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Published: 2007/02/19
by Jesse Jarnow

C Caetano Veloso

C Caetano Veloso, Nonesuch

Futurismo – Kassin+2, Luaka Bop

For Dan, the obsession began the Saturday he painted his son's old bedroom white. It was only intended as a primer coat, so they could do something else with the space later. They'd talked about a guest room, maybe. His wife had talked about a light green, which Dan was having a hard time picturing as he set out to work. His son's walls had been thick with graffiti. He couldn't envision anything. He whistled the song "Brazil" as he taped down the corners, occasionally half-singing the verses he could remember. Something about an amber moon.

As the room got whiter and whiter, the image of the moon hung in Dan's head. By the end of the afternoon, when the sun hit the window and the walls glowed, Dan was in Brazil. The light had been like this in the room on the day the real estate agent showed them the house, too, 19 autumns ago. Brazil would be nice, he thought, though he knew it wasn't financially feasible. Maybe it was the paint fumes, Dan thought later, but he decided there, in the newly white room, that he should get some Brazilian music. He liked that song.

The next day, he went to the mall and came back with a handful of CDs. He set up a boombox on the bridge table in the white room, and listened. It was nothing like that song, but a lot of it didn't sound too different, either. At the very least, he could still imagine the moon. After work every day, he would listen to his music. His wife knew that this was as fine a use for the room as they were going to find. Dan listened to all the styles the clerk would sell him: bossa nova, tropicalia, MPB, baile funk, and even rock. He didn't like them all, but they fascinated him. He read about the gang violence in the newspapers. As he listened, the imaginary Brazil in his mind grew more detailed. He knew this Brazil wasn't real, but he enjoyed it nonetheless. The CDs piled up on the bridge table as the seasons changed.

During the winter, the clerk sold him the two newest CDs to come in. The first was called Futurismo, by a group called Kassin+2. It was on Luaka Bop, a label that a lot of the CDs had been on. He thought that was a good sign. ("The industry’s all fucked up," the clerk told Dan. "Luaka Bop doesn’t have a distribution deal right now, but I like it a lot, so I’m going to sell it to you anyway.") The other was called Cand it was by Caetano Veloso. Veloso had been one of the leaders of the tropicalia movement in the ’60s, Dan knew, and had even been briefly jailed. Dan had heard only a few of Veloso’s albums, though there seemed to be an endless supply. He looked forward to this one. He put them aside for Saturday listening.

His wife was out that day, though she'd left him a few bagels and a new carton of orange juice, as well as an article she'd clipped from the paper. "A Brazilian art show!!" she wrote in red pen on the top. Dan smiled and put the newspaper article in his breast pocket. He brought the bagels and the juice upstairs.

First up was the Kassin+2. He liked it a lot. Dan didn't speak Portuguese. He was glad. It made it easier for him to imagine Brazil as a totally foreign place. It was very easy to go to that place when he was listening to Kassin+2. They even called their album Futurismo. Dan liked this, too. It sounded like the future, the music did. But it sounded like the past, too. The song "Pra Lembrar" was his favorite. It had parts that sounded like the Beatles, like Os Mutantes did, but also a melody played by some mysterious-sounding instrument. Even when they used computerized drums, Dan thought, like on "Samba Machine," he could still close his eyes and be in the good part of his Brazil. He would listen to Kassin+2 a lot, he could tell.

His mind wandered a bit as the Caetano record went on. It wasn't bad, he thought, but not all of it worked for him. He felt horrible for disliking the music because it didn't conform to his imaginary Brazil. It was the same language as the other music. Not the Portuguese part, but the musical language. Some of it, like "Minhas Lagrimas," was very pretty. Some of it, though, like "Rocks," just sounded like rock music. Not that Dan listened to the radio much, but — if he did — he thought this is what it would sound like. That was no good.

The more he listened, though, the more he could tell how clever Caetano was. The album even began with a song called "Outro," he realized when he looked at the cover. He chuckled, and skipped back. It was kind of neat, with a half-dozen smaller sections that connected to each other. Dan was impressed that Caetano, who the clerk said was a Brazilian legend, could make music that sounded so unlike Brazil. Maybe he should rethink what Brazil was.

Dan put the album down on the table and sat back in the office chair. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the newspaper clipping his wife had left on the table that morning. There was a Brazilian art show in the city, it said. It was to be a show of graffiti from Sao Paolo, the city Caetano was from. Dan read the article carefully. It said that graffiti was art. Dan wondered about this. The writer quoted a professor from the local university who said that it an expression of the subconscious, like any other art, and maybe moreso given the deviance of the act.

Removing the green paper clip, Dan turned to the second page of the article, where there was a picture of some of the graffiti. It looked familiar, and Dan realized he'd seen similar patterns scrawled in sharpie and spray paint on his son's wall. He looked up at the white surface. He'd been thinking about hanging a map of Brazil, but he liked the cleanliness of it. Now he peered through the paint, trying to make out what he'd covered over. Sometimes, he thought he could see the shapes swirling beneath the white, like ghost eels, but today he saw nothing.

Instead, the ghost eels fanned out across his imaginary Brazil, their twisted silhouettes crossing in front of Dan's moon. The sky was clouded with them. He wondered if his son saw the eels, too, if not when he scrawled them on the walls like an asshole, then perhaps in those last seconds in the blinding white headlights of the car. Dan knew that his Brazil would never be the same, his son's absence spreading across the exotic streets. Maybe Caetano made more sense there, he thought.

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