Caetano Veloso - Michelangelo Antonioni (Eros)

With as many vowels as possible…

useless window

I was just getting some work done—easy stuff, for a client I’ve been neglecting—flowing along with it, shuffling between the Google doc tabs, when this song came on and gave me the warmest glow from within the sweet pit of the chest.

I wanted to share it. But everywhere everyone is arguing. Here’s it’s nice and quiet. Well anyway, for now…

De gustibus non est disputandum. Caetano Veloso has a lovely voice, and this tune is beautiful. It suits Michelangelo Antonioni the great filmmaker very well, with the lyrical sense of isolation and loneliness, a kind of dryness of the voice, single notes sustained with mouth staying opened, and gently trailing off, expressing separation and sweet melancholy in reflection during a better moment when the voice isn’t completely lost, an aching longing for thirst quenched, or for a kiss. In Antonioni’s films, especially his early films and his trilogy, L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962), if I recall (it’s been a long time since I watched these), the sense of space in the increasing urban sprawl, soulless modernity or postmodernism, is like the true character - vast open spaces and the coldness of the architecture - and the inhabitants less and less comfortable, in fact lost to themselves and lost to each other. If I recall, the films are about alienation in the contemporary landscape. Hearing this song makes me want to revisit those Antonioni films.

Have you read some of the conflicts Caetano Veloso got into when he was younger? Check out the Wikipedia entry on him, and read Early Years, (1942-69). Thanks for introducing, Marco!

I didn’t know all that history! Dude’s a badass, some mutant human being. I only know of Antonioni via Don DeLillo. The way you describe his films, I can begin to imagine what DeLillo admired in his work. He contemplates that same landscape of alienation in space. See, e.g.:

Thanks for the reference to DeLillo, Marco. I never read any of DeLillo’s books, but I read the synopsis you posted here, and intuit myself what DeLillo was taken by. (The “Point Omega” book cover is not unlike your Möbius strip word bubble symbol for “Infinite Conversations".) Like I wrote, it’s been a while since I’ve seen any of Antonioni’s films, but I’ve retained a sense of their quality. It’s a poetry of emptiness, of spaces, but paradoxically, space being space, one has this correlating sense of possibility. You see a space: anything could happen in it. It becomes a game-board for strategic moves. Rules of behavior are implied the more formal the setting. It’s hard to describe, but there’s a level of beauty in Antonioni’s films too, in the starkness. Maybe not for everyone. Not everyone would “get” it. Modernity has hermeticism, is a whole system which generates interpretation. Its machinery produces signs for interpretation, endless interpretation, not conclusions and solutions. You can see the entropy built into this, or the idea of the infinite loop. For humans, despite the keeping up of appearances, in this is inevitable exhaustion, weariness. I think Antonioni’s best films are in black and white. The formal level, the framing of the spaces, is where the beauty is, and it’s an intellectual beauty, any pearls of wisdom found in the grinding of the cerebral mind. It’s a world where the dominant feeling is that inaction, strangely, is to survive, and to act is to perish, a world dominated by appearances. There’s this level operating in Antonioni of classical photography, the beauty of static images. To act is to throw a stone into the water, stirring up mud, disrupting the clear reflection of the surface. It carries this function, perhaps, of showing how alien beauty can become, how estranged from it we can become, not feeling like we’re participating in it. I’ve read his films described as mood pieces, conducive to contemplation. Not linear narratives.

I listened to some of Caetano Veloso’s older stuff from the late sixties. I like it. Interesting blend, exotic but not too far out, but definitely a kind of scrambling of codes in what it blends, while retaining popular appeal, with some sensuality in the rhythms and romance in the currents, with wistful and melancholy shades; also celebratory I think. The sound of old recordings can’t be beat in my opinion. It’s a marvel to me that this caused protests from student purists or leftists, or whatever that was. I’d have loved to witness this spectacle (as written in the Wikipedia entry): "Dressed in a shiny green plastic suit, festooned with electrical wires and necklaces strung with animal teeth, Veloso provoked the students with his lurid costume, his sensual body movements and his startling new psychedelic music, and the performers were soon being bombarded with loud insults, jeers and boos from the students, who became even more incensed when American pop singer John Dandurand made a surprise appearance on stage during the song.”

I was trying to find footage of the concert where protesting students in the audience turned their backs to Veloso and his band, then his band turns their backs on them. "As the performance continued, the students pelted the stage with fruit, vegetables, eggs, paper balls and anything else that came to hand. Veloso then stopped singing and launched into an impassioned monologue, in which he excoriated the students for their conservatism. After being joined by Gilberto Gil, who came on stage to show his support, Veloso finished his diatribe by telling the students “… if you are the same in politics as you are in aesthetics, we’re done for!” and declaring he would no longer compete in music festivals. He then deliberately finished the song out of tune, angrily shouted “Enough!” and walked off arm-in-arm with Gil and Os Mutantes.” That’s fantastic! I wish there was footage of this somewhere. Listening to some of this music, this kind of reaction from a large segment of the crowd is amazing to me, because the music itself doesn’t seem so threatening to me. I used to slam-dance in mosh pits and stage-dive when I was a teen. The threat perhaps is that the pop element added to the traditional was perceived to be like the adding of artificial sweetener or high fructose corn syrup to drinks, a presentiment of the fast food culture and “dumbed down” popular entertainment we’re awash in today?

I could tell you my first impression when I did a google search of Veloso, and seeing photos of him today, any kind of revolutionary political activism he had in his impulses when he was young appears to have given way to a comfortable life for himself, and celebrity status. I wonder if in any way it’s like that phenomenon of hippies in youth, passionately counterculture, growing older, having kids, having to get a good-paying job, finally finding themselves an entrenched part of the establishment they railed against when they were young.

Of course I’m not sure, this being new to me, but there appears to be a lot to explore in Veloso’s output as a musician, but his piece “Michelangelo Antonioni” you posted seems a slight departure for him, a stripping back or simplifying, to suit the song to the subject. It’s a beautiful song. It has something of the vibe of soundtracks of old italian giallo movies to me. When the xylophone is introduced I think of the hidden loneliness and sadness of individuals who can’t get beyond small talk at a cocktail party.

The lyrics of the song “Michelangelo Antonioni” translated into english:

"A sight of perfect silence
An empty corner
A page without a word
A letter being written on a torso
Of marble and thin vapor
Oh love love
Is this the open window

A sight of perfect silence
An empty corner
A page without a word
A letter being written on a torso
Of marble and thin vapor
Oh love love
Is this the open window "

“Evening on Karl Johan Street” by Edvard Munch

DeLilllo is my favorite writer. He’s sort of a literary father figure to me. Italian-American, New Yorker, wry sense of humor. If I could be more of a “pure” writer (not mixed up in all this Internet shit) I would want to be like DeLillo. I hope to read Underworld with a group here someday. That said, Point Omega is very short and would be a perfect introduction (it was mine).

Regardling Veloso I don’t know anything about him, but first encountered his name through David Byrne’s world music label, Luaka Bop, many years ago. Byrne reissued some of the old Tropicalia work, including Os Mutantes (the Mutants!)—kind of juvenile psychedelia, but fun.

I don’t know what Veloso is up to these days, but he’s certainly gotten more handsome with age.



I think I might prefer the comfortable life, too, if I could ever get there.

Good stuff, Marco. I try to keep an open mind and see what connections present themselves. Veloso does look like a buggy-eyed funky dude as a youth. The expression on his face in the photo of him in youth, with the big bushy poodle hair patted down and parted in the middle, has something self-deprecatingly funny about it, like maybe it’s self-conscious parody of a popular music performer, with him playing at being wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, so as to set up shocks in departures from what was expected: like a woman who dyes her hair blonde and acts stupid, when in reality she’s smart and knows exactly what she’s doing. I think that Veloso is gangly and not necessarily handsome actually adds to his appeal. We might have a discussion about the kind of beauty or handsomeness which can be found within so-called ugliness. There are varieties of ugliness which are so unusual and distinct that they bring appeal to character. Attraction doesn’t only come through the eyes.

In the photo of Veloso as an older man, with his hair closer-cropped, a bit mussed up and graying, he definitely appears less carefree and exuberant, harder, more sober and weatherbeaten, himself no longer needing to exist with a mask on. But the slight upraised eyebrow and the subtle glimmer in his eyes, peering out of the shadow of weariness, suggests there’s still mischief-maker in him.

I see these photos and think, for instance, of Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen (and many others), in their trajectories from youth to old age in the public eye. You can see the changes in their lives, the transformations they undergo, for better or worse. There is something impressive about the longevity of a career in the spotlight, of individuals who do try to keep creating new material to the very end, all the more impressive when one thinks of how many are actually destroyed by the process, how many create one great work, one great record, one great series of pictures, one great novel or poem, and then live the rest of their lives in its shadow, hounded and cursed by it to the grave. Youthful freshness is inevitably lost, and the artist must leap again into the unknown and change, not only in material dealt with but in appearance too, if he or she is not to become pathetic and ridiculous.

Interestingly, not unrelated to this, check out this relatively recent interview of Penny Rimbaud, formerly of Crass. (I connect this to my comment in Caroline Savery’s latest post: On the Politics and Ethics of Empowerment) In this interview you can see a photo of Penny Rimbaud now and a photo of how he appeared as a young man. You get a sense of his own trajectory from youth to the elder he is today. I don’t feel he has compromised himself at all. He has never sold out, never fallen into the trap of repeating himself, resting on his laurels, to cash in. He has become more and more of himself through the years. I really admire and respect him. The co-op idea is very much alive in his own life practice.