I was sitting alone in an empty bar on College Street on a November night, pissing rain outside. It was 1995. I had few friends and fewer prospects for work. I can’t recall how I’d planned to pay for the drink in front of me: it was probably a coffee. I was just thankful to be dry. Out of nowhere came this voice, soft and warm:
É pau, é pedra,
é o fim do caminho
É um resto de toco,
é um pouco sozinho.
I discovered years after (this being a pre-Shazam age) the name of the song was “Águas de Março” (or “Waters of March”). It’s a bossa nova piece written by Antonio Carlos Jobim in 1972. One of the definitive performances is captured above by Brazilian superstar, Elis Regina, who died, tragically, of a drug overdose at the age of 36.
The song is inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s heavy downpours in late March—the end of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a stunning bit of onomatopoeia, regardless that I can’t understand the lyrics. Jobim did re-work them into a longer English translation, something he felt was necessary to keep the feel and structure of the original. This said, I prefer the original Brazilian-Portuguese: the song is so ethereal that English lyrics seem plodding by comparison.
Since that night, almost fifteen years ago, it’s been a tune which has continued to enchant me. What I love about it is its combination of childlike tick-tock rhythm and lyrical stream of consciousness. Time stops whenever I hear it, English or not, though there’s a dearth of good interpretations. In truth, they typically run the gamut from treacly to nauseating. This convince you?
Not quite? How’s this?
Coca-Cola Global, “Commercial For Coca-Cola” (1985)
Art Garfunkel gave it a good try. It’s better than most: almost all of these performances tend to encapsulate the best (and worst) of the era in which they were recorded.
Byrne & Feist? Sounds good on paper…
Not so much in reality.
To be honest, I don’t know if it was Elis Regina I heard over the sound system that night in November (for years I was convinced Astrud Gilberto had done it originally, which turned out to be a red herring, as so many things were that I’d naively attributed to her). Like all great performances, what I heard that night transported me; I was temporarily removed from the cold distortion of my problems into an oasis. On that note, I leave you with a duet between Elis Regina and Tom Jobim himself.
– Matt Cahill