Johnny Efectivo en Brasil

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 12 Oct 2023


In spite of having every technical difficulty under the sun, or perhaps the moon, the show at the Nazaré Paulista Country Music Festival in Brazil was the 2nd best of the entire Poor Man's Nick Cave Tour.  Only the show in Santiago was better.  I was the only American on the entire 3-day bill, and since Country music is an American art form, I was given a prominent set on Friday night.  Even though I'm not really a Country act.

Or am I?

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Note the use of the Confederate flag on the poster.  Not a lot of concern or awareness of oversensitive, manufactured American racial problems in Brazil, apparently.

I don't remember who it was, but at some point somebody at the festival asked me something to the effect of "what kind of Country music I liked."  As though there were subgenres of preference to be had.  I didn't know what to say.  I dunno, all of it?  It had never occurred to me before.  I like David Allan Coe just as much as Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, the list goes on.  And I wasn't really "Country," have never considered myself "Country," and have even disappointed other drivers on the road, while cruising down the highway in a van in which "Proud To Be Country" was printed on the back window, a van with Texas plates, only for the passing bikers to see a genre-resistant, countryless driver at the wheel, talking on his cell phone.  I will never forget their looks of disappointment, those hardcore bikers on the highway.  Nevermind that their looks of disappointment disappointed me.  Because... I have to live in this thing, y'all.  Is it cool if I am tired of repeating myself?  Y'know I'm not really asking, right?

Right.

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So I was taken aback by the unexpected question.  "What kind of Country music do I like."  I made some kind of general response, which wasn't untrue, but certainly didn't indicate any particular passion for the genre.  It didn't occur to me how to answer the question until I'd returned to the States.

Asking any interested American musician what "kind" of Country music he likes is like asking him what "kind" of Jazz he likes, or what his favorite baseball team might be.  I'm not even interested in baseball, but if I was left alone in a prison cell adjacent to Steve McQueen, you know we'd be bonding over some baseball, while planning our escape.

Because I'm an American, I have been to my share of baseball games, and take the sport for granted the way I take Miles Davis for granted, or Patsy Cline.  Baseball is part of the backdrop of American life.  Jazz is an American art form.  Country music is an American art form.  Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline are like statues in the middle of town, no one even sees anymore, because they have always been there.

As Americans, whether we're aware of it or not, and regardless of our ethnic background, a significant percentage of the air we breathe is made of Johnny Cash songs.    Whether we're going to Wrigley Field to watch Ryne Sandberg teach the SF Giants a lesson, or Corporate Orange Juice Park in Houston because our friend has tickets and needs someone to go to the game with, Johnny Cash is in the air (Wrigley is a company name, but it's also the name of the guy who built the company.  Corporate Orange Juice Park is not).  When we visit our uncle in California, we're going to go to Candlestick Park to watch the Giants wipe the floor with the NY Mets.  We're not White Sox people; the American League is for degenerate weirdos, and strikes our 6th-grade minds as slightly creepy.  We're into the National League.  And we're not even going to maintain an interest in the sport, once we get a little older.  We're going to fall away from it, in fact.

But we know what it is, and it is where we're from.  And we had pictures of sports stars glued into our scrapbooks when we were young.  It's in the air.

That's what Country music is to me.  Real Country, not the mainstream neo-pop variety, which has glommed on to the real thing since Garth Brooks got big, at least.  30 years now?  At least?

I dunno.  It doesn't matter.  You can't tear down the Johnny Cash or Patsy Cline statues with something as glib and insubstantial as plastic, Neoprene Country.  Neither mainstream Nashville Country Pop, nor BLM or Antifa, can successfully assail the culture with an army of shiny ciphers hee-hawing into golden microphones, or a phalanx of dead Soundcloud "rappers," threatening to get stupid on you.  It can't be done.  American culture has to commit suicide "willfully," from within.

Unfortunately, this cultural suicide can be a default setting, and can be committed without any conscious act on the part of the American people.  Apparently, cultural suicide can be imposed on people.  Tell me you haven't heard it a million times:  "America has no culture."

Hogwash.  If America has no culture, why does everybody emulate it?

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This picture links to a surprisingly-good article about African Country music on Bandcamp, which traces the roots of the art form (as practiced by Africans) back to the introduction of cowboys to the Dark Continent in the 1920s.  I highly recommend it.  Also check out this Bitchute video titled Africans LOVE Country Music/Cultural Appropriation is a Nothing Burger for another glimpse into the interesting world of real Africans who are into that lonesome cracker sound.  

And remember, the reason they don't want you to believe you have a culture, is so they can DESTROY IT, and steal it from you.

Keep it in mind.

So I walked onstage for my 9pm set, and it was a family gathering of festive Brazilians all around me.  The microphone wasn't grounded, and shocked me when I sang too close, so I had to keep my distance from the mic.  The pickup in my guitar failed, and changing the battery didn't help; I also broke a string.  The soundguy was incredulous, and said he "couldn't believe it."  Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.  It was ridiculous luck.  But I'm not an amateur, and nothing phases me except the sound of mass appreciation, jubilant applause, and love.  I re-strung my guitar in a matter of seconds, while the guy set up a mic to pick up the guitar, and the show went on.

I couldn't move, since I had to make sure the guitar was exactly 2 inches from the microphone at all times, and I couldn't get too close to the vocal mic, unless I wanted to eat sparks from the evil spirits laughing down at me from the rafters.  It was what I call a "fight gig," but it was a great show anyway.  Even though my health had gotten worse since getting caught in the rain and moving early and unexpectedly a day or 2 before in Buenos Aires, I was able to preserve my voice (thank God).  So I beat the sonic water with my guitar until sufficient waves were produced, upon which I could go surfing with my voice.  Which was surprisingly intact.  It was a short set, only half an hour (thank God, again), and it was over before I knew it.

The response was exceedingly encouraging, but they didn't treat me like a "rockstar" like they did in Santiago.  I walked into the crowd afterwards, and might as well have been an ice cream cone as an American Country Music Artist, for all the difference it made to the reception I was given.  Which of course is not a bad thing.  No true artist ever does it for the adulation, or applause.  You do it because you have to.  You have no choice.  You must.  You can even do it "because you can," but it's better if you do it because you have no other choice.

You never do it for the audience.  Never for the praise.  You do it in SPITE of the praise, because when the praise does not exist, there has to be something else to stand on.  Unless you're a dilettante, or only want to "play rockstar" on the weekend.  God knows there's no shortage of those guys.

So I walked around the grounds of the festival, which weren't large, since Nazaré Paulista is a small town in the Brazilian countryside.  An idyllic place, by all appearances.

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I was walking through the food stalls and the families, as the next band was setting up, and suddenly a girl screamed.  She screamed at me, as though she'd seen Paul McCartney, or George Harrison, or perhaps the devil.  I wasn't sure.  Normally, when girls scream at me, it's to "get out," or "go to hell," "get lost," and the like.  The screams are never borne of the excitement of the screamer.  They're always a result of the aggravation of the circumstance, possibly fueled by alcohol and/or money problems, and a possibility of drugs.  So I was taken aback at the screams of excitement from a girl in the audience.

She was a kid, maybe 13 or 14, and was standing with her parents.  Apparently, she'd really liked the show, and was excited to be so close to whatever it was she perceived me to be.  An ice cream cone, perhaps.  Her parents were very friendly, and her father spoke good English.  I talked to him for several minutes, before thanking them for listening and continuing my ramble around the festival grounds.

There were food stalls, flashing lights, and alcohol.  Cowboy boots and carnival games, probably.  I don't remember.  I didn't take any pictures at the show itself.  I'm not thinking about documenting the performance, for the most part.  I'm thinking about performing it.  The guitar is my camera.  The guitar, and my memory.

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The guitar is my camera, and the songs are my collection of photos.  A subjective perception of reality that is perhaps more accurate than a hi-res image produced by a digital machine.  Maybe not.  Whatever the case, my sonic photographs are everywhere.  They are not hard to find.

I'd arrived in town the night before.  The flight from Buenos Aires to São Paulo was relatively pleasant, but I could feel my health deteriorating, and by the time we landed at GRU, all I wanted was to lay down.  I found a row of seats, just inside the exit door of the airport, and laid down across several of them.  The organizers of the festival in Nazaré Paulista had organized a bus.  I walked outside, found those people, told them I was there, and went back into the airport to take a nap.

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The nice bus they'd booked had mechanical problems, so we had to wait for another bus to arrive.  The organizers had planned things extremely well, because many of the bands arrived at the airport in São Paulo within a few hours of each other.  Me, a bunch of Peruvians, some people from Argentina, other places in Brazil... we all sat outside the departure area, waiting for the bus.  I hadn't been able to sleep, but I got my energy back and rejoined the group.  The other bands were all extremely friendly.  They opened their instrument cases and had impromptu jam sessions while we waited.  I asked the Peruvians if they had any "mota," which is when I learned that "mota" is a Mexican word, not a Spanish one.  They had no idea what I was talking about.  I made the "smoking a joint" gesture, and they said, "Oh, you mean marijuana?"  I said that I did.  They didn't have any.

I befriended the organizer who met us at the airport, a friendly guy in a blazer and blue jeans named Diego, who spoke no English.  Portuguese is an incomprehensible sound made by extraterrestrial insects who speak in code, so we understood nothing of what the other guy said.  In spite of this, we became fast friends.  That's him in the picture above, with the fancy broken bus that wouldn't move.  He showed me his indestructible phone, and dropped it on the ground to prove it.  It was some kind of astropomorphic basketball material with satellite capabilities, and a keypad and a screen.  The only way you could break it would be to shoot it.

I was probably impressed.

So we all sat there.  Waiting.  Eventually, the second bus showed up.  It wasn't fancy, but it moved.

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We filed into the bus and found our seats.  I was paranoid about my voice, and huddled alone near the front with my hoodie pulled over my head, as the bus bounced through the town of Guarulhos, heading north into the jungle.  It was a rocky, bumpy ride.

The ride was rocky, and bumpy, and also enjoyable in the extreme.  The South Americans all broke out their guitars and sang their way up the winding mountain roads, toward the little town and the festival in the hills.  We stopped at a convenience store for snacks, and everybody got out and bought beer and wine, with which to lubricate the night.  It was all very light and jovial.  Everyone was happy.

I didn't have any reason to get out of the van, having nothing more than a pocketful of useless Chilean pesos, and stayed on the bus while the other bands went inside.  While we were waiting, the driver broke out his guitar and played a song for us.  I turned my phone on, but only caught the last note of the song.  Not really a creator of gregarious content, me.  I never break out the recording equipment when things are actually happening.  I might take a picture of the coals, the glowing embers of a recently-passed experience, for my own records.  Maybe.  But I never photograph the fire.

To me, it seems like a waste of fire.

Es lo que es.  It is what it is.

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Diego bought me a bottle of water without my asking for it, and we all got back on the bus.  We wound our way through the dark jungle like a loud, mechanical drunken python, toward the town of Nazaré Paulista, and whatever accommodations had been arranged for us.

A funky little hotel with a view, as it turned out.  Cool place.

The organizers were thoughtful enough to give me my own room, since I was a solo act, and didn't have any bandmates with whom it would be cool to share a private, personal space.  Most of the other bands bunked up 2 to 4 people to a room.  Which isn't crowded, but would have sucked from my point of view, since I was alone, in full-on hypochondriac vocal-preservation mode, and didn't want to converse with anybody.  All I wanted was to sleep.

I knocked out and woke up the next day, show day, relatively rested, with the sun shining through my balcony.

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There was a breakfast buffet outside my room, a fancy spread of eggs and meat, of coffee and juice and exotic jungle fruit I'd never seen before.  Strange slices of a cantaloupe-like melon substance, something orange and weird and heavy, full of crazy seeds.  Some of the other bands were seated at picnic tables, and there were a few people outside on the balcony.  The view was idyllic.  Heavenly legit.

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I was running on fumes, however, and had an inwardly-surly attitude I was hoping didn't show.  I walked around town, alone, took a few pictures, and tried to conserve my energy.  I had a good rapport with the stage manager,

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And all the other bands, but for some reason did not get along at all with the main guy behind the event.  The guy who'd booked me in the first place.  I couldn't hide my surliness, is what it was.  I really didn't feel well, and needed to rest, and was fighting a persistent vibe of self-absorbed bitchiness.  A fight which I was beginning to lose.  He said something that got under my skin, and we crossed swords like a couple of douchebags and had a falling out.  I had to go back to the hotel for my guitar before the show, and he was afraid I'd be late, or sabotage the night somehow.  I don't grudge him that; he had a lot to juggle.  I showed up on time and ready to go, of course, and as I walked onstage like a towering Country-music ice cream cone from the United States of Johnny Cash, he made some patronizing comment about not sucking, to which I responded by shooting him a look that said, "Please.  This is the easy part."

I killed it, thank God, talked to the father of the screaming girl, and went back to my room to take a shower and watch soccer on a pink TV.

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My show was on a Friday, and I had to leave for my show in São Paulo the next day.  I couldn't hang out.  I could have used the rest, but I wasn't really on vacation, and had no choice.  One of the friendly Peruvian girls from the bus wished me well, as I stood outside the hotel, waiting for an imaginary ride back into the city.  Had I told the organizers I had to get back to São Paulo, the day after my performance?  Surely I had.  But now the main guy was against me, and had to win his little ego battle against the surly American vocal diva who flipped him the bird for reasons I can't even remember.  I am Johnny Cash, punk.  Johnny Efectivo, as they say in Spanish.  What kind of Country music festival is complete without a friendly game of Angry Birds?

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I would have liked to stay, but I had no choice.  I just had to stand there and leave.  My presence at the exit sign was unequivocal.  I didn't have a vibe, positive or negative, that I was aware of.  It was simply clear that I was leaving town immediately.  It wasn't anybody's choice.  It simply was the case.

Eventually, Diego pulled up in a car, and told me to get in.  I could tell that he was still my friend.  We drove back down the mountain, through the jungle, past all kinds of little jungle buildings, motorcycles and stray dogs and giant leaves, strewn along the side of the road.  He told me the jungle was a bad place to get lost, due to all the anacondas and pumas.  In the jungle, it was a matter of who would eat you first.  The giant cats, or the school buses with drunken, singing drivers.  It was only a matter of time.  Eventually, somebody would eat you.  Would you be squeezed to death by a cute Peruvian girl, or a giant anaconda?

The question hung in the air like an empty noose.  We rolled down the winding mountain road, through caverns made of giant trees.  Sunlight dripped down on us like a warm, translucent rain.  The humidity had inundated everything, and the houses and shops we passed all had a patina of rotten, exotic decay.

I didn't take any pictures.  The jungle flattened out.  The city became nearer, and giant apartment buildings from a depressing sci-fi film rose like monoliths of mad concrete against the urban haze.  Signs for the airport began to appear, and it became clear that we were going there.

Wait.... the airport?

Diego told me that he couldn't take me any farther into town.  São Paulo is huge, at least as big as Mexico City, and traversing it is no small or easy task.  It was clear there was no mean-ness in his "refusal," and that he really couldn't take me any farther.  The organizer of the festival wasn't going to help, and there was nothing I could do.

Knowing I was broke, Diego dropped $20 on me, and wished me luck.  He told me it would be cool if I came back to play the festival the following year.  You could tell he really meant it.  He wasn't blowing smoke.  I shook his hand and got out of the car.  What was I going to do?  GRU is not close to downtown São Paulo.  And there's no subway line from the airport to downtown.  A bus?  Some strange alien transport between the space port and the damp and jungled streets of the insanely massive city?  Dunno.  I had to figure something out.  My show was in a few hours.  I had to get into town.

I wandered through the airport, in search of a solution.

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Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket. http://www.pablosmoglives.com


pablosmoglives
pablosmoglives

Replacing my blog at http://pablosmoglives.wordpress.com

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