Wednesday, December 08, 2004


I actually finished reading Tropical Truth a few weeks ago, but it's been sitting here on my desk ever since, to remind me to quote this line, which I came across shortly after Election Day, when one U.S. state after another voted to ban gay marriage:

"It is no accident that homosexuality is under fire from totalitarian states--even those under construction--and from the nostalgia for a time of absolute social control."

It's uncanny how many of Caetano's comments about Brazil under military dictatorship in the late 1960s seem relevant to my own place and time. Oh, and the line just before that one is pretty provocative, too:

"Offering the ideal model for the conflict between the authentic and the dissimulated, but unamenable to being framed in terms of the perversions that imply a crime or denial of someone else's freedom, homosexuality clearly posed the fundamental question concerning human sexuality, and thus the very freedom of the individual."

Okay, I challenge anyone to name a male singer from the States who would devote most of a chapter of his memoir to a theoretical/political analysis of his own bisexuality, particularly in such dense language (at least in translation). Much as I'm looking forward to reading Dylan's Chronicles, I just don't think I'm gonna find anything quite like this there.

Speaking of musicians' memoirs, after I finished Veloso's book I picked up Brother Ray, Ray Charles' autobiography, again (bought it right after he died as research for an article I was writing about him, but only skimmed it at the time). I wanted to finish it before seeing the new movie Ray, but I only made it through about half the book (much of which does not appear in the film, sadly enough) before I ended up at the movie. I know the film is getting rave reviews, but compared to the book, it's a total soap opera; what's so great about Brother Ray is its matter-of-fact tone about sex (god, what a potty mouth that man had!), drugs, racism, blindness, the music business, you name it. It's all interconnected in complex ways that make it seem like a quintessential American story. On top of everything else, co-author David Ritz has done an amazing job of editing what were surely hundreds of hours of interviews into a coherent narrative.

Ever since I saw Jimmy Stewart struggling to find "the sound" in The Glenn Miller Story (which I totally love), I have had this perverse fascination with biopics about musicians who have forged their own musical language, because it's so difficult to show that process onscreen--in real life, it typically takes years, and there's seldom a watershed moment dividing the youthful imitator from the fully mature artist. In that regard, Ray is not so different from Glenn Miller Story: the change happens magically, almost overnight, in this fairly corny way (even if the music being played when it happens is delightful).

On the other hand, another musical biography I watched recently--the documentary Tom Dowd and the Language of Music--does a really effective job of depicting the inherently uncinematic act of recording music onscreen. You get to see remarkably intimate footage of Dowd working with most of the Atlantic Records roster of the 1950s and 60s(including Brother Ray, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and tons of R&B and jazz acts), Eric Clapton, and then a bunch of mid-70s southern rockers (mucho time devoted to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, who don't seem comparable in my own personal scale to the aforementioned, but hey--to each his own). It's well worth checking out.

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