The radio would be playing: “A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road…“. And as fast as my dad reached for the car radio after arriving at our destination, I would beg: “Please don’t turn it off, Dad, I want to finish listening to this song.” For as long as I can remember, Águas de Março by Elis Regina and Tom Jobim has been my lullaby. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a memory from the womb, since in 1974, the year I was born, the classic duet’s recording was the number one song in Brazil. It’s still my favorite song, the same one I used to sing to my dolls, and the one I hummed in my head during the endless arithmetic classes I’ve hated so much as a child. In 1979, the poet Vinícius de Moraes put out the record “Arca de Noé” (Noah’s Arc) and my repertory of childhood songs grew exponentially. I would listen to all its 15 songs, but my favorite one was sang by Elis Regina, “A Corujinha” (The Little Owl), one of the saddest children’s songs you will ever hear. (listen to it here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=djv1UV8oCDI).
By 1980, when a K-7 tape titled “Saudades do Brasil” showed up in my house, Elis Regina was all I listened to. I had my first muse. That K-7 tape disappeared from my Dad’s collection and became my property. It’s still one of the few relics I’ve kept from my childhood. Never mind that so many words were not appropriate to a 7-year-old. Take the song “Onze Fitas”, for example:
By mistake, revenge or courtesy Por engano, vingança ou cortesia Was there dead and put a stray Tava lá morto e posto, um desgarrado Eleven shots made fault Onze tiros fizeram a avaria The dead man was already conformed E o morto já tava conformado
And, I can’t tell you how many hours my little mind tried to understand the lyrics of “Redescobrir”:
Go like the child who does not fear the time. Mystery! Love so pleasing to make that is to bepain. Magic! Vai como a criança que não teme o tempo. Mistério! Amor se fazer é tão prazer que é como fosse dor. Magia!
Then, in 1982, while spending the summer at my gradmother‘s house in Rio de Janeiro came the news: Elis Regina was dead. She was 36. Dead? – what does that mean? – Glued to the TV screen on a hot January afternoon, a week short of my 8th birthday, I was trying to understand it. A thousand people followed a casket through the streets of São Paulo. Her body there, laying still on TV, white, just like my grandma Luzia would be a few years later, their beds of roses mixed in a confusion of childhood memories. Dead? How could that be? The radio played her songs non-stop. Her voice still came out of my K-7 player. And, I could hear her singing in my head all the time:” It is night, it is death, it’s a trap, it’s a gun…”
A decade or so later, I came across moving images of her in Black and White. Enveloped in cigarette smoke, playing with rosary beads hanging from her neck as a necklace, she wasn’t laying still on the screen, but strong and alive as ever. I video taped part of the famous TV CULTURA interview on VHS. The muse was etched once and for all in my mind, where I had kept her alive just in case that casket, that body was just a childish make believe. Years later, at a concert in New York City, I saw her progeny sing. I closed my eyes and listened to Maria Rita pronouncing a language only spoken between a mother and daughter. Elis, Dead? Who said so? And away I still sing: “And the river bank talks of the waters of March. It’s the promise of life in your heart, in your heart.”