A FAN'S JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF CONTACT AND BACK.
"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.
"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 (email@example.com) is a longtime PW contributor.
PW's Music Issue 2014