Many afternoons with Caetano

The following is from the Brazilian magazine Bravo (in PT), which I translated, about fan of Caetano Veloso who not only got to meet him, but to get his song recorded by him.

I was 7 when I first saw and heard Caetano Veloso sing Alegria, Alegria with the Beat Boys at the Record Festival, in 1967. At home, we were all hypnotized by Chico Buarque singing Roda Viva. Chico and the song were beautiful. But I, a fan of Roberto Carlos, felt the Jovem Guarda vibe in the marcha-rock of Caetano, which seemed restrained and transgressive. Happiness and laziness – that yeah-yeah-yeah group and and a timidly daring singer with eyes full of color. It was the start.

From then til now, I became a musician of popular music and Caetano, a reference for my generation. In 1977, one decade after Alegria, Alegria, I was studying at the Colégio Equipe, in São Paulo, where the current-day host Serginho Goisman used to organize shows. I was his assistant and ticket-seller. On account of this little job, I got to fetch Cartola and Clementina de Jesus from the bus station, I handed over the payment to Luiz Gonzaga for his appearance and I bought a cognac at the bakery so Gilberto Gil could warm up his voice. Later, it was Caetano’s turn to go to the Equipe. He opened the show with Festa Imodesta, a samba that he composed and that Chico recorded on his album Sinal Fechado. At that time, I also started to compose and I immodestly imagined that Caetano one day would sing one of my songs. But, as time went by, I ended up redirecting my insane desire.

In 2008, when Caetano and the anthropologist Hermano Vianna launched the blog Obra em Progresso, I started to frequent their virtual hang-out and to comment on the posts. Caetano would write with an incredible appetite. Everything was fair game:  Noel Rosa, Fidel Castro, sociolinguistics. A group of about 20 people, more sedulous, created an incendiary intimacy among themselves and Caetano would very informally comment on our messages. It was then that a collective was born which came to be called “the blog group”.

One year later, the group went to the premier of zii e zie, Caetano’s most recent show, in Rio de Janeiro. In the dressing room, we had our first face-to-face with the singer, who greeted us one by one and guessed our names. Immediate interaction and affection. It was one rather emotional thing which detonated the taboo that the Internet promotes isolation and the repression of firsthand contact.

In Salvador, there was another meeting. After the Concha Acústica concert at the Castro Alves Theater, we went to Caetano’s house and ended the night in a pizzeria. But in Bahia, nothing really ends with pizza. On the following day, the group got together for a caruru (typical Bahian dish) at Vellame’s house, one of the members of the “blog group”. I was playing with Emerson, another component of the gang when Caetano showed up and said: “Continue”. I started playing the samba song Rugas by Nelson Cavaquinho. I had said on the blog that I dreamed of hearing this song in Caetano’s voice. A comment that, at the time, got him to respond with: “Salem, you read my thoughts. The song I most sing at home is Nelson’s song Rugas. So, together, we sang Rugas, which has a genius line “a happy person knows how to suffer”.

During this meeting, some of the people already knew the song that I had composed about our internet-related experiences:  Rugas na Pele do Samba. Caetano, didn’t. It was a surprise to be delivered to him a little later, recorded. But, with the atmosphere loaded with emotions, they asked me to sing it. And I sung it, a little clumsily, but I think it went well. When the samba was over, I saw that Caetano was moved. After that, we sang another 15 to 20 songs. We closed out the night trying to find a planet in the sky which only Moreno, Caetano’s son, managed to see.

When zii e zie came to São Paulo, I thought about not going. I feared diluting the enchantment of the Rio and Salvador meetings. But I received an invite and I went on a Friday with my wife, Fernanda. It was a dry show, almost a recital. There was silence during the songs and then long applauses. In the dressing room, some friends invited Caetano to go out and he declined saying that he was tired. But a little bit later, already at the door, he surprised me: “What about now? Where are we going?” I asked if he wanted to come to my house. “I prefer that we meet in the hotel.” That way, we could talk closer to where he would be able to get some rest later. We went, we ate and spoke of music and children without even looking at the clock. At four in the morning, Caetano surprised me again saying that he wanted to learn my song. I got up quickly and took out the guitar from the case. “How nice! Play it”, he asked. I sang. An initial attentive audition. “Write the lyrics on paper,” he asked again. Afterwards, he sang the song with me on the guitar and, in sequence, he sang it and played alone. Everything in place. Even the errors, which were few, sounded perfect. I strummed the last chord. To my luck, it wasn’t a dream. “Now you both can rest and I’ll work on the song.” In the elevator, I asked Fernanda to pinch me. I imagined the possibility of Caetano singing my song in his show on Saturday, but my low tolerance to frustration made me erase that fantasy. Conceit and expectation are the worst kind of drugs.

I was invited to the Saturday show and met up with the “blog group,” but I didn’t say anything about the night before. I maintained myself with my desire and my antidotes against disappointment. In the middle of the show, the roadie positioned a stand with some lyrics on it. I felt Fernanda’s eyes on me. Suspense. I pretended I didn’t notice and made a face like I was part of the paying public waiting to hear the song O Leãozinho. “Today I want to sing a song that’s very new, by Fernando Salem, to celebrate what happened with us through my blog Obra em Progresso“. Then, Caetano sung Rugas na Pele do Samba and, just after, Rugas, from Nelson, which he dedicated to me.

After the show, a long hug. I couldn’t contain myself: “Would you be interested in recording that with me on my new CD?.” The answer: “Yes, of course!” A few days later, Caetano was in my studio registering Rugas na Pele do Samba at my side. To hear it there and on the stage was for me, a truly immodest celebration*.

* – The last line of the story (a truly immodest celebration – uma verdadeira festa imodesta) is a bit of a play on words, as the author was referring to Caetano’s song Festa Imodesta, which is mentioned earlier in the article.


3 thoughts on “Many afternoons with Caetano

  1. Wow, that’s truly unbelievable. I do not know who is luckier. Fernando for meeting and recording with Caetano, or Caetano for having such devoted fans. I met Caetano once and thought I would explode from happiness.

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