I have some trouble evaluating the relationship from people with School these days. Maybe it’s still the same, the deciding factor remaining the attention we pay and what we make from our experience and school years . Portugal was an illiterate country for most of the 20th Century and a key to bring the country up, after the revolution, already in Democracy, was to make an investment on people: teaching them the basic tools for life and any activity. Writing, reading, adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying. There is still a small percentage of old people that can’t read or write but it’s now residual when compared to the reality when grew up through the Seventies and the Eighties.
This reform wasn’t been always peaceful.It still ins’t. There’s an active Education lobby (even though our Constitution forbids it) and a dangerous liaison to the principal textbook publishers. Every Education Ministry, when taking office, has a tendency to wipe out good and bad, to start over, focusing mainly on politics and ideology and putting little trust in the virtues of a solid, experienced, tested system. Students and teachers here in Portugal have to be used to have new cards dealt almost on a yearly basis and that says a lot about how chaotic things can be for the principal agents of learning.
I do not wish to dwell much in the red tape and hard task of teaching and learning and dealing with the system in Portugal. I believe it’s everywhere , with the unfortunate note some countries do not even have a School system to show for. Instead, I romantically and scientifically believe that School teaches us not only what is there to be taught, but grants tools, abstract thought, writing papers, stimulating intelligence and praxis we should use to triage, for example, alternative facts that are dumped our way on a daily basis, especially online.
In all truth, I want to share two moments that show that what I learnt in School was applied to my activity as a musician and lyric writer later.
- Opium: our dear hit track. It was the year of 1991 and I was sitting in a Portuguese Literature class. The atmosphere was that of a High School class, noisy, all over the place. People talking, heads on cloud number nine, waiting for recess. Some paying attention, others not really. Our teacher (Miss Ferreira) was quite a character. She wore skirts and sat on the table and we could see her legs. She once asked us if anyone had a problem with it. She was brave, an independent woman, felling at ease with herself and her amazing teaching skills. I remember when she started introducing more “existentialist” poetry, I was quite into it. Step by step, word by word, poem after poem, class after class we reached the time of reading and discovering Pessoa. Fernando Pessoa is a big name in Portugal and our most celebrated writer. Naturally important for grades in Portuguese Literature. I don’t believe in instant enlightenment , I believe all is a process. In Philosophy we discussed many times the capacity of wonder, of amazement, the spark of all curiosity without which all knowledge is impossible. I believe that it was more such a moment that happened when she first started reading Opiário (Opium den) by Álvaro de Campos (one of Pessoa’s several heterenomyous). Those words “Por isso eu tomo ópio…” resonated and I wrote them on my notebook not knowing I would use my amazement with those words, five years after for Irreligious. Even tough these words are not the final words of that larger poem, they sounded quite final for me (interpretation) , that verse, a vivid consternation, using opium to fight tedium, spleen, life. They came in quite handy when I finally wrote Opium and decided to end the song (using the original in Portuguese) with exactly that quote from the poet. A song that was born in High School and that so many heard about while on High School themselves.
- 1775: our forthcoming album, totally sung in Portuguese. It was the year of 1998 and I am sitting now at Lisbon University, coursing Philosophy. The class is Social Sciences’ Epistemology and my teacher is a star. Prof. #ViriatoSoromenhoMarques goes on about Theodicy, Lisbon Earthquake, the end of the 18th Century,Illuminism, the politics of religion and everything clicks. I am a 24 year old young man, trying to find some substance for things I have been brewing inside my mind and already writing down publicly in my lyrics and letters to friends and fellow Underground musicians. Voltaire, Espinoza, Kant, sounded big in my ears and between all fragments and distractions, I made my notes. Now, almost twenty years later I picked them up to write a new album. Go back a few years, to High School again, I am sitting in a (Portuguese) History class. The theme is the reconstruction of Lisbon. The test is different. My teacher (Miss Machado) picked up a few between us in class and attributed chapters to study. She chose me to be the Minister (Marques de Pombal, main responsible for Lisbon’s rebirth) and all my colleagues had a field of expertise and we’d discuss it in front of the class, like in a class Parliament. Goes without saying, I had to go through all the chapters while my colleagues had to go through just one. I wasn’t too happy with that. I was no nerd, had my girls to kiss and my music to play and my demo tapes arriving from all around the world. Now, I am thankful not only for one of the best memories and best planned/interesting classes ever, but for the knowledge I had to gulp down, from building constructions’ new techniques to the dissolution of Inquisition and the power loss of both Church and Crown, leading to a modern Portugal.
So, I have a lot to thank to School, and if you’re a fan of these songs, you have to thank them too. I could end and say how important is School and how you all should never give up knowledge for easy money-precarious jobs; or tell you that getting your sources exclusively online won’t benefit discussion and triage. I could say all of that, but in fact when I woke up today I turned the TV on the news and watched incredulous what happened in Holland with the Turkish Family Minister (she’s doing a terrible job btw) and how Erdogan called Holland (one of the most progressive countries in the world and a lesson for individual freedoms) the last remains of Nazism in Europe (250.000 dead just in The Netherlands). I thought I would never live to watch that with your my own eyes and ears. I can’t help my will to be silent and let intelligence runs its course, and hope everyone will be able to know what counts, what’s keeping us and what will make us go and have a future together.