Photos by Sue Sadzak
It has been thirteen short years since The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou came out, the Wes Anderson movie that parodied famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau. A movie that is so ingrained in pop culture you at least see one person (or a team) dressing up as Bill Murray’s Zissou and their gang wearing powder blue jumpsuits and red toques. The film also introduced the world to Seu Jorge, the Brazilian artist who was cast in the film to sing David Bowie songs in his native Portuguese as a crewmember aboard the Bellefontaine. It has been one very long year since David Robert Jones, better known as David Bowie passed away suddenly.
An announcer in a French accent came on stage to describe how Jorge and Bowie became so interconnected and set up the history of the movie Life Aquatic. This announcer wore a trademark red toque and a T-shirt that read “Unpaid Intern” a joke harkening back to the film, where unpaid interns from a university did most of the real work on Zissou’s ship and all had to share a single gun while everyone else got their own. The announcer talked about how there will be two artists on stage that evening, one in flesh and the other in spirit as Jorge was performing only Bowie’s music.
Jorge came on stage and sat in a chair, on either side of him were risers with nautical themed props like fishing nets and steering wheels. In his thickly accented voice he dedicated the show to Bowie, which the audience widely applauded for. He wore the exact same outfit he wore in the film many years earlier right down to the Adidas runners. He started the night by playing Ziggy Stardust, with his deep voice filling Massey Hall beautifully.
In between songs he would talk about his own life story and how his involvement with the movie came to be. He quite humorously described how he was originally offered the part while being at home in Brazil on his day off and not wanting to answer the phone that rang over and over again. When he was finally reached he was asked to translate some of Bowie’s songs despite not knowing who David Bowie was at the time, nor knowing English very well. After accepting the part and making his way to Rome to film, he met his co-stars who he didn’t know by name only by their movies like Jurassic Park (Jeff Goldblum) and Platoon (Willem Dafoe). On the very first day of shooting director Wes Anderson asked to shoot Rebel Rebel first, a song that Jorge didn’t know how to play yet. After taking a few minutes off to the side he said he basically improvised the song using flourishes found in Brazilian music. He then led into the track and its power on only acoustic guitar still reverberated through the crowd.
Most of the songs covered were gently in nature, showing the beauty that Bowie possessed. On Starman, the fastest song of the night the lights strobed furiously and Jorge hammered out the song creating a fun atmosphere for the seated crowd. He followed it up with Suffragette City, which was transformed into an almost cool RnB style of the song that couldn’t be further from the original hit. By the time he got to Space Oddity, people were actively cheering for the opening notes as disco lights glowed over the crowd. At this point I was both angry and sad that I never got to see Bowie myself, it wasn’t fair that he died so early despite have such a rich musical catalogue. Seeing this show will be as close as I ever get to see Bowie, it is good to know that the Thin White Duke approved on Jorge’s takes as he has been quoted as saying “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese, I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”
Jorge talked about how rough of a time it was for him last January, as only three days after Bowie died so did his father. He dedicated the somber Life on Mars to his dad, which probably brought a few people to tears with how beautiful it was. As the set was winding up Jorge needed to take several bows as the standing ovation he got was unsatisfied with just a slight acknowledgment.
For the encore a screen was lowered down and a collage of clips from the movie, images of Bowie himself and Bowie’s new home the cosmos were played Jorge replayed Rebel Rebel, which after hearing his whole life story was great to see the song played again. He ended the set with Queen Bitch and thanked the crowd many times over. His “Unpaid Interns” who were actually his crewmembers came out with him to take a bow while the original recording of Let’s Dance played as they themselves began to dance with the crowd.
I may not have had a chance to write about Bowie after his death, but being about to write about his music was just as cathartic as seeing Jorge’s show was as I finally am able to have some sense of closure for his death.