I know quite a bit about Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim, Brazil’s best-known composer (Girl From Ipanema, Desafinado, Wave, Waters of March, etc.), having listened to and played a lot of his music over the years and having read two biographies about him. What I never knew, though, at least until I read the biography Antonio Carlos Jobim, an Illuminated Man, written by his sister Helena Jobim, was that Jobim had had a “mystical” experience that changed him forever.
Tom was going on a hunting trip with his friend Mario, sometime around 1959, when it happened. Helena tells the story (free translation from the Portuguese by me):
It was a long trip over a dirt road, with the forest nearly blocking their way. Mario, who was driving the car, started to speed. Tom, sitting next to him, started feeling more and more tense. Suddenly, something happened. He felt everything relaxing inside of him. He looked at the headlights shining on the reddish banks, a tree bending over the road, the shining stars frozen in the dark blue sky. Suddenly there was no longer any separation between him and everything around him. He was everything — the light from the headlights, the illuminated banks, the tree, the distant stars — and everything was him. At that moment his fear stopped. Any and all fear ceased in his body and in his mind. There was no more fear of death, because there was no death. He was in everything — more than that — he was everything. And would continue to be forever. Tom said this experience was so intense that it was hard to put into words. It was untellable. He felt changed after it. He had experienced another dimension.
I can’t help wondering how such an experience might have changed him as a composer and musician. The only hint I could find in the book was when he remarked to Helena, when she said she felt the source of her inspiration as a writer had dried up,
“The source never dries up.” Then he pointed off into space and said, “It’s all there, you just have to go and get it.”