A FAN'S JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF CONTACT AND BACK.
Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, each one she passes goes--ah
--"The Girl from Ipanema"
This is a story about genies getting let out of bottles, champagne corks popping by sheer cosmic force and the ephemeral nature of "it" girls down through time. It is a story of being a fan, and of being a meta-fan; of immersing yourself so far into the object of your obsession that when it comes to completion, you become the object, understanding its desires, wanting what it wants, and if you're lucky, being able to look back at the world with even just a modicum of the easy grace and charm your host cell has always portrayed.
It is a story of trying to talk with someone who hasn't talked with anyone in more than two decades. It is a story of what happens to you when it is revealed that you live but six blocks from greatness, from the source of one of the greatest musical moments of the 20th century, and after you've tried everything, all you can do is stare down the blocks in wonderment, and up at the dirty night sky, and know that that is enough. It will have to be.
Two or three moments of raw, uncomplicated happiness might be all you get in this world. I'm speaking about the stolen moments of sheer joy eked out when no one's looking--moments that have absolutely nothing to do with your family and friends, nothing to do with life's traditionally big events: weddings, births and so on. Moments when you are at one with the world, and completely removed from it, flying over the furniture, looking down at yourself and narrating to God and yourself, saying something to the effect of, Now there is a person, in all that they encompass, doing everything.
It's impossible to ascertain what provoked it, but one of my moments came on a Wednesday afternoon in November 1997. I was sitting on the couch, eating a ham sandwich and listening to Astrud Gilberto. It was an oddly warm day, and I got to come home for lunch that afternoon. The apartment I was living in at the time was only seven blocks or so from work.
And while memory won't permit the reasons for doing so, the other recollections make up for it: That day I came home at lunch, threw open the windows, let a weird, fake spring air blow in, put on Getz/Gilberto, side one, and sat on the couch, staring at the treetops, eating my brown-bag sucker lunch.
There was that first bit on track one, where Jo�o Gilberto sings his part, and then, about a minute in, her. That voice, that song, that tune. As soon as I heard it, something happened to me, something so plainly spiritual that it feels funny to say it. I transcended space and time and reality and my problems and cares, and got ejector-seat launched straight into a place no drug or God or pleasure of the flesh has ever delivered me. I was alive.
To this day, if I've ever cause to think about the happiest moments of my life, this aberrant Wednesday in November occupies a strange place in the catalog. There's my wedding, the day my sister was born, and then, the day I was sitting on the couch, eating a ham sandwich and listening to Astrud Gilberto.
Born to intellectual parents in Brazil in 1940, Astrud Gilberto was and is a chanteuse. In fact, it seems that dorks like me invented the word specifically for this woman who made her singing debut in 1963 with the international hit single "The Girl From Ipanema."
At the time she was the wife of Jo�o Gilberto and was called upon to sing during the recording session by default. She was the only Brazilian in evidence that day who could translate the lyrics.
Jo�o Gilberto himself was widely hailed as the architect of bossa nova music, the pop-jazz hybrid originated in Brazil in the late '50s amid a climate of social and political upheaval. She had also never sang publicly before.
After that recording won Record of the Year in 1964--and became a standard, the calling card by which bossa nova music became known around the world--she went on make a string of albums and singles for Verve Records, among other labels, all of which showcased her unaffected, almost siren-like simple singing.
Astrud Gilberto has been accused before of perhaps singing in a deliberately naive fashion, but among her fans the exact opposite feeling is held: Still waters run deep, and this plainspoken muse virtually wrote the book on shy-girl singers.
True to form, she has, for the last 20 years, been a world-class recluse of the Greta Garbo ilk, having not done an interview in almost as much time, suffering from one of the more classic cases of stage fright and generally shying away from publicity as a whole, while still managing to create works of art and music at a fairly prolific rate. She's sort of a genius and stuff.
You live in this town, and you hear things. Over the course of the last year or so, I kept hearing bits and pieces, some hearsay, some fact, about Astrud Gilberto being in Philadelphia. The news was always whispered in hushed, excited tones by people who generally don't whisper (or get excited) about anything. All of them came packed with enough strange whimsy and random intrigue that they could be true.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4