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The Changing Hues of Caetano Veloso
The autobiography of an iconic singer-songwriter like Caetano Veloso might seem to demand a reviewer versed in musicology, and it should be said at the outset that I have no such knowledge.  But Caetano’s Tropical Truth struck me as a work of genuine literary interest when I first read it in 1997; and as time passed I came to feel that this memoir of the Brazilian music scene in the 60s and 70s, the moment of tropicalismo, was as important as Caetano’s songs and merited a close reading. Tropical Truth reads, in part, like a novel of ideas in which historical circumstances, contemporary debates and the figure of the narrator, both a protagonist and a committed intellectual, combine to offer new insights into a key juncture of national life. As in the best realist prose, the chemistry between the deliberate designs of the author and the latent structures of the narrated material ensures that the composition is more than the sum of its parts. Caetano has a gift for pen portraiture, and his characterizations of fellow artists—sometimes spiced by professional rivalry—constitute a lively contemporary gallery, in which the figures interact to produce a vivid panorama of the ‘64 generation’ as a whole: his sister Maria Bethânia, a famous singer in her own right; the film-maker, Glauber Rocha; musicians like Chico Buarque and Caetano’s close collaborator, Gilberto Gil; the theatre director, Augusto Boal; the modernist poet, Augusto de Campos; and many more.
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