course, after a certain
point, without even knowing who they were, I was already being indirectly
influenced by American pop artists through what I read and saw — and even
heard in conversations — about Brazilian artists and writers who were
better and more broadly informed than I. That, however, only happened
during the second half of the sixties. It is enough to say that the type of
discrimination and judgment that eventually established an imaginary world
akin to the pop one was still, at the beginning of the decade, too early in
its development to determine my choices and judgments. It would be better
to emphasize how subordinated it was to other spiritual movements by which
it was irresistibly stimulated. In fact, there were other reasons for me,
as for the majority of other Brazilian youths my age (since rock fans were
not a minority in Santo Amaro alone), why the American myths of the fifties
did not produce considerable impact. And, in fact, very good reasons...

Manhattan (Manhatã)
dedicated to Lulu Santos

A canoe canoe
Cuts through the morning from North to South
Goddess of legend on the prow
Lifting a torch in her hand
All of mankind
Turns its eyes in that direction
One tastes the wind
Singing on the windows the sweet name of the Indian girl:

Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan, Manhattan

A whirlwind of money
Sweeps the whole word, a light Leviathan
And here wars dance amid
Loves peaceful dwellings.

Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan, Manhattan

Ah! Where is it going, when it goes,
This immense joy, such exaltation
Ah! Solitude, multitude,
That beautiful girl biting the apple:

Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan, Manhattan


Uma canoa canoa
varando a manhã de norte a sul
Deusa da Ienda na proa
Levanta uma tocha na mão
Todos as homens do mundo
Voltaram seus olhos naquela direção
Sente-se o gosto do vento
Cantando nos vidros a come dote da cunhã:

Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan. Manhattan,
Manhattan, Manhattan. Manhattan

Urn remoinho de dinheiro
Varre o mundo inteiro, um leve leviatã
E aqui dançarn guerras no melo
Da Paz das rnoradas de amor

Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan, Manhattan

Ah! Pra onde vai, quando for,
Essa irnensa alegria, toda essa exaltaçdo
Ah! Solidão, multidão,
Que rnenina bonita mordendo a polpa da maçã:

Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan
Manhattan, Manhattan, Manhattan

Translated by Isabel de Sena

Louis Proyect

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