We've all heard the old adage that Brazilians love nothing more than soccer, samba and women; it’s antiquated and brutally simple but in some ways the maxim still rings truth. Where the truism fails, however, is in differentiating among the three respective passions that form that hedonistic triumvirate and so it may be erroneously assumed that they simply occupy a position of equal importance in the Brazilian heart.
Stereotypes often destroy the nuances of life, but especially when it comes to national identity and soccer their power is difficult to diffuse. For many fans with only a cursory understanding of the Brazilian psyche, that old maxim is so deeply rooted that they probably believe that if Ronaldinho were forced to renounce one of the three aforementioned pursuits he would likely begin to convulse, start emitting strange beeping noises and explode: the idea of life without any one of them so inimical to his constitution that he would simply self-destruct.
I have one memory in particular from my childhood that may help clear some of the confusion surrounding this Brazilian trinity and finally instill some sort of hierarchy, at least among music and soccer, in the passions of the national conscience. Regarding the position of Brazilian women I am afforded the luxury of being laconic; I can affirm their preeminence simply by pointing your attention towards some of the controversies that have surrounded selecão stars in years past and you can draw whatever conclusions you may: Adriano's recent incident involving a girl, a car and a firearm; Ronaldo's, shall we say, case of 'mistaken identity' a few years back; and the legend of Romario’s exploits off the field the morning of the 1994 World Cup final (more partners than Italian goals, at latest count), and that's to mention nothing of the legendary careers between the sheets of many an earlier generation of footballers.
In 1994 I sat in my uncle's apartment watching the quarter-finals of the World Cup. My uncle is a songwriter and throughout my childhood his musician friends would regularly drop by, more often than not to watch a game together, drink and discuss soccer. Brazil faced the Netherlands and with kick-off the apartment sank into silence, a requirement for watching the selecão at my uncle's house, where only serious tactical comments were admissible. The first half was sloppy and the crowd assembled in the living room grew tense. It wasn't until the second half that the game opened up; the dearly beloved Romario finished clinically and Bebeto scored the second, after which I can still recall the joy on my uncle's face watching the replay of how, played in one-on-one, he walked around the Dutch goalie before tapping it home.
Those, however, were the days before Brazil's most successful players plied their trade along the backlines of the European giants and so, in an endearingly characteristic of the selecão of my youth, they were vulnerable to frequent defensive lapses. I remember that team as being particularly inept in their aerial defending, as if they had been trained to ignore their man as soon as the ball was airborne, and predictably in the Dutch struck back in quick succession with two goals of their own.
Indignation descended on the room, an indignation which seemed prepared to implode into a gassy nebulous of disappointment and dejection as soon as the third Dutch goal, which the older generation was already prepared for, rested in the back of the net. The memory of the defeat of more talented teams who had played a more beautiful style, like the legendary selecão of 1982, had not only made them demanding fans but had also acclimated them to the frustration of defeat. This team had done well enough, they conceded; the attack of Romario and Bebeto had even been passable at times, but with a defense so liable to give up easy goals they were prepared for the let down that was sure to arrive at any moment.
Not a minute after Winter’s goal evened the score, one of my uncle's friends walked in. He was a legendary figure in the MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira) movement with a closely cropped head of hair and eyes that pinched in on a large nose. In my youthful exuberance I glanced up from the floor, tearing my eyes away from the TV briefly to look back towards the new arrival. All I needed to see was the short hair and pin-backed ears, which provided enough evidence for me to exclaim with excitement: Dunga! The fact that I had spent the better part of an hour watching Dunga command the midfield of an American stadium thousands of miles away did nothing to temper my excitement, nor my momentary conviction, that the man who had just entered the room was in fact the captain of the selecão.
The entire apartment burst out in convulsions of laughter, a sound that must have resumed the normal flow of blood to my brain for I quickly realized my mistake. Looking back, in retrospect, the two share little semblance, but I was young and ready to believe the impossible. My mix-up, meanwhile, had released the tension in the room for the men suddenly seemed more relaxed, as if my mix-up had allowed them to turn their nervous energy away from the tragedy whose inevitable conclusion they believed they had already foreseen.
My uncle's friend smiled at me and said, "If only I were. What I wouldn’t give to play like him. But, unfortunately I'm just a lowly musician who can’t even hold his place in the midfield." He chuckled and the room laughed with him. The musician, a household name in his own right, mistaken for a footballer now beamed with pride that a child might believe he was a member of the selecão, as if my mistake had fulfilled a boyhood fantasy and bestowed an undeserved honor upon him.
In Brazil it is said that every soccer player wishes he were a musician, and every musician wishes he were a soccer player. The two national passions have frequently joined hands in rather public ways: the legendary Garrincha was married to the great singer Elza Soares; Pele enjoyed a brief (and painful) career as a singer. Yet, as that afternoon taught me, those two centerpieces of the Brazilian conscience do not rest on equal footing. If my uncle's friend's reaction isn't enough to convince you, look at the record of the respective crossovers between the two. Pele, in spite of his lack of musical talent, recorded with a variety of stars and featured on myriad television programs; I have yet, on the other hand, seen footage of Tom Jobim trotting onto the field with the verde-amarela of the selecão, nor Jorge Ben (a devout fan) in the center circle donning the legendary camisa dez of Flamengo at the Maracanã in front of 100,000 spectators.
Ultimately, coming to a definitive order among the three passions at the center of the Brazilian heart is a hopeless endeavor, and perhaps one that is more telling about the reality of the national character that it resists any simple reading or rigid ordering. Regardless, determining the respective place of music and futebol really is a futile effort for at stake could never be anything higher than second place.Davi Schoen is about to launch Backwards to go Forward - why not get in on the ground floor and start following it now?