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.
Starting the process will rein in a president who is undermining American ideals—and bring the debate about his fitness for office into Congress, where it belongs.
On January 20, 2017,Donald Trump stood on the steps of the Capitol, raised his right hand, and solemnly swore to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He has not kept that promise.
Instead, he has mounted a concerted challenge to the separation of powers, to the rule of law, and to the civil liberties enshrined in our founding documents. He has purposefully inflamed America’s divisions. He has set himself against the American idea, the principle that all of us—of every race, gender, and creed—are created equal.
Insights into the little-studied realm of last words
Mort Felix liked to say that his name, when read as two Latin words, meant “happy death.” When he was sick with the flu, he used to jokingly remind his wife, Susan, that he wanted Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” played at his deathbed. But when his life’s end arrived at the age of 77, he lay in his study in his Berkeley, California, home, his body besieged by cancer and his consciousness cradled in morphine, uninterested in music and refusing food as he dwindled away over three weeks in 2012. “Enough,” he told Susan. “Thank you, and I love you, and enough.” When she came downstairs the next morning, she found Felix dead.
During those three weeks, Felix had talked. He was a clinical psychologist who had also spent a lifetime writing poetry, and though his end-of-life speech often didn’t make sense, it seemed to draw from his attention to language. “There’s so much so in sorrow,” he said at one point. “Let me down from here,” he said at another. “I’ve lost my modality.” To the surprise of his family members, the lifelong atheist also began hallucinating angels and complaining about the crowded room—even though no one was there.
Dr. Sherman Hershfield woke up one morning and was surprised to find himself behind the wheel of his car. Somewhere between his Beverly Hills apartment and his practice in the San Fernando Valley, the silver-haired physician had blacked out. Somehow he’d avoided a crash, but this wasn’t the first time. “I didn’t know what was going on,” he admitted.
Apart from his frequent blackouts, Hershfield was in fine health for a man in his 50s. He was tall and lean, ran six miles a day, and was a strict vegetarian. “I believe a physician should provide exemplary motivation to patients,” he once wrote. “I don’t smoke and have cut out all alcohol.” Hershfield specialized in physical medicine and rehabilitation, and for decades had helped patients with brain injuries learn to walk again and rebuild their lives. Even with his experience, Hershfield didn’t know what was wrong inside his own head.
America’s largest internet store is so big, and so bewildering, that buyers often have no idea what they’re going to get.
Updated at 5:28 p.m. ET on January 17, 2019.
There’s a Gatorade button attached to my basement fridge. If I push it, two days later a crate of the sports drink shows up at my door, thanks to Amazon. When these “Dash buttons” were first rumored in 2015, they seemed like a joke. Press a button to one-click detergent or energy bars? What even?, my colleague Adrienne LaFrance reasonably inquired.
They weren’t a joke. Soon enough, Amazon was selling the buttons for a modest fee, the value of which would be applied to your first purchase. There were Dash buttons for Tide and Gatorade, Fiji Water and Lärabars, Trojan condoms and Kraft Mac & Cheese.
The whole affair always felt unsettling. When the buttons launched, I called the Dash experience Lovecraftian, the invisible miasma of commerce slipping its vapor all around your home. But last week, a German court went further, ruling the buttons illegal because they fail to give consumers sufficient information about the products they order when pressing them, or the price they will pay after having done so. (You set up a Dash button on Amazon’s app, selecting a product from a list; like other goods on the e-commerce giant’s website, the price can change over time.) Amazon, which is also under general antitrust investigation in Germany, disputes the ruling.
The speaker threatened to scrap his speech. The president grounded her plane.
She disinvited him from delivering the State of the Union during a government shutdown. He grounded her plane, abruptly canceling her taxpayer-funded trip to a foreign war zone.
Two weeks in, the relationship between the new House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and President Donald Trump is off to a smashing start.
Forget a swift resolution to the record-breaking shutdown: As hundreds of thousands of federal employees continue to work without pay, the two most powerful elected leaders in the country are locked in a duel of personal vengeance, making the possibility of good-faith negotiations to end the impasse even more unlikely.
On Thursday, Pelosi suggested that Trump delay his annual speech to Congress, essentially threatening to use her power as speaker to block him from the Capitol. (The State of the Union is delivered by formal invitation from lawmakers.) In response, the president was initially, and uncharacteristically, silent. No name-calling tweets, no blustery sound bites. But on Thursday afternoon, just as Pelosi was about to board a plane bound for Europe, Trump exacted his revenge.
She beat George W. Bush on Social Security privatization, and she’ll beat Trump on the wall.
Democrats sometimes portray themselves as high-minded and naive—unwilling to play as rough as the GOP. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is, once again, proving that self-image wrong. She’s not only refusing Donald Trump’s demand for a border wall. She’s trying to cripple his presidency. And she may well succeed.
Pelosi’s strategy resembles the one she employed to debilitate another Republican president: George W. Bush. Bush returned to Washington after his 2004 reelection victory determined to partially privatize Social Security. “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital,” he told the press, “and I intend to spend it.” Bush’s plan contained two main elements. The first was convincing the public that there was a crisis. Social Security, he declared in his 2005 State of the Union address, “is headed toward bankruptcy.” The second was persuading Democrats to offer their own proposals for changing it.
The president and his party have grown accustomed to representing a minority of Americans—and ignoring majority opinion.
A government shutdown that most Americans oppose, on behalf of a border wall that most Americans oppose, might be the logical end point for a president and a political party that appears more and more unconcerned about attracting support from a majority of the public.
Donald Trump’s decision to precipitate a government shutdown over his demands for money to build a border wall, and the virtual absence of congressional GOP resistance to his approach, shows how comfortable the president and the broader Republican Party around him have grown in pursuing goals that face majority opposition in polls—so long as they retain the backing of their core supporters.
Attracting and sustaining majority support has traditionally represented a North Star for American presidents. The showdown over the shutdown, perhaps more than any earlier decision, makes clear that Trump is setting his course by a very different compass. Trump has abandoned any pretense of seeking to represent majority opinion and is defining himself almost entirely as the leader of a minority faction.
It’s not meant to be comforting, but somehow it is.
If you ever find yourself sinking into the plush blue couch of Dr. Jane Prelinger, you should know that she doesn’t want you to call her Dr. Prelinger. In her office, even when you’re on the couch and she’s facing you from her chair, looking at you through heavy eyeliner and the frame of her white-blond bangs, she insists: You’re just two humans. “It’s Faith and Jane,” she told me when I was in that position. “Here, it’s human to human.”
Jane is an existential therapist. She sees a lot of different clients with a lot of different problems, but she thinks all of those problems can be reduced to the same four essential issues: death, meaninglessness, isolation, and freedom.
Existential therapy isn’t new. Its roots go back to the existential philosophers of the 20th century, and specifically to Jean-Paul Sartre, who summed up his philosophy in 1943 when he wrote that humans are “condemned to be free.” Unlike other animals, humans are conscious and aware of their own mortality—but that means they have the possibility, and responsibility, of deciding in each moment what to do and how to be.
Astronomers have produced the best measure yet of the planet’s signature bands.
Saturn has confounded scientists since Galileo, who found that the planet was “not alone,” as he put it. “I do not know what to say in a case so surprising, so unlooked-for, and so novel,” he wrote. He didn’t realize it then, but he had seen the planet’s rings, a cosmic garland of icy material.
From Earth, the rings look solid, but up close, they are translucent bands made of countless particles, mostly ice, some rock. Some are no larger than a grain of sugar, others as enormous as mountains. Around and around they go, held in place by a delicate balance between Saturn’s gravity and their orbiting speed, which pulls them out toward space.
Scientists got their best look at the planet nearly 400 years after Galileo’s discovery, using a NASA spacecraft called Cassini. Cassini spent 13 years looping around Saturn until, in September 2017, it ran out of fuel and engineers deliberately plunged it into the planet, destroying it. More than a year later, scientists are still sorting through the data from its final moments, hoping to extract answers to the many questions that remain about Saturn.
Two new documentaries—Netflix’s Fyre and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud—investigate the origins of a nightmarish event that went viral in 2017.
How could you market something that wasn’t real? That’s the question Brett Kincaid, a commercial director who helped promote the infamous Fyre Festival, is forced to confront in a new Netflix documentary out Friday. Titled Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, Chris Smith’s film is a fairly straightforward accounting of the failed event that triggered a maelstrom of social-media schadenfreude in 2017, when hundreds of attendees were lured to a Bahamian island for a luxury getaway that promised major musical acts, ritzy accommodations, gourmet food, and Instagram celebrities in the middle of paradise.
What visitors got instead was an empty corner of an island littered with disaster-relief tents that had been drenched in a prior storm. There was no other housing, no staff, barely any food, no way to immediately depart, and, of course, no music or celebrities. In Fyre,Kincaid offers a defense of himself and other contractors hired by the festival co-organizer Billy McFarland, who is now serving a six-year prison term for wire fraud. “Everything was real,” Kincaid insists in the documentary. “Everything looked real. If you get hired to do a BMW commercial and that BMW then has a faulty engine, how the fuck can you possibly know whether or not they’re going to do good on what they said they were gonna do?”