Friday, June 24, 2005

mompoet soundjournal for june

Edith Piaf
1993 (compilation) EMI France

****.5 (out of 5)

Michele and I met in Grade 4 and became good friends in Grade 5 at Sperling Elementary School in Burnaby. We continued through high school together and have been close friends ever since. For a couple of years in the 80s we were alternately confused as twins and/or a couple, but not so much these days. We have studied together, waitressed together, gone camping in the rain and cooked and enjoyed about a gazillion suppers together. We are the inventors of "Squeezer Salad." Ask either of us for the recipe any time.

All this said, Michele and I are pretty much opposite in many ways. This is good, because Michele is one of the few people who willingly challenges me on a regular basis. She's the one who prevented me from quitting teacher training when I was in total despair because of a very difficult school placement. If I remember rightly, she gave me a choice between a kick in the butt if I quit and a bag of peanut M&Ms if I stayed. Thanks in good part to her pushing, I made it through the last weeks of the program.

So when Michele presented me with a challenge for my listening project, I was not surprised. She chose Edith Piaf, and told me it was time that I learned to enjoy music without understanding the words. When I asked her why, she told me:

Because you are smart. You don't need to listen to lyrics. Because you are a poet I felt that you weren't really listening to the music itself. You were listening to the lyrics. Music itself requires its own interpretation separately from the words.

I had difficulty at first, listening to songs sung all in French. I know just enough French words to be tantalized by partial understanding. I guess this is how a two year old feels when the adults around her chatter on and she can pick up only the parts she knows. I struggled to understand, despite my intention to just listen to the music. I listened to the instruments, the voices, the rhythm and the emotion. Finally I clicked in. Edith Piaf sings melodramatically, but with a sense of control and playfulness that beguiled me once I let go and just tried to connect with the feeling. The orchestration is cheesy in many of the songs, but the drama and intensity of the voice is wonderful.

Michele's family is from Quebec, and she tells me that she grew up listening to the Piaf records that her Mom played.

I asked Michele about her musical tastes and what part music plays in her life.

I love classical guitar and I love blues. I tend to enjoy most other music but not with the same interest. I really don't like rap. I was brought up with various types of music around with my Dad being in the jukebox industry. I used to load the machines for my Dad to earn extra cash.

How did she come to love Edith Piaf?

I love Edith Piaf's passion and sincerity. She has learned her skill through the tragedy in her life. She was a very tenacious woman in the face of much adversity. She is my comfort food of music. Plus she was raised by a number of prostitutes in a brothel.

You can read about Edith Piaf's life and music on lots of websites. Here's one.

So what about the music? It is mostly sad and dramatic but also angry, mocking, and brave. My favourite song on this CD, "Rien de Rien" sounds like the singer arguing with herself, and is very saucy and funny even though I don't understand most of the words. Most of the songs are recorded in the 50s. They have a story-telling feel to them, and they're definitely torchy in style. There are violins, accordions and harmonicas. In most of the songs, Piaf sings by herself, but she's accompanied by male singers in a few. Her voice is strong and rough around the edges. When I listen I feel a strong will pushing the sound out, but not emptying herself. There's power, lots of it, in this singing, but also vulnerability, and also the feeling that she knows it, and uses it to good effect. I like it.

I asked Michele what I should listen to next and she says:

Any music without lyrics or not in English. Just enjoy the music.

Okay, I'll do that. I've been listening to Moby and Nirvana this week. I'll put them and their words away and comb the shelves for something without words, or maybe opera...Hey, I have The Magic Flute. There you go. How do you like them apples, Michele?

Thank you, Michele, for throwing me this challenge. I like it, I like it. And have fun in Quebec. Listen to some French comfort food music while you are there!

question: pourquoi pas?

mompoet - translator disengaged

1 comment:

Pearl said...

I recently discovered Edith Piaf as well. It also came to my attention that others were hearing more to music than me who was lyrics surfing over the melodies and instruments. Pure instrumentals has been the start of my route to feeling it.