Notes on the work of Caetano Veloso



Having to explain to a friend who didn't know Caetano Veloso's music, and there are still people who don't, the meaning and orientation of the whole thing, the value of its multiple values, I elaborated for myself a scheme that would allow some clarification . In addition to the special intelligence for the intimate elements, the particular solutions, the song form, the composer's precise and simple formal insights, I think that his work, his thought for the song, is organized around four axes, which are themselves multiplied in variations and displacements closer or further away from its center.

We could think as if these vectors composed a spatial field where each song is closer or farther from one or the other of them, each one in its precise position in relation to the whole, multiplied by the parts. The first of the axes is the broad research of the form of Brazil, which has historicity, and which expands to the research configuration of the form of the world itself, and even of history. Are songs like Tropicalia, sad Bahia, Haiti, out of order, Lost, sex and money.

In this region, the most vivid chronicle of the present is articulated, at each historical moment of the journey of the musician/subject in his rapidly modernizing society, in a difficult time, of songs like Joy Joy, Tigresa, Trash, or, for example, the recent Lower Leblon e nigga.

The second axis is that of intense, autoerotic and modern lyricism, but also at times negative and melancholy, a lyricism that expands until it touches the material of Brazilian life, popular or populist, contaminating it with the special value that the self has for the musician, in a movement that produces eroticism and grace about the world itself. Of this type are unidentified object, Saint George's Moon, transcendental cinema, London London, odara, and many others.

The third vector is the high poetic research, of a kind of themes of essence and universal human questions, a way of giving a modern name to the great senses, in such a clear and infernally intelligent way that sometimes it ends up eluding perfection. It is the great research of modern poetics that is at stake here. prayer to time, cashew, Terra, your presence, The jealousy, Original sin and a few others.

Caetano's fourth axis is the aesthetic, experimentalist avant-garde, which evolved from pop strategies and problems linked to late and heterogeneous Brazilian modernization, then called tropicalist, of the late 1960s, to the strange telluric equestrianism, very experimental, without any prior measure or north than the very experience of the radical records of the early 1970s, Transa, Blue Spider and Jewel and which, finally, from the 1980s and 1990s onwards, declined to a 'post-modern' sound with a world, much less interesting than previous unranked searches, at least for my taste.

But the main characteristic of this work, its own mark, is its dialectical lyricism, the very erotic pulsation of a self that celebrates itself in the same dimension in which it equates the dimensions of its world. The self celebrated for finding itself in the world that enchants, or the self that enchants the world, and therefore celebrates itself, is this artist's central alloy. Caetano Veloso's love for his own self, which spreads like potency, from within himself, a love for the world, “which is not boring”, and which is almost utopianly eroticized by the artist, makes his work an immense experience of seduction. And also, in this movement, of the reflux of the meaning of the world over the self, and of spreading, with great aesthetic rigor, of the self over the world, it announces the more general movement of replacing politics by the body, by identity issues and by the market eroticism.



Roberto Schwarz is right about the compulsory detachment of Caetano Veloso, and his correspondence with our time. But the loving contact with the Brazilian people continued to exist. Roberto Schwarz's Discriminating Reason teaches people to read, and recalls the nature of intellectual demand in a world that has abandoned it altogether. However, but... Caetano almost went crazy, calculated as an aesthetic happening at the end of 1968, and in a real way, due to the nature of the violence and strange torture he suffered during the months in prison.

There is no doubt that the break with the past linked to the fate of the poor in Brazil was also a trance for him, like that of the older intellectual of Glauber Rocha. Perhaps a trance of another nature, transa. But the summary settlement of the subject, which Roberto Schwarz accurately perceives in his book, is in fact shocking. But, in the history of his music, this liquidation did not happen. O Caetano Veloso white, the Caetano Veloso From london, sex, blue spider, Bug, the records of the early 1970s, are works of immense melancholy and historical depth, which clearly indicate the real horror of Brazil and flirt with the romantic myth of the counterculture, which could even, unconsciously, find the myth of nature, conservative, of the first Brazilian romanticism.

There is something strange in Caetano's telluric equestrianism: his experimental and countercultural Indianism in the XNUMXs, at the time of the greatest repression, approaching the myth of the nature of Brazil by José de Alencar. Caetano Veloso's chameleon, or the chameleon, always allows for a but, and there is a certain dialectic to it, which Roberto also feels. Very rarely has an artist been so loved by people.

The way in which Caetano conceived the fetishist reality and the empty subject, available to everything but criticism, in 1967, was not understood by the left at the time. Today's left has fully embraced it.



Joy Joy, and the three guitar chords, that one could say pre punks, which open the song. Those chords confronted and made a tabula rasa of the immense volutes of the guitars of Edu Lobo and Geraldo Vandré – who sang their fishermen and cowboys conceived in a Portinari scale – and of the highly developed harmonies of Chico Buarque – with its humble people and bands passing by, through its side, with a Bandeira-style aesthetic, and its elegant partnership, between modern people, with Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes.

The three very rough and shocking chords of Joy Joy they were the triumphal and ironic annunciation, like the forms of ancient music that announced the king's body, of the young artist's own superiority of historical vision for the world as it would be from then on, from the historical terror given, low and excited. At the same time, the music carried, in a coded way, expressed as roquinho, a parody of an old rancho march, from the world of The band, a world on the verge of disappearing.

Indeed, that song was a form on the verge. In it, the real destiny of things was precociously affirmed: to surrender, to throw oneself, aimlessly, at the pure destination of goods. Coca-Cola, Brigitte Bardot, Guerrilla, all the magazines in the world. Caetano made the diagnosis, ironic, “full of joy and laziness”, assuming an insolent and provocative position, cool, then unknown in these parts, and offered the key to the secret of the new times, of the market and its euphoric, narcotic effect, which would emerge strongly from 1970 onwards. It created a real aesthetic bridge for him. The left, which took thirty years to understand that, fully completed Caetano Veloso's gesture in the Lula government.

I want to see Irene laugh. From the point of view of affection, Caetano Veloso's music appeared on the horizon of Brazil as an unidentified object.

Is Caetano Veloso our Goethe?



"We don't have time to fear death." The detachment of Caetano Veloso in 1968, 1969 and 1970. The evocation of Sartre in the verse “no scarf, no document” makes a lot of sense. It was a reference of the time, but transformed into an ethics and affection so pure, so radical, that it knew no parallel in Brazil. It was Caetano, the young man who sang of being available in principle for everything in his generation, which in fact constitutes a subject, and I believe that is why he was arrested. In 1970, in a lost song, from a heterogeneous album by Elis Regina, an important document – ​​marked by the outdated modern, which was aging at a rapid pace, from the Afro bossa of Baden Powell, by the new popular kitsch that was generalized around, from Joyce, Edson Alencar and Hélio Matheus and the synthetic and acute modernity of the brand new Caetano and Gil, all at the same same time and now, in a kind of aesthetic platypus of accelerated modernization of MPB, very suggestive of the country itself, and whose title, …in the middle of summer, in the middle of the Brazilian 1970s, said a lot about the bad conception of the thing… – Caetano Veloso once again gives a strong voice to the gesture of freedom for existence, at the very moment of the greatest danger and maximum violence. Why, where there is danger, salvation grows:

Be afraid
..........don't be afraid
..........Do not be afraid
..........don't be afraid
..........nothing is worse than everything

..........nothing is worse than everything


not a floor basement prison loneliness

nothing is worse than everything
that you already have
In your heart    



The central invitation of the song, political, existential and psychoanalytical, a loving invitation to accept the entire experience of a generation, said to oneself and to the world, is “do not be afraid”, even in the face of terror and death that surrounded the time. He echoes the “mommy mommy don't cry”, faced with the dangers of the world of young people who fully accepted the experience and clash with Brazilian life; the “Let's go for a walk on Presidente Vargas Avenue”, from “While your wolf doesn't come”, with a background of military bugle calls and sirens that indicated that the wolf was quite another, in a spirit of the bout de soufle melancholy in a full Third World military dictatorship; and the very strong “be careful when turning a corner, be careful girl, you have to be alert and strong, we don’t have time to fear death”.

This outrageous freedom, given the weight of the immense regression of conservative culture, was the critical and experimental life of a generation willing to do anything for its own spirit, here, free, intelligent and erotic. And brave. It gave voice to the spirit of justice and heroism of the left, in the tragic historical passage, but it also quickly reverted into a spirit of freedom and aesthetic confrontation with everything. “Be marginal, be hero”: this pure voice of radical life simultaneously served two different vanguards, it was the spirit of two projects that split – with death, with torture and with the unfair but effective market – two projects that were once united. And therefore, in Happiness, happiness a song also conceived in this spirit, but oriented towards the new aesthetic and erotic effect of the commodity form on the new subject, also evoked, synthetically, as a kind of free association of the mass, the image of the guerrilla that hovered as a possible horizon.



“Consider the imitation movement itself, which is more complicated than it seems. In the preface of Golden Dreams, writes José de Alencar: “Taking these books of a foreign complexion is, the critics point out, not knowing the society of Rio de Janeiro, which is there showing up in the halls and streets with Parisian trappings, speaking the universal algeon, which is the language of progress , jargon bristling with French, English, Italian, and now also German terms / How can you take a picture of this society without copying its features?”

“The first step, therefore, is taken by social life, and not by literature, which will imitate an imitation. But fatally Parisian progress and finery were part of another pattern here; resuming our term from the beginning, they are second-degree ideology”. Amidst the already famous arguments of this 1977 passage, Roberto Schwarz adds the following footnote: “The situation is comparable to that of Caetano Veloso singing in English. Accused by the 'nationalists', he replies that he was not the one who brought the Americans to Brazil. He always wanted to sing in this language, which he heard on the radio since he was little. And it is clear that singing English with a Northern accent registers a substantial moment in our history and imagination”.

Thus, the problematization of music is richer than its appearance reveals, while in tropical truth, the book from the 1990s, the critic sees it the other way around, and so the rich appearance, which is part of the form, does not escape a problem that, in fact, exists there. Between the integrity of Caetano's aesthetic and intellectual solution for the song in English and Alencar's tendency to be subsumed, reduced, to the problem of import culture that he perceives, emerged the two great theoretical and aesthetic solutions for high school culture of the peripheral and backward country. Oswald de Andrade's anthropophagy, which is at the bottom and supports Caetano Veloso's gesture, and Machado de Assis's inventive analysis of evil itself, which animates Roberto Schwarz's tense critical position. Brazilian critical culture oscillates between these two powers, which are not always reconcilable.

The songs in English by Caetano Veloso – lost in paradise, a little more blue, London London, You don't know me,… - are some of the most perfect in the Brazilian popular songbook. AND Baby it is the most beautiful song dialectic of love that was ever made.



The secret of the pop world in Brazil is in the 1970s. It must be located in the accelerated modernization of life given by television and in the happy capture of the counterculture in the great new market of the cultural industry, universal local. The name that this movement knew was “desbunde”: bringing to the erotic body the lack of solution and historical continuity of the Brazilian crisis, reversing the trance into transa. Caetano Veloso was its greatest artist. Caetano Veloso, Brazilian middle class, Globo network of television, is a difficult but true equation.



There is a clear kitsch derivation from posttropical MPB. Not a kitsch operating from the outside, by some consciousness still preserved that manipulates and creates something with industrial and market units and forms, but the thanks to effective, unaware of its indiscriminateness of a happy and regressed mass culture, even when it affects sadness. The many kitsch pop songs that follow one another from 1969 to 1975, fascinated by the controlled expansion of the country's consumer market. They are the 'blood colored mustangs' of Simonal and Marcos Valle, the 'steel Christ of the BR 3' by Toni Tornado, the rockers who want to reflect on rock but do not escape the pastiche, of Sá, Rodrix and Guarabira, the 'Jesus Christ I'm here' by Roberto Carlos, the 'darkness of my room, at midnight in half light' by Guilherme Arantes, “the passing cloud” by Hermes Aquino, the 'parallels' by Belchior.

Later, in a return movement from this degraded matter of the spirit confused with the superficial excitement of market life, a second degree 'quality' industrial kitsch emerges, which, gaining some self-irony, comes closer, more or less , from the lost intellectual moment of tropicalism – Ney Matogrosso, Ivan Lins, a certain Raul Seixas, Eduardo Dusek, a little bit of Rita Lee, Baby Consuelo, etc…

In this way, the first national rock of the 1980s takes advantage of the revaluation of industrial kitsch by the international new wave, to realize, without guilt, this other kitsch of ours, self-indulgent. An immense kitsch current bore witness to the modernization of a backward middle-class consciousness towards the very world that would dominate it from then on.

Another important movement in the music of the early 1970s: from rock injected into MPB, by Mutantes and Rita Lee, to samba elevated to rock by Novos Baianos – inspired by the old Gil and Caetano…

The great commentators on kitsch, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Tom Zé, João Bosco, are not kitsch at all.



We can only recognize José de Alencar as Brás Cubas after the work of Roberto Schwarz. This is the meaning of an event in thinking about history, it allows for future works and transformations, but it also profoundly alters the meaning of the past itself. Caetano Veloso has a perfect essayistic passage about this type of reversal of the meaning of history, based on a certain realization that condenses, completes and illuminates it, in which he comments on how the advent of João Gilberto's bossa nova altered the meaning of what was samba, and its past, among us, giving rise to the idea of ​​the “evolutionary line” of MPB.

Roberto Schwarz even comments on this passage in the light of the concept of revolution. Thus, at any moment, we expect the order of meaning that must, at the same time as allowing the future, illuminate, alter and complete the past, removing us from the boring compulsion of the most common repetition, which is our present.

*Tales Ab´Sáber He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at Unifesp. Author, among other books by The anthropophagic soldier: slavery and non-thought in Brazil (n-1 Hedra).

Originally published in “Notes on Caetano Veloso”. In: Tales Ab'Sáber. essay, fragment. Publisher 34, 2014


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