I have received various emails from people over the years asking about this song and sharing their personal responses to it. I always feel like I’m disappointing people by confessing it was an allegory and not based literally on anything in my own life. That said, I wrote it partly as a warning to myself, and would later in life more than once realize I had failed to heed it.
In 1974 I got turned on to Wayne Shorter and Milton Nascimento’s Native Dancer album, an album that made a lasting impression on me. I was living in Iowa City at the time. From that remote outpost, I began special ordering every LP of Milton Nascimento I could find in the Schwann catalog from my local record store. They took about 6 weeks to arrive, but arrive they did: Milton, Minas, Geraes, Clube da Esquina I and Clube da Esqina II. (Many years later, in 1984 I would have the pleasure of spending a day in Ouro Preto with Toninho Horta, who I was staying with in Belo Horizonte, and who had played and written compositions on so many of those albums. Among other things, I recall us driving through the dusty countryside and him playing a cassette of an Argentine multi-instrumentalist he had just discovered named Pedro Aznar, who that year it turned out was going to join the Pat Metheny Group.)
By the mid 1970s, the bossa nova craze had sort of played itself out, and I found Brazilian music, especially the rawer folk forms – some of which were exploited by Milton in his Brazilian releases – metaphorically rich. During that period, I played with many Brazilians and often used Brazilian elements to support my lyrics. By the time I recorded the There Were Signs album, however, Brazilian music was having a resurgence in the US, and I felt less comfortable wading in those waters. Nor did I feel like that particular era was producing very much meaningful music. Nevertheless, the bridges and coda of the song “There Were Signs” were little homages to Milton.
Despite having tried to avoid too many overt Brazilian references, I admittedly was affected profoundly by not only Milton, but Edu Lobo, Chico Buarque and others. I wasn’t therefore overly surprised to learn that in their book The Brazilian Sound, Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha included me in their discography of “International Artists With Brazilian Influence.” I still think some of the Musica Popular Brasileira from the 1970s and early 1980s is some of the best pop music ever.