Saturday, February 7, 2015

"He mixed revolt with love and melancholy"

I had never before heard of Léo Ferré, and now I'm disappointed I never got to hear him in person.

He was probably the most notable French singer in the decades from the 50s to the 80s - the era of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Bruce Springsteen - but because he sang in French he was never exposed to American audiences.

Ferré composed and sang about 40 albums, some fun, others languid, many serious. He is described as the archetypal French protest singer - think Pete Seeger with an accent. Some of his stuff was banned by radio stations, at least temporarily.

Here are a few lyrics from his ode to Les Poetes:

Ils mettent des couleurs sur le gris des pavés
Quand ils marchent dessus ils se croient sur la mer
Ils mettent des rubans autour de l´alphabet
Et sortent dans la rue leurs mots pour prendre l´air

They put colors on the grey of the pavement
As they walk it they feel like on the sea.
They wrap ribbons around the alphabet
and walk their words in the street for a stroll.

Here's a link to Ferré singing La mémoire et la mer to give you a sense of just one of his styles and his voice:

Friday evening, they rendered hommage to Ferré with a film of his life (unfortunately for me, no subtitles), followed by a dinner of ragoût de boeuf, couscous, salad, cheese and vin rouge (all locally produced), capped by a concert with a powerfully voiced singer Maax Pissane and talented keyboard accompanist channeling Ferré's songs.

It was an education in French culture and history that you might expect in Paris. We had the pleasure of enjoying it with about 100 people at the intimate little theatre around the corner in Argeles, with the concert in the salle where D-L and I had our commitment ceremony two summers ago.

The more time I spend here, the more I appreciate the authentic spirit of the French soul. 

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