Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Garrincha, Torquato Neto and the Brazilian memory


Garrincha and Torquato Neto: there are many differences and many similarities between these two great stars in the Brazilian constelation. Both were famous around the same time, Garrincha in the mid-ffties to the early sixties and Torquato from the mid sixties to the early seventies. Both came from small cities, one was from Pau Grande a small town in the State of Rio de Janeiro and the other one was from Teresina, the Capital of one of the poorest states of Brazil: Piaui. One was an outstanding writer, thinker and poet; the cultured son of a judge, who was to become the founder of the Brazil’s counter culture and the other was one of the fifteen semi-illiterate sons of a humble civil servant, who despite having crooked legs was one of Brazil’s best football (or soccer, for the US) players of all time.

Both had in common the destiny of being improbable stars, and of reaching greatness without losing their essence. Garrincha was second only to Pele in the history of Brazilian football. He was world champion twice for his country and in the second time in 1962 he led the squad almost by himself to victory, a feat only repeated by Maradona when he led the Argentinian squad to triumph in 1986. The difference between him and “King” Pele, was that the latter had the knack of P.R, and looked at his career beyond the football stadiums. Garrincha lived the here and now, devouring what life threw at him be it his talent, his trophies and his goals or be it women and hard partying. He enjoyed every moment of it until his legs could not accompany his playing and his hangovers.

Torquato Neto was the lyricist for Caetano Veloso and for GIlberto Gil in the beginning of their career and based on his writings they took by storm the most important music festivals of their generation. They became the visible face of the mainstream/underground Tropicalist movement that revolutionized Brazilian music and that guaranteed both of them stardom until the present days. As the movement’s theoretician and main writer Torquato mixed and made sense of nationalist values, revolutionary tendencies, folklore and rock and roll and set the foundations of modern Brazilian culture. The dictatorship didn’t know how to deal with that explosion of creativity and exiled all the three. When they came back, things became more professional and “movements” became bad for sales. Torquato Neto kept faithful to his ideas but was ostracized and became a “marginal” poet and film maker and faded into irrelevance as the recording companies, as well as his former buddies, prostituted his ideas and prospered.

Both the lives of Torquato Neto and Garrincha ended tragically the tropicalist mastermind committed suicide on his birthday in 1972, while the football player became a serious alcoholic and died in poverty with his body rejecting anything that was not booze.

It is also good to remember Carmen Miranda and Antonio Carlos Jobim were never “forgiven” for their success abroad. The Brazilian Hollywood star never got over the rejection she received from her own people, at the height of her success, after she came to Rio de Janeiro for a presentation. Many say that it was because of the depression this caused that she died. With Tom Jobim, the songwriter who made the “Girl From Ipanema” famous, it was not that bad but he was never regarded as likeable, but rather as an arrogant “sold out” big name by most Brazilians.

The anti-Lula crusade that is happening also configures in this category. For many it is unforgivable that a working class man without a university degree could be elected president twice, do a good government, and be acclaimed all over the world.

Anyway.. here is the question: is the cynicism towards talent and success when it escapes the expected “script” a Brazilian trait or a universal one? It is surely not an Argentinian one; they have forgiven time and again Maradona’s countless “sins” as well as their musical hero’s, Charlie Garcia, ones. Perhaps it is difficult for anyone to accept that some people are born with assets and talents that others but have the same flaws and anguished as us.

The destiny of Torquato Neto’s and Garrincha’s free and talented spirits remind us of how sweetness can become sour. It shows us how gifts can be bestowed upon anyone and have nothing to do with rewarding effort or with being upright. If their sin was falling or not following the tide, what does it say about the superficiality of the people who rejoiced in what they had to offer in the good days but discarded them when they were of no use any more?

There is an expression in Brazil saying that “one should not spit on the plate that we ate from” and this is what happened to them. The question remains, is this a Brazilian trait?

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6 thoughts on “Garrincha, Torquato Neto and the Brazilian memory

  1. arnaldo on said:

    You rightly identify Brazilian culture’s inferiority complex as a big factor in the way many native talents were (are?) treated, but you lose me when you compare Lula to giants like Garrincha, Torquato Neto, Tom Jobim and Carmen Miranda. And while it’s probably true that some Brazilians don’t favor Lula because of his humble origins, many more who don’t like him think what is unforgivable actually are his backstage machinations, possible involvement in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history – yet to be investigated – the sudden, unexplained windfall enjoyed by the da Silva family. And did I mention political lobbying to unabashedly favor a certain soccer team in detriment of the rest? Which is a objectionable, sorry conduct for the president of ALL the Brazilian people.

  2. I am not here to defend Lula: I have never voted on him and I have never liked the PT or the PTistas. This goes back to the 80’s when the same people who want to crucify him now saw him as the potential savior of the country back then. What is undeniable is that the hatred of the middle class for the man, in particular the carioca one, pre-dates these these scandals, and that there is a huge “classist” element to it. There are many people who have never accepted that a “paraiba” could do a better job than them and be recognized outside Brazil for this. I am not here to judge if he is is innocent or not, if you ask me I’ll say he probably isn’t, this is not the point. Fernando Collor, for example, did much worse but the hatred at the time wasn’t against him but against what he represented and after he left the government no one talked about him any more. I am sorry to disagree with you but there is a huge element of “spitting on the plate that they ate” here.

    • soparacompras@aol.com on said:

      As for the Lula thing, you’re right, and so am I, if you ask me. Bcs for a huge slice of the Brasilian Left (which seems to me as misguided and pavlovian as the American Right) any attack on “Lulla” is class-based, when in actuality there are many many legit questions being asked about things he did — and keeps doing — behind the scenes.

      Peace out


  3. arnaldo on said:

    As for Lula, you’re right, and so am I, if you ask me. Bcs for a huge slice of the Brasilian Left (which seems to me as misguided and pavlovian as the American Right) any attack on “Lulla” is class-based, when in actuality there are many many legit questions being asked about things he did — and keeps doing — behind the scenes.

    Peace out

  4. Arnaldo, I agree with you about the Brazilian left, they were as “classist” as the right in the past when they put Lula on a pedestal because he was a”legitimate proletarian”. As always, they get surprised when their patronizing creates a monster and then they don’t know how to deal with it. I think both of us know what the other is talking about.


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