Tom Zé is one of the most underappreciated geniuses in all of pop music history. He is considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of the Tropicalia movement, which helped redefine how the world felt about Brazilian music culture from the 1960s onward. Although people like Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes all came from the same collective mindset, it wasn’t until the mid-‘80s when Zé broke through, having caught the eye of David Byrne, getting signed to his Luaka Bop record label, and soon experiencing a remarkable career renaissance . . .
Back in October of this year, Zé became recipient of some unique reissues, ranging from a fantastic multi-LP vinyl box set called Explaining Things So I Can Confuse You, along with a single-disc greatest hits retrospective CD called Estudando a Bossa. To help commemorate these releases, Zé sat down to do a brief 20 Questions feature with us here at PopMatters, revealing how he wished he discovered the diatonic scale, why he looks so good in a fig leaf, and how psychoanalysis is his stress management . . .
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Scent of a Woman.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Raskolnikov, from Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Bill Haley, proving with “Rock Around the Clock” that Copernicus was right and Ptolemy was wrong.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Neither one. I prefer Arthur Clarke.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Conlon Nancarrow, Beethoven, and Bach.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Luaka Bop always saved me from the abyss.
7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?
For one verse: “seas, algorithms” from the song “Língua Brasileira” (Brazilian Language).
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Nancarrow, Beethoven, Bach, and David Byrne.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The diatonic scale.
10. Your hidden talents . . . ?
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Do something different.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Someone who would pay the bill.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Venice in the winter because my wife would like this.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
A little of each one, in São Paulo and Irará.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
The history of tropicalism.