Remembering E. Daniel De Anda

In Memoriam 2

Ezekiel “Zekey” Daniel De Anda, 4/10/1944 – 11/23/2017

It’s been nearly three years since Zeke died. I often think about him. In many ways it feels as if he’s still alive. But though I promised myself some time back to write something about him, the time and the timetable has proved to be as elusive and unmanageable as my relationship with him.

We had a complicated, difficult relationship. After our mother died in 2008, we never spoke or saw each other again. He died nine years after she did.

He was ten years older than me, twenty years older than our youngest brother. He was, in many ways, a father figure. And like father figures can often be, a difficult icon.

But Zeke had a sharp eye for identifying people’s soft spots, those pivotal points at which character bucks up or breaks, which he used both as a sword and a shield. He could readily discern what you liked, what you feared, what you wanted, or wanted to avoid, sometimes with greatly clarity than the subjects themselves, which made his manipulations even more devastating.

On July 20th of 1964, two days before my 10th birthday, the Beatles released their fourth American album, “Something New.” Because I had older brothers, I was familiar with a lot of the then-current pop: the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley Roy Orbison and many others. But the Beatles, who debuted in the States in 1963, were my first serious musical infatuation. Because of my age and general lack of money, and because my father, who was an otherwise level-headed sane and loving man, was significantly hobbled by a near fanatical adherence to the socially and culturally inhibiting precepts of the Seventh Day Adventist church, it was hard for me to get my hands on Beatle albums. I generally relied on my two older brothers for this.

On Christmas Day of the following year, 1964, Zeke gave me the gift of three albums. I was elated, fully confident that it would be three Beatle albums. He’d asked me what I wanted and I’d told him, very clearly. Instead, however, when I pulled off the gift wrapping, I found only one Beatles’ record — the prior year’s “Something New” — and two other records that rang no bells at all. One was the March 1964 Verve Records release, “Getz/Gilberto,” with Stan Getz on saxophone and João Gilberto on piano and guitar, and featuring an unknown singer by the name of Astrud Gilberto. The other album had just been released that Christmas month, “Getz Au Go Go,” again with João and Astrud.

I was good at pretending, and I feigned excitement over the gift of two albums that left me, other than disappointed, unmoved. At the age of 11 I could be also pretend being graceful, but the profound selfishness part was no pretense. Like I said, 11 years old.

But art is often a trickster. I’m not sure how long it was before I was seduced by the Getz recordings. After listening to the Beatle album to the point of distraction — which was, by the way, quite a bit of time — I gave a listen to the Bossa Nova albums. In love stories, it’s not always easy to remember how long the passage of time is between the initial casual disinterest one feels to the sudden realization that you are lovestruck. In my life there have been a number of other times that started out with draggy introductions that eventually but quickly enough led to the proverbial slip-on-the-banana-peel and falling head-over-heels. This was one of them.

In time and in the culture at large, “The Girl from Ipanema” unfairly entered the pantheon of clichéd muzak, a million covers of it obscuring the novel and truly exquisite rendition by Getz and both Gilbertos. To this day the song remains — for me, and for anyone with a modicum of savvy and musical appreciation — fresh, a recorded exemplar of untainted, restrained and most cool mastery, of subtly unfurled but deeply and cellularly experienced Brazilian, and American, poetry. There are those perfect songs, songs that simply cannot be improved — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” song by Judy Garland; Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” done by Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane; the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and U2’s “With Or Without You” — original recordings which remain forever the standard: pristine, pure, exciting, profoundly moving, inimitable.

Every time I hear “The Girl From Ipanema,” I think wistfully of my brother Zeke.
In trying to put my brother into perspective, I’ve sometimes come to the conclusion that Zeke simply did not like me. Like all such conclusions, it’s badly formulated, not well thought out but rather based on emotion and on the shabby allure of victimhood. How was it, I asked myself, that someone who does not like you can know you so well?

On numerous occasions during my adolescence, Zeke would come to visit us at home, and he would bring me boxes of used books, often of writers and works I did not know, but some whom I would come to like, and other love: Henry Miller’s “The Rosy Crucifixion;” Lawrence Durrell; “The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen” by Herbert Tarr; Norman Mailer; the wonderfully entertaining Playboy science fiction anthologies; The Man from Uncle novels and Ian Fleming, and so on and so forth. This was a very important thing in a household that, like in many religiously fundamental households, monitored books in as far as it might contradict or contravene Biblical scripture, or otherwise compromise morals and church screed.

All of which mystifies me when I think of the abrasive tenor of our usual interactions, Zeke and I. Before we stopped talking to each other, we’d had three serious fistfights. On numerous other occasions he verbally threatened to kick my ass, nearly spitting when he said this, his face red, his voice strained.

No one, I believe, is completely one thing or another. All stories of abuse involve episodes and vignettes that sweetly contradict the toxicity of such ligations. Just read anything by the late great Pat Conroy. Family is a most curious thing. There are other stories I can, and will, tell, as time goes by. Good stories, happy stories, interesting, comical, sad, human.

I no longer believe that my brother hated me. I’m pretty sure that he loved me.

But I’m just as convinced that he did not like me.

Our father taught us, in word and act, that “love” and “like” are two quite different things. You can love someone but not like them. Or you can like someone but not love them. The best, of course, is to be the object of both. But if you cannot have both, to be liked is better. Love is tricky, volatile and complicated and oft times unstable, like potentially dangerous chemicals. Like tends to be unclouded, uncomplicated, easier to access and enjoy, and not only does it let you breathe easier, it forces you take in large gulps of air to keep you from suffocating because of laughing so hard. It helps the élan vital circulate.

And laughter is a very good thing.

After our mom passed away, Zeke and I avoided each other. I heard about him here and there. His story grew like that of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, elusive, episodic, nebulous, slightly fantastic. Quite similar to his outsized real life. He was spotted in Mexico City, or in Coral Gables, Florida, or searching for oil in Peru. I seem to remember reading somewhere that he was aboard the International Space Station for a brief period of time. I often heard about him through my younger brother who was in regular contact with him.

He often shows up in my dreams

And of course, each time I hear “The Girl from Ipanema,” I think of him and that far off Christmas before we began the slow inevitable process of getting caught in prehistoric amber like dragonflies.

Every time.

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