A fundamental sadness lies at the heart of director Wes Anderson’s films. Tragedy lurks behind every pastel, whimsical, and symmetrical shot, lying in wait to reduce the audience to tears. For as fun as The Grand Budapest Hotel is as a murder-mystery romp, it’s also a film about the ruinous effects of fascism and how quickly it can rise up and leave a trail of terror and loss.
Likewise, beneath the veneer of smeared makeup and immaculately tailored suits, the music of David Bowie also tackled lofty themes both intimate and large. Just as Young Americans oozes ennui, taking the piss out of both stardom and domesticity, Lodger is fueled by Cold War fatalism and coming to grips with the possibility of nuclear Armageddon.
Given both auteurs’ skillful balance of the fantastic and the mournful, it’s no mistake there's a considerable overlap between Anderson's and Bowie’s fan bases. And it helps that an album as good as Seu Jorge’s The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions makes the connection even more explicit.
Released in 2005, Jorge’s record serves as a companion piece to Anderson’s 2004 film, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. In the movie, the Brazilian musician and actor portrays Pelé dos Santos, a character who does little else besides strum Bowie songs on his acoustic guitar. Singing in his native Portuguese, Jorge’s character is something of a Greek chorus, with modified lyrics that reflect the film’s slapstick — and eventually tragic — events.
Just as Bowie’s songs and Anderson’s films seem to continually gain new fans, so too have Jorge’s covers. Defying the bargain-bin fate of most film soundtracks, Jorge’s stripped-back, acoustic numbers have earned him a worldwide audience, a fact that even Jorge finds surprising.
“I never expected this,” he says, speaking by phone in the midst of his tour, A Life Aquatic: A Tribute to David Bowie. Jorge will make a second visit to South Florida, this time on a tour stop at the Broward Center Saturday. “People come up to me before the show to talk with me, take some pictures... they ask so many different questions; they are really crazy about the movie.”
Recognizing the enormity of the material he’s working with, Jorge is taking the opportunity to bond with fans. He resolved to tour following the 2016 deaths of Bowie and his own father, who passed away only three days after the iconic English singer-songwriter. Describing the show as “just two mikes, one guitar, and one black guy onstage,” Jorge carries himself lightly and wants to inject his performance with levity, even in the face of the tragic circumstances that prompted the tour's existence.
“For me, it’s a challenge. I’m not really funny,” Jorge says with a laugh. “I’m trying. I think I’m doing well. People come to the show and expect just to see music, and [they leave] seeing something more... and that makes me really happy.”
Noting that “black people in Brazil don’t listen to rock ‘n’ roll,” Jorge himself was a relative latecomer to Bowie’s music, but he now ranks as one of the artist’s most preeminent fans. Although Jorge never got a chance to meet his muse, he recounts a story about Anderson meeting with Bowie to secure the performer's permission for his music to appear in The Life Aquatic.
“I’m not sure [Bowie] loved the movie, but I’m sure he loved the album,” Jorge recalls Anderson saying.
Besides presenting an opportunity for public homage, the tour has allowed Jorge to hone his own creative skills, having to express a multitude of emotions night in and night out with nothing more than his voice and six-string metal guitar. If his rabid audience is any indication, he’s doing just fine.
“Sometimes people come two or three times,” Jorge says, commenting on the privilege of traveling around the world to share in a mutual love for Bowie's and Anderson’s work. “I have a lot of gratitude about this.”
Seu Jorge Presents A Life Aquatic: A Tribute to David Bowie. 8 p.m. Saturday, October 7, at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $45 to $215 via ticketmaster.com.