The real dangers of engaging in cultural agitation in 1960s and '70s Brazil change all the terms of what might otherwise seem like typical rock 'n' roll stories. Gil and fellow singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso are at the center of any discussion of Tropicália, not only because of their music but because the Brazilian government singled them out for arrest and deportation. While in exile, they became heroes of Brazilian counterculture, whether they chose that role or not. And after their return to Brazil in 1972, they eventually became full-fledged pop stars.
But Gil and Veloso are among the survivors. For others there was no rehabilitation: Rogério Duarte, an intellectual associated with the movement, was tortured while under arrest and ended up in a psychiatric hospital, emerging only much later to live in seclusion; Torquato Neto, poet and lyricist, who cowrote the Tropicalista anthem "Geléia geral" (General jam) with Gil, was also confined to a psychiatric hospital and subsequently committed suicide in 1972; Arnaldo Baptista, of the trio Os Mutantes, suffered drug problems and psychological collapse, eventually sustaining debilitating brain injuries while trying to escape from a psychiatric hospital in 1982.
Many US and English rock 'n' roll stories are likewise littered with casualtiesóbut the decadent descent of our Northern rock stars rarely if ever seems connected to official persecution. The government's involvement changes success stories, as well: When Os Mutantes, the irreverent psychedelic rock band of the movement, filmed television commercials for Shell Oil at the height of the Brazilian government's repression, employing one of their songs whose lyrics had already been altered by official censors, it surely represented something other than the usual corporate sellout. In any case it further complicates this intriguing Tropicalista slogan, coined by artist Hélio Oiticica: "Be marginal, be a hero."
All this history might darken one's feelings for what is musically such an exuberant artifact, the Tropicália, ou panis et circencis (Tropicália, or bread and circuses) album of 1968, by Gil, Veloso, Neto, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, Nara Leao, and José Carlos Capinan and brilliantly produced by Rogério Duprat (who was very much the George Martin to these collective Beatles). Dunn's book is best when discussing this album, which he helps us better understand by translating key lyrics, explicating the specifically Brazilian musical references in the songs, and decoding the iconography of its LP jacket. What becomes clear is that the cultural meaning of this album is even more layered than its dense, hyperkinetic musical arrangements. It awaits its Greil Marcus for a fuller exegesis, however. There are too many gaps in Dunn's account, which doesn't really seem intended for those already in love with the music.
Damon Krukowski and his partner Naomi Yang will release their fifth recording for SubPop, a live CD/DVD set called Song to the Siren: Damon and Naomi on Tour with Kurihara, in April 2002.