This is a deleted chapter from Julian Palacios's book, Beck: Beautiful
. You can buy the book over at Amazon.

I got this chapter from

Tropicalia: Saudaces, terraqueos 
<<Greetings, Earthlings>> 

The Brazillian Interlude from 'Beck: Beautiful Monstrosity'

(Note: this was cut from the final draft because of space constraints)

  'Tropicalia was a bit shocking,' we came up with new things that
involved electric guitars, violent poetry, bad taste, traditional
Brazilian music mass, low-class successful music, kitsch, tango,
Caribbean things, rock and roll and also our avant-garde, so-called
serious music.' Caetano Veloso

On November 3rd 1998, Beck released Mutations, a comparatively low-key
album, which he described as 'space age folk music'. Critical accolades
matched its high placing on the pop charts, proving, if anything, that
Beck's artistic aims were resonating in the popular culture. One track
that stood amidst Mutations elegant orchestral space folk was
'Tropicalia', an electronic bossanova with intriguing, convoluted lyrics
that marked a decisive step forward in Beck's progression. The song
itself is an oblique paean to the 'Tropicalia' movement in Brazilian
popular music during the late 1960's; a feverish attempt to merge high
and low brow taste, folk music and city sophistication with avant-garde
string arrangements atop complex African rhythm patterns. The song,
although a bossanova, perfectly captures the distended poetry and
alternately romantic and corrosive imagery of tropicalia. Like Fluxus,
'Tropicalia' slots in perfectly with Beck's quest to make treasure out
of trash, using the discarded elements of pop and traditional culture to
fashion something relevant and modern. And Beck refrained from stepping
into the 'exotica' trap by making a pastiche of hot tropical beats or
some other clich picked up off the back of a Varig airline brochure.
He studied his Brazilian shit and got it down before stepping to the
mike with this, a monstrously good song.

Writing this, I'm struck by the similarities between 1967 in Brazil and
today, wherever you're reading this. There are parallels between the
trajectories of Caetano Veloso (tropicalia's singular poet-songwriter)
romantic revolt, and Beck's reinvention of the musical alphabet. When
Veloso played Los Angeles in September 1999, he made a point of inviting
Beck onstage to play some of his songs and jam with Veloso's band on an
instrumental version of 'Tropicalia', Veloso paid Beck a very high
honour indeed. Veloso performed an instrumental version of Beck's
'Tropicalia' before calling Beck up. 'Beck had suggested four songs of
mine for us to do, and I found his choices very interesting,' Veloso
told Wire magazine. '"Coracao Vagabundo", "Super-Bacana" (which is a
song from my first solo album), "Baby" and "Maria Bethania", which was
my favourite of his choices because it was a song that I wrote when I
was living in England and I used to be ashamed of those songs.' Like
Beck's performance with Koerner, Ray and Glover this was a vital
connection to past traditions. Beck's position as fly in the ointment of
popular music paralleled Veloso's own in Brazil, and it was most welcome
for Beck to receive this sort of acknowledgment from such a masterful
and iconoclastic musician. Like Beck's shows, Veloso's tour had a
similar air of suggesting that most anything was possible, not only in
music but in the larger scope of day to day life. 'When all the
musicians danced, I invited Beck to dance', Veloso recalled. 'He was
very good doing his version of breakdancing [...] it's very interesting
that these young guys are interested in what we were doing in the
Sixties. It's a way of acknowledging the richness and importance of
Brazilian music as a whole.'

Beck said, 'I grew up in a Latin district, with Salvadorians, Mexicans,
And all of the music that I heard has an African rhythm,' Beck told
Blitz in 1998. 'This is fusion music par excellence. Brazilian music is
simultaneously Western and African. In Tropicalismo, all the sounds from
West to East converge. This music is extremely contagious, it has
enormous happiness, and it's genuine and human. We're not allowed to
broach similar happiness in rock, to us it isn't allowed. It's why I
play this music, that I write songs like this, since emotions can be
expressed, emotions that it's not possible express by others music. This
music implies love for life, unconcern, sexuality and intelligence. To
me, my heart beats with the sound of this rhythm.'

Rita Lee, one-time vocalist with radical Brazilian Tropicalia group Os
Mutantes, credits the current resurgence of interest in Tropicalia to
the times we're living in: 'It must have something to do with the turn
of the millennium, the rising curiosity and re-reading the best of what
the 20th century has produced, art wise, all over the world. When I
first heard Beck I really felt a musical familiarity with what Os
Mutantes used to do 25 years ago, I'm sure he hasn't listened to us
before, so there's really something in the air making what was a flash
future music into a new/old awakening.'

And of course, destroying the boundaries between new and old was exactly
Beck's line of work. Clearly Brazilian music got under Beck's skin from
an early age and stayed there. 'One of my best friends, David Brown, who
plays in my band as well, went to Brazil and came back six months later
fluent in Portuguese, and with a sack full of cassettes of early 70s
Jorge Ben, Caetano Veloso', he told Ray Gun magazine in early 1999. 'It
was just one of those things were you hear it and it instantly attacks
your immune system until you are completely at its mercy. For years, it
was pretty much the only thing I would listen to. It seemed like it had
all the elements  the groove, the beats, and an insane melodic flair.
And when I could get people to translate lyrics, the lyrics had a humour
and soulfulness. the music in general had an incredible uplifting effect
without being cloying or too sentimental. The music is incredibly simple
on one level, but so much of it embraces complexity and is harmonically
ambitious, but at the same time is really basic. It's also music that
was created under incredible oppression and poverty. it's transcendent

It was 1967 in Brazil. As the military tightened its grip on freedom,
the youth rebelled. The repressive regime of General Artur de Costa e
Silva sparked off student protests. One form of that rebellion was
music. Tropicalia was a spontaneous movement in culture and music,
typical of the sixties. Its two leading figures were Gilberto Gil and
Caetano Veloso. Veloso said, 'Tropicalia was a bit shocking we came up
with new things that involved electric guitars, violent poetry, bad
taste, traditional Brazilian music mass, low class successful music,
kitsch, tango, Caribbean things, rock and roll and also our avant-garde,
so-called serious music.' ('Cry of Conscience' by Scott Adams, Arete

Tropicalia also made great use of Brazilian modernist concrete poetry,
particularly that of Brazilian poet, Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954).
Andrade was a guru for the movement, conspicuous by his physical absence
but omnipresent in his influence. Andrade's 1924 manifesto 'Pau Brasil'
called for Brazilians to become cannibals of culture. To eat the West,
the East and expel it as something wholly Brazilian; cultural

For music that sought to incorporate chaos, much of Tropicalia was well
structured and thought out according to dictates of concrete poetry, the
rigour of the avant-garde and magnificent orchestrations. The Veloso-Gil
song 'Bat Macumba' strung together words in joyous abandon around a
tight structure, each verse dropping words until the middle word was
'bat' and then rebuilt word by word to the end, making an bold,
emblematic 'K' when written on paper.

Tropicalia is pervaded by the thin flat guitar that laced even the most
romantic ballad with harsh and astringent tones. Gil's interest in the
Beatles and folkloric Brazilian rhythms rubbed shoulders with Veloso's
twin strains of romanticism and insurrection, contemplation and calls to
action. The movement drew its name from the works of artist Hlio
Oiticica, a Bahian artist, and maker of installations. In 1967 he
installed 'Tropicalia' inside the august surroundings of the Museum of
Modern Art in Rio. The installation illustrated the crash collision of
old and new, of a Brazil rapidly modernising into cities of chrome and
glass while every hillsides was ringed with the favelas, the tin shacks
of the urban poor. Oiticica invited the viewer to step inside, take off
their shoes, and walk around. There were lush tropical weeds underfoot,
gravel, tin roofs, bland pre-fab constructed walls, and in the back, a
dark room where one walked into only to find a television blaring.
After that, the exit.

Born near the city of Bahia in 1942, Caetano Veloso was deeply
influenced by that city's music. In Brazilian during the times of
slavery, the African slaves had been allowed to retain their families,
instruments, music and culture, unlike in the United States, where they
lost all. In Bahia, the propulsive African rhythms were merged with
lyrical, melodic strains of Portuguese white European music, and further
down the road, the lilting, otherworldly flutes and berimbau of the
Amazon Indians. Veloso soaked it all in.

He went to art school, and when his sister, singer Maria Bethania went
to Rio in 1965 to take part in a musical play called Opinion, he
accompanied her. At first the audiences laughed at the simple country
girl, with her embroidered dress and dowdy centre parted hair and plain
shoes, but when she opened her mouth they were shocked at her deep
resonant voice, full of mastery and power. She achieved rapid success
and recorded a few of Caetano's songs and he was launched by
association. Caetano won a few contests on television variety shows
which were hugely popular during 1965-9, beginning with his song 'Boa
Palavra', performed at the Popular Music Festival. The Festival would
help spawn the categorisation under which Veloso's generation of
talented singers and songwriters would become known, the rubicon of
'MPB' (Musica Popular Brasiliera'). In 1966, he signed a contract with

Veloso's main musical influence at the time was the intellectual,
plaintive strains of bossa nova (the 'new thing' in Portuguese). Bossa
nova's main composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and guitarist Joao Gilberto
produced some of the most memorable popular music ever; fantastic songs
that even made it into the pop charts in the States and Europe.
Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto's version of 'The Girl From Ipanema'
went top ten in 1964. She was backed by one time bebop and cool jazz
saxophonist Stan Getz, and other kindred spirits like Laurindo Almeida
and Charlie Byrd.

Veloso's first album 'Domingo' (1967) a collaboration with the exquisite
singer Gal Costa, singing bossa nova with acoustic guitars and romantic
lyrics of wandering hearts, 'Corao Vagabundo' dedicated to Ded. But
Veloso's mind was itching; on the liner notes to his first album, it was
clear that Caetano was looking for something new. He wrote, 'My
inspiration is not to live only in the nostalgia of times and places, to
the contrary, I want to incorporate this longing into a future
project'. Veloso had dabbled in journalism and read extensively on
poetry, philosophy and the avant-garde. He also began to look outside
Brazil for inspiration, as well as looking back to his childhood love of
Latin ballads, French movies and American comic book characters. He
took stock of Brazil's rapid fire drive toward modernisation, for better
and for worse. He saw repression creeping up simultaneously, with the
military government cracking down on dissent. It was one of those
moments that creates art movements, times of repression and progress,
economic prosperity, cultural stagnation creating a vacuum where foreign
influences flood in, a need for a new dialectic to explain changes.
Plus, he was questioning everything and not sitting still for a minute.

It was the sixties now, and everywhere in the world it was the same for
one instant. Under the influence of a lot of dope smoking and the
steady stream of psychedelic rock from the US and the UK, Veloso along
with a band of friends including Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Tom Z
starting cobbling together the disparate elements of what would become
known as Tropicalia. Gil was obsessed with the Beatles 'Sgt. Pepper's
Lonely Hearts Club Band' as well as African rhythms and the folk music
of backwoods Brazil, like the north-eastern variant known as forro,
propelled by accordions into something akin to zydeco or polka, music of
rail workers and the poor.

Veloso and Gil never lost sight for a moment of the music that had
brought them thus far, praising slightly older songwriters like Jorge
Ben and Roberto Carlos. Their interpretations of older songs were
marvellous, with their version of Jorge Ben's 'Que Pena', sung by Gal
Costa being a remarkable reinterpretation of the original. Costa sounds
like freedom itself, what writer Jim Irvin called 'the spirit of Ecstasy
on skates'.

Veloso's manager Guilherme Araujo also helped push him toward the
avant-garde, the polemicists and artists of Sao Paulo. Sao Paolo's
relatively liberal, avant-garde and intellectual climate turned up
unlikely collaborators such as Rogerio Duprat, an avant-gardemusician
and devotee of Cage and twelve tone Euro classical, who fashioned
extraordinary string arrangements for their songs.

Veloso and Ded split for Sao Paulo full time in 1968, just as his song
'Alegria, Alegria' was awarded 4th prize at the third Music Festival of
TV-Record. It marked the very first appearance of electric guitars in
the festival circuit, enraging leftist intellectuals who felt Veloso was
co-opting bourgeois Anglo-American idioms that had nothing to do with
traditional Brazilian music. None the less, Caetano Veloso was now a
star, and they strolled the streets, clubs and cafes of the city wearing
hippie clothes and long hair. A new twist for Veloso and friends came
with the sudden appearance of Os Mutantes, the Mutants. A
proto-pop-punk band, Os Mutantes had started out covering the Beatles,
Stones and the Ventures, and were now taking the stage in their native
city of Sao Paolo with their inspired derailed pop, punctuated by blasts
of found sound and sound processing. They were loud, poppy,
internationalist, experimental, rude and funny. Led by two moody
brothers who made their own guitars, and with a gossamer voiced singer
Rita Lee, Os Mutantes skirted the fringes of pop music, familiar enough
to gain mass popularity and experimental enough to bridge the gap to the
avant-garde. Veloso and Gilberto Gil freaked out when they heard Os
Mutantes, a band of youngsters named for a science fiction book called O
Planeta dos Mutantes. For Gil and Veloso, Os Mutantes opened doors they
didn't even know were there.

Rita Lee: 'Os Mutantes were a bunch of politically alienated teenagers.
When Gil first heard Os Mutantes during a record session he got really
impressed with our home-made instruments and our sane insanity, so we
soon began a real rich partnership. I would say that Os Mutantes gave
the Tropicalia movement a new expansion by using electronic instruments
for the first time in the Brazilian music panorama without even worrying
about prejudice, facing this struggle like clowns in the middle of the
reactionaries. By doing so, we've caught much more attention to the
powerful and beautiful lyrics, to the strong and daring messages of the
Tropicalia movement. We were straight to the point, to reach lots of
desperate people longing for some enlightenment at the end of Darth
Vader's tunnels.' (Raygun)

Veloso married his girlfriend Ded in a wildly original hippie wedding
ceremony, the very first Brazil had ever seen. Caetano's first solo
album 'Caetano Veloso' (1968) marked out straight off what made his
music compelling; heavily poetic lyrics, with deeply melodic
arrangements and his weird, sometimes slightly out of tune voice over
the top. Very idiosyncratic, and cool.

He ran into controversy immediately with his 1968 agit-pop song, 'E
Proibido Proibir' ('It s forbidden To Forbid'). Some people loved it
and other hated it, always a good sign that you are moving into new
territory. When he performed the song at the International Song
Festival the audience booed him mercilessly. Only the year before
Caetano and Gal had been singing bossa nova with acoustic guitars now
here he was on stage with Os Mutantes backing him with a cacophony of
self-made electric guitars, dressed in plastic suits and singing lyrics
of insurrection inspired by the May 1968 student demonstrations in
Paris, the title of the song itself a Situationist graffito scrawled on
the walls of the Sorbonne.

A recording of the performance, available on 'A Arte de Caetano Veloso'
(Verve), echoes the 1912 premiere turned riot of the Ballet Ruses Rites
of Spring', written by Stravinsky, with its great atonal clashes of
cymbals and discordant strings, and danced by the great balletomane
Nijinsky, possessed by his own demons of incipient madness. The
audience makes merry with their disapproval until Caetano snaps and runs
to the edge of the stage and harangues them for five minutes: 'So you
are the future of Brazil? We're done for! You understand nothing!
Nothing! Absolutely Nothing! I say it's forbidden to forbid. No to no!
Gilberto Gil and I are here to save Brazilian music!'

His next song, written with Gilberto Gil, was 'Divino Maravilhoso',
which their friend Gal Costa sang and won a prize for. The Tropicalia
crew would always be a tight knit bunch, writing songs for each other,
hanging out constantly, getting into all sorts of trouble and playing
music. The military government didn't take to the Brazilian hippies
very kindly, noting with immense displeasure how much the young people
of the country liked them. They had been instituting censorship on
radio, television and music, and month by month the repression grew.

It was at least partly the impending end of creative freedom that gave
Tropicalia its manic joyfulness; as if they were determined to have the
best time possible as the clock of repression ticked menacingly. The
tropicalistas accordingly recorded their manifesto, the 1968 album
'Tropiclia ou Panis et Circensis' a creatively anarchic explosion of an
album. Everyone pitched in, with Veloso and Gil writing the bulk of the
songs, mixing in folkloric traditions, ballads, astringent electric
guitars, the avant-garde noise blasts of the Baptista brothers, the
string arrangements of Rogerio Duprat and the slinky stylings of Gal
Costa and Nara Leo. Poets Torquato Neto and Jos Carlos Capinam wrote
lyrics, and the wonderfully eccentric songwriter Tom Z contributed
'Parque Industrial'.

The government finally liberated freedom, by abolishing it, in the
sinister guise of the Ato Institucional No. 5 (Institutional Act No.
5). Brazilians, with their love of acronyms, quickly dubbed the spectre
AI-5. Accordingly, the government censor/droogs paid a visit to Gil and
Veloso, arresting them and humiliating them by shaving their heads.
They were thrown into a dank Bahian jail cell with common criminals.
Gil and Veloso spent two months in prison, and four more months under
house arrest. At the end of the four months, the military basically
offered them an ultimatum. Either they got out of the country with all
their freaky clothes, guitars and incense or the military would keep
them in jail indefinitely, as they had begun to do students by the
hundreds throughout Brazil. Young people were being arrested, beaten,
going missing, found killed by the side of a deserted country road or
just never seen again. Wisely, Gil and Veloso decided to go into exile.

In one of those curious Brazilian twists befitting a nation deeply
enamoured of music, the military let them perform a farewell concert at
the Castro Alves Theatre in Bahia and the show was recorded and released
as an album, 'Barra 69'. Its angry, defiant music and vital listening.
The next week Gil and Veloso left for exile in London.

The military actually did them and Brazilian music a big favour, because
the pair arrived in London at the tail end of the psychedelic
underground and were able to freak out in grand style, jamming with acid
rockers and wandering around, 'digging the vibe' as they used to say
then. It enriched their music significantly. But a sadness is
pervasive throughout their albums made in exile, as they sing in
faltering English and Caetano bitterly intones 'Everybody knows our
cities were built to be destroyed.'

Back home things were grim, with the military throwing more students
into prison and torturing them. Gil and Veloso stayed tuned to what was
going on back home, and sent back a steady stream of songs back home for
others to cover. Caetano send songs to the brilliant Elis Regina ('Nao
Tenha Medo'-'Don't be Afraid')and Gal Costa ('London London', and 'Voce
Nao Entende Nada'-'You Don't Understand Anything!'). Caetano himself
had a big hit with 'Irene Re'. The double meanings of a lot of those
songs, a covert middle finger to the military, was understood by
everyone, and they loved it. The military censors were vexed that they
couldn't prove the songs were anti-government, because the songwriters
had cloaked them in metaphor three layers thick or just skirted direct

In 1971, Caetano was allowed to come back and visit his sick Mum, but he
was under house arrest for the duration of his stay. A soldier was
posted outside the door of the family house to make sure he didn't get
out. But everyone was allowed to come and see him. Another of those
odd Brazilian paradoxes. Furthermore, he was allowed to appear on
television and chose to sing, of all things, 'Corao Vagabundo'. In
1972, back in London, he received a call from the Brazilian Embassy.
The government was allowing them back, unconditionally. So Gil and
Veloso went back and became stars, mixing everything from funk, ska,
metal, and Michael Jackson into their music, but that is another story.

Caetano's lyrics are intriguing, to say the least. In his song 'Vaca
Profana' ('Profane Cow') Veloso strings together a series of disjointed
images depicting his fascination with the world, in all its majesty and
sickness. He name checks Thelonious Monk, Stevie Wonder, extols the
praises of the Brazilian province of Belo Horizonte, sings about the
punks of Naples, the poverty of the third world. And all done without
rancour or spite, just observation and reflection. Its hard to imagine
flavour of the month bands writing a song with a tenth of the intrinsic
worth of 'Vaca Profana'.

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