A little nook, a guitar
This love, a song
To make the loved one happy
Plenty of calm to think, and to have time to dream
Through the window I see Corcovado, Redentor, how lovely
I want life like this always, with you near me,
Until the old flame dies out
And I who was sad, disbelieving in this world,
Upon finding you I found out what happiness is, my love.
This song is an icon of the bossa nova genre, which was both adored and derided for its focus on superficialities of life in Rio: beaches, breezes, beers, beautiful views, music and love.
Tom Jobim wrote both the melody and the lyrics. Initially the song began, “A cigarette, a guitar,” but the mention of a cigarette made João Gilberto uncomfortable when he was recording the song for the album O amor, o sorriso e a flor. He told Tom a cigarette was something rotten, and convinced him to change the verse to “A little nook, a guitar”; it became one of the best known and most sung verses of bossa nova.
Corcovado, the mountain where Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue stands, could be seen from the window of Tom Jobim’s apartment at Rua Nascimento Silva 107, where he lived with his wife Tereza from 1953 – 1962. The line in Portuguese about the window would translate more literally to, “From the window one sees Corcovado – Redentor …” Shortly after Tom wrote the song a new building blocked the view.
The English version of the song (sung here by Frank Sinatra) was written by Gene Lees, and represents one of the best English-language versions of the bossa-nova repertoire.
Lyrics in Portuguese
Um cantinho um violão
Este amor, uma canção
Pra fazer feliz a quem se ama
Muita calma pra pensar
E ter tempo pra sonhar
Da janela vê-se o Corcovado
O Redentor que lindo
Quero a vida sempre assim com você perto de mim
Até o apagar da velha chama
E eu que era triste
Descrente deste mundo
Ao encontrar você eu conheci
O que é felicidade meu amor
Main sources for this post: Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias de Bossa Nova, by Ruy Castro; Histórias de Canções: Tom Jobim by Wagner Homem; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello
I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the movies
I don’t like samba, I don’t go to Ipanema
I don’t like rain, I don’t like sun
I never called you up, why, if I knew?
I never attempted – and would never dare – the sweet nothings
That I learned with you
No, Lígia, Lígia
To go out with you holding hands on a serene afternoon
A cold beer in a bar in Ipanema
Walk along the beach down to Leblon
I’ve never fallen in love, I’d never be able to marry you
I would suffer such pain inevitably just to lose you in the end
You come close to me with your peculiar ways, and I say yes
But your brown eyes fill me with more fear than a ray of sun
Tom Jobim used to say that any song with a woman’s name just stirred up trouble. He cited the case of Dorival Caymmi’s “Marina,” which provoked threats to Caymmi from an angry husband who thought the song had been written for his wife.
And indeed “Lígia” caused some problems for Tom, since the name happened to be the name of his close friend Fernando Sabino’s wife.
In interviews over the years following the release of “Ligia,” Tom avoided the subject or denied that the song was written for Sabino’s wife, Lygia Marina de Moraes. But in a 1988 interview with Ruy Castro for Playboy, Tom hinted that his denials could be interpreted in the same way as the denials in the song: “Fernando Sabino is a good friend, I get along really well with him and his wife, Lygia. They come to my house, I want all the best for them and, naturally, Lygia is a very beautiful woman and all that. What exists in “Lígia” is the following: something that you deny so much that ultimately it turns into an affirmation – a supreme affirmation of love. ‘I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the cinema… when I called you… it was just an illusion, I ripped up your name.’ That is to say, I’m not even close to Lygia.” Continue reading “Lígia”→
I’m familiar with each step along this road
I know it goes nowhere
I know its secrets by heart
I’m familiar with the stones in the path
And I know, too, that there, alone,
I’m going to end up so much the worse
What can I do to fight the enchantment
Of this love that I deny so much, I avoid so much
And that, nevertheless, always recasts its spell
With its same sad old facts that, in a picture album, I insist on collecting
Here I go again, like a fool, seeking the despondency
Of whose acquaintance I’ve grown weary
New sad days, sleepless nights
Verses, letters, my dear
And still I write to you again, to tell you this is a sin
My breast is so scored with memories from the past
And you know the reason
I’m going to collect one more sonnet, another portrait in white and black
To mistreat my heart
— Interpretation —
This was the first song that Tom Jobim and Chico Buarque worked on together, and its instrumental version has become a jazz standard.
Jobim and Buarque were introduced in 1964 or 1965, as Chico recalls, by the music producer Aloísio de Oliveira; later, their mutual friend and partner Vinicius de Moraes brought them closer. In 1967 Tom asked Chico to write the lyrics to this song, which he’d already released in its instrumental version as “Zíngaro,” meaning gypsy. (The use of half tones in the first verses evokes a certain aimlessness.)
Chico was nervous. He had only written lyrics for one song that was not his own – a partnership with his close friend Toquinho, “Lua Cheia” – and he was unsure of his talents as a lyricist. But he recounts that at this point, Tom treated him more like a pupil than a partner, offering effusive encouragement and telling him that his lyrics were simply splendid.
As Charles Perrone points out in Seven Faces: Brazilian Poetry since Modernism, Chico’s sonnetlike lyrics, with two fourteen-line stanzas, recall Vinicius de Moraes’s romantic poems, which is not surprising since Chico had grown up admiring Vinicius, a close friend of his father, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda.
Tom’s only question – which you, too, may have wondered – was why they should use “portrait in white and black” when everyone says “black and white.” Chico defended his phrasing by suggesting that, were the word order reversed, the only word he might rhyme with “branco” (white) would be “tamanco” – a wood-soled shoe. Tom preferred the singer collect another sonnet, and not a shoe.
Chico, for his part, tried to change the lyrics shortly before recording, asking Tom if they might substitute the words “peito tão marcado” – translated here as “breast so scored” – with “peito carregado”, or heavy breast; he said he’d used “so” in the first version merely as a crutch. But for Tom, Chico’s suggested change called to mind a tuberculosis patient, since “peito” means both breast and chest in Portuguese, and “carregado” can mean gloomy or heavy, but can also mean full, loaded, or in some cases, congested. So they stuck with the original lyrics, and João Gilberto recorded the song in 1968. (Here he is singing it.)
As the pair continued working together, Tom abandoned his accepting attitude and second-guessed many of Chico’s lyrics. In the following posts you can read about their spirited spats over the lyrics for “Piano na Mangueira” and “Sabiá.”
Lyrics in Portuguese
Já conheço os passos dessa estrada
Sei que não vai dar em nada
Seus segredos sei de cor
Já conheço as pedras do caminho
E sei também que ali sozinho
Eu vou ficar, tanto pior
O que é que eu posso contra o encanto
Desse amor que eu nego tanto
E que no entanto
Volta sempre a enfeitiçar
Com seus mesmos tristes velhos fatos
Que num álbum de retrato
Eu teimo em colecionar
Lá vou eu de novo como um tolo
Procurar o desconsolo
Que cansei de conhecer
Novos dias tristes, noites claras
Versos, cartas, minha cara
Ainda volto a lhe escrever
Pra dizer que isso é pecado
Eu trago o peito tão marcado
De lembranças do passado
E você sabe a razão
Vou colecionar mais um soneto
Outro retrato em branco e preto
A maltratar meu coração
Main sources for this post: Interviews with Chico Buarque on Tom Jobim’s website and Histórias de Canções: Tom Jobim, by Wagner Homem and Luiz Roberto Oliveira.