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tropicalists were nothing but arrogance and presumption

tropicalists were nothing but arrogance and presumption


Paulo Francis
O Estado de São Paulo, 7 August 1993

Tropicália appears in Tristes Trópicos, by Claude Levi-Strauss, the best biography of Brazil ever written, featuring Gilberto Gil as an artist with the vehemence of a star.

It has dawned on me that Tropicália is a sub-product of Chancellor Azeredo Silveira’s dim-witted idea that, since Brazil wouldn’t be part of the First World anyway, it might as well be first in the Third World. He was furious when the US government answered with a resounding no. In 1975, he asked Kissinger to sell American oil to Brazil, since 50% of the American oil is produced in the “States” and it would come out cheaper for Brazil than importing it from OPEP, the league of producers that decided to scorch the world by raising three times the prices in 1973 and then another six times in 1979, causing the bankruptcy of the Brazilian military regime, and leading to the ever celebrated political opening, hailed as a “conquest” by the dummies: the first gift we got from the opening was José do Ribamar Sir Ney, whose last name was adapted to Sarney…

If Petrobrás worked properly, Brazil would be self-sufficient in oil.

Objectivity freaks will say that Tropicália precedes Azeredo Silveira’s idiocy. But it must have been the kick-off by the Chancellor that gave Tropicália its arrogance and presumption. But what is that my business? Nothing at all.

And music isn’t my business either. I believe, like José Lino Grunewald, that Brazilian music is Rio de Janeiro’s samba, spanning the super literary Noel Rosa to the talent of Tom Jobim and, as a foreign addition, the tango. Yes, tango, even though I only realized how sensual it could be in Woody Allen’s Alice, in which “La Cumparsita” is used with great effect. The problems of backwoodsmen are no concern of mine. Euclides da Cunha, si, his characters, no.

This is not intolerance or snobbery. I simply find the poor poor. Compassion is intrinsically undesirable because it is a passion, wrote Spinoza. In short, compassion is a manifestation of narcissism. If I could, I’d do away with poverty, but I can’t, so I won’t make it look good one way or another. I think Brazil is a shameless country, allowing the North and the Northeast to live the way they (sub) live. We will never be able to even claim an identity as a nation for as long as that horror prevails.

I find Gilberto Gil a great singer. He has the swing and vehemence of a star. He shines and reflects. If he is Tropicália, I’m for it. If Glauber of The Turning Wind (Barravento) and Black God White Devil (Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol) – which are, in fact, the two only Brazilian films after Amei um Bicheiro, – is Tropicália, I’m for it. But this is an aesthetic opinion, not a political one. Talent overcomes anything. Tropicália appears in Levi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques, the best biography of Brazil ever written. But that’s not it at all. Tropicália takes its inspiration from the inevitability of living in shit and from the conviction to say that it tastes good. The late Carlinhos de Oliveira made me long explanations about Tropicália, of which he is one of the acknowledged authors. He said that Brazilian people are generally undernourished, skinny, non-white and that they look very strange in a world of tall, Westerly civilized, blond, blue-eyed people. In the end, who is it that determines that the latter are better, if not themselves? We should praise what we are. It is a piece of junk, but it is ours.

Well, I don’t think Machado de Assis would agree with Carlinhos de Oliveira, the two of them being physically related. Incidentally, Carlinhos wasn’t a writer of doodles, but a delightful chronicler, even though he leaned towards sentimentality over women, and, when he conquered one, ill-treated her sadistically.

Civilization, wrote Lionel Trilling, is a constant struggle between what’s best and the mass of vulgarity; it’s an obscure, defensive fight to try to preserve a minimum of light from the darkness of intrinsic inanity, leading to the low-levelness they call democracy. Man was made in God’s image; in that we believed during all the pre-Darwinian centuries. Clearly now that God is dead, our image may be recreated to His image as an existential act. May we shoot for the best so that we get to what’s good or reasonable, and may the rest be silence. Hei’ ge nacht, sing Tristan and Isolde, and what do they care the donkey limps… They spur it on as hard as they can.

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