IN LONDON WITH BRUCE
In these depths of winter I have practically nothing to say, perhaps because during the whole season I have stayed very curled up in myself. But still I will try to tell a little more of my story, full of hurt, full ofglory, like everyone's stories. Bruce told me that “each person has a story to tell and there’s always a story to be told”. That wasn't exactly what he said to me, it was the other way around: "There’s always a story to be told, and there’s always someone to tell it". I don't know if that was exactly what he told me either, but it was something similar and definitive and his meaning was this, pure and simple. Bruce is going to be a great writer, I’m almost certain. I am certain. And our friendship is a friendship between two writers. One is Brazilian (older) and the other is English (18 years old). Bruce is "almost” a guru, to me. Whenever I'm in doubt I write to him and Bruce clarifies my doubts and fills me with a fresh breeze of hope. Whilst Zé Vicente fills me with doubts, Bruce enlightens me. But often the opposite happens (the fault is all mine even though I kick very high and never want to know where the ball lands), and then Zé Vicente enlightens me and Bruce fills me with doubts. But then he (Bruce) clarifies me again and definitively. It’s his way. Bruce is beautiful and he’s going out with Angela. He researches a lot of the world's past, ancient times, and maybe that's why he is able, more than any other person I know, to make some sense of the future. But he still lives in the present. Bruce often seems to me the most perfect of men. But he says no, he’s not in the slightest bit perfect, even though I can't see any imperfections in him.
The other day Bruce came to London for a few days and I invited him to stay at Naná's house. And he stayed. I have already spoken (and even repeated, here and there) about the ‘atmosphere’ at Naná's house, and so I ask my readers to tug a little at their memory and to re-create the environment in which Bruce stayed for four days.
Before Bruce came to spend those days at Naná's house, the climate of neurosis, paranoia and aggression was at its height. I don't understand what was happening with Zé Vicente even though we didn't stop talking to each other, and we laughed at running away from each other and coming back from these ‘escapes’ aggressively recounting how well we had each done. No-one in the house could look anyone in the eyes for more than a fleeting instant. Visitors who came to see us sat for hours on the floor, in the same position, pretending that they enjoyed the sound. It was clear that, deep down, everyone loved each other, but the lack of communication was practically total.
They were people who were well-read, and everyone had read all the underground ‘best sellers’. And when someone said anything, any phrase, past the heads of the others (who were pretending to enjoy the sound) thoughts went by like, “I just read that phrase in a book”, and past the head of the one who had said the phrase, right after he’d said it, went thoughts like, “They are judging me by what I just said, just because I read what I said in some book though I don't even remember which one, I've been reading so much lately ... “
Those were times of shifting aggression and silence. Very difficult times for our under-the-skin sensibilities. People at Naná's house didn't pay much attention to Bruce. Maybe because – apparently – he was nothing more (for the others) than one of ‘those English hippies’. Of all the clothes that Bruce wore, the only new piece was the pair of high heeled leather boots (gray). His winter coat, bought second hand, was dirty and full of patches, and people in Naná's house dressed in second hand clothes from Portobello Road or else with clothes from The King's Road (David Linger and José Vicente, for example). And they all went around clean because they had clothes to change into. Bruce didn'thave another coat besides the one that he wore all winter, and which he wore when he worked at the piston ring factory in Salisbury. But Bruce didn’t even notice the contempt with which his hosts at Naná's house despised him. He stayed calm, quiet, lying on the living room floor, drawing and listening to the music that came from Naná’s sound system that, by coincidence, was the make the same as Bruce's surname: Garrard.
I showed Bruce a little bit of London that I knew. We went to Speakers’ Corner to hear all the streams of international "overpower". We walked through Hyde Park, we went to Picadilly Circus, to Battersea Park, to Waterloo Bridge, we went to visit Westminster Cathedral (where, for a few pence, we got two golden mini crosses, with pins, that we stuck in each others’ lapels) and later we went to the Tate Gallery to see the paintings of William Blake, Turner, and the preparations for a brief exhibition by Andy Warhol, where we could sneak a look to see Elizabeth Taylor, MarilynMonroe and Campbell's soup. I took him to Gil's house on the day that Caetano [Veloso] came back from Brazil and had a lot to tell, with a house full of curious Brazilians longing for Brazil. Caetano was happy, he had managed to bring Maria Bethania to London (she stayed three days and returned to Brazil because she had a show to do in Argentina, with Vinicius and Toquinho), going to Brazil and back had done him some good, and Caetano returned full of energy and willingness to work, write, do a pile of things that he hadn't felt like doing before he’d been back to Brazil. Caetano is a magician and he managed to bring some Brazilian heat and defrost a little of the winter that year. We went to the kitchen in Gil’s house, Gil, Caetano, me, Bruce and I don't know who else (this time it was me who didn't pay attention) and Caetano told me about Rio, about Bahia, about Ellis from the Chacrinha Program; he said people were beautiful in Rio, in Ipanema, at Farme de Amoedo, that their hair was long, their clothes were colorful and extravagant, beautiful, that in summer Rio was one big party. Everyone had turned saint, from one hour to another. Then I asked, "What about Gladys?" and Caetano answered: "A Saint." We heard Maria Bethania's latest album, Gil's latest album, Roberto Carlos' latest album, Jimmi Hendrix’s latest album, Janis Joplin's latest album, old records from Nelson Goncalves, some Luiz Gonzaga records. And everyone was talkingat the same time, everyone wanted to tell things, talk, laugh, play. Gil had a beautiful smile, Bethania looked like a shy and beautiful child, Caetano was a great actor when he told things imitating people. He imitating Ellis' shyness then, it is something I shall never forget. As I will never forget Caetano talking about Mirthes Paranhos’ earrings, “like crystal chandeliers …"
It was a wonderful, shining night. It was such a ‘get there a little’, with people finding a little space to sit on the floor. It was a ‘sold-out’ night. The house was super-full. Sandra asked Dedé questions. Dedé gave a small pause to make Sandra even more curious and then told her everything. The two of them laughed, people asked "what is it?! What’s going on!?" full of childish curiosity. Maria Bethania listened to the music of Jimmi Hendrix and was sometimes serious, as if meditating. Pedrinho (Gil's son), laughed inside the square, hitting the wood. At that time there was a group of English teenagers who came to practice on Gil’s sound system and they arrived in the middle of it all, this whole party, and they practiced their music in the middle of the other songs, conversations, laughter and hugs. And in the middle of all this was Bruce, serene, quietly watching it all. Hours later, when we left Gil's house for Naná's house (which was just around the corner. The back of Nana’s house gave onto the back of Gil's house and was almost in front of Caetano's house, in Elgin Crescent). During the walk back I asked Bruce, or rather, Bruce was already telling me, "What marvellous people!"
I loved to hear Bruce say the word ‘marvellous’. I don't forget the day we went to see if his boots were ready at the shoemaker and on the way back, (the pair of boots was not ready), and on the way back, we went down a hill, both of us happy, and Bruce asked me about Melanie, "Isn't she marvellous?" Since that ‘marvellous' of his I had come to love Melanie, who until then I had regarded as a bore.
The expression on Jesus' face in my mother’s living room is not the only face of Jesus. It’s the Jesus seen by the painter who painted him. It’s the Jesus who exists (or existed) within the painter. It’s a beautiful and serious picture. Every time that I passed by that room, feeling happy, and I unintentionally noticed the serious expression of Jesus, I was embarrassed, as if catching myself in the act, and thought I was much too cheerful (and I would pay).
Instead of going to Naná’s house (we would typically spend the whole day at Naná’s house), we turned left and went to Portobello Road to watch a film at the Electric Cinema, a 1920s silent film, about witchcraft in Medieval Italy. The cinema was almost empty and I can’t remember the title of the film. But we found in the cinema, just in front of us, Andrew Lovelock sitting on his own. We recognised Andrew by his hair (it was six years since it had been cut). Andrew looked back and noticed us, and to celebrate our meeting he prepared, in the darkness of the cinema, an enormous joint that we smoked during almost the whole showing of the film about witchcraft. The environment was unique in the whole world: the 1920s film, our meeting, the hashish cigarette and the Electric Cinema itself.