Brazilian Love Affairs and Jazz Detours
On reading Geoff Dyerís But Beautiful Ö
I have just finished a Brazilian compilation cassette for the loveliest of ladies. Itís the perfect summer soundtrack. Gilberto Gil, Joyce, Milton Nascimento, Gal Costa, Nara Leao, Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze, and Marcos Valle. And Iím enjoying it so much I might just hang on to it, just so long as you donít tell on me.

Iíve been listening to and treating myself to little else than Brazilian sounds of late. The one exception was wasting a Foppish fiver each on Lee Morgan and Horace Silver late Ď60s titles. And if the Brazilian love affair has been triggered by reading Caetano Velosoís Tropical Truths, then the jazz detour is the fault of Geoff Dyerís But Beautiful.

As music books go, Tropical Truths is just about the best Iíve ever read. Caetano, self-styled pop star intellectual, shoots off at so many different tangents, and itís hard not to get caught up in his tropicalismo net. His is the sort of story Geoff Dyer could only dream of being a part of. But at least Dyer has the imagination to cast himself in such a position.

I suspect, but havenít checked, that Dyer has graced Tangentsí pages before now. If he has, I hope it wasnít with But Beautiful. I would be kicking myself for missing out. For this is a lovely book about jazz, and ostensibly jazz musicians. And ostensibly itís a series of vignettes starring some of the jazz greats, like Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Charlie Mingus, Art Pepper, Chet Baker. Sweet short stories, like snapshots of their lives, capturing the grace, madness, pain and poetry of the jazz life. As we imagine it.

And, continuing a recent theme, the bookís current back cover carries an endorsement from Jonathan Lethem, author of this yearís classic book The Fortress Of Solitude, and Go-Betweens fan. Well, it made me buy it.

What Dyer does is inject new life into jazz cliches, like the drinking, the drugs, the delusions, the dementia, the driving, the darkness, the daring, the discrimination, the dues, the dependencies, the distances, the dreaming, the dames. He knows he is covering familiar ground, but he is a virtuoso, and turns in a set of spectacular performances. Occasionally obvious, over familiar, but beautiful.

And there will be writers sitting in the sunshine somewhere, listening to a soundtrack of Brazilian magic, kicking themselves that they lack the dedication (yeah, something else beginning with dÖ) to get themselves together to do something as literary and inspirational with the pop medium they love so. Imagine some less obvious characters caught on film, their sacred souls held up to catch certain hints of light and love. But lifeís so hectic, and illuminated thankfully by the likes of Dyer. Itís no wonder another of his more recent books is Yoga For People Who Canít Be Bothered To Do It. He knows what weíre like. And I really should read that one if I see a copy around.

© 2004 John Carney