The Apollo Leap


They Went to the Moon
& Discovered Our Earth

This famous shot of the Earth rising above the Moon’s horizon was taken half a century ago by astronaut Bill Anders, helped by Frank Borman and Jim Lovell. But it didn’t come to light until a few months later. When it did, it went straight to my wall.
Like millions of teens, my room in 1968 was a dizzying array of passions and people I admire. There was a spot for the Earthrise shot next to a tongue-stuck-out Einstein, a bonnet-clad Che, a nearly nude Brigitte, Beatles, Hendrix, and Caetano Veloso to boot.
So, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin finally touched down on quaint-named Tranquility Base 50 years ago this Saturday, the deal was already done. Still dauntingly impressive, but the new world had been discovered the previous December. And it was blue.
To this day, we’ve yet to know another heavenly body that, despite being rock-solid, appears translucent and blue in space like no other. No other has oxygen and water enough to nurture life’s exuberance, all packed into such a transfixing image.
No one but this planet is suitable for the likes of us. And never before it was so close to being murdered by the very species that depend on it the most. In 1969, Earth’s blueness was a revelation to be cherished. Now, it’s our only argument for survival.

GO FOR GLORY. BRING BACK ROCKS
We’re bound to this ship, no matter how far we may go. And we haven’t even got far. In fact, we couldn’t really go anywhere without carrying our home with us. Since that’s impossible, whatever we do to our home, will determine the fate of its dwellers.
Even those who’d like to leave it and live somewhere else, know that it’s a one-way ticket out of life. And maybe to the relevance they’re sure won’t be achieved here. Bon voyage to them, there’ll always be a need for pioneers. But I’m staying put, thank you very much.
The Apollo 11 trip to eternity remains one of mankind’s greatest achievements. But it’s also one of our biggest failures, as we did little to step beyond it, and now it’s as great as a masterpiece in a museum: intriguing but shut away from reality, an end on itself.
We’re inspired by that moment, as we should, and we relish its significance, for it reflects all that’s great about our nature. It transcended everything around it: the nation that finally placed a man on another world; war; the politics; all of it.

THEY PUT A MAN ON THE MOON
But it was but a moment, now lost in time. In five decades, we went from the unshakeable hope for the future, the human genius and the power of technology, to the far-out opposite end of clarity; we simply don’t know how we’ll get through this crisis.
We knew then that a trip to the Moon would be remembered, and celebrated, and it could trigger a new era, fulfilling our destiny as wanderers of the great beyond. Now we’re actually afraid that there won’t be anyone left then to mark its first century anniversary.
For over 200,000 years, we’ve walked all over this planet, explored every nook, probed each hole, went down all abysms, and climbed up mountains high and higher. We dove its deep oceans and tested its fiery volcanos. We died and were reborn many times.
Our civilizations are built out of this world’s dust and bones. But one thing our journey hasn’t quite led us to yet is to the harmony of coexisting with the sphere that supports us. We have nothing on the serenity that the pale blue dot floating in the vacuum exudes.

SOMEONE HAS TO TELL THE KIDS
All we’ve built now conspire to destroy us, and we should be so lucky if, in the process, Earth’s spared. We may not see this, but if it survives us it may no longer be blue and ethereal as it looks now. It’ll have to be violent to rid itself of the plague of us.
And yet the fight to reverse course and start it over, even if not from the very beginning, is not just possible but our best shot. It’s either that or reckoning with angry kids we’ve sentenced to live and die in a poisoned era. That or we will choke on our own mistakes.
It was thrilling to believe we’d stepped up, and anyone could be a guest of another planet. Even that the very fuel and raw materials, (more)
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* Window Seat
* Space Odor
* The Last Apollo

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The Quiet Knight

Farewell, João Gilberto,
Master of the Silent Music

João is gone. His passing, on July 6, hit the final chords for Bossa Nova as Brazil’s national musical expression. The precision of his nylon-string playing and subtleness of the nearly mute overtones of his voice challenged traditions and forged a place of his own.
When he, his lifelong musical partner Antonio Carlos ‘Tom’ Jobim and others, took the New York Carnegie Hall stage, in 1962, for a historic concert, it marked the moment when a quiet artistic revolution in Brazil got introduced to the world. It was an instant hit.

Bossa Nova became the very sound of the Portuguese-speaking South American nation, Jobim and João as its top ambassadors. The jazz-tinged but unmistakenly Brazilian melodies of one, seamlessly merged with the syncopated guitar beat and well-timed phrasing of the other.
João was the ultimate perfectionist, and a fiery idiosyncratic performer, whose increasingly rarer appearances would convey an almost cult-like devotion from his audience. Declining physical and mental health though led him to spend his last years alone in his apartment in Rio.
Which was fitting for an artist whose rise coincided with Brazil’s quick urbanization. His art spoke to an ascendant intellectual and politically engaged middle class, even though neither Bossa nor João were integral to the social unrest of the 1960s.
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* Stone Flower
* 50 Summers
* Multi-Note Samba

João Gilberto, a Brazilian treasure, has elevated popular music to a sophisticated art form, capable of expressing the entire soul of a nation. Despite the current president’s refusal to call this a time for mourning, his voice and guitar will forever be the beating heart of Brazil. R.I.P.

Waters of March

A Fine Day to Salute
Hurricane Elis Regina

‘If she were still alive, Brazilian music wouldn’t be in such a bad shape.’ That’s guitar player Nathan Marques about Elis Regina, likely Brazil’s greatest singer, who’d be 72 this Friday. She died at 36 of an accidental overdose, and the country’s rich musical tradition still mourns her loss.
Most survivors of Brazil’s golden generation of songwriters and musicians, from the 1960s on, would endorse her guitarist’s stinging comment. Besides being impossibly gifted as an artist, Elis is also missed for her uncanny scouting talents, as many a career was either launched or enhanced by her renditions.
Her rise from anonymity to national stardom was meteoric. At 20, with Vinicius de Moraes and Edu Lobo‘s Arrastão, she won the TV Excelsior Festival de Música, the first of a series of festivals that took the country by storm, and revealed a new batch of interpreters that would dominate Brazilian music for years to come.
She then co-hosted with Jair Rodrigues O Fino da Bossa, and turned it into the most important music program on TV at the time. She seemed born to star in the medium, a crucial part of the young nation’s cultural integration, even as it also served well the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 85.
In many cases, hers were the first recordings of composers who’d go on to become national treasuries, like Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins, Beto Guedes, and João Bosco, beside others. Or she added considerable wattage to the work of contemporaries, like Lobo, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil, by recording their songs.

WHEN BRAZILIAN MUSIC MATTERED
Even though they all wrote lyrics, she also helped usher an entire new lineage of lyricists. Fernando Brant, Ronaldo Bastos, Aldir Blanc, and Victor Martins, to name but few, had their urban poetry-infused words first played on the radio and performed on TV by her, in a country whose majority by now were living in big cities.
By the 1970s, Brazilian music, or MPB, had several streams of high quality output, and composers of talent to boot. As Bossa Nova entered its second decade, and Tropicália, its own maturity phase, even artists identified with purer musical idioms, such as samba and Chorinho, were registering on vinyl their arguably best work.
Thus as Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Baden Powell, and so many others were consolidating the then most famous representative of the country’s music, Veloso, Gil, Tom Zé, and Os Mutantes, plus Buarque, Paulinho da Viola, Nascimento, and Bosco were hard at work rewriting popular music to a younger audience.
MOOD SWINGER & ADVOCATE
One of the most remarkable facts about Elis Regina’s trajectory was that she was developing her sophisticated interpretative touch while at the vanguard of all these currents. Credit must be also given to husband and partner Cesar Camargo Mariano, who contributed (more)
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* Lil’ Pepper
* 50 Summers

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Stone Flower

Jobim, Bossa Nova Giant,
Would’ve Been 90 Today

When Antonio Carlos Jobim was born, the stunning beaches of his hometown, Rio de Janeiro, were still nesting grounds to a variety of marine birds and wild life. Some of them would be celebrated later by Brazil’s greatest popular music composer, who’d be 90 today.
The architect of Bossa Nova, the 1960s movement that took the world by a quiet storm, Jobim’s forever linked to his Garota de Ipanema, the classic that became one the most performed songs ever, even as it seems now forever trapped in some sort of an elevator to oblivion.
Which is unfortunate, not just for his varied and profoundly Brazilian output, but also because, in its original João Gilberto and Stan Getz performance, it remains a delicate gem, all intricate harmonies and tender balance of its beat. (On Feb 2, Getz would’ve been 90 too.)
An accomplished musician both on acoustic guitar and piano, Jobim found in João‘s voice the superb phrasing to enhance his delicate melodies. Their musical partnership was not unlike that of Federico Fellini and Marcelo Mastroianni: a esthetic symbiosis, where both seem part of the same creative continuum.
It’s possible that João, now 85, may be still mourning, quietly as is his style, the sudden passing of his lifelong friend, in New York, Dec. 8, 1994. And so may be generations of artists, influenced and inspired by him, grieving his loss and the hole he’s left in Brazil’s culture.
For even as his extensive songbook is still a defining landmark for the rich musical tradition of his homeland, he’s much less regarded there today than his stature as a songwriter would’ve granted. Even today, it
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Read Also:
* 50 Summers
* Multi-Note Samba

may not be easy to tune in any of his songs on Brazilian radio stations.
In these short-attention span times, the relevance of collective memory and the weight a society places on his standard-bearers, depends on constant refreshing, and efforts to preserve them. Popular culture is as good as the next trend, if nothing is done otherwise.
Jobim’s genius may still be part of every positive reference about Brazil’s culture. But less than 20 years from his passing, fresh traces of his work are more likely to be found in the art of international artists than of his fellow brasileiros. That is truly puzzling but some half-seriously think that the reason is obvious.
Although they were all born in the same country, few has the Portuguese word for ‘tone’ as a nickname. Plus, almost no one has, written on their very birth certificate, the term that defines nationality, as Antonio Carlos BRASILEIRO de Almeida Jobim did. No wonder some call him the inventor of Brazilian music. Happy Birthday, Tom.

52 From the Coup

A Day for Brazil to Count

Its Democratic Blessings

The Ominous Use of Brazil's National Colors (A Tarde, 2015)There are two wrenching, overlapping moments hitting Brazil right now: one punctual, threatening to postpone the future for another 40 years. The other is a permanent state been of self-doubt, of insular auto-sabotage that betrays a profound fear of realizing the dreams that it has been dreaming for so long.
Thus, if Brazil were a person, March 31th would feel like having a screwdriver making turns while deeply encased in the gut. Any other year, it’d be a day to be quickly forgotten, as it’s been for over half a century. But this year, the pain’s different and the bleeding, worse.
When the tanks took the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, and other Brazilian capitals, on that March of 1964, they were not just aborting democratically elected President João Goulart. They were strangling a nation trying to come on to its own.
For the 1950s had been Brazil’s rebirth, and the promise of a time unlike anything that had come before. It was the decade the nation discovered its blackness, its youth exploding with possibilities, and most people started moving to live in modern cities, with an emerging industry to boot.
Suddenly, Brazilian popular culture, music, cinema, fine arts, architecture, even its passion for football, acquired an exuberance, a gusto for living that surpassed that of all ethnicities that had been thrown in the mix since the founding of the nation in 1500.

WHEN BOOTS HIT THE GROUND
That’s what the truculent military coup hoped to squashed like tropical cockroaches. The country’s powerful oligarchy, and the always unsecured middle class, readily embraced the muscular support from the U.S., who couldn’t bear seeing Brazil fall into the Soviet Union lure.
The military showed a unified front, swiftly consolidating power, even as they were at each other’s throats behind the scenes. Their single-file determination drove great Brazilian minds to exile, or to an early grave, but also had a tenacious resistance to fight from day one.
While tirany indebted the nation, and mercilessly punished dissent and free expression, Brazil grew around and despite it. It took 21 years to restore democracy. It may take many more (more)
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* John & João
* Dead Presidents
* 50 Summers

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