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.
In an exclusive interview, the presidential candidate reveals the clients he worked with, what he did for them, and how the experience shaped the way he solves problems.
Last month, a source emailed a colleague of mine with a complicated theory that, the source claimed, proved Pete Buttigieg had been in the CIA. “The American people have the right to know if he was ever an agent or officer,” the person wrote, with the kind of baseless confidence that lives on the internet.
By then, Buttigieg’s critics on the left had started to focus more on what the South Bend, Indiana, mayor could have been doing at McKinsey, a company that seems to look worse with each passing week. Progressives, and in particular the Elizabeth Warren campaign, pounced: What was Buttigieg doing at McKinsey for two and a half years? How many people had lost their jobs because of him? How shady was the work conveniently hidden behind a standard McKinsey nondisclosure agreement?
George Zimmerman’s lawsuit is part of a much broader pattern: Gun-rights advocates have recast perpetrators of violence as the real victims.
In the latest turn in a long, ugly saga, George Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watchman who was acquitted of second-degree murder after shooting Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, recently filed a lawsuit in which he presents himself as the victim of injustice and seeks recompense for his losses. The killing of Trayvon, who was 17, led to a national outpouring of anger—over Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which offers legal protections to those who use lethal force instead of retreating from confrontations, and over a broader pattern in which African Americans die at the hands of shooters who claim to have feared for their own lives.
Zimmerman’s lawsuit reflects a different kind of indignation. Six years after his trial, he is now accusing Trayvon’s parents; their attorney, Benjamin Crump; the state of Florida; and others of colluding in what the suit portrays as an unfair prosecution. His lawsuit seeks an eye-popping $100 million in damages for the personal losses he claims to have sustained. “Plaintiff Zimmerman,” his complaint says, “has suffered severe loss of reputation, goodwill, and past, present, and future loss of income, earning, and other financial damage.”
Americans like me ignored—or scorned—protesters who warned of an endless quagmire in Afghanistan. Next time, we should listen to the critics.
The 80 percent of Americans who supported the war in Afghanistan back in 2001 were wrong. And the tiny anti-war faction that opposed the conflict was correct in warning that an invasion and occupation would turn into a bloody quagmire.
That was my thought as I read the long-suppressed war documents that The Washington Post published yesterday after a three-year fight to make them public. Officials under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump “failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign,” the Post showed, “making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”
Observers will differ on whether U.S. officials could have been more effective or honest, or whether their failures were foreordained by perverse incentives and hard choices. A shorter war that struck al-Qaeda members but eschewed occupation can be imagined.
Instead of settling on charges that relate to statutory crimes, with clear, concrete criteria, the Democrats have instead released two articles of impeachment in which the misconduct exists largely in the eye of the beholder.
Today the House Judiciary Committee announced two articles of impeachment. The first article alleges that President Donald Trump abused his power by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce investigations into one of his political opponents, Joe Biden, and into a “discredited theory” that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the most recent presidential election. The second article charges that President Trump obstructed Congress by refusing to comply with impeachment-related subpoenas. In opting for these two offenses—and in excluding three others that had all been plausible—House Democrats have narrowed their charges to the allegations that are the easiest to see, if you see the world, and this presidency, as they do.
The new book by the president’s son should be far more interesting than it actually is.
When Donald Trump Jr.’s book, Triggered, leapt to the top of TheNew York Times’ best-seller list a few weeks ago, alert observers noticed something odd—odder even than the thought of Donald Trump Jr. writing a book. Next to the listed title was the image of a dagger. What it signified was unclear. Was it a sly commentary by the Times’ obsessively Trumpophobic editorial staff? I had read the book already and had a guess: A dagger was the first thing readers would reach for when they finished Triggered—something sharp and lethal that could be used to slit throats, our own or someone else’s, to obliterate the experience of having read the whole thing.
Weirdly, I was wrong. The Times explained that the dagger serves as a kind of asterisk. It warns readers that some portion of a book’s sales came in the form of bulk orders by institutions rather than through individual purchases by ordinary, humble book buyers such as ourselves. The implication is to question the book’s status as a boffo smash. In the case of Triggered, thousands of copies were bought by the Republican National Committee and then passed along as premiums to donors. A pro-Trump youth group called Turning Point USA and several Republican congressional candidates did the same, the Times reported in a news story.
Americans with cellphones went into a recession and came out the other side with a new communication style.
The first spike in Google searches for the term drunk text came in May 2009, three months after the launch of a website called Texts From Last Night.
Lauren Leto and Ben Bator were recent college graduates living in Detroit and thinking about law school. The city’s mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was at the center of one of politics’ first big sexting scandals (unrelated to the corruption charges that later put him in prison), and the pair were inspired. They made a Blogspot site and started posting screenshots of the weirdest texts they got from their friends, anonymized but tagged with one clue: an area code.
“Three months after it launched was finals week everywhere,” Bator says. “I think people were condensed in libraries at different colleges around the country. It was also Cinco de Mayo week. People started reposting the texts with a link to the website, and it blew up. By that point, everybody had something up there from their area code. That made it relatable. You felt like you knew the people who submitted, or you wished you did, or you were glad you didn’t.” At its peak, Texts From Last Night regularly had up to 20 million unique viewers a month, Bator says. But most of the company’s revenue came from selling a 99-cent app—mobile websites were so bad in 2010 that people actually paid for it. It was a million-dollar idea at a time when the country was flailing.
The United States is a fortress of gerontocracy besieged by a youth rebellion. America’s leaders are old—very old. The average age in Congress has never been higher, and our national leaders are all approaching 80. Nancy Pelosi was born in 1940, Mitch McConnell came along in 1942, and Donald Trump, the baby of this power trio, followed in 1946, making him several weeks older than his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The two leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, are 77 and 78 years old, respectively. Every individual in this paragraph came into the world before the International Monetary Fund and the CIA; before the invention of the transistor and the Polaroid camera; before the Roswell UFO incident and the independence of India.
Trump’s defenders suggest that White House aides could exculpate the president—but the evidence suggests otherwise.
Speaking with George Stephanopoulos on ABC this weekend, Representative Matt Gaetz—one of President Donald Trump’s most relentlessly enthusiastic congressional supporters—had an unexpected suggestion for how the president should proceed in the impeachment inquiry. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting White House chief of staff, should testify before Congress, Gaetz argued—along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and perhaps even the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. All three men have so far refused to cooperate with House requests for information. But, said Gaetz, “I think it would inure to the president’s advantage to have people testify who could exculpate him.”
The articles of impeachment focus on Ukraine, but the GOP must pass judgment on the president’s broader willingness to bend U.S. foreign policy toward his own ends.
As the House of Representatives nears a vote on two articles of impeachment, very few people think President Donald Trump’s conduct was “perfect,” as he claims it was. The partisan divide revolves around whether his wrongdoing rises to the level of an impeachable offense. Democrats believe it does, but Republicans overwhelmingly think it does not. Yes, Trump’s behavior may have been “inappropriate and misguided,” argued Will Hurd, a retiring House member from Texas, but “an impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear, and unambiguous.” For the GOP, this standard has not been met.
If this is the question, then the trial in the Senate must move beyond Ukraine. It should put Trump’s foreign policy on trial. The president’s effort to pressure the Ukrainian government is part of a larger pattern of bending American foreign policy to reflect his own personal beliefs and interests. Left unchecked, it could lead to a permanent upending of America’s global role, including the end of the alliance system. A Senate trial is the Republicans’ last, best chance to avert this scenario—because if Trump remains in office once the trial is over, they will be fully committed to ensuring his reelection, no matter what he’s done.