Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Genevieve's post about the cheery subject of her death put me in mind of so many songs by French (and other European) singer-songwriters of note (cantautore, the Italians call this kind of artist), to me more valuable than a mere vocalists. The European version seems timeless.

Leo Ferré, for example, the perennially balding singer and songwriter whose work went back to the 1930s and whose whose favorite of mine was inspired by the Spanish Civil War, Les Anarchistes (The Anarchists)
Y'en a pas un sur cent et pourtant ils existent
La plupart Espagnols allez savoir pourquoi
Faut croire qu'en Espagne on ne les comprend pas
Les anarchistes


Qu'y'en a pas un sur cent et qu' pourtant ils existent

Et qu'ils se tiennent bien bras dessus bras dessous
Joyeux et c'est pour ça qu'ils sont toujours debout
Les anarchistes

(Barely one in a hundred, yet they exist.
Most Spaniards well know why
they must believe that in Spain they're not understood ...
the Anarchists.

They are barely one in one hundred, yet they exist.
They stand arm in arm
joyfully they are always standing for their views.
The Anarchists.)
Think of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia -- in my opinion the 20th-century's best nonfiction work in the English language -- and the song will immediately make sense.

Or then there's Maxime LeForestier, more of a Boomer contemporary, with a folk sound. I fittingly came across his recollection of childhood called Marie, Pierre et Charlemagne, playing in a music store the day I heard my paternal grandfather, a beloved companion in my early childhood, had died.

My favorite of his is La Rouille (Rust)

L'habitude nous joue des tours :
Nous qui pensions que notre amour
Avait une santé de fer.
Dès que séchera la rosée,
Regarde la rouille posée
Sur la médaille et son revers.


Moi, je la vois comme une déchirure,
Une blessure qui ne guérira pas.
Notre histoire va s'arrêter là.
Ce fut une belle aventure.

(Our habits turn us around:
We who'd thought our love
had the strength of steel.
As soon as the dew dries,
see how rust is posed
on the medal and its reverse.

Me, I see it as a tear,
A wound that will not cure.
Our history will stop there.
It was a beautiful adventure.)
You have to pronounce "adventure" the French way, always stressing the last syllable, adventure, to make the rhyme work.

Then there's my favorite Italian cantautore, Ivano Fossati, who sings about boats and the sea and not feeling like going to war and, sometimes, just about a night in Italy. I discovered him in my grandmother's birth place in Northern Italy, when I went there with my then 11-year-old son. Then one night in Rome I went for a walk and I felt the song resonate
È una notte in Italia che vedi
questo taglio di luna
freddo come una lama qualunque
e grande come la nostra fortuna
la fortuna di vivere adesso
questo tempo sbandato
questa notte che corre
e il futuro che arriva
chissà se ha fiato.

(It's a night in Italy when you see
a slice of moon
cold as a blade
and as large as our good fortune
the chance of living now
in this time that skids
this night that runs
and the future that arrives
goodness knows breathlessly.)
The list would not be complete without Juan Manuel Serrat, the Catalonian cantautor, who sings of everything, of Spain and Moors, of wheat fields and of love. He became famous during the 1960s, daring to push the envelope under the Franco regime.
Uno de mi calle me ha dicho
que tiene un amigo que dice
conocer un tipo
que un día fue feliz.

Y me han dicho que dicen,
que dijo que se tropezó en la calle
con un sueño y se entretuvo,
y desde entonces no estuvo
para nada
ni para nadie.

(Some guy in my street has said
he has a friend who told him
he knew a man
who was one day happy.

And I've been told that they say
that he said he stumbled in the street
with a dream and he reveled in it
and from then on he wasn't in
for anything
or anyone.)
What's really most enthralling about all these musicians is the timelessness of their music and their words. Some use touches of rock, like Serrat, but most do not; Ivano Fossati's music is jazzy, then not.

Many have songs that start out sounding as if they were classical instrumental pieces, then burst into words. Occasionally they've put famous poets into song, notably as Ferré did with Paul Verlaine and Serrat with Antonio Machado.

The only North American near-equivalent is Joni Mitchell, who has played with music as well as lyrics and transcended genre.

They are all modern troubadors, some (like Serrat) under censorship or (like Ferré) against the current, singing of their times, their loves, their people ...


Geneviève said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne said...

My exposure to European output is ver-r-ry limited, the only singer from of old that I've heard lately is Anna Marly & I'm not sure she fits the description. Probably not. "Le Chant des Partisans" gave me pause.
"Indeed, everything coming from Europe is great, even Americans..."

But, Genevieve, I wonder what you think of Streisand receiving the Legion of Honor? After only one concert in France? Is the honor given for *any* reason or given for merit? Do you believe she merits the Honor?

Geneviève said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne said...

I knew Marly was Russian, but not that she lived here. Interesting.

As for "she got it by our new president... who is a fan of Bush and the USA.... I supposed that is a sufficient reason... " hmmmm...