My Pop Life #191 : Águas de Marco – Elis Regina + Tom Jobim

Águas de Marco – Elis Regina & Tom Jobim

É o pau, é a pedra, é o fim do caminho
É um resto de toco, é um pouco sozinho
É um caco de vidro, é a vida, é o sol
É a noite, é a morte, é um laço, é o anzol
É peroba no campo, é o nó da madeira
Caingá candeia, é o matita-pereira
É madeira de vento, tombo da ribanceira
É o mistério profundo, é o queira ou não queira
É o vento ventando, é o fim da ladeira,
É a viga, é o vão, festa da cumeeira
É a chuva chovendo, é a conversa ribeira
Das águas de março, é o fim da canseira


*

A stick, a stone
It’s the end of the road
It’s the rest of a stump
It’s a little alone
It’s a sliver of glass
It is life, it’s the sun
It is night, it is death
It’s a trap, it’s a gun
The oak when it blooms
A fox in the brush
The knot in the wood
The song of a thrush
The wood of the wind
A cliff, a fall
A scratch, a lump
It is nothing at all
It’s the wind blowing free
It’s the end of the slope
It’s a beam it’s a void
It’s a hunch, it’s a hope
And the river bank talks
Of the waters of March
It’s the end of the strain
The joy in your heart

*

The Portugese is considerably more poetic of course, in the original, but Tom Jobim who wrote both the music and the lyrics, was determined to translate it into English and did so back in 1972 deliberately not using English words with Latin roots.  Joao Gilberto was the first musician to cover it in 1973 and he played it on guitar with a very simple accompaniment.  The Waters of March come at the end of the Brazilian summer and presage autumn and winter, a constant rain that lasts for days, and this stream of consciousness song full of images both linked and random accompanies the falling rain and has a hypnotic meandering mesmeric quality, especially I would argue in this version from 1974 where the great Brazilian singer Elis Regina is joined by songwriter Tom Jobim to sing possibly the finest song to ever come from that country.

It was Jenny who latched onto the song.  By the time she moved in with me into Archway Road in 1990 the record was a constant on the player, it’s smooth lounge quality and soft bossa nova melodies haunting any room that heard it.  It was on a Verve LP called Jazz Masters 13 : Antonio Carlos Jobim which I bought in the 1980s on vinyl and played to death.  It was all in Portugese and contained well-known songs like So Danço Samba, Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) and Slightly Out Of Tune (or Desafinado).   A wonderful overview of his writing life, it was the sister record to my Jazz Samba LP by Stan Getz which I have been singularly obsessed with since my early 20s, my entry point into Brazil alongside the 1970 football team of course.

Antonio Carlos Jobim grew up in the middle-class Ipanema neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro when his parents separated.  His musical influences were Ary Barroso, Pixinguinha, Maurice Ravel and Debussy and alongside guitarist Joao Gilberto he created a new musical genre in the late 1950s in Rio : bossa nova.

Vinicius de Moraes & Tom Jobim – 1960s

Lyrics were often provided by poet Vinicius De Moraes – but it is the melodic genius of Jobim which stands out – often using the major 7th, like Bacharach, to convey suspended feelings (the major 7th is a semitone below the “correct” note) and the yearning delicate beauty of his songs broke through into America and Europe when saxophonist Stan Getz covered some of Jobim’s finest compositions on 2 LPs with guitarists Charlie Byrd (who’d discovered bossa nova travelling in 1961) and Luis Bonfa.  See My Pop Life #68 :  Jazz Samba in 1962 and Jazz Samba Encore in 1964.   The song Desafinado was on Jazz Samba (incredibly recorded in All Souls Unitarian Church Washington D.C. where Marvin Gaye recorded and where my play Sanctuary D.C. was performed in 1988!), which won Getz a grammy.   This led to a collaboration between Getz and Joao Gilberto, (whose delicate mastery of the acoustic guitar had brought Jobim’s song Chega de Saudade to life in 1959 and kick-started bossa nova) and Gilberto’s wife Astrud Gilberto who would sing an English-language version of The Girl From Ipanema on the LP Getz/Gilberto that opened up the planet to the songs of Tom Jobim.   Sex, of course, the international language.

The foot, the ground
The flesh and the bone
The beat of the road
A slingshot stone
A fish, a flash
A silvery glow
A fight, a bet
The range of a bow
The bed of the well
The end of the line
The dismay in the face
It’s a loss, it’s a find
A spear, a spike
A point, a nail
A drip, a drop
The end of the tale
A truckload of bricks
In the soft morning light
The shot of a gun
In the dead of the night
A mile, a must
A thrust, a bump
It’s a girl, it’s a rhyme
It’s a cold, it’s the mumps
The plan of the house
The body in bed
And the car that got stuck
It’s the mud, it’s the mud
A float, a drift
A flight, a wing
A hawk, a quail
The promise of spring
And the river bank talks
Of the waters of March
It’s the promise of life
It’s the joy in your heart

I would highly recommend all of the records mentioned above : Chega de Saudade is on an LP of the same name and is under 2 minutes long.  This is how legends are born.  Jazz Samba and Jazz Samba Encore are on Verve, while Getz/Gilberto which came out in 1964 was the first jazz LP to win album of the year and it started the bossa nova craze in America which even had Frank Sinatra singing with Jobim in 1967.

Joao Gilberto, Luis Bonfa, Tom Jobim, Vinicius De Moraes, Sergio Mendes and Astrud Gilberto all continued to make exceptional music, either more or less under the umbrella of bossa nova (literally “new trend” a cross between samba and jazz), the music of Rio de Janiero – or as the music-shop owner in Ipanema corrected me in 2014 – we were there for the Wordl Cup naturally – the music of bourgeouis Rio, collegiate  Rio.  The favela folk listen to Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars.   Or maybe they listen to Sergio Mendes and Elis Regina too.

Elis was raised in Porto Alegre and moved to Rio to further her musical career.  In 1965 she became the biggest selling Brazilian artist since Carmen Miranda with a Vinicius De Moraes/Edu Lobo song Arrastão, which was a sensation, shooting her to stardom and creating a new genre of music MPB (Música popular brasileira or Brazilian Popular Music).

The next ten years in Brazil produced a tremendously rich flowering of music, some popular like Jorge Ben or Chico Buarque, some more artistic and international such as the Tropicalia movement : Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Tom Ze, Caetano Veloso.  Samba was part of all of these blooms, a desire to plant roots and produce a truly Brazilian music.  Meanwhile Jobim was still writing amazing songs – and none more amazing than this one.

A snake, a stick
It is John, it is Joe
It’s a thorn in your hand
And a cut in your toe
A point, a grain
A bee, a bite
A blink, a buzzard,
A sudden stroke of night
A pass in the mountains
A horse and a mule
In the distance the shelves
Rode three shadows of blue
And the river talks
Of the waters of March
It’s the promise of life
In your heart, in your heart

1974

It was Jenny whose ears first pricked.   She declared it her favourite on the LP.  She loves it.  It became a favourite of ours over the years, on mixtapes and gift-CDs.  Often we would dance across the kitchen floor to its seductive whisperings.  We became so obsessed by it since moving to New York that I started to work out the chords on the piano, but it’s the rhythm which is so ensnaring, or rather a combination of the melody and the rhythm.  For a few weeks the song became ubiquitous – in early 2017 we couldn’t escape from it.  My giant 60th birthday party was looming in June and we were wondering : I’d asked a dozen loving friends to sing me a song on the auspicious day, backed by a mini-orchestra (The Psychedelic Love Orchestra, spawned from the Brighton Beach Boys).  It felt weird to not sing a song – maybe we should do a duet ??

Tom Jobim & Elis Regina

There were only two contenders really – this song, Águas de Marco or You’re All I Need To Get By by Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell.  Showstoppers.  We tried them a few times.  We got shy.  We decided against it.  Jenny was then going to sing me Alice Smith’s cover of Fool For You which is exquisite.  It nearly happened.  I was going to sing We Will, It Must Be Love,  How Can I Be Sure, What A Waste.  Decided not to.  It’s pretty nerve-wracking singing a song live.  You have to give yourself permission to do it mainly.  That little voice in your head saying “Can you do it, really?” is not very useful at all.   “Should I do it?” is even worse.  You have to be kind of indestructible and surrender to the song, deliver it, own it.  It’s a strange combination, but doubt really is not a part of it.  It has taken me ten years or more to really be able to sing Within You Without You on our Sgt Pepper dates (see My Pop Life #154) with full authority.   Like many creative tasks, repetition is the key.  Like listening to Jobim every day for a week will enfold you in his world and you won’t want to leave.   It’s all very well me writing a whole load of guff about how I fell in love with Brasilien music (portugese spelling) but in the end I just listened to the songs.  Didn’t read about them.  Just listened and found more, and more, and more.

Elis Regina

É um estrepe, é um prego, é uma conta, é um conto
É um pingo pingando, é uma conta, é um ponto
É um peixe, é um gesto, é uma prata brilhando
É a luz da manhã, é o tijolo chegando
É a lenha, é o dia, é o fim da picada
É a garrafa de cana, o estilhaço na estrada
É o projeto da casa, é o corpo na cama
É o carro enguiçado, é a lama, é a lama
É um passo, é uma ponte, é um sapo, é uma rã
É um resto de mato, na luz da manhã
São as águas de março fechando o verão
É a promessa de vida no teu coração

This song in particular I find extraordinary.  One of the great duets – see Ray Charles and Betty Carter singing Baby It’s Cold Outside for the pinnacle  – every line in the Portugese version starts with “It’s” (or É) – and each image leads you away from the rain, and back to it, like a child staring at raindrops running down a window-pane, daydreaming of playing outside, stopping, starting, blurring your eyes as you focus and glaze, wondering about long ago and tomorrow and feeling safe and gentle and grateful.

 

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My Pop Life #190 : There You Are – Millie Jackson

There You Are – Millie Jackson

Shucks, I thought this party was gonna be really hitting on something
Ain’t nothing around here but a bunch of women, nobody to dance with
Every man that looks like anything already been taken
Sho’ can’t trust nobody to tell you where to go these days
Uh oh…..

…hmm Lord, have mercy…

I was 20 years old when I discovered Millie Jackson. And she blew my tiny white boy mind.  No, I didn’t meet her, could’ve been fatal.  I bought an LP entitled Caught Up – I cannot remember why or how I came to know about it.  I was in my soul music educational phase playing catch-up on a lifetime’s diet of Pop Music with the occasional prog rock interlude (Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf) mixed with some Pure Prairie League and Joe Walsh and Spirit with a smattering of Roxy Music, Carly Simon and Joan Armatrading.  You could drive a truck through the gaps – jazz, soul, reggae, classical, african, indian, country, blues, the works really.  I was at least aware of my limited palette and spent all of my spare pocket money on records.  LPs and 45s.  I was living in London with Norman Wilson, Lewis MacLeod and Derek Sherwin and we were all at LSE in the Aldwych so opportunities were many, a stroll down to Berwick Street or D’Arblay St in Soho would leave me flicking through endless LPs I’d never heard of, desperate to spend my student grant.  One of the winners was Millie Jackson.

This LP, as I say, blew me away.  On the cover, Millie Jackson caught in a spider’s web, with a man, and another woman.  The music was soul music with spoken interludes, told from the viewpoint of the mistress and the spoken word sections – notably The Rap which is track two, right after the classic If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Wanna Be Right) – are quite extraordinary.  Tired Of Hiding is also on side one – what a song that is.  Her personality comes breaking out of the speakers, larger than life, mouthy, opinionated, funny, dirty, defiant, honest, truthful. Magnificent.  There’s a section in The Rap, and you have to hear it really because it’s the way she delivers it that kills me, in a sassy Georgia accent via Brooklyn and Jersey :

You know, I don’t wanna leave you with a one-sided conception over this thing.
Anyone out there in my shoes this evening, I want you to know what I’m talking about.
I want you know there’s two sides to this thing.
There’s a good side to being in love with a married man and I like it.
‘Cause you see, when you’re going with a married man, he can come over two or three times a week and give you a little bit.
That means you’re two up on the wife already, ’cause once you’ve married one, you don’t get it but once a week.
Another sweet thing is on pay day, he can come over and give you a little bread and I like that.
But the sweetest thing about the whole situation is the fact that when you go to the Laundromat, you don’t have to wash nobody’s funky drawers but your own and I like it like that

Call me sheltered but it was just something I’d never encountered before.  Growing up in leafy East Sussex I wasn’t aware that I’d met a single black person until I got to the LSE.  A couple of Mauritian nurses at Laughton Lodge, a Brazilian kid at school, Ugandan asians billeted in Lewes, but that was about it.  It was like a doorway into a world I knew nothing about.  It got under my skin clearly.   But it wouldn’t be until 1984 and Panic! at the Royal Court with Danny Boyle and Paulette Randall that I would have a genuine close friend who was black.

The album finishes with a cover of the timeless Bobby Goldsboro ballad Summer (The First Time) with that sexy piano riff and a whispery sexy lead vocal about Millie losing her virginity on the last day of June.  Genuinely Hot Stuff !

The follow-up LP was called Still Caught Up – the cover has a soulful portrait of Millie wearing a 1970s hippy hat.  This follow-up is mainly from the point of view of the wife, with the same scintillating soul-bearing honesty, more like a bulletin from the front line of the sex wars than a soul LP.  Again, spoken word over the orchestrated lush soul section dominates the experience, vengeful, furious, telling it like it is.   Recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama like its predecessor, these two records are classic soul moments which take no prisoners, raunch-rap long before Mary J. Blige or Salt’n’Pepa.  She is a little like a female Barry White or Isaac Hayes but Millie is actually way more original and unique than either of these fellas.  A storyteller.   Still Caught Up finishes with the married woman alone – she’s lost her husband to the other woman on I Still Love You (You Still Love Me) – and it’s a heartfelt tearful slow ballad which finishes in a mental hospital, I kid you not.  No prisoners are taken.  I was hooked by this woman, and bought three more albums before being led astray by other music – 1979’s A Moment’s Pleasure with the opening track Never Change Lovers In The Middle OF The Night and a big dirty live LP called Live and Uncensored which is a record of Millie Jackson’s massive presence in a live arena, something which I regret to never having experienced.

This song comes from Free And In Love, released in 1976.  Not considered in the high echelons like the previous two albums (or the three that preceded them in the early 1970s) it nevertheless contains one of my favourite songs of all time : There You Are.  Again Millie tells us a story, about being at a club, with no decent-looking men available when – uh-oh….

……There You Are…..

Looking like a king and everything…

So in my and Jenny’s favourite section, she turns to Helen for a sister’s help…

Hey, Helen, the fella standing over there on the corner
Do you know his name? Oh, you do… Jimmy?
Would you introduce me to him?
…See, that’s why I don’t like to go nowhere with you
What kind of friend are you?
That’s alright, wait ’til the next time you want somebody to hang out with you
You’re gonna hang out by yourself, ’cause I’m gonna be with Jimmy


So she introduces herself to Jimmy, and the rest is history and herstory. One of her greatest vocal performances, not cynical and whip-smart like much of Caught Up, just open-heart surgery soul music.

We introduced our friend Jimmy Lance to this tune back in the day when we all lived in Brighton.  Oh how we laughed.

Eight years after I first heard Millie Jackson and carried her around in my secret heart like an unspoken, unthought-of sexual fantasy, I was working at The Tricycle Theatre on Kilburn High Road on a show called Return To The Forbidden Planet, by Bob Carlton.  It was a rock’n’roll version of The Tempest set in outer space, loosely based on the 1956 sci-fi B-movie.  All the actors had to sing and play something, and they needed a saxophone.  I auditioned for Hereward Kaye, the MD, and Glen Walford the director (who would a short year later put me off live theatre for 20 years when I played Macbeth in Liverpool Everyman (see My Pop Life #108)).  I did OK.  I got cast as the bo’sun.  We rehearsed and I learned Good Vibrations from Herry, keys and backing vocals, played bass on another song, drums on another song, it was one of those shows where we swapped instruments for effect.  We opened sometime in the spring of 1985.  Mumtaz and I were on our last legs in the Finsbury Park flat (even though tragically she was back in Karachi buying me two wedding shalwar-kamiz behind her parent’s backs) and I was driving to work across the top of Hampstead Heath in my Hillman Minx.   At some point in this process I started rehearsing for the Joint Stock show Deadlines in the daytime hours (see My Pop Life #185) then travelled to the Trike to do the show in the evenings – pretty full on – and I had to stop drinking even a half-pint of beer because it made me feel that my Hepatitus was on the rise again, contracted in Mexico in 1981. I was stretched to the physical limit in other words and my body was letting me know.

When it came to opening night of Planet at the Trike, the actors were told that we had to circulate in the bar with the audience, offering them travel-sickness pills (sweets) and generally hyping up the spacecraft they were about to board (the auditorium, the show).  So we did.  I have no pictures from this part of my life but I guess I was about 28 years old and still had most of my hair.  I walked around the bar slightly reluctantly engaging with the punters – I am incredibly shy.  In fact, I’m not a natural cabaret-type person like the lead actors Mathew Devitt and Nicky .  What this means is that when something goes wrong, they step in and acknowledge the moment, sharing with the audience the unfortunate events and telling off-colour jokes to fill the space.  In fact I could swear that Mathew found these “live” moments his favourite parts of the show.  It’s light entertainment I suppose – or cabaret.  Or stand-up, which hadn’t quite taken off in London at this point but was hovering in the wings waiting to take over.  I was never any good at any of it until I had to be.

So I struggled nightly with these pre-show chores, engaging with the audience as an actor, in character, speaking in an american accent I think.  As I heard the final announcement to “get on board” I swept the final punters out like a good sheepdog then left the bar and rounded the corner into the foyer and

>>>**BAM**<<<

There she was.  Lookin’ like a queen and everything.  There you were.

My future wife.  Looking like Millie Jackson.  Just a little bit.  An usherette.  Tearing tickets.  I just stopped.  A vision.  Of loveliness.  Of love.

We just looked at each other, maybe said “hi” and then I went in, and walked upstairs, for I had a show to do and my entrance was climbing down from the balcony onto the stage.  I didn’t know what had just happened, but it was

a moment.

Hurts so good just wouldn’t start to cover it.  It was electricity.  It’s a reasonably long story in the end.  We saw each other – in the corridor – a few times after that, but people in the theatre warned her off me and it wasn’t to be, it was too complicated all round.  It wouldn’t actually be until 1988 that we finally had a date together, just across the road from the Tricycle in a restaurant called Le Cloche.  That’s for another post I guess.

And… here we are.