Rita Lee (1947 -2023)

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By WALNICE NOGUEIRA GALVÃO*

Tribute to the recently deceased singer

ceiling

I stir, I stir in the inquisition
Only those who died at the stake
Do you know what it's like to be charcoal?
I'm jack of all trades
God gives wings to my snake
My strength is not brute
I'm not a nun, I'm not a whore
Because not all witches are hunchbacked
Not all Brazilians are asses
My breast is not silicone
I'm more male than most men
I'm queen of my tank
I am Pagu indignant on the platform
Crazy motherfuckin' fame, alright
My mother is Maria Nobody
I'm not an actress, model, dancer
My hole is higher

In this song by Rita Lee and Zélia Duncan, which is also a declaration of principles, there is a cliché-by-cliché demolition of machismo on a par with conformism.

The songwriter and singer was outspoken and said the most outrageous things with a candid air. Sweet girl with forget-me-not eyes, it was a hurricane. A feminist always alert and averse to proselytizing, she set an example and took great care in gestures full of verve. Who else would dare call the cancer that was killing her "Jair"?

First and foremost, a libertarian. She was all about experimentation and never denied her attraction to drugs, alcohol and sex. A great worker, she spent her life betting on Eros, on happiness, on celebration. The Queen of Rock was an unapologetic Dionysian.

Try listening to a recording of it without getting overwhelmed: the body begins to vibrate and sway, in unison with the pulsing of the strings and the rumble of the percussion.

She knew she had a small voice and sometimes needed to record over the first recording. But her strength wasn't her voice, it was her inimitable swing, her grace, her ability to act like a clown. A certain innocence – in such a lived-in woman – was apparent in the childlike quality that overshadowed many of her compositions. Absolute champion in record sales, she surpassed all singers in the country. And as a performer she was unique: she would do imitations and create buff characters.

He paid the price of independence and irreverence, and many times over. She was arrested by the military dictatorship for possession of marijuana. She spent months in jail and received a visit from Elis Regina, who fought for her release. Elis would give her her daughter Maria Rita as her goddaughter and namesake, while Rita would dedicate the song “Doce de pepper” to her, alluding to Elis’ nickname, the Pepper. In the mass on the seventh day of this, at the Igreja do Perpétuo Socorro in São Paulo, only Rita Lee and the brother of the woman from Rio Grande do Sul read the liturgical texts.

In addition to throwing her into the dungeon, the dictatorship raged against her, mutilating and censoring her songs. An example is the verse that appears in the official report of the neglected body that caused so much damage to the arts for 20 years. “Leaves me on all fours in the act” led to the ban on perfume launcher, whose title is a clear metaphor replacing the erotic with the narcotic. The censor's report justifies the prohibition, accusing the verse, so graphic, of “ambiguity”. What ambiguity? Pure denotation, univocal meaning.

His autobiography is delightful, frank and open-hearted, in which he makes the most outrageous confessions – and manages to doubly captivate the fan, such is the simple way in which he enunciates the worst revelations. She was already a children's book writer, but now the second volume of her autobiography is being announced, which she has been eagerly awaited.

Her interest in Pagu stems from everything that made her a libertarian, a feminist, a happy person, full of vitality and a sense of humor.

It would be expected that her militant political commitment and transit in the rarefied spheres of modernist artists, typical of Pagu, would make her averse to Rita Lee, with whom she apparently had nothing in common. Big mistake. Rita took on the similarity and expressed it in this beautiful song, a comprehensive tribute, showing that she perfectly understood Pagu's trajectory.

When asked about the environment of Brazilian rock being a jungle in which to survive you need to have balls, she declared that this was not enough, more than that you need to have ovaries.

Wise woman, full woman, transgressor and great artist, of rare intelligence and unique originality. Here is a poem for her, a haiku by Ilka Brunilde Laurito, as an epitaph:

Victory of Samothrace

what a sensible woman
lost your mind
But it got the wings

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).


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