One night, about 15 years ago, I arrived in Rio from San Francisco for what was a speculative meeting with an oil company.
Six thousand miles is a long way to travel for any new business meeting. And what made sense in San Francisco seemed more than a little absurd that night in Ipanema as the taxi pulled up in front of the Caesar Park Hotel. Ipanema is a long way from anywhere that makes sense.
I was with a colleague. Her name was Mica. She was a designer, born and raised in Rio and she knew the neighborhood well. Sensing my increasing unease about the wisdom of being there she suggested we walk to a popular local bar to unwind before the big day.
We ordered beers. The waiter came back with two bottles of Brahma Chopp. Then two more. Mica was relieved to see I was relaxing.
Then she told me: I thought you’d like it here. It’s where the song was written.
‘The Girl From Ipanema’. She came in here. The song was written about her here. In this bar.
She was real? I had always assumed that she, the girl in the song, was the figment of a songwriter’s imagination.
The nondescript bar suddenly took on a dramatic new significance. I was delighted by the novelty of the thought: here, in this room where I was sipping my beer, a dark-haired local teenager, tall and tanned and young and lovely, caught the eye of a composer and a poet in need of inspiration for a song.
Indeed, composer Antônio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinícius de Moraes found their inspiration in the cool sensibility of a striking young girl, Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, a girl from Ipanema who passed them by each day as she walked to the sea.
‘The Girl From Ipanema’ (originally “Garota de Ipanema”) was written 50 years ago this summer. Since then, the melody and the lyrics have entered the collective consciousness of the world, becoming the second most recorded song in popular music history. As The Wall Street Journal reports, it is surpassed only by Lennon and McCartney’s “Yesterday’.
It is a curious coincidence, at least for me, that the two most popular songs in the world both have a melancholic quality. Both yearn for something fleeting and unattainable. In his book Revelação: a verdadeira Garota de Ipanema (Revealed: The Real Girl from Ipanema) Moraes wrote she was:
“the paradigm of the young Carioca: a golden teenage girl, a mixture of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, the sight of whom is also sad, in that she carries with her, on her route to the sea, the feeling of youth that fades, of the beauty that is not ours alone—it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow.”
Moraes’ words open the soul of bossa nova, which at the time was a secret Brazil kept to itself. With Mr. Jobim on piano, Stan Getz on sax, João Gilberto on guitar and Portuguese vocals, and Mr. Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, handling English vocals, the U.S. version was cut for the album “Getz/Gilberto” in March 1963.
The fractured innocence of Astrud Gilberto’s voice, her hesitant English and slightly off-key delivery, were a perfect match for the lyrics. It’s a song that haunts your life.
By the end of the evening I was happy to have made the trip to Ipanema just to be able to sit in the Bar Veloso, so close to the moment of divine creative inspiration.
I was happier still the following day. The meeting with the oil company went well. We won the business with Ipiranga. Thank you, Heloísa.