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 extremely common treatment might be causing more harm than previously thought.
After giving birth to a baby, a young woman told her nurses at Boston Medical Center that she was having pain in her hip. That happens sometimes after births, says Ali Guermazi, one of the doctors involved. As he recounts the case from a few years ago, he looked at X-rays and saw a small amount of extra fluid in the joint. Otherwise things looked normal. “We injected her hip with steroids, hoping to help with the pain,” Guermazi says. They seemed to help, and the women went home with her baby.
Guermazi didn’t think more of it until the woman returned to the hospital six months later, unable to walk. “The head of her femur was gone,” says Guermazi, who is now the chief of radiology at VA Boston Healthcare System. The bone appeared to have simply vanished. The new mother needed a total hip replacement. “We didn’t know what happened, and still can’t know for certain,” Guermazi says. “But I feared it was related to the injection.”
Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society.
Just under a century ago, the Soviet Union embarked on one of the strangest attempts to reshape the common calendar that has ever been undertaken. As Joseph Stalin raced to turn an agricultural backwater into an industrialized nation, his government downsized the week from seven to five days. Saturday and Sunday were abolished.
In place of the weekend, a new system of respite was introduced in 1929. The government divided workers into five groups, and assigned each to a different day off. On any given day, four-fifths of the proletariat would show up to their factories and work while the other fifth rested. Each laborer received a colored slip of paper—yellow, orange, red, purple, or green—that signified his or her group. The staggered schedule was known as nepreryvka, or the “continuous workweek,” since production never stopped.
As WeWork crashes and Uber bleeds cash, the consumer-tech gold rush may be coming to an end.
Several weeks ago, I met up with a friend in New York who suggested we grab a bite at a Scottish bar in the West Village. He had booked the table through something called Seated, a restaurant app that pays users who make reservations on the platform. We ordered two cocktails each, along with some food. And in exchange for the hard labor of drinking whiskey, the app awarded us $30 in credits redeemable at a variety of retailers.
I am never offended by freebies. But this arrangement seemed almost obscenely generous. To throw cash at people every time they walk into a restaurant does not sound like a business. It sounds like a plot to lose money as fast as possible—or to provide New Yorkers, who are constantly dining out, with a kind of minimum basic income.
“There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney chided reporters. “That is going to happen. Elections have consequences, and the foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.”
What the Amazon founder and CEO wants for his empire and himself, and what that means for the rest of us.
Where in the pantheon of American commercial titans does Jeffrey Bezos belong? Andrew Carnegie’s hearths forged the steel that became the skeleton of the railroad and the city. John D. Rockefeller refined 90 percent of American oil, which supplied the pre-electric nation with light. Bill Gates created a program that was considered a prerequisite for turning on a computer.
At 55, Bezos has never dominated a major market as thoroughly as any of these forebears, and while he is presently the richest man on the planet, he has less wealth than Gates did at his zenith. Yet Rockefeller largely contented himself with oil wells, pump stations, and railcars; Gates’s fortune depended on an operating system. The scope of the empire the founder and CEO of Amazon has built is wider. Indeed, it is without precedent in the long history of American capitalism.
Winning images from the annual photo competition produced by the Natural History Museum in London
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, founded in 1965, is an annual international showcase of the best in nature photography. This year, the contest attracted more than 48,000 entries from 100 countries. Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. The owners and sponsors have once again been kind enough to share the following 15 winning images from this year’s competition. The museum’s website has images from previous years and more information about the current contest and exhibition. Captions are provided by the photographers and WPY organizers, and are lightly edited for style.
The English nationalism that powers Brexit is repelling the rest of the United Kingdom.
LONDON—Just before lunchtime on October 17, 2019, Britain and the European Union announced a deal on a smooth British exit from the EU. This is the second such deal in less than a year. The previous deal was rejected by Parliament and capsized the career of former Prime Minister Theresa May. Will this new deal come to a happier conclusion? And what is happiness in this context anyway?
The new agreement is reportedly 500 pages long, recapitulating most of the elements of the rejected 2018 agreement. There is, again reportedly, one big difference between May’s deal and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s: Ireland. (The word reportedly is doing a lot of work here, because I write only a few minutes after the agreement was announced and before the release of the full text.)
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced today that the United States will host the 2020 Group of Seven summit at Trump National Doral, the president’s golf course near Miami. In other words, Trump is choosing to host an important international conference at a resort he owns, which has been struggling badly. In a presidency marked by the shameless intermingling of the personal and the political, it may be the most brazen act of self-enrichment yet.
Two lessons emerged from the latest Brexit deal: The British prime minister garnered a concession his predecessor couldn’t, but the EU has still held the line.
BRUSSELS—As the Syria conflict entered a new chapter, with Vice President Mike Pence gripping hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara and Russia’s Vladimir Putin basking in the glory of his apparent victory lap in the Middle East, Europe’s leaders assembled here for yet another summit fixated on themselves. None more so than Britain, still wrangling with how to leave a bloc it voted to depart more than three years ago.
Beneath the cover of warm smiles and diplomatic handshakes, petty disputes and genuine grievances quietly bubbled, from the profound to the provincial: over the European Union’s eastward expansion, over the financial hole left by Britain’s impending departure, and, ultimately, over the direction the EU should take under its new leadership.