55. And why not sing?
May 16th, 2023
New Year’s Eve was a bad night. A bust, a misery, one of those fireworks that explodes into an image, only the image is just a man sitting alone on a twinkling couch. I never have great expectations for New Year’s, but this one was plumbing bold and experimental new depths until I finally forced myself outside for a loop of the neighbourhood. With less than an hour until midnight I picked something new to listen to and began Charlie Browning my way towards a city lookout, when I quickly realised I was listening to my favourite record of the year: Tim Bernardes’ Mil Coisas Invisíveis.
Mil Coisas Invisíveis means ‘A Thousand Invisible Things’, but at the time I didn’t understand that or literally anything Bernardes was saying, given that the record is sung entirely in Portuguese. With my grasp of the language I could thank him with a sheepish obrigado, but that’s where the conversation would dry up. The language barrier was irrelevant that night, though. As I joined the slow convergence of people headed towards the park, I was immediately smitten by the sound of everything—guitar and piano at the forefront, sparse and warm; conga and upright bass, lithe and playful; and all of it detailed with diaphanous strings and muted brass. Who needs words? ‘Mistificar’ sounded like watching the most beautiful stranger you’ve ever seen walking through a hotel lobby, ‘Olha’ the awful splintering collapse of a relationship with that same stranger.
The song that really stuck with me, however, was ‘A Balada de Tim Bernardes’. Something about it felt significant—possessed of that rare magic that suggests a song was written exclusively for you. Also the chorus sounded like a basketball bouncing down a staircase. As the first few months of 2023 lumbered on, hard and heartbreaking, I kept this song in my back pocket. I’d whistle the chorus, or sing phonetic nonsense in no language at all, but never dared look up the English translation of the lyrics. I wanted to believe the song meant what I needed it to mean.
I saw Bernardes play here in Seattle last week, and it was a delight. He told us that Mil Coisas Invisíveis was partly the product of some pandemic-assisted metaphysical navel gazing, but that he also just wanted to write some good pop songs. He charmed the room to a standing ovation. As I walked home that night, warm enough to wear a single layer and with marginally less of the sky falling than on New Year's Eve, I decided to finally look up the English language lyrics to 'A Balada de Tim Bernardes'. There in the later verses?
I will come back, I will come back
I'm going to be happy again, I want to be calmer
I am taking care of myself
I'm going to change, I already changed, I'm changing
Life is made to be enjoyed
And somehow I'll enjoy it
And the line repeated in the chorus? A piece of advice not so much lost in translation, but perhaps just waiting there for me patiently?
And why not sing?
Dept. of Enthusiasm is a charmingly sporadic email from me, Jez Burrows. You can read some past issues, or sign up below.
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