João Gilberto’s music has had a tremendous impact on my life. The gentle power and beauty of his singing has inspired me, comforted me and taught me so much about what it means to be a human being. João has helped me to understand and cherish the depth and intensity of my feelings and my passions, and he has given me courage to express them.
A few weeks ago my friend Brian sent me a text early one morning while I was still sleeping. I got out of bed and grabbed my phone and there it was. “RIP João.”
A powerful feeling took hold in my heart and in my chest. It was a deep sadness. But it was also beautiful somehow, heartbreakingly beautiful.
I went downstairs and listened to “Para Machucar Meu Coração” and wept.
João’s singing perfectly captures a feeling that I frequently feel: a beautiful sadness. It’s a sadness that the past is gone and will never return. It’s also a recognition of how beautiful it was, how beautiful life is.
This feeling is too subtle and gentle to be screamed. It’s also too powerful to be kept silent. It is the weeping of the soul. The soul that weeps because life is majestic, and it is fleeting.
Through the years I have turned to João’s music to understand this feeling, to process it, to allow my heart to sing along and cry.
I’ve heard many people say “rock and roll saved my life.” And I know exactly what they mean, but for me it’s a little different. Bossa nova saved my life. Through bossa nova music I learned to express what I feel so deeply in my heart and soul.
I was going through a very difficult time in my life. I was confused and sad. I was depressed. And I couldn’t explain or even understand what I was feeling. But when I listened to João sing bossa nova, he expressed it perfectly. Even though João sang in Portuguese and I knew nothing of Portuguese, I knew without a doubt that he was singing exactly what I was feeling.
I made a commitment to myself to learn this music so that I could play the guitar and sing like João Gilberto.
Slowly, and with a complete openness to my sadness, I learned how to sing my feelings. I would close my eyes and allow myself to weep through song.
And I learned that this feeling that was so sad was also so unbelievably beautiful. And when I shared these songs with people they would connect and they would see themselves and they would understand.
I saw João play live once. It was June of 2008 at Carnegie Hall. João rarely played shows in the United States, so when I found out about it I bought tickets immediately. And then Julie and I drove eight hours from Buffalo to New York City to see the show. In the immense concert hall João was alone in the middle of the stage, sitting on a chair. The silence before he began to play was intense and magical. Then he started to sing so softly into the microphone, filling the space with his beautiful music. I held Julie’s hand and cried.
I have been listening to a lot of João’s music since I learned of his death. I have also been playing and singing a lot of bossa nova in the evenings when I come home from work.
I am sad that João has left this world. I am also overcome with the blessing that his life was, and the gift of his music that he has given to me and to so many others.
Rest in peace, João.
Here are links to some of João’s classic songs: