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The Maluco-Beleza utopia

A study about Raul Seixas reveals Brazil's broad and complex counterculture movement of the sixties and seventies

In its own way, the Brazilian military dictatorship (1945-1985) really had reason to be concerned about Raul Seixas (1945-1989) when his second solo disc, the visceral and anthological Gita, was released in 1974. On its seventh track was a song [Maluco-Beleza] with lyrics that passed censorship, but that nevertheless, in the eyes of repression, became pure subversion.

Raul preached an “Alternative Society”, an anarchical co-existence, in a place where there would be total liberty for one to do as one saw fit. Strangely, the performance of the song was not forbidden, but according to the rocker from Bahia, it cost him threats of torture and self imposed exile in New York. For the rest of his life, he was at pains to demystify the political nature of the lyrics that he wrote together with Paulo Coelho. He said he had an aversion to political parties and that his song did not preach rising up against the military regime.

Three decades on, a doctorate with a thesis on social history, Vivendo a sociedade alternative: Raul Seixas no panorama da contracultura jovem (Living the alternative society: Raul Seixas’s overview of youth counterculture), by Luiz Alberto de Lima Boscato, details what was behind this apparently unpretentious and delirious proposal. More than this, the text, recently published in book from by the Terceiro Nome publishing house – provides a historic and philosophical base and helps one to understand the hitherto seldom studied (under) world of Brazil’s counterculture of the sixties and seventies.

Submitted to the School of Philosophy, Arts and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at the University of São Paulo (USP) in 2006, under the guidance of Marcos Antônio da Silva, the thesis is not only a serious and revealing piece of work, but also a fascinating journey through the universe of the hippies and the groups that proclaimed different types of relationships between the people and authority, amongst people themselves and between people and nature – plants, animals etc.

Boscato read about 120 books on the theme, watched 22 films and carried out assorted interviews that allowed him to recover little known or unpublished information on the period. More than a piece of work for fans of Raul, it is a sociological and anthropological reconstruction of an epoch. He observes that there existed and exist as many countercultural societies as individuals who experience and project them.

According to him, the emphasis on the value of individuality, profoundly related to the anarchical individualism of Max Stinner, was a basic claim of the alternative society. “It is from this that the most diverse movements are formed rather than from a pre-established ideological platform to which people have to simply bow down. The cry of rock n’ roll, he points out, well expresses this alternative society’s desire for freedom: for which one should never cease to clamor.

The researcher focuses on the youths who throughout the Cold War sought a path other than capitalism and Stalinism, through libertarian societies that would be ahead of both of these examples and that, contrary to both, considered human beings as its system’s cornerstone. It is not by chance that they were labelled madmen by the young militants of the so-called left. They were part, however, of the so called counterculture, which the author defines as a culture of opposition to that imposed by official society.

In this context, Raul Seixas appears as a more important name, someone who mixed the ideas of Englishman Magus Aleister Crowley, with the proposal of the Lennon couple (John e Yoko Ono) to create a new utopia, also including in this some of the anarchist principles of Proudhon and Max Stinner. Raul called this new era Novo Aeon, the name of his third LP, and the term used to denominate the start of the astrological era of Aquarius.

The author analyses the seeds of the countercultural movement and how Raul Seixas’s spiritual anarchism developed in parallel with his political anarchism and the birth of ecological discussion as the target of collective concerns of the subsequent decades. Boscato confirms that the youths of the time, who wanted to change the world. were coming together or diverging throughout this historic process. He observes that the two sides were in disagreement at certain times but in agreement at others, or they simply overlapped. This was also the case of the May 1968 Paris riots, whose proposals were libertarian despite reliance on leftist symbols.

The author’s initial attraction to the study of alternate societies came from his artistic side, as a poet who thought that the world should be different from that he inherited from previous generations, with the full weight of preconceptions and authoritarianism. “The fact that I had been born in a country like Brazil, dramatically stained with fear and blood by the military dictatorship established through the 1964 coup and expanded after Institutional Act number 5, of December 1968, made me look for alternatives to this oppressive situation; hence my interest in an alternative society. In my thesis I see this as the cultural revolution of an entire generation that fought to build a freer world.”

He confirms that a free society is not divorced from its historical context. To the contrary, Raul Seixas expressed in his music the longing for freedom of millions of young people the world over, who at the same time fought against a wide range of types of authoritanism and oppression. “When we mention that expression, we should ask ourselves: what exactly is this society an alternative to” The answer is that it is an alternative to official society, within the movements of youthful rebellion that became known through the name of counterculture.”

Boscato explains that this thought developed, through music, literature and assorted social and political debates, opposition to established culture, which was seen at that time as macho, racist and a bastion of militarism and class privilege. In the middle of this hot spot, the rocker from Bahia began to think of an alternative society whose political base was anarchism. According to the researcher, we can see and recognize in him deep inspiration drawn from the texts of Proudhon, as in the song Carimbador Maluco (Whacky Stamper) and from Max Stinner, in Eu Sou Egoista (I’m an Egotist).

Authors such as George Orwell, with his novel l984, a futuristic fantasy about an authoritative society, are very present in Raul’s music, as in Metro Linha 743 (Subway Line 743). He also drew inspiration from Nutopia, or New Utopia: a free world without countries and frontiers by John Lennon e Yoko Ono. On that, observes the author, they have the song Imagine and the Declaration of Nutopia, written by Lennon e Ono, which can be found inside the cover of the LP Mind Games.

The Alternative Society, for Boscato, is directly related to the conflicts of a good part of the generation of the sixties and seventies. Therefore, apart from Raul Seixas, he writes about Lennon, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Leila Diniz, Rita Lee, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and many, many icons and counterculture activists who marked an epoch and a moment when youth said ‘no’ to sexual repression and to racism, to imperialist wars such as Vietnam, and to a whole series of values advocated by their parent’s generation. “It was for this that Raul Seixas once said between ironic smiles: “D’you know why youngsters like rock? It’s because their parents don’t.”

Raul and a great part of the counterculture, according to the researcher, were also interested in the occult as a denial of official religiousness, as shown by dogmatism and isolation. “This happened even within actual Christianity, as shown when pastor Martin Luther King Jr. fought against racial discrimination and paved the way for a social vision of spirituality, contrary to the elitism and conservatism found in the Catholic and Protestant churches.”

It was a quest too for a renewal that was also spiritual. “Hence youngsters” interest in trends such as tantra, yoga, shamanism or esoteric beliefs in general, apart from alternative views of Christianity, as seen in the 1972 film, Jesus Christ Superstar.” In the case of Raul Seixas, he became impressed in the seventies by Crawley, who founded the so-called Witchery of Thelema (which in Greek means willingness), whose motto is the phrase “Do what you want, as all is within the Law”.

Various rockers have gone back to his way of thinking and what he had in being controversial and devilish. Amongst others, Boscato cites Ozzy Osborne of the Black Sabbath band, who composed for him the song Mister Crawley. The Beatles put him on the cover of their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, which, in 1967, was a water shed for young modern music – he was the bald headed man in the suit on the LP’s cover. At that time, Raul Seixas and Paulo Coelho were interested in Crawley. Coelho later moved away from this school of thought and pursued other directions as a writer. But not Raul.

The author of Metamorfose Ambulante (Ambulating Metamorphosis) took the basis of Thelema (‘Do what thou wilt” and “Love is the Law, but Love with Desire”) and linked them to anarchism. In other words, he made a political and libertarian manifest of the occult. Still with Paulo Coelho, he composed the manifesto of the Alternative Society. Boscato believes that there was some purpose in protesting against the regime. “Except that when he was taken prisoner and supposedly tortured by the dictatorship, he wanted to hide its political nature, highlighting its spiritual side”.

With Raul, as with the other counterculture militants who were interested in alternative forms of spirituality, spiritual expression and political protest always went hand in hand. This was also the case of the American Jim Morrison, from the band The Doors, who adored indigenous shamanism and Afro-Cuban voodoo, in which he saw the denial of the white protestant Puritanism that formed the official mentality of the United States.

According to Boscato, in other texts, Raul already referred to the social transformation and cultural revolution that the Alternative Society implied. For conservatives, this would ring as subversive at any time. “In the context of a military dictatorship, therefore, this fear of repression of everything that was different from the official ideology of the State was even greater: anyone could be seen as subversive at that time, for the simple fact of having long hair or sporting a red shirt. At that time, whoever wore a red shirt in the street might be seen as a communist.”

According to him, the Alternative Society was serious in the sense that it had a base. “It was born from the struggles of a very rich moment in history, when youth expressed its wish for change and its denial of archaic and conservative values. So much so that it was at this time that feminism, a movement for the equality of men and women gained momentum.” It was no chance that in the song Novo Aeon (New Aeon) Raul sang: – and even the women called slaves didn’t want to serve anymore!” For the researcher, all of these principles, however, went hand in hand with laughter and irony as forms of protest. “In order to protest, it wasn’t necessary to be grave and serious like the conventional left. This was a countercultural innovation already found in previous movements, such as surrealism.”

And then the discussion arises: why live in a world where there is repression against laughter, pleasure – including sexual pleasure – and happiness? “Except that the smile of the militants came from their bitter experiences from a whole range of conditioning through which education and the culture of official society sought to mould them; to express their rejection they satirized repressive values. Hence the smile, when it manifests itself.”

Among his conclusions, Boscato says that in the face of general disbelief in politics and politicians, Alternative Society remains an ethical standard for many people and especially for many young people and adolescents, who find their frames of reference in the messages of Raul Seixas. As he stated in one of his poems, “new whacky people will always be formed as long as this roving freedom exists to refuse to accept things as they are.” For this reason, he adds, political parties will end up dying as effective proponents for social transformation, since they only seek what the anarchist Raul Seixas detested: power. “The Alternative Society remains alive in the minds of those who sincerely wish for a fairer and freer society.”