• Is it possible to have a crappy time at a rock concert in Rio de Janiero?
• We go Flying Down to Rio. . . but forget about that Girl From Ipanema
• Do you want some whine with that caipirinha?
A newspaper comic strip popular with my journalist friends, called “Shoe” featured some talking birds who ran a treetops newspaper. One strip in the 1980s had one of the characters, an editor, asking, “Should we cover the International Convention of Attorneys General of Weirdly-Shaped States?” “Heck no,” came the reply from the reporter bird, “I can’t imagine anything more boring!” The editor said, “It’s in Bermuda.” Last panel: reporter, packing a suitcase, already wearing a Hawaiian shirt, says, “On the other hand, who am I to stand in the way of the people’s right to know?”
That wasn’t exactly the way it went at ABC Radio News when word came out that in January of 1985, a giant 10-day rock festival would be held in Rio de Janeiro. But close. A year and a half into my tenure as Reporter-on-the-Road, I thought Rock in Rio would be a wonderful assignment. And of course I made the clichéd joke about it being “a dirty job but somebody has to do it.” It turned out to be a dirty and sweaty job, not at all as much fun as it promised.
The lineup was eclectic. Queen, Rod Stewart, Yes, and AC/DC were among the headliners, with some easy-listening artists like George Benson, Al Jarreau and James Taylor bracketed by metal bands Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Whitesnake and Ozzy Osbourne.
Post-punk new wave was represented by the Go-Gos, Nina Hagen and the B-52’s with guests Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads.
Some legendary Brazilian artists, Gilberto Gil and Ivan Lins, were showcased and each night’s opening acts included the country’s up and coming rock and pop artists. One I liked a lot was Os Paralamas do Sucesso, a band whose name – as near as I could get anybody to translate the Portuguese – meant something like The Headlights (or The Paralysis) of Success.
We were lodged in a hotel south of the city’s famous beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema. Each day started with breakfast and then a cab ride into the city where news conferences were held, featuring the bands and musicians that would play a night or two later. Some one-on-one interviews were granted. Then a hasty taxi ride back to the hotel to catch the chartered bus to the venue further outside the city – a ride that could take two hours or more.
The venue was a broad, flat, open expanse of. . . .sand. Not a bit of greenery in sight. Hot sun blazed down on the crowds each day. The opening acts would hit the stage in mid-afternoon and the night’s final encores usually ended well after midnight. There were long hours of boredom at the concert site, when bands or artists with little to recommend themselves were onstage.
At least there was an air-conditioned area that served as a press box several hundred yards away from the stage.
I was never granted access to the backstage area. Only on one night, that I can recall, was an actual artist brought to that press box area. Rod Stewart informally chatted with a small group of us, giving me some rare audio tape that wasn’t from a morning press conference in town, but actually from the site of Rock in Rio itself.
Our chartered press bus had no express lane to itself and had to fight its way out of the parking lot each night – early morning, really – at the end of the show. On the long trip along congested roads back to the hotel, I would have to process that morning’s news conference tapes and review and cue up the voice reports I had recorded during the night’s headlining performances. There were no telephones available to the media at the venue, so as soon as I arrived at the hotel, sometimes as late as 3AM, I would have to feed tape to the sleepy newsroom in New York. Only an hour or two of sleep was possible before I had to call in to do live shots on the morning shows of some key affiliate stations around the country. By the time those were over, it was time for breakfast and another morning of news conferences in town. Nobody I worked with back in New York – nor any of my friends there – would believe my ten days in Rio were among the longest and hardest I ever worked. So I didn’t try to tell them. But I returned to the city in January without even a trace of a suntan.
I did make it to the beach for an hour or two one afternoon and gawked at the volleyball players and the girls from Ipanema. I talked to a couple of vacationing young American guys, lawyers from Connecticut as I recall, who told me what a blast they were having, days on the beach surrounded by Brazilian women, nights on the town surrounded by Brazilian women. Must have been nice.
If you’ve been to Rio, you know what a city of contrasts it is. From my hotel room, if I looked East, I saw the glittering beaches. If I looked North, I looked straight into a favela, a ghetto. And it was at eye-level, not an overhead view, because it was on a hillside that rose up higher than the hotel floor I was on.
A member of the entourage accompanying the British band Yes told me of his introduction to crime, Brazilian style. On his first day in the city he was walking along the sidewalk separating Avenue Atlantica from Copacabana Beach. Over his shoulder was a leather bag – a man-purse, if you will. It was on his street-side shoulder. Someone came up behind him with a sharp knife and deftly sliced through the strap, then tossed the bag to an accomplice coming up alongside on a motorcycle, who zoomed off, the knife man running the opposite way.
Now I’m going to really whine. You’d think the 12-hour flight back home to New York would offer some time to unwind and catch up on sleep. But no, I was in the middle row of a 747 – the last row, where the seat couldn’t recline – surrounded by very loud British louts who kept ordering beers, kept getting louder and never went to sleep. A 12-hour headache ensued. I can’t really call Rock in Rio a ten-day headache, but I do consider it the least fun anyone could have at a giant rock concert in a tropical party city.