Prodigy Felipe Munhoz singing Leonard in Brasilian punk clubs

Felipe Franco Munhoz is a young Brazilian poet whose song Bombas found it’s way to the top of Neil Young’s official webpage dedicated to the rising generation. As I bonded instantly with Bombas, I pursued him for a first mail interview and we’ve been in contact ever since. Turned out that there was much more than meets the eye with this young man. At the age of five he started writing, at twelve he entered a journal, at sixteen he quit, sang in front of a live audience and wrote Bombas. Now in his twenties, he won a national prize for finishing an essay about Philip Roth…. while finishing Communication school, shaping up a promising collection of short stories and thinking about a first album. Somewhere in between he befriended some top international writers. For our first mail interview,  he mentionned singing Leonard’s songs in front of a punk audience, reminding me of what Leonard said about Death of a ladie’s man eventually getting some feedback from this very audience. My editor in chief Patrice Clos thought it was a good idea to expand on that. And as I see the Future of Brasilian poetry in Felipe Munhoz, here are some facts about him singing Leonard Cohen songs in punk venues.

How did Leonard Cohen appear into your life? What was the first song? Is it related to a girl?

I was fifteen or sixteen years old. I was a Bob Dylan’s fan, and searching for more folk music, with deep meaning lyrics, I found Leonard Cohen. I can remember clearly the day I was alone in my bedroom, concentrated, listening to Suzanne, thinking « How could I ignore it until today? » Even being a teenager. And while that beauty – She shows you where to look / Among the garbage and the flowers – was touching my heart, I’ve became an instantaneous Cohen fan too. And a little later, it was as if there was only Cohen: the grocer of despair, the voice of my personal anguish and despair, the greatest composer of all. I still think that he’s among the best ones.

How come did you get to play gigs and punk gigs?

I’m writing lyrics since I was a child, since I get my first guitar. Bad lyrics first, naturally; but I’ve grown up, while they were growing up. And it was a little later, close to that moment which I’ve discovered Suzanne, when I started singing on stage. Although it’s between my influences, I’m not exactly a folk singer. I’ve never been. Nor – not even close to – a punk singer. The fact is that I have a friend, Jr. Ferreira, who owns a legendary Brazilian punk club named 92Degrees (see a clip there:

At his club, in my teens, I’ve seen bands like G.B.H. and The Vibrators. You see?, true underground. My friend Jr. belongs to a rare kind of generous human beings. And he opened his doors to me. Come on, Felipe, come play your songs; no matter the style. Then I was at his black-and-white stage, alone, sometimes in a black suit, letting myself and my songs grow even more: playing something between folk music and jazz and bossa nova.

How come did you get to play Leonard Cohen’s songs?

When Songs of Leonard Cohen hit me, I started, immediately, to learn its chords on the guitar. Personal joy. Obviously, I had to transport them from my bedroom to my shows.

What was the purpose? Were you in love? Did you want so send a message or provoke something?

I think those magnificent songs are candles in the chaos. Even the darkest songs of Leonard Cohen, even those which translate perfectly our terrible souls’ suffering, I think they work that way. Lighting. Like a sad face painted by Van Gogh. It’s fine art – it’s sublime. Singing them was not a provocation, not at all. It hadn’t a purpose, too; neither was a love message. Only some music I enjoyed to play, which have the power to illuminate and burn my own soul.

What was the audience’s reaction?

For that spiky-haired audience, I was the strangest alien; but I was always respected. It made me happy: see the crowd in silence, listening. To a Cohen’s song, a song of mine, or any other. That attention was really kind. Or, maybe, something was happening in their souls. Or it worked as a candle in their chaos too. Sublimating. Because we all live in some kind of anguish and despair, and we all can get caught, suddenly, by any expression of sincere art.

Federico Garcia Lorca

I can only second that. Do you have any track of this?

No, unfortunately. But I wrote a waltz, in Portuguese, of course, which refers to both Take this waltz and (the Garcia Lorca’s) Pequeño vals vienés. It’s called Pequena valsa paulistana. The narrator loses his beloved and, remembering the song and the poetry, confuses himself thinking that she could have left São Paulo for Vienna. I’ll probably, someday, record it properly. I hope so.

Is this anecdote playing Leonard Cohen songs helped you later on to get into some woman’s pants?

I’m not Leonard Cohen: I don’t feel allowed to use his longings for my own pleasure. And, anyway, my girlfriend would kill me. But I tried, by myself, to write about her. Twice. First, some decasyllables verses, she took it well; then a letter short story called, roughly translated, The last words of us. The story is going to be part of a compilation of letters, with some of the best Brazilian writers, as Humberto Werneck, Marcelino Freire and José Castello, that I’m setting up. She said – before throwing its pages to the fireplace: couldn’t you at least have changed my name? Maybe, if Mr. Cohen let me, now I should try Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.

Sylvain Thuret
Tomara que bombas virem bumerangues
October 2011


Protest strong, an interview with Felipe Munhoz on La Mensuelle (august 2010):

Felipe’s Bombas video ranked third, as of now, in Neil Young’s official Living With War charts:

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