DESPERATELY SEEKING ASTRUD GILBERTO

A FAN'S JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF CONTACT AND BACK.

By Joey Sweeney
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 31 | Posted Jun. 5, 2002

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"Astrud has agreed to compose a written statement about the album and its elements. We will send this statement to you in the next few days, in hopes that it will be adequate for assisting you in what you have in mind to write."

Holy smokes. This was unheard of. Astrud may not have given an interview in a long, long time, and to my mind, this was as close as anyone was likely to come. Whether it was my tenacity or desperation, I anxiously awaited the statement, all the while knowing in my heart of hearts that the thing might even in fact raise more questions than it answered.

I wasn't disappointed. One of the first things Astrud said in the statement was that the album was dedicated to her cat.

"As I reveal on Jungle's liner notes, this album is dedicated to my cat, Precious, not only because he is the 'apple of my eye' and a source of joy in my life, but also as a symbolic statement on behalf of animal rights and animal welfare, two issues that deeply concern me."

Be that as it may, I couldn't help but think that in some way it was also a nod to Jo�o, either a jab or some kind of tribute across time and continents. Stranger still was the opening statement in which she put her career in perspective:

"A couple of years ago, I made the decision of taking indefinite time off from public appearances. After so many years of constant travelling, and dealing with the inherent hassles of being 'on the road,' I am now enjoying a quieter lifestyle. But, I am one of these people that are always looking for things to do, and have never been inclined to become a 'couch potato' (not even now at this 'later age' ...). I dedicate a lot of time now into doing work as a 'fine artist,' and have lately found a lot of joy in creating computer-generated graphics, some as mixed-media. So, you may say that I have found another 'career,' as I have entered this new phase in my life, because in near future, some of my artwork will be offered commercially for sale."

Her use of quotation marks belied her seriousness, though. Or at least it seemed to me. Go to Astrud's website and you'll find samples of her artwork, some of which is quite compelling, and really gets to the heart of where's she's been all this time as a musical artist as well. Some of it feels like outsider art--a more critical eye would want to decry at as being naive, or perhaps unstudied--but that doesn't get to the heart of it. There's something too willful about it. It's as if she's trying to preserve something simple and uncomplicated, trying to nail it all down so it can be remembered in that same gentle way that her first records captured.

On the website there's an illustration of Astrud's that is my favorite of them all: It's a simple line drawing of a waifish girl called "Magya." Only the head is shown, staring down in a melancholic reverie that borders on the sad. In this forlorn portrait there's only one patch of color: a blue bow in the girl's hair. In a lot of ways it reminds me of my favorite photograph of Astrud, the one on the cover of The Shadow of Your Smile. In it she has just the same airy look.

When I mentioned to the go-between that this was my favorite piece, she chuckled a little:

"Didn't you know?" she asked.

"What?"

"That's Astrud's logo."

On the list of things I don't normally do, but in fact am doing right now is this: standing outside the Center City building where I have heard tell Astrud Gilberto resides. I'm staring up at the windows, one after another, hoping to see her... do what? Unpack from a shopping trip so I can hone in on what brands of paper towels and microwave popcorn she buys, so I can somehow, through the magic of the modern age, co-opt the lifestyle of an "it" girl gone Garbo? That's sick.

But here I am in the overcast Philly morning, drinking my coffee and hurting no one, really, but myself. What is it that I am looking for? If I were to be struck by lightning right now, to die right here, what kind of epilogue would that be to this story?

I don't want anything from her. I'm not even completely sure I'd like to see her. Maybe after all, being near her, in that same airspace, far away enough to feel her legend but close enough to know that there, by all accounts, is a happy heart beating at the center of it--well, maybe that's enough. Maybe that will have to be.

Two or three moments of raw, unencumbered happiness might be all you get in this life, but if you live your life at least remembering one of them, keeping them close enough to your heart, you're in pretty good shape.

Joey Sweeney (jsweeney@philadelphiaweekly.com) is a longtime PW contributor.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 31 of 31
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1. An eternal fan said... on Jul 19, 2008 at 02:16PM

“Wow. I know you wrote this six years ago, but wow. Thank you. You said much, very much... I envy you that you would follow the song in your heart like this. Thank you for taking me there with your writing.”

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2. e.c. said... on Jan 2, 2009 at 11:12PM

“I can definitely confirm that Astrud lived on the Main line for a time. I was in first grade with her son, and they lived around the corner from me. I was friendly with her son and spent time at the house, having no idea who she was, being only a 6 year old, but knew enough to know she was unlike any other main line mommy! ”

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3. jonhansen100 (Youtube handle) said... on Aug 5, 2009 at 10:22AM

“To Author, Thanks so much for your insights to Astrud Gilberto. She must have made a deep impression on my pre-adolescent brain as this impression has lurked somewhere in the dream-state of my unconcious for or - 50 years. Since the advent of Youtube I've been able to indulge my musical curiosities with some abandon. Learning , thru your article, of your subject's "no interview policy" only makes her more interesting to those of us who need to know more. How or what do you ever say to someone like Astrud Gilberto to communicate the feelings drawn out by her art. Maybe there are no words. As life allows me the time, I will continue to study her and encourage the rest of the world to do the same. God bless you Astrud.”

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4. Phillip Storey - Sydney Australia said... on Aug 22, 2009 at 12:50AM

“I had the honour of meeting and seeing her everynight for a week at the Catalina NightClub in Hollywood in 1990................Such a beautiful lady and entertainer.....................AH MEMORIES!!!!
Luvs Ya,”

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5. Joe Lex, Philadelphia said... on Apr 8, 2010 at 01:47PM

“I read this when it first was published in 2002, and go back to it every year or so. It's still one of the best things I have ever read about a singer that I love. It is similar to the writing of Arthur Phillips about another Brazilian singer, Elis Regina, on his blog and in his novel The Song Is You. I currently feel this way about a Polish singer named Aga Zaryan - take a handful of Carmen McRae and Shirley Horn, add a dash of Abbey Lincoln and Elis Regina, with a pinch of Susannah McCorkle. Alas, she lives in Warsaw so I can't wistfully stand under her window and wonder...”

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6. M.G. said... on Apr 25, 2010 at 09:59AM

“She lived in Wynnewood in the 1970's, down the street from my family, and my sister used to babysit her kids. My mother and aunt were huge fans of hers in the 1960's and when my sister told my mom who she was babysitting for, I think my mom nearly passed out! Can you imagine being a huge fan of someone and then finding out that they were living on your street?”

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7. Bruce said... on Apr 27, 2010 at 05:36PM

“If I am not mistaken, Astrud Gilberto lives aright around Socirty Hill, I think the 200 block of Locust or Pine Street.”

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8. jack divers said... on May 17, 2010 at 07:32PM

“I feel in love with Astrud in 1963 when I first heard "The Girl From Ipanema". I was aboard the USS Hancock in the South China Sea preparing to drop bombs on North Vietnam. I have never been the same after hearing her voice.”

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9. Dan said... on Oct 1, 2010 at 08:30AM

“Beautifully written. It takes the feelings of many of us about Astrud and puts them into perfect words.”

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10. emanuel said... on Mar 30, 2011 at 10:16PM

“I've been a a great Astrud's fan since I heard "La chica de Ipanema" in 1963......I have almost all his records and really enjoy listening her with her softly and sweet voice since then...I'm 60 and live in a place with all the Gulf of México in the front...Veracruz, a place with a very special feeling for music and dances...with people who likes to live happy all the time....people who likes good music and all kind of dancing....I'd really like to write to Astrud personally to tell her besides my admiration for her in almost all my life...some experiencies that I have with her music...her voice...with all my friends that they met her for me....my wife and my daughter and son.......It would be something fantastic for me to be able to make contact with her.....
Thanks for accept my comments.....and all for... "esa chica bella de cuerpo dorado...del sol de Ipanema....la chica más linda que he visto pasar".....”

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11. Mr Nick said... on Jun 1, 2011 at 02:53PM

“I have only become obsessed recently.”

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12. NDW said... on Jul 15, 2011 at 08:32AM

“I have been obsessed with Astrud Gilberto for about 7 years. I was born in 1970 and remember on occassion hearing Girl From Impanema; I was too young to appreciate the beauty of that song. As I got older, I would continue to hear Girl From Impanema and I come to love it. Around 2004, I was in a bookstore and came across the CD, Astrud Gilberto's Finest Hour and became enamored of her and the music. Her style of singing is so sexy, mysterious, sensual, and beautiful. When you listen to it, one's mind automatically goes to warm, balmy days on a sandswept beach. Ms. Gilberto's music definitely plays a major part in my listening pleasure. She has earned the title of "icon."”

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13. ted decerchio said... on Aug 23, 2011 at 06:46PM

“I met Astrud in 1976 @ lankenau when she was visiting a patient-friend that I was taking care of, before her Greta Garbo days.Her friend visiting with her asked me if I knew who "The girl From ipanema" was? I had bought the Getz-Gilberto LP because of the abstract artwork cover years before so I said "you're Astrud Gilberto?" She asked me for her BP to be taken, I said in exchange for her autograph, which is "To Teddy, It was nice meeting you. Astrud Gilberto." Her BP was a little elevated.”

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14. Shoshanna said... on Sep 13, 2011 at 03:08PM

“Oh...I am one of those who wished she were she.
I play on my guitar, sing The Girl From Ipanema...and dream.
Lovely.”

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15. Marc Johnson said... on Sep 26, 2011 at 11:14AM

“I have to say, this article is a beautiful work of art. He so wonderfully portrays the longing we have to "know" someone whose work we have only seen or heard. I love the ham sandwich story. I had a similar happiest moment of my life when I was 19, listening to Maria Muldaur while scrubbing floors in US Navy bootcamp. I did get to meet her, at a concert a few years ago, and I simply stammered my thanks to her for all her work...”

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16. Chuckz said... on Jul 20, 2012 at 03:23PM

“WTF? Astrud has been (or was) in town this whole time?!?!? I wouldn't chase her down, but I would peek into every corner in Philly just for a chance to tell her how indescribably awesome "Berimbau" or "She's a Carioca" are and how she makes me giddy with delight. Or I would just buy her an espresso or whatever classy, timeless ladies from Brazil drink.”

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17. Alan said... on Jul 26, 2012 at 05:54PM

“beautiful story and beautifully written”

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18. Claire said... on Oct 16, 2012 at 08:04PM

“I travel to Philly for work every now and then. I admit I've looked for Astrud on each trip. I'm terrible at recognizing celebrities on the street, and I never approach them when I do. But it's one of my dreams to see beautiful Astrud in person one day and tell her how much joy she's brought to my life. Amazing article - thank you.”

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19. Frank M said... on Jan 13, 2013 at 03:11AM

“"perfectly written"

Thank you

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20. DJ said... on Mar 13, 2013 at 04:23PM

“Named our daughter after her in the early '90s!”

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21. DaddyDale said... on May 21, 2013 at 10:49AM

“I'm a Sergio Mendes fan from the late 60's who's just discovering all his music since my wife got me his new two disc treasury album. Due to that I've been taking side trips to the other artists he worked with. I remember well when "The Girl From Ipanema" came out (got into a fight with my father about it). Of course the thing I remember most is THAT VOICE! This was a really interesting article, and I'm glad I came across it. At age 61 it's good to discover the music I loved when I was young.”

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22. DaddyDale said... on May 21, 2013 at 10:49AM

“I'm a Sergio Mendes fan from the late 60's who's just discovering all his music since my wife got me his new two disc treasury album. Due to that I've been taking side trips to the other artists he worked with. I remember well when "The Girl From Ipanema" came out (got into a fight with my father about it). Of course the thing I remember most is THAT VOICE! This was a really interesting article, and I'm glad I came across it. At age 61 it's good to discover the music I loved when I was young.”

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23. Perico said... on Jul 6, 2013 at 12:43AM

“Astrud is unreachable as all goddesses are. Sad being unable to tell her in person how much I adore her, and the extreme pleasure she has given to my life during 40 years.
I wish I could retribute in the same quality.
Hope to read her memoirs some day.
Thanks for the article.

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24. Mark said... on Nov 19, 2013 at 08:28PM

“Beautiful story. I have recently become re acquainted with Astrud's music. I remember in the early 60s hearing my Dad playing this on the record player. I was 4 or five. so I searched it out on a music web site and fount her album Finest Hour purchased it and now cant stop playing it. I remember four songs that my Dad played like it was yesterday. When I listen to her music I am taken somewhere else and to a different time. Life was simpler there and then.She has a voice like an angel.”

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25. sambista said... on Feb 15, 2014 at 12:18PM

“What a wonderful piece, thank you. The music lives on. Washington DC band, Veronneau, recently did a wonderful album celebrating bossa nova, called the Jazz Samba Project. There's also a week long festival in June 2014 at the Strathmore Music Center with Sergio Mendez, Eliane Elias, and many more, including the premiere of a movie about bossa nova and an exhibition from the Felix Grant Jazz Archive, Felix having been the DJ who broke bossa nova in the US.”

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26. Len said... on Mar 7, 2014 at 12:08AM

“The bossa nova sound is credibly beautiful. I simply love Gilberto / Jobim music. I am now sixty, while my friends were going wild over the Mid sixties sounds the Beatles and the rest, I fell in love with boss a nova and the Girl from Ipanema. Astrud your beautiful voice will forever be the voice the boss a nova. As a Philadelphian it is even more incredible to come to learn that you are part of our community.

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27. VinnyG said... on Mar 19, 2014 at 05:54AM

“Wow! One of the best articles I've read in a long time. Peripheral to the subject, Stan Getz was a Philly boy. I wonder if he might have introduced her to the city during any of the live performances (I'm assuming there was a tour associated with GFI, really don't know) and if that might have had anything to do with Ms. Gilberto's choice of residence.

-VG”

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28. tramy said... on Mar 30, 2014 at 07:30AM

“yesterday was Astrud's bday and thank to the internet i discover this article. Astrud's fan since 5 years ago when i was 20, my love for jazz and bossa nova still growing strong. All the best from Vietnam :)”

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29. Terry said... on Apr 1, 2014 at 01:29PM

“Thank you for a wonderful article. Although I love Astrud's music too, your sentiments uncannily describe the way Doris Day's music has touched me. I too struggle with the frustration of wanting to tell her personally how she has affected me and thank her for her gift of music. I grew up in the sixties seeing some of her movies of the period. But I re-discovered her a few years back and come to adore her songs from the forties. I have resigned myself to knowing I can never talk to her, a sad feeling, but one of the ironies of life. April the 3rd 2014 she will be 90 years old. Funny how someone you have never met will always have special place in your heart.”

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30. Lee Magri said... on Apr 6, 2014 at 04:44PM

“She was born in 1940, she is far from being 90 years old..She has her reasons for not granting interviews..they do mis-quote you, & much has been said about her..
Read her page, & you know more of how she feels,& her likes, & dislikes..she is quite candid..Her collaboration in the 60's was the best think which happened in the U.S.. I was in New York City then, & that recording was the best which hit the charts.
I have it on L.P., & C.D. Thanks Atrud for bringing us such great music, & memories!”

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31. Raluca said... on Apr 19, 2014 at 10:54PM

“Beautiful article about a beautiful songstress and incredibly soulful lady. We were neighbors in the late '90s and she was kind and generous with her time and wisdom. I wish her the best and thank her for the memories and for the music.”

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