Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Piaf! - Édith Piaf
I was in the middle of a different post when I heard about the Paris terrorist attacks. I lost all interest in finishing that post as a result. Music seemed trivial in the wake of such a tragedy. But for me music is also a comfort, so when I got over my initial shock and disgust, I reached for some French records to console myself with the greatness of France and its people. I fell in love with French culture when I was in high school and that has never changed. I first heard Piaf in my high school French class. I have to admit I didn't like her very much at first, but that changed when I got to college and my musical tastes expanded. When it comes to French pop I mostly listen to the music of the 1960s and early 1970s but whenever I feel like hearing traditional chanson-style French music, Piaf is my first choice. I have a bunch of her Capitol LPs all of which are worthwhile but I've opted for this one because I like its cover. The record is a compilation of recordings from the late 1950s. "Et Pourtant" by Michel Emer and Pierre Brasseur and "Marie la Française" by Jacques Larue and Philippe-Gérard date from 1956. "Et Pourtant" describes all the negative outside influences that impede a perfect love. I think it is a little silly but Piaf invests the song with so much feeling that it still works. I particularly like the dramatic piano accompaniment that punctuates the vocal. "Marie la Française" is a portrait of a street walker that is notable for its bleak tone and imagery. Despite the darkness of the lyrics, the music has a jaunty music hall flavor. Next up is a single from 1957, "Les Grognards" by Pierre Delanoë and Hubert Giraud. It is a strange song about the ghosts of soldiers from the time of Napoleon marching down the Champs Elysées demanding attention for their suffering from the revelers out for a good time. The song sounds like a relentless military march and Piaf sings with enormous passion, but it is not my kind of song. I find it a little creepy. A 1958 EP is the source for "Comme Moi" by Claude Delécluse, Marguerite Monnot and Michelle Senlis, "Salle D'Attente" by Monnot and Michel Rivgauche and "La Foule" which was a Spanish song by the Argentine songwriter Angel Cabral translated into French by Rivgauche. "Comme Moi" is about a woman excitedly awaiting the arrival of her lover. The song is tremendously romantic and Piaf croons with palpable yearning, it really gets to me. "Salle D'Attente" is a highly poetic description of a couple breaking up. Despite the unhappy subject of the song, the music is largely upbeat, particularly the punchy piano accompaniment. "La Foule" depicts a woman caught up in a crowd who finds herself thrust into the arms of a man she is wildly attracted to but then the crowd pulls them apart and she can never find him again. I believe it is an allegory about the transcient and unpredictable nature of love. The song was a hit for Piaf in France and I can see why. It has a sweeping waltz-like tune and Piaf sings it with a lot of verve and style. It is my favorite track on the album. Side two opens with "Fais Comme Si" from the soundtrack to the 1959 film "Les Amants de Demain" which starred Piaf. It was written by Monnot and Rivgauche. It is a highly romantic description of unrequited love being fulfilled through imagination. The music is atmospheric and Piaf's vocal is brilliant, it gives me chills. A great song, another one of my favorites on the record. Next up are a pair of songs by Jo Moustaki taken from the 1958 French EP "Édith Piaf chante Jo Moustaki." "Les Orgues de Barbarie" is a nostalgic evocation of the bygone days when lovers stolled the Parisian streets listening to the music of barrel organs. The music is light and rhythmic evoking the feeling of a street entertainer. In "Le Gitan et la Fille" a gypsy makes an impassioned declaration of love full of violent imagery and flamboyant promises. The dramatic music reinforces the crazed feelings of the lyrics and features a Spanish flamenco flavor as well which contributes to its stirring effect. Piaf offers up a richly nuanced vocal that moves fluidly from smouldering emotion to loud outbursts of fury. The album concludes with three more songs from "Les Amants de Demain." The first two were written by Monnot and Henri Contet. The title track describes how the lovers of tomorrow will love freely and completely without the burdens of today. I find the music excessively heavy, particularly the choir that backs up the vocal. "Les Nieges de Finlande" is a wistful song in which Piaf dreams of a fantastic trip around the world based on stories she heard from a sailor. It is a more subdued song that sounds like a lullaby with a restrained vocal from Piaf that I find charming. "Tant Qu'il Y Aura des Jours" is another Monnot/Rivgauche song. It describes how love has not changed through the ages, that lovers continue to say and do what they always have. The accordion driven song evokes the feeling of dance hall or a street performance and ends the record on an upbeat note. Although this music predates my birth, I still relate to it strongly. It evokes my idealized visions of France as well as a romantic view of the world that appeals to me more than the cynicism popular today. Most of all I'm attracted to Piaf's voice, its grainy thickness resonant with experience and emotion, the masterful way she articulates the words and conveys her attitude. Her music transports me and fulfills me. It reminds me of the pleasures and joys of living. When I hear her sing, I know that there is no way a bunch of savages whose highest cultural achievement is blowing up historical treasures and making murder videos can ever defeat a culture that produced someone like Édith Piaf. Vive la France! Recommended to people looking for a reminder of why Paris will always be the City of Light.