A guest post by Dan Sharp
Again and again, Naná Vasconcelos paid no mind to feuds between fans, crossing between musical genres and playing with musicians on both sides of entrenched divides. When he was living in New York City in the early 1980s, not long after the release of Saudades, even a seemingly innocent invitation to two fellow musicians to watch the Celtics play the Knicks on TV at his apartment illustrates this disregard. You see, Naná decided not to tell Arto Lindsay that he had invited Pat Metheny over to watch the game. And he didn’t tell Pat Metheny that Arto Lindsay would be there too. Arto laughs about it now, remembering Naná’s prank to have led to a bit of an awkward night.
I can think of no two guitarists working at that time as antithetical in their artistic vision and approach to the instrument as Pat Metheny and Arto Lindsay. It is a testament to Naná’s musicality that he made major contributions to the work of both. The irreverent noise of Arto’s anti-genre known as no wave rejected not just the pomp surrounding the 1970s guitar hero, but the notion that guitars should produce stable pitches and harmonies at all. Instead, Arto concentrated on extracting timbres and rhythms from his detuned Danelectro. It was as if he took the moment in Jimi Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner where Jimi paints with noise the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air, and used that as the foundation for his playing, rather than considering it merely a sound effect. At that moment in New York City, when the post-punk music and visual art underground scenes were bursting at the seams, Arto—and others, such as Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham and Sonny Sharrock—had no interest in playing guitar in a way that at all resembled older, more established ways of playing it. While Arto shrugs that he was “blithely unconcerned” with more by-the-book players, I imagine to many fans the squawks and scritches of Arto’s guitar noise mocked the seriousness of musicians like Pat Metheny.
While Arto Lindsay was provoking audiences at the Squat Theater Nightclub, a storefront on 23rd street in New York City, Pat Metheny—one of the best-selling artists on ECM records—was filling up stadiums all over the United States and Europe with his paintings with sound. But while Arto’s sonic paintings were irreverent Never Mind the Jackson Pollocks, Pat was busy touching up meticulous and highly orchestrated musical landscapes of the North American heartland on electric and acoustic steel-string guitar. The chasm in fan reception between Arto’s no wave and Pat’s pastoral jazz ran deep—it is safe to say that to many fans of Metheny, Arto’s sounds simply wouldn’t be heard as music because, in their view, he never learned to play his instrument properly. And to many of Arto’s fans of no wave, Pat’s sounds were at best made for accompanying an elevator ride or waiting on hold. Naná played with both Arto and Pat, as he played with many Artos and many Pats throughout his career.
Dan Sharp is Associate Professor at Tulane University, USA, jointly appointed in music and Latin American studies. He is currently chair of the Tulane music department. He is the author of Between Nostalgia and Apocalypse: Popular Music and the Staging of Brazil (2014)
Spanning the genres of samba, tropicália, rock, hip hop, forró, bossa nova, heavy metal and funk, among others, 33 1/3 Brazil is a series devoted to in-depth examination of the most important Brazilian albums of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
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