Sunday, March 7, 2010
"I saw Rita Lee lick the microphone. I spent years of my life wanting to do this, but was afraid of being electrocuted."
- Elis Regina
In 1980, three days after turning thirty-five, Elis opened a new show at the Canecão in Rio: Saudade do Brasil (Saudade from Brazil). It resulted from the work of many months. On stage, there were twenty-five people: Elis, thirteen musicians and eleven dancers. Márika Gidali choreographed the dancing. Marcos Flaksman, the scenery. Ademar Guerra looked after the overall direction. He recalls:
"They gave Elis a beautiful dressing-room. The Canacão believed in estrelas (female stars), not in astros (male stars). The star's dressing room was sublime, but the dressing-rooms for the rest of the team were cubicles. The first thing that Elis did was to say: 'I want to redecorate everything here!' I called her aside and said: 'What is this? Your dressing-room is sublime!' She said: 'Be quiet, it has to be like this, or else they don't respect you!' And she added: 'Besides, after who was here before, I'll need to have the place blessed'. It was Bethânia (1). "During the rehearsals, Elis was very timid. She did her exercices with Márika Gidali because she was asked to do them. She wanted to do them, but she was dying of embarassement of not being perfect. She was dying of shame of being normal, of not being exceptional in the dance classes as well. She made jokes, talked, tried to mess up the bandstand. And she didn't succeed. First of all, because Márika is very firm and secondly, because the young men that were already together had practiced somewhat and were not embarassed. No one was taken in.
After the show pened, she had a fight with me. I was in São Paulo, she telephoned and said: 'You have to come one way or another'. Because I was working on another show, I couldn't go. Elis became furious. But I knew that nothing had happened to the show. In fact, I only went once during the Rio period of Saudade do Brasil. It was when the Union of Rio de Janeiro Actors wanted to dismiss the entire set of actors from São Paulo and replace them with some from Rio. Then I went there running. Elis didn't say anything but I could tell by the look on her face that she was furious because I hadn't come when she had called me. It didn't go through her head that I had to intervene in the problem with the actors. Maybe she didn't realize that without the original set of actors, the show could not go on."
Paulo Garfunkel, also known as Magrão, played in Saudade do Brasil. Saxophone and flute:
- When we travelled to Rio, before the opening, I went by car with Elis. I was somewhat tense in my relation with her, due to the fact that I was a composer, and that if Elis sang one of my songs it would mean glory for me. Because Elis and César, for us, were a kind of yardstick of quality. And, I told her right away: "I compose music and I want you to be aware of this". I wanted to talk long and fast. And she thought it was great, it was fantastic. She never gave us a professional hint in a harsh manner, in spite of being, at times, a harsh person herself. But I felt a very human preoccupation within her. For me, what most determined our relationship was the personal side. I saw her sense of humour and also her anger. She had something that I may have as well, which is the cult of anger. To be an angry person. There are people who start to talk and become intoxicated and feel a great deal of pleasure in this. I like that, I find a bad-humoured person very funny, and I sympathize with them. And she did too. That trip was a riot. In Rio, we stayed in an apartment furnished by the Canecão for everybody, in Copacabana. It became a ghetto, not in the sense of segregation, but in the sense that we were all Jacu (hillbillies), from São Paulo... paulista. The next-to-last session of Saudade do Brasil turned into a prayer. She sang while looking at each one of us, and we were all crying a bit. She spent a hell of a lot of energy in looking at each one of us. I don't know of anyone who gives of himself so much while singing. People would always get together to joke around, to do foolish things, swear at the others. Natan (2) was also a grand-master of joking, and there was nothing but laughter, intoxicating.
She left a present to her friend Magrão. A poem, written during the recording sessions for the record made for Odeon, in 1980. Neither he nor she knew what to do with it. They had the vague idea of transforming it into song lyrics:
"Barrica de milho Corn Pipe
Vidro do puxa-puxa Glass jar of "puxa-puxa" (candies)
Salame, azeite, pao Salami, oil, bread
Vitrina de maria-mole Display window of "maria-mole" (candy)
O Correio no balcao Newspaper on the balcony
Cachaça com Underberger Cachaça with Underberger (cheese)
Balanca de dois pratos Scale with two plates
A venda do vovo The grandfather's small store
Camiseta e suspensorio T-Shirt and suspenders
Calca de pano riscado Striped trousers
O Patec de corrente The Patec vest watch and chain
Sanduiche de linguica Sausage sandwich
Cerveja com tremocos Beer with tremoco (yellow beans)
Caramanchao de chuchu Trestle gazebo with chayote
Vinho, escopa, boliche Wine, card games, bowling
As gracas do meu avo My grandfather's jokes
Cheiro de cafe nos sonhos Smell of coffee in dreams
Relogio embalando o sono Clock speeding up the sleep
As risadas dos guris The children's laughter
O pigarro do juizo Judge clearing his throat
O bau verde no quarto The green trunk in the room
O bandoneon do Juca Juca's bandoneon
A Dinda e o Lencinho Branco Dinda and her small white handkerchief
Minha cama de sanfona My folding cot
A casa do meu avo My grandfather's house
O calor, o aconchego The heat, the coziness
Cumplicidade no ar Complicity in the air
A perna esquerda mancando The limping left leg
O oculo redondinho The round glasses
A cabecinha prateada His little silver head
De repente, um medo louco Suddenly, a crazy fear
Um beijo num fim de tarde A kiss in the afternoon
Uma ambulancia, na maca An ambulance, on the stretcher
Esse vazio, vovo..." That emptiness, grandpa...
Before entering into Elis' group and her life, Natan Marques was playing in the club La Licorne (The Unicorn), a famous luxury prostitution house in São Paulo. At first, he seems to be a suspicious person, but a code of sincerity is enough to conquer Natan. He plays with all his cards on the table. In my opinion, that of Rogério and of his wife, Biba, Natan is surely one of the people who knew Elis best. There isn't a thing that he doesn't know. Directly her, or not. She generally told him the things about her life, during conversations that always turned into a joke. For Natan, Elis was a queen, and he was happy to be part of her entourage. Furthermore, he had the enormous advantage of not being married to the boss.
- During the time of Transversal do tempo in São Paulo, Elis was in a hell of a mess with César, and this started to show on stage. It was hell. I lived through many problems between them. Sometimes, without wanting to, I got stuck in the middle. I became very intimate. No one
managed to be what I wanted to be with César. I don't know if, suddenly, he had to endure me or I had to endure him. And Elis lived to ask me: "Let's go to the house?" Many times I would go without wanting to, I didn't know how to say no. I don't know if I provided her some kind of
security. Or to drink, because we drank a lot, her and I. We would get together to talk about anything. From time to time, I would stay with the two of them, and I would be woken up in the early morning by some noise. They broke everything. One day, César woke me up and said: "She's gone away". I said: "Go to sleep and she'll come back, don't bug me, I want to sleep, I can't stand it any more". One time we were in a Gurgel (3) and I told them jokingly: "I can't stand it any more to see you two arguing at night and waking up in the morning like doves. I'm going to buy a gun to kill you!"
"When the show was over, no one spoke to each other any more. I found that strange, but stranger still when they went to Montreux and brought another guitarist with them. Elis went on a drinking binge with Luisão (4) over there, and sent me a postcard saying that it was the dirtiest trick that she had done to me. But in 1980 I was in the house and the telephone rang: it was César calling me to come over and talk. I went. I wanted to work with them again very much, but I was also hurt. When César saw me he said: 'It's ok, you can swear at me'. I was quiet and returned to the group."
The end of Saudade do Brasil's run in Rio, the Plataforma barbecue restaurant in the early morning, a table of eight: Elis and César, Natan and Odete, Rogério and Biba, Sérgio and Celina. Celina is the daughter of Walter Silva, also known as Pica-Pau, an old friend of Elis'. Celina hasn't forgotten what happened that night in the restaurant:
- Suddenly, a young girl arrived at the table and Elis thought that she was flirting with César. She started to talk loudly, saying that she was going to flip the table. All of a sudden, she invited me to go to the bathroom. When we got there, she lifted her skirt and asked me: "Do you think that I'm horrible? That I am old, fat, ugly?" And she started to cry. When we returned to the table, she started to torment César again, and harranged him so much that he flipped the table.
Natan's hair was full of rice.
Before Elis' contract with Warner ran out, she did a TV special with the Globo station. Elis Regina Carvalho Costa, directed by Daniel Filho, was broadcast at the end of 1980. For that special, a t-shirt was made with the Brazilian flag on the front. In the place of "Ordem e Progresso" (5), she got them to write "Elis Regina". The censurship didn't like it, and the t-shirt barely showed in the video. A few weeks later, at the beginning of 1981, Elis caused a stir. Her name appeared in the gossip columns: Elis and Fábio Jr. (6) were travelling together to the United States. In fact, Elis went with Fábio Jr. to New-York, and he stayed there only one night. The morning of the following day, he got on a plane back to Brazil. Elis took her suitcases and went to Los Angeles. She stayed at the house of saxophonist and arranger Wayne Shorter, and from there, called César Mariano:
- She had told me that it was necessary for her to go to Los Angeles alone in order to prove to herself that she wasn't dependent on me. When she said that, in the children's room at Joatinga, the day that we separated, I understood everything very well. I said: "Go prove that Elis Regina is Elis Regina, and that you can survive anywhere in the world". Then she went away and made the best of it. She was with Wayne, Quincy Jones, and Herbie Hancock. It was the start of a very strong plan for an international career. She also went to record an album over there. Then Elis' insecurity returned, and I think perhaps something beyond insecurity as well. There, among all those people, she called me and asked me to come over there because everyone was asking about me. They all said that it was necessary that I be part of the album. I told her to go to hell. I didn't go, we had a fight on the telephone. Then she decided to record the album in Brazil and bring everyone. In spite of this, she asked me to make the arrangements. When she returned from the United States, we got back together.
The album with Wayne Shorter didn't pan out. There is a strange story surrounding this attempt by Elis to become more international, in a work of quality. César Mariano recalls:
- Wayne Shorter came to live in our house in Joatinga. He demanded a group that would have Natan, Luisão, Picolé (7). He required the group twenty-four hours a day. And we were in the house for over a month, with keyboards, drums, bass, everything. He would wake up and go for a morning jog, Elis would cook him bacon and eggs, and he would pray three times a day as part of his buddhist religion. Elis learned with him. And Shorter composed and composed. Until that time, there was no talk of lyrics, of Elis singing, he didn't have a defined role for Elis in the recording, and the record was supposed to be a joint effort. And we started to ask ourselves: when is Elis going to enter the picture? One time I interrupted his work and asked him. Then he scratched his head and said: "In here I have eight measures where she could vocalise". Good, but who was going to write the lyrics, what she was going to sing? In no way were we able to speak with the impresario, Joe Rufflos, the person who had arranged everything. And at CBS no one seemed to know what was going on. When we arrived at the Som Livre studio (via CBS), there were four themes ready. And extremely complicated, so much that I had to translate his writing, which is classical jazz oriented, and has exquisite chords. When we arrived at the studio, at nine in the evening, there was an american sound engineer and a technician, in addition to the brazilians who were standing around with their arms folded, plus other helpers and a fantastic quantity of equipment. There was a mixing board, plus another board to connect it to Som Livre's. And there was an electric piano, a bass amplifier, a guitar amplifier and a fully-loaded drum kit, all miked, with an american drummer, who had already done his sound check. And Picolé standing there with his drums under his arm.
No one understood anything. There were twenty channels available for the drums alone. Elis started to get ugly. A detail: no one spoke to us, only with Wayne Shorter. We went to see what was going on. Wayne handed out the partitions, gave the one to the drummer and said to me: "You don't have to concern yourself too much, just do your part, because we're going to add the bass and guitar parts in the United States. You are going to serve as a guide". And I said: "How can this be?" My head was starting to crack and I didn't react at that exact moment, I am of the sort who has delayed reactions.
Then we decided to start and Wayne came close to me, took my two hands from the piano, pulled me to one side and sat beside me: "Play like this", he said. I let go of the piano, stood up and said: "I'm afraid that there won't be any more recording, our producer is not here, and I don't know what's going on. Elis doesn't know what she is going to sing, and this drummer thing is just too much". Then he said: "Thank you". He took his saxophone, came by the house, took his things and went away.
"There were great expectations surrounding that record. There was a lot of talk about my international aspirations, but little talk about the meaning of this project to Elis' career. And in the end, I was accused of having brought about the dissolution of the project. Patience..."
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Copyright Regina Echeverria – Robert St-Louis
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