The 14-year-old boy’s face is pixelated, draped in shadow. He holds a
guitar. His hair is shaggy, his eyes dark. A nylon six-string hangs in
the background, next to some bookshelves. His YouTube username is
Yoñlu, and this is his only video.
He picks softly at an acoustic guitar and sings mournfully,
covering John Frusciante’s “Cut Myself Out.” The song ends with a moan
that ascends into a wail, and then the boy reaches forward to switch
the camera off. His song choice might be plumbed for clues as to his
condition, had he not spelled it out so literally everywhere else.
“Quick, someone say something really nice about my songs before I
decide to KILL MYSELF,” he posted in the Rllmuk gaming forum under the
heading, “Thread in which Yonlu posts some of his songs, And no one
cares,” seeming—through the flattening tubes of the Internet—like just
another melodramatic teen.
The songs themselves were naked, surreal confessionals. “I know
what it’s like to be left out when all your friends try the hip, new
suicide thing,” he sang on “I Know What It’s Like,” a melancholy tune
with a sweet, Beatles-style bridge. He described the song as his most
“listener-friendly outing.” Another song, “Suicide,” found later, looks
back on “the time I had a future I could see.”
Unlike his heroes, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, the boy born
Vinìcius Gageiro Marques didn’t need a repressive government to force
him into exile, sing in English or record
music of perfect dislocation. He didn’t need to leave his country. He
didn’t even need to leave his house. He just needed to change his name.
He called himself Yoñlu, a name with a derivation he kept secret from
both friends and family.
“I suppose it could be said that in this way he kept his music
separate from his life outside of the Internet,” says British animation
student Sam Miller of the musician he knew as Yoñlu, introduced via
instant message by a mutual friend through a Radiohead forum. Miller’s
new trans-Atlantic friend played him songs filled with clean bossa-nova
rhythms and a wry sadness born equally of Veloso and Thom Yorke. The
tunes remained resolutely Brazilian while reaching far outside Marques’
As Yoñlu, Marques found a home for himself online, entering into a
cultural dialogue with friends around the world. With British 8-bit
musician Sabrepulse, he created a beat-happy collage of desk-jet
printers; he engaged in photo projects with friends in Japan and
Thailand; he traded mixes, talked video games, posted drawings and
shared his music. He even wrote an Amazon review of bossa-nova great
João Gilberto’s album João Voz e Violão: “I’ve taken a discovery dive
into the wonderworld of Brazilian music, which was mostly unbeknowst
[sic] to me, even being Brazilian myself.” He recorded enough material
of his own to make an album, A Society in Which no Tear is Shed is
Inconceivably Mediocre, which was released in April by Luaka Bop.
But just as the Internet enabled his musical growth, it also became
an echo chamber for his despair. Marques—in therapy since age nine for
what his father calls “a chemical imbalance”—also became a member of a
forum dedicated to suicide and depression. Following the instruction
and encouragement of message-board members, whom he kept updated until
the end, Marques left a letter for his parents, posted to his blog,
locked himself in his bathroom and asphyxiated himself with carbon
monoxide. It was July 26, 2006, one month before his 17th birthday.
Marques was born in Porto Alegre (described by the Carnaval travel site
as, “an important convergence zone for left-wing parties and their
ideas”), the lone child of Luiz Marques and Ana Maria Gageiro. He
was—according to his father, the former Secretary of Culture of the
state of Rio Grande do Sul—a “young cosmopolitan.” “He learned to read in French,” Luiz says. “He learned English
listening to music and watching American movies without subtitles,
without ever having any formal training. He also spoke Welsh and read
“Vinícius was a boy who appeared to be normal, witty, irreverent, critical and extremely intelligent,” says Ana Cristina, his
high-school literature teacher. “Sometimes, like any teenager, [he] was
a little introspective.” Though encouraged by his teachers, who let him perform in class,
Marques kept his songwriting from his parents, who discovered a CD-R
after his death, much of it now comprising the Luaka Bop release. “When
he sang to us, say, at the beach in the summer, he never played his own
songs,” his father says. Instead, Marques focused on a small bossa-nova
In any other decade, one imagines, Marques would have made zines,
cassettes, Polaroids or something else tangible to communicate what was
inside him. But as a child of the 21st century, Yoñlu shared his life
online. Peering into the Internet’s ghostly corridors, his
introspection reverberated into an entire world, separate and unequal. “I can’t think of anything we didn’t discuss to be honest,” says
Miller, who—under the screenname FargalEX—bonded daily with Marques via
IM and occasional audio chats.
“One thing that got him down was a relationship he had with a girl,
Luana, who he wrote a song for,” Miller says. “But I don’t think that
was the sole factor behind the depression. I think he hated himself for
being unable to be ‘himself’ in front of other people. Apparently, he
behaved differently in front of his friends. I was never completely
clear on why he would want to kill himself, though. I always thought he
was too smart to go through with it.”
A Society bears out Marques’ uncanny musical intelligence. It’s an
album full of doorways: Each song opens to the million places that
Yoñlu—a perfectly placed 21st-century omnivore—might have gone, had he
not taken his own life. Now, instead of becoming known as a Brazilian
original, he’s all-too-easily compared with the tormented British
singer/songwriter Nick Drake, who also died too young to see his music
connect with an audience.
On Marques’ profile page on the Photo Forum, a site he posted to
only once, Marques provided his email address and IM handles, and wrote
the following sentence: “He who is born poor and ugly has great
possibilities of developing both features when he grows up.” It’s
unclear exactly what Marques meant, since he was neither poor nor ugly.
Perhaps he was sowing the seeds of Yoñlu, a character he was playing,
before it became clear that he wasn’t playing at all.
In the final equation, it’s hard not to see Yoñlu as a construct of
the Internet, separate from Marques, alone in his room. His music
multiplied by CDs and MP3s and magazine articles, Yoñlu still wanders
the wires and the world. But Marques is unreachable, the exile complete.