All Jobim, All the Time

This is what the Internet is for. In response to an item about Andy Williams, and a followup that included a video of the great song Aguas de Março as performed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Elis Regina, messages like this one arrive. It's from a reader in Japan.

If you love that song, then you should definitely watch this version:

The same song, done by the same two, in almost the same manner.

But what makes this truly special is that it appears to be the actual recording session and the exact take that later went on the record and became one of the most beloved bossa nova songs of all time. I can't absolutely confirm that (for one thing, all of the comments are in Portuguese), but I've heard that album a hundred times and, yes, this is that exact version.

Bless whoever had the foresight to set up the camera.

He's right. I find this version incredibly moving, both for its role in recording history and for the magic between the two performers. Including the last few seconds of the clip.

A number of readers also recommended this video of Elis Regina with a jazz combo. And thanks to TH for this link to the intricate lyrics to Aguas de Março, in Portuguese and English.

To wrap this all up, a note from someone who doesn't have a gripe!

Can I just say that there's at least one reader who got what you meant when you offered that clip of Andy Williams and Jobim as a shorthand summary that might illuminate why Mitt Romney's pre-rock personal style seems out of place in our decidedly post-rock culture?  And, can I ask my fellow readers to get over themselves a little?  Did anyone really think that the point of what you were saying was that Romney could, in any way, be equated with the substance of Jobim's music?  Come on! 

The point, as I see it, is that before Rock, with its aesthetic of outsiderism and its claims to sweaty authenticity, took over the center of the popular music universe*, that center was occupied by music that hewed to entirely different criteria.  These were criteria that, rhetorically, placed greater value on execution than emotion, that at its best preferred cleverness and craft to intellectualism or transcendence. I'm not saying that Jobim's music  fits neatly into this paradigm at all, but that this popular aesthetic made a space on the charts for Jobim's music in a way that a Rock-dominated pop aesthetic wouldn't.  And, Jobim, who was a great, great composer, whose tremendously sophisticated music implies transcendent emotion through its very refusal to pander to the listener by acting that emotion out, was happy enough to pursue that place on the charts by dueting with a pure pop singer like Williams.

The interesting thing about this to me is how someone could, as Romney does, seem so untouched by the cultural shifts that we associate with "the sixties" and the Rock aesthetic.  I suspect it has something to do with money, and something to do with his church, and something to do with his personality.  But, either way, what better way to make the point than by offering a glimpse at music from Romney's coming of age period that was literally untouched by the 60s Rock aesthetic because that aesthetic was still plugging it out on the chitlin circuit.

Maybe you could have made this clearer by choosing a video of Williams without someone like Jobim, but that would have seemed to be just taking a cheap shot at Williams on the occasion of his death.  I like this much better, because it illuminates both Mitt Romney and Andy Williams. 

I know a lot about this stuff, but I didn't know about this performance of this song.  The notion that we can't learn anything by putting Mitt Romney next to Jobim and thinking about the moment in time that they both evoke is foolish.  Yes, Jobim's music is timeless and transcendent, a high human achievement.   But it is also tied mnemonically to a specific cultural and historical time, and is sturdy and substantial enough that using it to evoke that moment does it no harm whatsoever.  Those folks rushing to "defend" Jobim here are actually the ones that are seriously underestimating the power of his compositions.
*People think this happened with Elvis in the 50s, but those gains weren't really consolidated until the mid-1960s, which is why I use "Rock" instead of "Rock and Roll" throughout this.  I actually wrote a dissertation that argues that, after about 1966, the center of the popular music universe is dominated by what I call unpopular popular music: music that is distinguished in the pop marketplace by its supposed transcendence of the marketplace.  The paradox that the most commercially successful music over the past 4 or 5 decades has also often been the music that posits its own authentic uncommerciality is fascinating to me.  As is the fact that Romney seems like a visitor from a place where this never happened.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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