Sunday, March 7, 2010
"Will you decipher me or will I devour you? You won't devour me, nor decipher me, neither. I am the sphinx, and what of it? Within this generalized narcissism, do you give me the right to be narcissistic with myself a little bit? To do with myself what I think is best, be friends with whoever I want to, to bring people I like to my house? Very few people are going to know my house. I am Elis Regina Carvalho Costa, and few people, when they die, will be able to say that they knew me."
- Elis Regina
At the beginning of 1981, the last full year of her life, Elis returned from the United States and appeared as invited guest on Gal Costa's TV special on TV Globo. I was there and couldn't believe what I was seeing. Elis, very badly dressed in a long baby-blue outfit, and with too much makeup. I found it very strange, having seen Elis sing in public a thousand times before. She appeared to be more timid than usual. She sang with her eyes closed and didn't seem to be able to meet Gal Costa's insistent and caring glances. I thought that is was quite exquisite. Other people found the performance to be fantastic because of Elis' frankness at that moment: an absurd shyness toward a great singer who featured her on her own show. Caetano Veloso was one of those: "I was greatly impressed with Elis. I thought that she was fantastic. She was a musician indeed".
Trying to restore her relationship with César Mariano, Elis started to prepare for a show at the Canacão in São Paulo. She asked Fernando Faro to direct and Elifas Andreatto to do the scenery. There was a suspicious mood when Elis was introduced to Elifas. In fact, they hated each other. They knew each other well from hearsay, and each had bad adjectives to describe the other.
Somehow, Elifas agreed to try:
"Our first conversation was interesting. And I left there pretty well convinced that I wanted to work with her. I made a scale model, we went to the Canecão and there, everything happened. She had a fight with César Mariano. One day, she arrived with haematomas, black eyes and said: "I don't want to see César here anymore". Nobody knew what to do. She said that she didn't want him either in the show or in her private life. Faro didn't quite know what to do. Elis didn't even want César's name to be mentioned. One day, she managed to force Faro to leave because of a joke he had made: "Hey shorty, do you know who I was with today? With César". She exploded, became furious. Fernando Faro wanted to leave right there and then, and pass over the direction to me.
César Mariano certainly didn't expect this separation to be definite. He didn't expect Elis to be capable, on the eve of the show's opening, just three or four days before, to dismiss the pianist and husband at the same time:
- I have always said about Elis, and I will die saying that she was the most normal person that I ever knew. I am the one who is abnormal. Whoever understood her genius could endure everything else. The problem with living with her was one of patience. If I accepted that, if I endured her attacks, even in public, I was furious for my own cause. I was angry with my impotence in those situations. I was never angry with her. That is, I was only angry the day that she broke up with me. And I was angry on a professional level, because there remained few days before the opening of the show. It didn't enter my mind that Elis could take that kind of decision. Nevertheless, I understood that this was a great and decisive moment for her. She said: "Leave so that I can go alone". I left, went to a hotel, and remained in contact with Natan and Faro by telephone. I never attended the show.
Without César, Elis turned to Natan. She gave him the mission of doing the arrangements and take care of the show's musical direction. Elis tried to invite her old friend Luís Loy to replace César Mariano's on the piano. Luís Loy could not accept: at that moment, he was recuperating from a hair transplant. The chosen pianist became Paulinho Testa (also known as Esteves), who shared keyboard work with Sérgio Enriques. Natan had little time for his mission, but was on Elis' side. While she went on a quick trip to Chile to honour a contract, Natan prepared and rehearsed Trem Azul (Blue Train). It was a revealing show, and for the first time, I saw the public get on their feet in the middle of a song to applaud Elis. I didn't particularly care for the series of songs which she sang in front of a TV set, supported by chords from Fantástico (1). Also, her clothing greatly resembled the coveralls that Rita Lee had worn on her special on TV Globo. But those are minor things. Elis was singing like no one else.
Samuel MacDowell was Elis Regina's lawyer. A few days before the opening of Trem Azul, she dropped by his office in the centre of São Paulo. She wanted to postpone the show. Samuel recalls:
- I was a person who was idolized by her, as she respected me and looked up to me in a way. So much so that César, after having separated from Elis for the last time, came to see me to tell me that I was one of the persons that she respected the most. That day I had called Elis to my office to find out what was going on. She wanted to postpone the show. I think that it had a lot to do with her breaking up with César and having to work without him. Besides that, she also seemed very unhappy, to the point where it made her afraid to open the show. I proceeded to chew her out. It was a lengthy conversation, at least an hour. She cried and didn't speak much. She listened. But she went and resolved her situation. I went to see her on opening night. I had never attended a show that had impressed me so much. On the opening day, we went to eat together with a bunch of people. And what impressed me most about Elis was her purity. The lies that she invented were always said in defense of a certain truth.
She was ingenious. This is a crucial point, the key to her personality - to consider that a person can lie in order to affirm the truth.
A few weeks after the opening of Trem azul, the composer Roberto de Carvalho went to see Elis at the Canecão Paulista. His wife, Rita Lee, nine months pregnant, remained at home. Roberto saw the show and afterwards went to the dressing room. He witnessed an unforgettable scene:
- Elis was quite ill. Her eyes were half rolled up in her head, her body was swaying. The dressing-room was a bit too small. She fell down and we closed the dressing-room door. She seemed to be lacking air and to have fainted. It took ten, fifteen minutes for her to come to, and I remember having had to unroll her tongue. When she woke up, she said that this was something that had been done to her. Something bad that someone had wanted to do to her. Elis was certainly already using cocaine at that time. It is certain that she had experimented with it six months earlier, while she was in the United States. However, as in so many other things about her, Elis was extremely reserved on this subject. Roberto de Carvalho even suspected that she had been, that night, under the influence of cocaine. But everything points to the fact that, during the time of Trem Azul, Elis' rush was not purely natural. Looking at the pictures, one sees that her body was becoming thinner. By the voice and by the looseness of the voice, one can see that Elis was going to the bottom of the well, without fear.
Difficult to believe. Elis didn't like drugs. She never liked them. She spoke badly of anyone who did. The first time that she spoke to me about marijuana was in 1980, during the show Lança perfume (2) at the Anhembi. Rita Lee told me that one time Elis went to visit her and showed her a cigarette pack with various very well rolled cigarettes. She got along very well with the couple Rita and Roberto. Rita tells us why:
- The first time that Elis asked us for a song, we did Alô, Alô, Marciano (Hello, Hello, Marciano). She said that she wanted something serious, and not just something for her. When Elis showed us the recording, it was very different from the one that we had done. Rhythm, everything. We were very tight whereas she was all over the place. She had modified it, brought in some funny stuff, her "High Societies" (3). I was surprised with the care that she applied to everything she did. We liked it very much.
Our version was more like a Jorge Ben kind of thing, but accelerated. She turned it into a very spacey jazz, something very swingy, languid. Of course, why should she have copied what had been sent to her? Her rendition was really like an act of co-authorship.
The studio version is featured on the album Saudade do Brasil. "After Alô, alô, Marciano, we became friends on the telephone. It was every week, something like a massage. Had I seen something or another in a magazine, what did I think about it, had I seen so-and-so talking about her, or had I managed to make peace with Chico Buarque, because I wanted to get this business over with once and for all (4). Other times, she would call to ask if we wanted to go on a tour all the way to Xingu, a gypsy caravan led by Tom Jobim, with Roberto Carlos, Chico Buarque, Milton Nascimento, everybody, and the two of us behind, with all the children arriving there and making a revolution, to capture Brazil. She adorned her public demonstration much more than that, it wasn't a black and white process, it was coloured, it had rock music, it had everything. Everything was possible.
"Our other encounter was on "Mulher 80" (5). She was arm in arm with me all the time and spoke like this: 'I'm no good at this or that, I don't like that, so I'm going to stay with you'. There was a strange climate at the end. Daniel Filho proposed that all women join hands and make a large circle, something to show in slow motion after. After that we stayed crouched under the stage, and when Daniel yelled 'Everybody out', we climbed the stairs. Everyone appeared at the back of the stage, and had to come down like this, all happy. There was a lot of stuff going on.
"Elis' idea was to create a cooperative with Roberto and myself. When I would do a show, she would do a record, and she thought that we could split on the production and equipment costs. And something incredible happened when Rogério was working with us. During the Saúde special, we were recording for TV at the Anhembi and recorded an argument that I had had over a sound issue, and in the editing that Globo did (for the TV special), at the time of my argument, Rogério's face appeared. I wasn't arguing with him, but with the technicians from Polidian (6). Elis called me and was outraged, and I had to explain that there had been an editing problem.
"During our telephone conversations, we talked about what was going on. She would day: 'My friend, we live here in São Paulo, we aren't putting on a pretty face for the magazine Amiga, we haven't been topless on the beach at Ipanema'. She asked me to come to Cantareira, so much that I ended up buying a small place there. There was a time when Elis would call me every day, every hour, to the point of saturation. There were times when I had to cut the conversation short.
"During the first special of Lança perfume that we did on Globo, Elis showed up at the house. I was nervous, I had never done a show like that for TV. She came in and I said: 'Gee, Elis, I'm going to watch the show with you sitting there? You're going to see all my off-notes, I'm going to be depressed'.
And she said: 'Nonsense, it won't do any good, you're not going to throw me out of your house, and stop this business of saying that you don't know how to sing, that you don't know how to sing'. I became unbearably nervous. I covered her ears when I knew that I was going to be off-key, or spoke loudly. I was dying of embarrassment to be singing close to her. From João Gilberto no, but from Elis yes. She was perfection. One time, they operated on the calluses on my vocal cords - I had two -, and the doctor told me that I should remain one month without talking, that this was the key to the operation. Later I talked to her and asked her: 'Did you remain a month without talking after they operated on your vocal cords?' And she told me: 'Can you imagine me going a month without talking!'
"Gal (Costa) sings with a voice that comes from the head. Elis sang with her entire body. For me, she was like a Jimi Hendrix. When she was going through her separation from César, she called me to say: 'Both of us have musician husbands, it's a bummer, but it's ok, we'll manage'. It was like a complicity between us. Sometimes, when she had an argument with César, it felt like I had also fought with Roberto, in a way. She would call to compare notes. Sometimes we fought, but rarely, because neither of us was the type to remain spiteful, and we would make peace after. She almost turned into a daughter after she separated from César. She would call me to tell me that she had gone out with so-and-so, like a little girl. And the last strong memory that I have of Elis is when she recorded Me Deixas Louca (It Drives Me Crazy) at Som Livre. I was also going into the studio, and went in early so I could talk to her. She said: 'You're going to listen to this for the first time'. And I was so moved that I sat in front of the mixing board, she lay down on my lap like a child. And we listened to the song in this way. She would stick her finger in her mouth and I would slap her on the bum and say: 'You clever little girl'."
During that period, Elis wrote a letter to Rita and signed it Elizabeth Maria, one of the characters she used to play with her friend, a specialist in creating characters:
It was good to know you a little more. Thanks for everything. I talked so much about you with Henfil. And about the music that you did for Vlado. He was surprised at first. Happy, after. And angry because of the impossibility of your stuff being played on radio.
He begs that you go try one more time. And that, if you agree, he would like to include the song in the play. Messages delivered. Dois Pra Lá, Dois Pra Cá (Two Steps This Way, Two Steps That Way). He sends (Henfil, of course) this 'drawing' 'as proof of affection'. A hand extended as a sign of the hope of a reconciliation.
I send the present.
Moreover, a kiss from the baby; a hug to the friend of responsory faith; a little scent in the back of the head, I like you all very much."
Another letter from Elis. A love letter. Written to Samuel MacDowell in 1981. Delivered by Samuel to Rogério Costa after Elis' death:
I believe that we miss each other in the elevators. You're going down and I'm going up. They told me this. Shame. I was hurt to know that you were so close and that I couldn't see you. That saudade (longing)! That desire!
Forgive me. I am not scorning you. I stopped myself from going to be with you because I was all wrapped up in old stories, in old affections. I was with Géio (7), my premature son. I felt happy to see my brother in a cheerful mood, with softened gestures, a sweet look, words full of affection.
I left to go look for our old bonds. That stopped loving each other due to the initiative and personal battle of third parties. What did they say about our fragility, our anxieties, our incompetence almost, in exercising the passion which draws us together and almost makes us the same person.
Although I haven't seen, embraced, felt, believed you, I still feel happy. Géio and I did not have all of each other two years ago. We hadn't offered ourselves brotherly moments, confident and passionate, for all that time.
Why? Our incompetence. Or excess of competence of others. Today, that day is gone. I embrace without fear, ridiculous future plans, show that we want each other, say things guarded by stubbornness.
Today, the day is gone where we would retain, re-take, and re-feel, re-tighten. Today was a day for old stories, old conversations, old mischiefs. An old story. Today was the day to re-light the flame of the mutual kiln that pushes us from the outside world, the inner life, in the capture of a dream and to continue, always and always, close and allied.
Accomplices, if necessary. 'May you only have need for each other', said the kiln. Older, with marks, collections, we see each other again. Certainly, however, from the fondness that we have for each other. With the conscience that we hope for each other. Trusting individuals that
we become again. Deserving of the silly air which, suddenly, takes us and shoves us into embraces, tears, confessions, and everything to which we are entitled. Or that we believed to have, thanks to the wine. And to the saudade as well...
I didn't see you. This increases my negative balance. How ill I will be tomorrow. I don't want to imagine. I feel an enormous saudade that is digging a hole inside me. I know that you aren't going to forgive this absence, I know that you must be completely crazy with rage over everything. I know that I am bad with you, in your presence.
I know everything. It's not necessary to touch on the subject.
Meanwhile, I can't manage to feel injurious, guilty, odious even. Because I sincerely feel that I did what I had to and wanted to do. I did what my anxiety asked of me, I did what my universe required. I take back my story about my brother and/or my son.
Even though you must be hating me, I can't manage to feel like something that doesn't deserve to be liked. I like myself more than I did yesterday. I am more at peace with my baggage. When we get together again today, at the end of the afternoon, I know that I will be better for you.
Because I am well with myself.
Hurrah to life, which is made of days following other days!!!
I didn't stop thinking of you all this time. You are always with me. I love you more each day. I love you very much, absurdly so. I need your affection. I want, I lack and I need to see you and your caramel coloured eyes. I am dying of saudade for your mouth and your taste.
Wish well of me. Love me a lot. Love me well.
I love you, I am yours.
During the time of Trem azul, Elis would also resolve in writing her relationship with an affection that had become disaffection, and that she was trying to recover: Caetano Veloso. The two of them knew each other from the days at TV Record. In the audience attending the show Trem Azul at the Canecão, in São Paulo, Caetano Veloso received a written message from Elis. Their relationship was never intimate or assiduous. But it was a powerful story. Caetano recalls:
"She was the first sophisticated musical artist to become known through television. This has historical value, and even if Elis had been a bad singer, it would already have been a very important thing. Elis' problem was undoubtedly a problem of intellectual insecurity and of prestige, in the need to know that what she was doing was a serious thing. And tropicalismo got all mixed up into this, what was serious or not, what was respectable or not, what was corny, what was chic. I am under the impression that tropicalismo didn't appear to her as being threatening or a bad thing. I think that she started wavering, it's that - things were going in every direction and I think that she was undecided.
"We talked a few times. She talked in a way where she could easily change her tone. She would be talking in a certain way of some generic thing and, in the middle of that, would get into an argument with somebody. She could start to laugh or whistle like a young boy, with two fingers. She was an extremely funny person.
"When Elis decided to record Boa palavra (Good Word), I was extremely happy because I imagined it with that kind of voice. When I listened to it, I didn't like it that much because the song's refrain had a harmony and an interesting compositional thing that was changed by her arrangement.
Because of this, Elis changed the melody a little bit. I prefer Samba em paz (Samba In Peace), and when I heard No dia em que eu vim me embora (The Day On Which I Went Away), in Falso brilhante, I was overwhelmed. The show was dazzling. We saw each other a few times, we talked and it was good. She was very cautious, and I have the impression that at some time she must have told someone: 'When Cateano talks about me, I never know whether he is really praising me, or if there is a certain irony there'.
I remember a premiere in São Paulo, with a cocktail afterwards, when we had a chance to talk, myself, her and César. It was a very 'square' place, and we sat on the floor. I said: 'Elis, you sing Nega Do Cabelo Duro (Tough-Haired Black Woman) very nicely'. Then she became somewhat cross-eyed, looked at me squarely and said: 'Why?' 'What do you mean, why?', I asked, 'I like your singing an awful lot'.
César became quiet then, showing a certain smile. And after that, Elis laughed, and we embraced. Then, while we were sitting there, a balding man came over and said to me: 'Some years ago, you wrote an article against my book'. It was José Ramos Tinhorão. Then he started to talk to me in a polite way, because I had really written that article and I knew that my opinions on brazilian music didn't coincide with his. And Tinhorão started saying things aimed at Elis, indirectly. He said that he was going to write an article on the great lie about brazilian artists' success outside the country, because many people said that they went to the Olympia (Paris) and stole the show. Elis didn't say a word. She became cross-eyed and quiet.
"The show Transversal Do Tempo (Time Transversal) motivated the written note that she sent to me when I attended Trem azul (Blue Train) in São Paulo. I didn't like the part in the show when she sang Gente (People) and took out what looked like a Coca-Cola sign that said 'Beba gente' (Drink, people). I considered that to be aggressive. The day I went to the show, I didn't talk to her. I left, complemented Aldir Blanc and Maurício Tapagós (8), who were in the hall, and went away. I thought it was nonsense.
And the show was also exquisite, though very depressing. It was around the time when I was doing the Bicho Baile show (The Bicho Dance Show). It was also the time when Henfil spoke badly of me and when Cacá Diegues spoke about the ideological patrols. Henfil called us a carefree patrol. And that song Gente was from the Bicho baile show, which I had wanted to be a dance-hall show. When I saw what she had done with it in Transversal do tempo, I wasn't angry. But until I arrived in the audience of Trem Azul, the last show of her life, we didn't talk about that. That day, I was with Sônia Braga, Gil and Flora (9).
She sent a written note for Gil and another one for me. Mine was enormous, it looked like a letter. It was to say that she adored me, and that in Transversal do tempo she hadn't meant to attack me, that it was the directors, that she hadn't agreed to it and that she now regretted it. It was an explanatory letter.
Afterwards we went to the dressing room and she was drinking cognac and laughing a lot. She told me that she had called my father João and his name is José: it wouldn't do any good, she always called him João. She was quite crazy that day. And in the show, with an incredible voice, exploring more possibilities. When Elis died and Veja (10) published that material, I thought it was terrible. I spoke on television and said, in order that Elis' children not be ashamed, that Billie Holiday also died of drugs. No one has the right to ponder the need for someone to resort to that. And people don't know how this can also be a good thing. When I saw Elis in Trem azul, I thought that her contact with cocaine was, from an artistic perspective, very positive. And later, for a person with that type of intellectual insecurity, cocaine became a solution - in general, drugs provide that kind of security. It would have been fantastic if she could have managed to balance those conquests with the capacity to keep on living. Unfortunately, she didn't."
Elis had a very particular relationship with cocaine. Upon returning from a trip, she made a few appearances in front of production people from TV Cultura, where she recorded her last interview, on the show Jogo da Verdade (The Truth Game). But she didn't bring up the subject even with her brother Rogério, now with boyfriend Samuel MacDowell, nor with her intimate friends. Some knew. But Elis didn't use drugs in front of them.
She lived in an apartment located on Melo Alves Street, in the Jardins district of São Paulo. It was her first apartment without a husband. She placed her pictures on the walls like no one could. She put up the posters from her shows, the gold records. She decorated it as like a single mother with three children would. She invited dona Ercy, who was recuperating from a hernia operation, to that apartment.
They hardly saw each other any more, because of her fight with her father. Elis was seeking to establish closer contact. Dona Ercy:
- She would sometimes stay up all night, calling someone to come over and talk to her. I didn't know these people. She always had somebody in. And I was there. And I didn't understand. She also didn't listen to anyone. After her career took off Elis changed completely. Until she started to rise, everything was fine, but afterwards she became strange, very strange. She wouldn't talk to me. I was with the children many times, when she didn't have a babysitter. But I don't understand why she didn't want to see me. There are many other things I don't understand. It's not because she died that I'm going to say that she was a nice, sweet person. She wasn't.
Celina Silva had become a kind of secretary to Elis. She never left the apartment:
- When dona Ercy was there, Elis became very keen. They would stay in the house, talking about sewing. With dona Ercy there, certain facets of Elis were changed and also, close to her mother, she was extremely good with the children.
At Christmas, Elis went with Pedro and Maria Rita to Iguaçu Falls (11). João Marcelo didn't want to go. When she came back, she asked Celina to go buy a mountain of presents. Each musician received a piece of jewelry - a little plaque with a gold chain. After all, she called them "my seven golden men".
The women and the children also got presents. With a red purse on her head, Elis ran through the living room, saying: "I am Mamãe Noela (Mrs. Santa Claus)".
Between Christmas and New Year, Elis asked an old friend to go on a short trip with her to the beach at Juqueí, in the state of São Paulo. An old friend who she had seen grow up, Patrícia Figueiredo:
- We went with the kids and Elis was fantastic. I found it funny because she spoke of César the same way she would speak of Ronaldo, it was like a videotape. But the thing that bothered me was that she spoke the same way about both of them, and became cross. The relation between her and the children also shocked me. One moment, she would slap Pedro's face, and the next, she would give him a kiss on the mouth. During that time at Juqueí, I realized that Elis smelled of cocaine. She reeked of it.
And she told me that neither Rogério nor Samuel knew.
1982 started with a thousand projects: the marriage with the lawyer Samuel MacDowell, a new recording company, Som Livre, a new record - without César Mariano. A new band. A new house, that she was in the process of buying.
The album Trem Azul earned from the São Paulo critics the title of best show of the year. The night on which this was announced, Elis was in a fur coat, entering her MP Lafer car, when she screamed like a child to Patrícia Figueiredo:
- "I did it, I managed to win over Gal and Bethânia"
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Copyright Regina Echeverria – Robert St-Louis
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