France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

April 10, 2010

Jazz is Paris, Paris is Malcolm McLaren

“I often go to Paris to live yesterday tomorrow
Because Paris is a place of dreams
Françoise Hardy. Tous les garçons et les filles.
Juliette Greco, Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve
And I’m walking with Eric Satie
Along the boulevards of Paris in the springtime.
Un orchestre d’oiseaux every so often breaks
This map of feelings
Drifting through these landscapes of love
Watching strays from Pere Lachaise.”

— “Walking with Satie,” from Malcolm McLaren’s 1997 “Paris.”

“The Velvet Underground meets
The Velvet Gentleman.
Running down the Boulevard Saint-Germain
Happy in the spring sunshine
Into the rue Vermeuil
And the house of Serge Gainsbourg.
On his piano sits a portrait of Sid.
Sid Viscious. I sing to you
For all the things that you do
Because I love you like a girl.”

— Rue Dauphine, from “Paris.”

“Meeting Juliette Greco in bed in the afternoon with Miles Davis
In a cheap hotel in Saint-Germain
Seeing them later in love at the Club Taboo
A ghost of New Orleans.
Juliette dances with Miles’s trumpet
Miles and miles and miles of Miles Davis
echoes around the room
With Juliette sobbing and moaning the verses
A funeral of sublime passion
‘I didn’t know he was black,’ she said.
‘I don’t know why, I just didn’t.
And when I discovered he was black
i just cried and cried.’
Jazz is Paris and Paris is Jazz.”

— “Miles and Miles and Miles of Miles Davis,” from “Paris.”

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that none of the obseques to Malcolm McLaren yesterday on French radio mentioned his landmark ode to Paris — and everything it has represented for romantics around the world for nigh on 200 years — in the concept album of the same name. Thanks to Malcolm, I was already dreaming of Paris for years before I’d ever seen it, having made a nightly ritual of taking my apero in my W. 8th Street Greenwich (Hint to Frenchies: Don’t pronounce the ‘w’) Village flat accompanied by his landscapes of love. But when I first played it for a bunch of French people, at a Thanksgiving dinner shortly after I moved there in 2001, the only reaction I got was from a young intello who called Malcolm’s version of Gainsbourg/Bardot’s “Je t’aime… moi non plus” (with Blanca Li taking the Bardot part) blasphemous. It’s almost as if Parisians resent that a non-Frenchy could have a more profound attachment and appreciation — or at least a more eloquent expression of it — than them, as if by doing so he was usurping their right to interpret it. Consequently, all (all too brief) obits of him yesterday preferred instead to segregate McLaren into foreign territory, that of the punk rock – fashion impresario, for instance.

To me, though, Malcolm McLaren simply followed his passion, and it’s in that fashion that he linked himself to the passionate, those who have found the perfect expression of passion — albeit often melancholy and nostalgic passion — in Paris, or at least the dream of Paris.

Paris’s rich past, and its lingering expression, can pull one like a sort of luxuriant quicksand. When I did my own running down the rue Caulaincourt on the butte (Montmartre) last Spring, I was almost overwhelmed and overcome by that passion, as earlier in the month I’d been subsumed in nostalgic passion for Boris Vian, then the subject of numerous exhibitions and concerts on the 50th anniversary of his death at 39. (Dommage that McLaren didn’t have room for Vian on his tribute, which featured Catherine Deneuve talk-singing, Françoise Hardy singing, Amina in a dance track mixing up audio from a James Bond film, and tributes to Greco and Sonia Rykiel; if Paris is Jazz, Vian was Jazz in Paris.) The ghosts there in Montmartre are particularly strong; in that late afternoon alone I’d run past the demeures of Satie (high up on the butte), Pissarro, Steinlin, Lautrec, finishing by dashing across the bridge over the Montmartre Cemetery which shows up in three of the five films in Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel cycle, and where Truffaut himself was finally interred in 1984, like McLaren a victim of cancer.

But the question for me, still, is whether the romantic power and pull of that past — evoked in the Truffaut films, Pissarro and Lautrec canvasses, Steinlin sculptures, Satie and Greco music, and Deneuve films — can manifest itself in a romantic present. Or is the pull of these emotional landscapes so strong that it’s hard to find their match in present, living reality?

December 4, 2008

Everything but the News is on strike; Europeana, meet Qantara; Catherine Deneuve is in Lebanon; French News workers out of work

For the second consecutive week, France Culture was more or less on strike today. Last week, my morning began — because it starts for the last year with the 7-9 morning program hosted by Ali Badou with a stable of commentators, newscasters, and one or two special guests — with a program with just Badou and commentators but no news. So when the top or bottom of the hour arrived, we were mistreated to bad mix tapes. Or rather ‘tape,’ as the same one played throughout the day. This morning it was the reverse; just news, with Ali and allies AWOL. Why? BECAUSE THEY DON’T GET PAID ENOUGH. That’s right folks. Journalists being laid off all over the planet, independent pubs like our own Dance Insider feeling the knock-off effect, and these guys (because they’re mostly guys), WHO HAVE JOBS where their colleagues are losing or fear losing theirs, go on strike because they’re not getting paid enough. This week in my department of France, the entire 22-person staff of French News, a 21-year-old vigorous English-language monthly whose offices are based in Perigueux, find themselves without work as the publication is going under because of financial difficulties exacerbated by the crisis.  And their confreres are striking because it’s not enough to have secure jobs, they want to be paid more. Oh-lah-lah.

Not wanting to listen to the same old music — literally — again, I switched to France Entiere, and there got some useful cultural news that seems to have — you’ll divine why in a minute — eluded the U.S. cultural gatekeepers’ radar. Apparently Catherine Deneuve took a little trip to Lebanon in 2006, not long after the Israelis bombed large swathes of it to rubble, and rode around with a Lebanese actor and film crew encountering people and, well, bearing witness. The film, Deneuve  acknowledged on France Entiere today, is not expressly political nor engaged, but…how could it not not show Israel in a negative light, from the footage of devastation and from episodes like the one in which we hear aircraft suddenly flying low over-head, prompting the alarmed matinee idol to ask worriedly, “Qu’est que c’est?” When her interloper explains it’s Israeli planes taking photos, she let’s out an almost angry sigh… Hmm, wonder why we haven’t heard more about this film — called, btw, “Je veux voir” or “I want to see” — from the U..S. press? If you happen to be reading this in NY, you can see it at the Museum of Modern Art (whose website refers to the Israeli invasion by the more gentile nomenclature ‘incursion” ((‘Pardon me, Madame, if I incur you by bombing your homes and when you listen to our instructions and try to flee them, your cars with you in them.’)).) I also learned, in another segment, that while Brussels has been bogged down in a 2 million digitial Euro library that doesn’t work, a group of Mediterranean nations, including this one and Algeria, and the afore-devastated Lebanon, coordinated by the Paris-based Institut du Monde Arab, has launched the much simpler — and effective, it actually works! — ‘Qantara’ — whose goal is to demonstrate, through, among other things, images of artifacts you can actually find on its website, the traditions that have united these sometimes disparate-seeming cultures over 2,000 years.

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