Working? Music. Resting? Music. Driving? Music. Traveling? Music. In Taiwan, pining for my wife who is a world away? Music. I like to have music on. When music is so well crafted that it resonates with me, it brings tears to my eyes. And if the lyrics on top of the music are evoking tearful emotions, I’m even more likely to tear up. And if the emotions evoked by the music are those that I’m already feeling, watch out.
The musicians, the singers, the lyricists I like: they are for me the stars in a musical firmament. The north star in my firmament went out last week.
France Gall died.
In my firmament no genres are excluded. Oh, I have preferences, which change with time. For instance, I no longer seek heavy metal music like I once did. I still appreciate how well crafted a heavy metal song can be. It’s just that I don’t usually feel like listening to that genre, anymore. So yeah, I have preferences, but if I let my player shuffle music for me out of the ones I thumbed up, hello genre-whiplash! Some electroswing, some country, a Sanskrit poem, a novelty song, a classical piece, some bosa nova, some plain old swing, rock and roll, … Billie Holiday followed by Deadmau5? Why the hell not?
I’m not faithful to any artist. Musical appeal for me comes from the individual songs rather than from the artists themselves. In the vast majority of cases, I love only a few of an artist’s songs, and I am indifferent towards the rest, or downright detest it. It is rare that I’m going to just like everything an artist does. Like genres, though, some artists resonate with me more than others. There are those few artists whose work I usually like. Instead of selecting from their opus the few things I like, I eliminate those few songs of theirs that I don’t like.
France Gall and Michel Berger are in that latter group. In the case of France, there’s a demarcation line between what she sang before and after she met Michel. I hate most of what she sang before Michel started writing for her, and love most of what she sang after he started writing for her. What a gift it was that France and Michel found each other! What music came out of their union! What love!
That mention of Taiwan at the top? Yeah, that was not random. France and Michel were with me for my stint in Taiwan. Before Taiwan, I knew France but not Michel. I became aware of her from listening to “Ella, elle l’a” and “Papillon de nuit”. I loved those songs when they were released and playing regularly on the radio and TV but I did not seek more from France at the time. I don’t know why I did not seek her albums, really. I cannot find any good reason. I also knew “Sacré Charlemagne” from my childhood but I could not have told you that France was the one singing that. In the early 2000s, I came across other songs of hers, and my interest grew. It is in Taiwan though that France and Michel moved to the center of my musical firmament. It is there that I figured out that her songs were written by Michel, and sought his music in addition to hers.
If you like music, you certainly know the difference between hearing a song and listening to it. (Heck, if you’ve lived for a while, you know the difference between hearing and listening, in general. Hearing your significant other versus listening to them? Major difference, which you ignore at your own peril.) There’s one song that really highlighted the difference for me: “Rhythm for You” by Eddy Christiani. I heard it quite a lot, at first. Then, one day, I put everything down and I finally just… listened… to… the… GODDAM… SONG! Magic! I looked at that gem for years without seeing that it was a gem. What a moron I was! (Incidentally, Eddy died last November. Another star gone.) I guess it is like when one day you really look at someone you’ve known for years and finally you really SEE that person, and fall in love. So yeah, there are songs I hear and hear and hear, and I like them, but one day I finally BLOODY LISTEN, and I fall in love. It is in Taiwan that I fell in love with France’s and Michel’s songs. I missed my wife, and I listened to their songs, especially the love songs. France, Michel and I were all pining, together, for my wife. France, Michel and I also celebrated the birth of my first granddaughter, Olivia. Michel had written a beautiful song, “Mandoline”, which was perfect for the occasion. Okay. France and Michel were not physically there, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it. So there…
I talked about France as the north star earlier but really, if you haven’t guessed already, she’s one of a binary system: France and Michel rotating around one another. Michel died in 1992, before I even knew of him. The binary system at the center of my firmament had been a single point of light from the start. Now France is gone, and the brightest start my musical firmament has gone dark. The binary system is no longer visible.
There are other stars in the firmament, yes. And I can still enjoy the incredible gifts that France and Michel gave all of us. In one interview I listened to, France was talking about the premature deaths of Michel and of their daughter Pauline. She said she was so lucky and grateful to have had them in her life at all. Taking a page from France’s book, I’m grateful that her songs and Michel’s were in my life at all.