By Sonia Corrêa
I took many meanders before writing this brief note about the enchantment – as the Brazilian writer Guimarães Rosa described death – of the singers Rita Lee and Tina Turner. I am not writing about them, these admirable artists, generous persons, phoenix women who have remade their lives many times as time went by. Their trajectories and biographies were recorded by themselves not only in writing, but mostly as embodiment, voice and presence, images and memories that will overflow easily from the digital cornucopia if you type their names.
This note is about the place of Rita and Tina in me. When Rita left on May 8, I cried gazing at the computer screen: a friend I had never met in person had departed. We are the same age and have the same Brazilian-American mix. I discovered these features after the 1967 Record Musical Festival, while watching her on TV. At that point in time, I still did not fully understand how the girl painted as the doll Emília, who had played cymbals in the Gilberto Gil’s booed song Domingo no Parque, could so easily become a bride, a witch, a clown and many other mutations1.
To more fully grasp the strangeness that Rita provoked in me – a girl from Copacabana who listened to the Beatles and went to anti dictatorship protests in jeans — you don’t have to go very far. Suffice watch the video of the festival to see the abyss between the shabbiness of the surroundings and the sophisticated aesthetics and sounds of the Mutantes, the rock band to which Rita belonged. At the time, it should be said, the word “mutant” aroused phantasmagorias as frightening as those now propelled by the potential domination of the world by artificial intelligence.
Many years later, I had the same feeling I experienced watching Rita and the Mutantes’ concerts when I read Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto. Remembering Rita after she was gone, I realized how the Mutantes prepared my synapses to the fusions between machine and organism, the mixture of social reality and fiction, the heteroclite body that, in Haraway’s theoretical imagination, anchors a “feminist politics of affinities”. But, of course, Rita was not only an anticipatory key to the theoretical complexities that would entangle me in the subsequent chapters of my life.
She was also the a sort of antenna composer, who captured our desires, sadness, dilemmas, bad moods, depressions and joys in the air, and transformed them into captivating musicality that we listened to and kept repeating endlessly. Years later, I close my eyes and can easily pull strings of sounds and pieces of lyrics from Banho de Espuma, Amor e Sexo, Ovelha Negra, Lança Perfume, Mania de Você. But also of Tudo Vira Bosta and, above all, Chata, this less heard ironic song that fits so well in present times. In this brie memoir I want to especially evoke the song Saúde (Health), whose final verse reads “while I’m alive and full of grace I’ll maybe still make a lot of people happy”. These happiness and joy that Rita spread around was what made her a piece of my own self.
Inside me, Rita and Tina encounter each other in their musicality and the very peculiar way their bodies occupy the stage. Rita was light and bouncy, Tina was majestic, but both were full there, without artifice. I met Tina much later, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, when my father made of me her eternal fan. I had already heard and seen Ike and Tina. But until then, I despised the vast musical field that mixed dance music, black soul and rock, which I considered a mere capitalist business, as if everything else would not be. A badge -carrying feminist, I was also extremely averse to the great divas of this realm that I mostly saw as stereotypes of the feminine.
Living out of town, I missed Tina’s glorious shows in Rio in the 1970s and 1980s. But later, in the video room my father invented to survive the boredom of retirement, my prejudices of her were thrown into the trash. One day, on a layover between Olinda, where I lived, and an international trip, he invited me to see a Madonna show. I responded with a fierce diatribe against show business and its “plastic divas”.
He listened carefully and asked: “Have you ever seen it?” I said: “No, and I don’t want to!”. Laughing, he responded: “I thought you had past that uncompromising and unintelligent stage. Watch it to see if you like it or not”. I watched it and, as he well predicted, I couldn’t resist. When I came back a week later, he greeted me smiling an said: “We have a new capitalist rock concert to watch!”. I asked, “More Madonna?” And he said: “No, something even better!”. It was Tina singing Proud Mary, in 1982.
I love the clips of Tina with Mick Jagger, but eve so I consider the rolling down the river of Proud Mary substantively better than Like a Rolling Stone. After the event of Youtube, , whenever I felt buried by circumstances, I watched this show countless times, in its many versions. Yet, Tina, the metamorphic, would bequeath us even more: the Buddhist and Vedanta sutras and mantras she recorded at the end of her life, one of which I leave here as a tribute to her and Rita’s indelible passage through the world and through me.
1 The cloth doll Emilia is a main character of Brazilian children´s tales published in the 1940s and 1950s that, when Rita Lee became known, were being translated to TV shows.