time, time, time

Image: Elyeser Szturm


preface to the book Translating time: the construction of memory in Caetano Veloso's songs, by Joao Carlos Goncalves.

João Carlos' work, by focusing on the process of elaborating the relationship between experience and memory as central to Caetano Veloso's poetics, makes a notable contribution to clarifying the creative power and cultural value of the production of this unique poet-songwriter. I like to say that Caetano Veloso is the thought in the song. In her music, in her singing, one finds a reflection that focuses on the form, charms and cultural reach of this so privileged way in Brazil of expressing sensitivity, thoughts and affections, in which the taste and sorrows of the life intertwined in an active perception of the soil in which the songs thrive.

Caetano once said that tropicalismo was a moment of sharpening and making explicit the critical function of creation. This is one of the most suitable sieves for analyzing his entire production If, in the tropicalist moment, criticism came from the emphasis given to the negativity of avant-garde art – to the issues that involved the production of the new, to the implicit challenges in the relationship between art and new production conditions in an artistic milieu polarized by discussions about participatory art and relations with the market –, the critical function, however, was not extinguished later. She transformed; free from the pressures of that burning moment and has been making itself explicit in nuanced modes of enunciation. The critical function remains both in the self-referential emphasis on the song's structure, as well as in the cultural meaning and affections it carries.

João Carlos Gonçalves' book magnificently paints the landscape of this artist's wanderings encoded in the figurations of time and memory. It emphasizes that the continuous affirmation of a critical position must always be surprised in the transformations of the artist's work, thus capturing the discontinuities, reiterations and re-elaborations of themes, procedures and thought. It shows that it is necessary to pay attention to the mobility of invention processes, as well as trying to understand the metamorphosis of life in forms through enunciation processes. Otherwise, there would be a disjunction between the artist, with his creations, and the public figure – which, incidentally, often occurs when charges are made about supposed deviations in positions – which Caetano never fails to discuss.

The coherence of an artist has to be sought in the development of his work, especially when this artist is also a remarkable personality, who is part of the system of the show, subject, thus, to injunctions, interests and diversified expectations, having his behavior evaluated continuously.

Caetano's work, as is evident in this book, has been developing in two simultaneous dimensions. The first is the one that thinks about Brazilian song, articulating a particular way of understanding the tradition of Brazilian popular music. As Caetano declared so many times: songs he heard since he was a child, which circulated in his day-to-day life, generating a taste, a feeling, a thought that cannot be defined, because they configure a unique, personal and non-transferable life experience, in which taste and value culturally coincide.

The other dimension is historical. It is part of that nationalist trend, intensified by the modernists' interest in getting to know Brazil and which was remarkable until the XNUMXs. It is about seeing in Caetano someone committed to questioning the emblematic images of Brazil, through a virulent critique of narrow nationalism and cultural conservatism. This made him, from the beginning, a modernist, a thinker for whom the passion of the culture where he was born and became an outstanding artist does not exclude the broader vision of unconditional existence – which is clear throughout his creative trajectory and in his writings, controversial interviews and interventions.

Thus, the reflection on the song and in the song is always continuous and current, the effect of listening that is both selective and disseminated – which only happens with artists who inscribe an impersonal subject with their work, albeit an involuntary translator of a collective language. It matters, above all, what is said in the songs. The two accentuated dimensions appear combined not by a reductive and exclusive professional activity. Caetano gives the impression of acting following an internal need, typical of those who have something to say, sometimes highlighting close cultural circumstances and motivations, sometimes highlighting a work in which memory and remembrance transfigure experience.

Here we touch on what seems to me to be the central point of Caetano's creative process: a work of elaboration, duly accentuated by João Carlos, similar to that of analytical elaboration, of Durcharbeitung freudian. In reinterpretations, in associations, listening to a thought that one feels or a feeling that one thinks is sensitive. Caetano gives the idea that an inner flow articulates sounds and words configuring ideas, but that the articulation motive is a selective, involuntary memory, which makes the act of listening to his songs an experience that, at the limit, asks: does it exist, what will it be? intended?

There is a time in Caetano's songs that, although it may indicate the present, or a past, is always, in fact, an interweaving of past and present, an incorporation of times and places, of actions and thoughts, of a concentrated feeling. The present is always, it is now, which makes its history a continuous remembrance. I see in the excellence of the reinterpretations that he makes of songs, especially old ones, the confirmation of the elaboration and remembrance of experiences and cultural references. Memories of the past in the present, immediate facts of individual and social history, what has been read, seen, heard, everything ends up condensing images that, without losing their designative content, are poetic: emotion remembered in tranquility.

It is enough to go through the songs, from the very first ones, to see how what appears as a prodigy of memory – and does not cease to be so – brings up fragments, shards, residues, traces of experience, associating the lived with the turmoil of the present. The present is always the place of enunciation, with which in Caetano there is no nostalgia or longing. His poetics is thus affirmative, the continuous elaboration of an existential flow in which the personal and the historical are not distinguished.

A topic that has often been the subject of discussions – whether or not the song is, above all, poetry – does not seem to me to be a relevant issue in Caetano Veloso, either when one thinks that the song establishes a synthesis between poetry and music, whether when one thinks that the songs delineate a literary ambition, even though it is easy to recognize the excellence of the language both in the songs and in the critical texts, various articles and books. Since the beginning of his production, literature has worked as one of the implicit elements in the configuration of feelings and thoughts that circulate in the songs, but it doesn't seem to me that there is a specific literary interest in him, even when he makes an album called Book, in which the book is the subject, and in the various writings.

Caetano makes songs and, being structurally hybrid, it often results from the absorption of literary references, whose perception is not always easy, depending on the cultural spectrum of the listeners. It is necessary to live with the songs for a long time to gradually discover what citation is and what absorption, transfiguration, transpiration is; always invention. Caetano's sensitivity is refined, cultivated through diversified readings of poetry, philosophy, fiction, critical and cultural studies. A little of everything is left over and, we don't know how, it appears in creation.

João Carlos pays attention to a privileged focus for apprehending the experience that, situated between art and life, pervade Caetano Veloso's songs. Listening to the songs combined with the artist's erratic gestures, disseminated in writings, speeches and images, reconstruct the passages of the songwriter's path with the astuteness of those who speak the same language, as they can capture their silences, the drive and the need for creation . Above all, the book is happy to trace, with Deleuze, the lines of flight carried out in Caetano Veloso's songs, translating his creative drive and the strength of his presence: freeing life where it is imprisoned.

*Celso Favaretto is an art critic, retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and author, among other books, of Tropicália: allegoria, joy (Ateliê).

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