Sunday 22 March 2015

Douce France

Friday 20/Mar/15 was International Day of Happiness.  Who decides these things?  What are they thinking?  Can't I just be happy on my own, without having to sign some daft petition protesting the fact that, today, I am happy, and being happy along with a billion Indians. I was too busy on Friday to pay any heed, without indeed being aware that it was IDoH, but I was pretty happy anyway.  I cut away from work early and as I drove home in the late afternoon I heard two chaps on the radio discussing a list of Officially Happy songs with the imprimatur of Ban Ki Moon, Sec. Gen. of the UN.  You may be sure that a random farmer in Andhra Pradesh would pick something other than Three Little Birds, by Bob Marley and the Wailers, no matter how popular that might be in Jamaica.

I did think briefly about what kind of a list I'd put together for Happy Songs but realised quickly that it would be personal to me - songs that were associated in my 'mind' with happy events. It could be something as indirect as the song that was playing on the wireless when I heard that I'd got the job in The Institute.  But I'll use this as an opportunity to trib Charles Trenet, who was born in 1913 and lived into the following century.  Unless you're French and older than 50, it's quite possible that you've never heard of him, but he was huge in the 1930s and 40s as Le Fou Chantant, the Singing Loon.  It's less likely that you've never heard him. He wrote all his own songs, of which there were hundreds and wasn't adverse to other people giving them a lash as well.

His most famous song in the Anglophone world is possibly La Mer, which has featured in several films including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  It was blown up out of all proportion to wrap up the infinitely annoying Mr Bean's Holiday.  Despite now being associated in my mind with Mr Bean, I really like that song, it gives a lift to the spirit that can be mistaken for happiness. And my French isn't good enough to follow all the words. Then there is Boum, which RTE played early on St Patrick's Day for no particular reason, and that put me in a good mood for day.  Apparently it featured in the Bond movie Skyfall, which I haven't seen.

I'm also rather fond of Douce France both the song, which was composed in 1943 in the midst of German occupation, and the country.  The song has become an alternative to the Marseillaise in some quarters for its nostalgic evocation of traditional rural France.  Not everyone likes the blood-thirsty lyrics of La Revolution.  Follow your Trenet-nose through youtube, you'll be happier for it.  The occupation was a difficult time for France and its inhabitants: it was easy to put a food wrong in the delicate pas-de-deux between feeding your children and collaborating. With 20/20 revisionist hindsight it was particularly easy to point the finger at people who had survived and make them culpable for not dying pour la gloire de la France.  Trenet came in for his share of that, because he demonstrably continued to work on the stage during the early 1940s and German soldiers were undoubtedly in the audience at the time.  He was accused of anti-semitism because he complained too loudly about being labelled as Jewish.  He was also grassed up by Maurice "Sank 'eaven for liddle girls" Chevalier, whose stage career also continued in Paris throughout the war, for being a homosexual.  But it wasn't until the 1960s that Trenet was actually convicted of 'corrupting the morals".

Trenet experienced a revival in the 1980s when the French government got frightened by the cultural imperialism of  America and the English language. They instituted quotas on the wireless to ensure that at least some French lyrics got airplay.  Trenet, having written more than 1,000 different songs was inevitably on the wireless a lot because there was only so much Charles Aznavour the public can take; and if you listen to Birkin and Gainsbourg coming and going between their kidneys more than once a week you'll either overheat or leak.

But let's finish on an upbeat note with  y'a d'la joie.

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