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 president crossed an important line when he canceled a meeting with the Danish prime minister.
Yesterday, President Donald Trump canceled a meeting with the new Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, because she refuses to discuss the sale of Greenland. Greenland used to be a Danish colony but now belongs to the people of Greenland—the Danish government could not sell the island even if it wanted to. Trump likely did not know that Denmark is one of America’s most reliable allies. Danish troops, for example, fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered 50 fatalities, and Danish forces were among the earliest to join the fight against the Islamic State.
Many Americans may laugh off Trump’s latest outrage, but Trump crossed an important line. It is one thing to float a cockamamie idea that no one believes is serious or will go anywhere. “Let’s buy Greenland!” Yes, very funny. A good distraction from the economy, the failure to deal with white supremacy, White House staff problems, or whatever is the news of the day. It is quite another to use leverage and impose costs on Denmark in pursuit of that goal—and make no mistake, canceling a presidential visit is using leverage and imposing costs. What’s next, refusing to exempt Denmark from various tariffs because it won’t discuss Greenland? Musing on Twitter that America’s defense commitments to Denmark are conditional on the negotiation? Intellectual justifications from Trump-friendly publications, citing previous purchase proposals and noting Greenland’s strategic value and abundance of natural resources? (That last one has already happened.)
Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out.
In the summer of 1987, I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and headed northeast to attend Yale. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at various universities—the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees along the way. Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy.
Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders.
He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention.
Every morning of my Joe Rogan experience began the same way Joe Rogan begins his: with the mushroom coffee.
It’s a pour-and-stir powder made from lion’s mane and chaga—“two rock-star mushrooms,” according to Joe—and it’s made by a company called Four Sigmatic, a regular advertiser on Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast. As a coffee lover, the mere existence of mushroom coffee offends me. (“I’ll have your most delicious thing, made from your least delicious things, please,” a friend said, scornfully.) But it tastes fine, and even better after another cup of actual coffee.
Next, I took several vitamin supplements from a company called Onnit, whose core philosophy is “total human optimization” and whose website sells all kinds of wicked-cool fitness gear—a Darth Vader kettlebell ($199.95); a 50-foot roll of two-and-a-half-inch-thick battle rope ($249.95); a 25-pound quad mace ($147.95), which according to one fitness-equipment site is a weapon dating back to 11th-century Persia. I stuck to the health products, though, because you know how it goes—you buy one quad mace and soon your apartment is filled with them. I stirred a packet of Onnit Gut Health powder into my mushroom coffee, then downed an enormous pair of Alpha Brain pills, filled with nootropics to help with “memory and focus.”
The debate has polarized Britain and normalized what was previously unthinkable.
Brexit isn’t what it used to be. In the months immediately after Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, two flavors were on offer—“hard” and “soft.” A soft Brexit generally meant leaving the bloc’s political structures but not its economic ones, such as the single market for goods and services. The hard version meant leaving those, too. Crucially, both versions would see Britain formally agree to a new relationship with the EU.
“In the summer of 2016, everyone was a soft Brexiter, really,” Anand Menon, a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, told me.
Now no one is. The political landscape is polarized. What was once considered “hard” is now denounced by the loudest Brexiteers as a squalid compromise. Instead, “no deal” has become the purest, truest form of Brexit—“No deal is the best deal,” the official account of the Brexit Party, the most doctrinaire of Brexit-supporting groups, recently tweeted.
Can straight men and women really be best friends? Their partners are wondering, too.
In 1989, When Harry Met Sally posed a question that other pop-cultural entities have been trying to answer ever since: Can straight men and women really be close friends without their partnership turning into something else? (According to The Office, no. According to Lost in Translation, yes. According to Friends … well, sometimes no and sometimes yes.) Screenwriters have been preoccupied with this question for a long time, and according to a new study published in the Journal of Relationships Research, the question is also likely to be on the minds of people whose romantic partners have best friends of the opposite sex.
For the study, Eletra Gilchrist-Petty, an associate professor of communication arts at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Lance Kyle Bennett, a doctoral-degree student at the University of Iowa, recruited 346 people, ranging in age from 18 to 64, who were or had been in a heterosexual relationship with someone who had a different-sex best friend. When they surveyed participants’ attitudes toward cross-sex best friendships, they found that people who are engaged to be married look more negatively on those friendships than married, single, or dating people. They also found that people who are skeptical of cross-sex best friendships in general are more likely to “lash out” at their partner when they feel threatened by the partner’s best friend—as opposed to constructively communicating with their partner, or with the friend, about the situation.
Just a few hours of therapy-like interventions can reduce some people’s anxiety.
The strange little PowerPoint asks me to imagine being the new kid at school. I feel nervous and excluded, its instructions tell me. Kids pick on me. Sometimes I think I’ll never make friends. Then the voice of a young, male narrator cuts in. “By acting differently, you can actually build new connections between neurons in your brain,” the voice reassures me. “People aren’t stuck being shy, sad, or left out.”
The activity, called Project Personality, is a brief digital activity meant to build a feeling of control over anxiety in 12-to-15-year-olds. Consisting of a series of stories, writing exercises, and brief explainers about neuroscience, it was created by Jessica Schleider, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University, where she directs the Lab for Scalable Mental Health. She sent it to me so I could see how teens might use it to essentially perform psychotherapy on themselves, without the aid of a therapist.
They do play a role in setting a school’s norms—but kids’ parents and close friends have more sway.
In school, “popularity” is a slippery concept, with kids falling in and out of it for no apparent reason. The hierarchies of middle and high school can be as mystifying years later as they were at the time.
But researchers have been studying “popularity” in a systematic way for a while now, and one question they’ve dug into is to what degree the actions and customs of kids considered to be popular dictate what everyone else does. In other words, how much is the rest of the school trying to be like the popular kids? What researchers tend to find is that, yes, popular kids do shape the behavior of the broader student body—but only to a point.
Mitch Prinstein, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina and the author of Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World, is familiar with these dynamics. Research that he and others have done suggests that popular kids, predictably, have a good amount of influence over what Prinstein calls “relatively inconsequential things,” such as the music peers listen to and the clothes they wear. More consequentially, they also hold sway in the realms of sex, alcohol, and drugs. Their influence is not necessarily negative, though that is the stereotype: The powers of the popular crowd seem to work in service of beneficial behaviors too, like volunteering or helping classmates who are having a hard time. If the cool kids do it, others might do it too. “The popular kids aren’t always pushing people to do bad things,” Prinstein told me.
Hundreds of skeletons are scattered around a site high in the Himalayas, and a new study overturns a leading theory about how they got there.
In a kinder world, archaeologists would study only formal cemeteries, carefully planned and undisturbed. No landslides would have scattered the remains. No passersby would have taken them home as souvenirs, or stacked them into cairns, or made off with the best of the artifacts. And all this certainly wouldn’t be happening far from any evidence of human habitation, under the surface of a frozen glacial lake.
But such an ideal burial ground wouldn’t have the eerie appeal of Skeleton Lake in Uttarakhand, India, where researchers suspect the bones of as many as 500 people lie. The lake, which is formally known as Roopkund, is miles above sea level in the Himalayas and sits along the route of the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, a famous festival and pilgrimage. Bones are scattered throughout the site: Not a single skeleton found so far is intact.
He’s unpopular, scandalous, and a bigot, and we may be sliding into a recession. But that might not matter.
There are many reasons President Donald Trump might lose reelection in 2020. He is deeply unpopular. Most Americans abhor his bigotry. His administration has been plagued by all manner of scandals. He has failed to live up to his many grandiloquent promises. The country may be sliding into a recession.
Put all of this together, and it’s easy to imagine Democrats riding a big blue wave to the White House next year. But I fear that it is somewhat more likely that Trump will be able to declare victory on November 3, 2020.
Trump’s approval ratings are the most commonly used metric for how likely he is to win reelection. At first sight, they hold a lot of comfort for the president’s opponents. According to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker, for example, more Americans believe he is doing a poor job as president than believe he is doing a good one: About 54 percent disapprove of his performance. Only 42 percent approve of it.
“Wealth work” is one of America’s fastest-growing industries. That’s not entirely a good thing.
In an age of persistently high inequality, work in high-cost metros catering to the whims of the wealthy—grooming them, stretching them, feeding them, driving them—has become one of the fastest-growing industries.
Low-skill, low-pay, and disproportionately done by women, these jobs congregate near dense urban labor markets, multiplying in neighborhoods with soaring disposable income. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of manicurists and pedicurists doubled, while the number of fitness trainers and skincare specialists grew at least twice as fast as the overall labor force.
While there are reasons to be optimistic about this trend, there is also something queasy about the emergence of a new underclass of urban servants.