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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Songs from the Background: "The Girl From Ipanema"

“What stands fast does so, not because it is intrinsically obvious or convincing; it is rather held fast by what lies around it.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty    

It is common now to refer to music mawkishly as the "Soundtrack of our Lives".  I think this phrase was invented by K-Tel Records. Or maybe the producers of Jersey Boys. I'm not sure.

Psychologists tell us about "Flashbulb Memory", or how we will recall a detailed picture decades later, if it has been associated with a dramatic event. For Baby Boomers, it was "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?"  For us Gen Xers', substitute "Reagan" for "Kennedy". For all of us, its "Where were you when the second plane hit?"

Songs in a movie soundtrack, therefore, can take on a new life forever associated with a certain powerful dramatic scene. For example, the 1972 hit by Stealer's Wheel Stuck In the Middle With You is no longer a folk/country rock easy listenin' song about the absurdity surrounding music stardom, but a chillingly absurd torture theme:

Stealers Wheel "Stuck in The Middle With You"

And a dreamy New Wave synth-pop tune like Q Lazzarus's"Goodbye Horses" , rather than being a trip down memory lane about love gained and lost on a 1980's dance floor, is forever associated with this hauntingly surreal dance partner:

"Wasn't she a great, big fat person?"

.....which in turn inspired this even more disturbing kabuki performance:

Jay and Silent Bob take on Buffalo Bill

Dramatic examples of songs pushed to the foreground and typecast forever, to be sure. But what about songs that time after time, movie after movie, and performer after performer, are able to always remain in the background?

The greatest of all of these songs from the background is The Girl From Ipanema.

The Girl From Ipanema is one of those songs used to specifically set a tone to evoke emotion or some of the certain time or certain. As a song from the background we don't often take the time to actually listen to it, as we are instantly carried away by what the song suggests, and where the filmmaker or television director wants to take us.

The Girl from Ipanema suggests pre-flower power 1960s. Coco beach, Mercury astronauts, white eye shadow and lipstick, and flip hairdos. The Pill and sex, but before hippies and protests.  Cocktails like an Old-Fashioned,  a Brandy Alexander , a Cuba Libre', or a piña colada served in a coconut.

The song is reputed to be only exceeded by The Beatles "Yesterday" as the most covered song of all time.

A huge, Grammy winning hit  in 1965, Here is the original version, sung by Astrud Gilberto - You will recognize it as soon as you hear it:

Original Girl from Ipanema

Gilberto, untrained as a singer at the time, has an unmannered delivery that evokes an ethereal, dispassionate observer of a young girl's inadvertent power over a man lingering in a Rio de Janero sidewalk café.

Another take on the song from Old Blue Eyes:

Sinatra sings Girl from Ipanema

Here, Sinatra's signature voice is only half of the strength of this version - the other is how Sinatra uses his own well known persona as a jaded roué to take on the perspective of the man in the café. You can hear and feel how the young girl's beauty "passing by" suggests his own life passing by with her now unreachable image.

Finally, an arresting and provocative interpretation from Amy Winehouse:

We miss you Amy

Winehouse takes the role of the girl watcher as well, but not in an imitation of Sinatra, or as sexually interested observer. Rather, Winehouse, with her trademark acerbic wit and with full confidence in her own iconic, genre-crossing talent, winks at us about the song's cultural position as a timeless background tune. She is fully aware of the song being a pop-culture artifact, and ironically plays with it accordingly.

Curiously, I could not find many examples from the movies online, but this use of The Girl From Ipanema's in the background of cinema is a sharp commentary on its ubiquity:

We Miss you too Mr Belushi

So what keeps a song timelessly in The Background? Is it the tune? The melody? Is it the moment in time the original song captures?

Is it the way, like a beach ball, we pass it lightly from genre to genre, never letting it land and stick?

Do we all secretly conspire to keep it alive?

Tell me your favorite Song From The Background.

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