Below are Atlantic notes, from James Fallows with suggestions from many readers, about the lasting effects of the song that Brazilian listeners chose as their country’s greatest musical creation, Águas de Março, by Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim.
It has been unexpectedly rewarding to raise the topic of The Greatest Song Ever™, Águas de Março by Antonio Carlos Jobim. The new versions keep coming in. (For previous installments, see “The Greatest Song Ever” and “Question for the Ages.”) Here are three more worth mentioning:
David Byrne and Marisa Monte. A fan of the music writes:
I'm happy to see you writing about this amazing song, which I also happen to have been listening to all week. However, your omission of the version that introduced me to the tune, which remains my favorite rendition, makes me worried that you've never heard it! [JF note: you’re right. I had not.]
It's by (former Talking Head) David Byrne and Marisa Monte. Their version is bilingual, and includes some brilliant soaring singing from Byrne and instrumentation that only hints at the song's South American roots.
Yes, this is really something. When you hear it, the song itself couldn’t be by anyone but Jobim, but the (English half of) the singing couldn’t be by anyone by Byrne.
Luciana Souza. A straightfoward but nice English-language version, with some variations in the English translation:
Colas de Março. I was living in Japan when the video below came out, so I had not seen it until today. Wow. This is the “agony” part of this item’s headline. The tech writer and editor Harry McCracken sets up what you are about to see, if you dare:
I’ve been enjoying the series about what really is my favorite song. I first encountered it thirty years ago--long before I knew who Tom Jobim was--in [the video below}.
Coke took a piece which would later be voted the greatest Brazilian song of all time and did everything in its power to hyper-Americanize it, with all-new lyrics which are barked more than sung, plus visuals of baseball, basketball, football, Marines raising a flag, the Statue of Liberty, and pseudo-Flashdance dance moves. And, of course, Coke!
It was silly at the time, and in retrospect, the 1980s vibe is overwhelming. I'm still not sure whether Coke thought that people would recognize the tune, or whether it was attempting to co-opt an unfamiliar piece by the composer of The Girl From Ipanema. But I find it fascinating that the song is able to withstand this interpretation and retain some of its appeal.
Wow. Or maybe: USA! USA!
Still to come: Yo-yo Ma, Cassandra Wilson, John Pizzarelli, and more. Thanks to all.
Following an item this week on the world’s greatest song, or one of them, some followup discussion on the song (Águas de Março, “Waters of March”), its composer (the great Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim), and the rich variety of recordings available.
1) A hypnotically simple version. Somehow I associate one stage of my writing life with having this hypnotically spare guitar version, by João Gilberto, playing in the headsets. It’s the first five minutes of this clip.
2) Susannah McCorkle. I hadn’t heard her version before. It presents the song with an entirely different mood and speed and is wonderful. McCorkle had been a modern languages student at Berkeley, and she translated the lyrics into English in a more elegant and idiomatic form than Jobim’s, plus here she handles the lyrics in Portuguese well. I don’t see any video of her singing the song, but her voice is on the version I’ve found, from closing credits for Jerry Seinfeld’s movie Comedian.
Further on McCorkle, from a friend who is a genuine music expert (as opposed to an amateur “know what I like” fan like me):
Thanks for that irresistible video of Regina and Jobim singing “Waters of March.” I’d never seen it before, and you may be right in your top rankings.
But I’d say there are much livelier English-language versions than the one you show: e.g., Susannah McCorkle, Stacey Kent (though, I can’t remember now, hers might be in French), or Oleta Adams & Al Jarreau.
3) The friends and readers ask, I provide! Here is a YouTube version of Oleta Adams and Al Jarreau:
And as a bonus, here is Stacey Kent with Les Eaux de Mars, which as my reader half-suspected is en français (she is American). Even though I can understand the words here, unlike those in the original Portuguese, for me they still have that alluring cat-purr sound I noted about the original, and which I find an improvement over English-lyric versions even as elegant as McCorkle’s.
From another reader, a hypothesis I won’t take time to track down. It concerns the bewitching video of Jobim and the singer Elis Regina performing Aguas:
One fascinating story I've heard (I think it's in Sergio Cabral's biography of Jobim but I'm finding it frustratingly hard to find a link) is that Elis & Tom apparently could barely stand each other in these sessions.
In this version of the story, she'd agreed to do the album for contractual reasons, and he disagreed with the arrangements, and the producer's biggest task was keeping either one of them from walking out.
It's a striking story because it's such a contrast to the audible and, in the case of that video, visible intimacy of the recordings. And I've seen other accounts saying they all stayed at the same LA hotel, shared riotous group dinners and generally had a ball.
I'm genuinely confused and fascinated by which account is true but I almost prefer the bitter to the sweet version. If it's true it's an amazing -- almost scary -- example of what consummate professionals these two musicians were, to spin such tension into such a convincing simulacrum of affection.
OK, there are lots of great songs. But for me this one has always been in the very first tier, maybe because it became popular, as did the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds, when I was in that teen-aged acute-music-registering stage of life.
The video below is the Absolute Classic version of Águas de Março, “Waters of March,” by the song’s composer, Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim, and the deathless (though sadly dead, as is Jobim) Elis Regina. This is just magical:
Tell me you would not like to know these people, or be them.
I think it adds to rather than detracts from the power of this performance that the lyrics are in Portuguese, with the cat-purr-like stream of fricatives (as they sound to the non-Portuguese speaker) and repetitive rhymes, unburdened by literal meanings.
Over the years, and most recently 18 months ago, I’ve chronicled the adventures of the indie group Pomplamoose. Its members are the singer / guitarist Nataly Dawn, and the all-purpose-musician Jack Conte. If you go here, you’ll see that early-2014 report, plus links to the previous ones, including from the surprisingly vociferous tribe of Pomplamoose-haters who keep writing in.
You’ll also see three embedded videos of songs even the haters would have a hard time hating: the Pomplamoose versions of Happy, September, and Mister Sandman.
Now Nataly Dawn is back, with the drummer and singer Carlos Cabrera (who has toured with Pomplamoose), with their own version of Waters of March. The singing, like that title, is in English, and it has a completely different vibe from the Jobim/Regina classic. But worth checking out!
To round out this theme, I’ll include a link to a 2012 dispatch that attempted to link the cool of Jobim’s music to that year’s presidential race.
The mistakes of the past are fast creating a crisis for younger Americans.
The Baby Boomers ruined America. That sounds like a hyperbolic claim, but it’s one way to state what I found as I tried to solve a riddle. American society is going through a strange set of shifts: Even as cultural values are in rapid flux, political institutions seem frozen in time. The average U.S. state constitution is more than 100 years old. We are in the third-longest period without a constitutional amendment in American history: The longest such period ended in the Civil War. So what’s to blame for this institutional aging?
One possibility is simply that Americans got older. The average American was 32 years old in 2000, and 37 in 2018. The retiree share of the population is booming, while birth rates are plummeting. When a society gets older, its politics change. Older voters have different interests than younger voters: Cuts to retiree-focused benefits are scarier, while long-term problems such as excessive student debt, climate change, and low birth rates are more easily ignored.
Five years ago, the flight vanished into the Indian Ocean. Officials on land know more about why than they dare to say.
1. The Disappearance
At 12:42 a.m. on the quiet, moonlit night of March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines took off from Kuala Lumpur and turned toward Beijing, climbing to its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The designator for Malaysia Airlines is MH. The flight number was 370. Fariq Hamid, the first officer, was flying the airplane. He was 27 years old. This was a training flight for him, the last one; he would soon be fully certified. His trainer was the pilot in command, a man named Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who at 53 was one of the most senior captains at Malaysia Airlines. In Malaysian style, he was known by his first name, Zaharie. He was married and had three adult children. He lived in a gated development. He owned two houses. In his first house he had installed an elaborate Microsoft flight simulator.
He declared his intention to vote Trump in 2020—even though he thinks Trump surrounded himself with awful people.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to be clear: He supports Donald J. Trump. But don’t you dare presume that he supports what Trump says or does.
Sure, he voted for Trump in 2016, but only reluctantly. And okay, he plans to vote for Trump again in 2020. But he’s adamantlyopposed to many of the most consequential actions Trump has taken as president. He’ll even say so in public. Doesn’t that make him a good guy?
Christie did his damnedest Monday to convince a crowd at the Aspen Ideas Festival and his interviewer, the Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg, that his support for the president of the United States is morally and logically defensible.
It was tough in part because of his scathing, multi-count indictment of Trump. In 2016, Christie recounted, Jared Kushner called to say that Trump was “off the rails” in his attacks on Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq. Christie claimed credit for getting Trump to finally stop going after the gold-star father.
These words came from an elderly woman sitting behind me on a late-night flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The plane was dark and quiet. A man I assumed to be her husband murmured almost inaudibly in response, something to the effect of “I wish I was dead.”
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help it. I listened with morbid fascination, forming an image of the man in my head as they talked. I imagined someone who had worked hard all his life in relative obscurity, someone with unfulfilled dreams—perhaps of the degree he never attained, the career he never pursued, the company he never started.
The president, in attempting to downplay E. Jean Carroll’s rape allegation against him, isn’t talking about attraction. He’s talking about protection.
“I’ll say it with great respect. Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, okay?”
That was Donald Trump, speaking yesterday with reporters from The Hill. The president was addressing, in part, the latest allegation of sexual assault to be brought against him, this time from the advice columnist and author E. Jean Carroll: In the mid-1990s, Carroll alleged in a recent essay, Trump, cornering her in a dressing room of the department store Bergdorf Goodman, raped her.
The Hill prefaced the headline of its published interview with an all-caps “EXCLUSIVE,” which is technically true but not fully: Trump, after all, has deployed the logic of “She’s not my type” many times before, in attempting to defend himself from charges of sexual misconduct. He used a similar dismissal as a presidential candidate in October 2016, after the former People magazine journalist Natasha Stoynoff accused him of attacking her—“He was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat,” she said—during an interview she had conducted with him at Mar-a-Lago, in 2005:
In the 1990s, Subaru’s unique selling point was that the company increasingly made all-wheel drive standard on all its cars. When the company’s marketers went searching for people willing to pay a premium for all-wheel drive, they identified four core groups who were responsible for half of the company’s American sales: teachers and educators, health-care professionals, IT professionals, and outdoorsy types.
His tariffs are contributing to a “generational shift” in which companies make their products.
At a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, this week, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping are set to have a one-on-one meeting, and hopes are high that a good conversation will restart stalled trade negotiations and convince the White House to hold off on further tariffs against China.
For Alfred LaSpina, the outcome may not matter very much, though. When LaSpina, the new vice president of eLumigen, based in Troy, Michigan, began thinking about a supply chain for the startup’s industrial lighting products, China automatically came to mind: LaSpina—an old friend of mine—has had experience with manufacturing in China before, and knew he could find reliable, experienced suppliers there. Then came Trump’s unexpected tariff hike on Chinese imports in May. LaSpina and his colleagues began to think twice, and they are now looking into alternative options in Southeast Asia. With so much uncertainty in the relationship between Beijing and Washington, he believes that’s just the smart thing to do.
The psychology professor Laurie Santos delivers the “shortest possible crash-course version” of the university’s most popular course ever.
The most popular class in the history of Yale University was inspired by a paradox: Even when people, conventionally speaking, succeed—get into a top college, make lots of money, or accumulate prestige and accolades—they are often left feeling unsatisfied.
It’s a problem that may be particularly acute at a place like Yale, but the lessons of the class, called “Psychology and the Good Life,” are widely applicable—they address fundamental features of the human mind that make it difficult to appreciate things that seem like they’d be great. “Our minds are filled with a ton of little glitches that make it hard to enjoy the great things that we have,” as Laurie Santos, the psychology professor who teaches the course, puts it.
These days, it seems, just about all organizations are asking their employees to do more with less. Is that actually a good idea?
In the faint predawn light, the ship doesn’t look unusual. It is one more silhouette looming pier-side at Naval Base San Diego, a home port of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. And the scene playing out in its forward compartment, as the crew members ready themselves for departure, is as old as the Navy itself. Three sailors in blue coveralls heave on a massive rope. “Avast!” a fourth shouts. A percussive thwack announces the pull of a tugboat—and 3,000 tons of warship are under way.
But now the sun is up, and the differences start to show.
Most obvious is the ship’s lower contour. Built in 2014 from 30 million cans’ worth of Alcoa aluminum, Littoral Combat Ship 10, the USS Gabrielle Giffords, rides high in the water on three separate hulls and is powered like a jet ski—that is, by water-breathing jets instead of propellers. This lets it move swiftly in the coastal shallows (or “littorals,” in seagoing parlance), where it’s meant to dominate. Unlike the older ships now gliding past—guided-missile cruisers, destroyers, amphibious transports—the littoral combat ship was built on the concept of “modularity.” There’s a voluminous hollow in the ship’s belly, and its insides can be swapped out in port, allowing it to set sail as a submarine hunter, minesweeper, or surface combatant, depending on the mission.
Libra will almost exactly replicate all the problems generated by the company’s social network.
Facebook, one of the world’s most distrusted companies, wants us to trust its new Libra cryptocurrency, which, it hopes, will be used by billions of people around the world. We shouldn’t. Libra will almost exactly replicate all the problems generated by Facebook’s social network. Those problems can in turn be traced to the central paradox of Big Tech: The technological innovation that is supposed to liberate us from government ends up subjugating us to a handful of corporations.
The key insight underlying Libra is that the transfer of money from person to person is similar to the transfer of information. “Moving money around globally,” Facebook declares in the white paper laying out the company’s vision for its new cryptocurrency, “should be as easy and cost-effective as—and even more safe and secure than—sending a text message or sharing a photo.” Money is information: When I send money to you, I’m telling the financial system that wealth holdings assigned to me should now be recorded as assigned to you. Financial networks are information networks, just as social networks are. And yet while the internet has revolutionized social networks, financial networks have not caught up. They remain hard to use and expensive, especially for international transactions—whereas, once you own the hardware and obtain an internet connection, social communications are essentially free. In Facebook’s vision, the financial network will be modeled on the social network, and eventually the two networks will be merged into a single network, through which we will seamlessly convey to one another money as well as cat photos and political diatribes.