Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Muse of Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Juliette Gréco: Il n’y a plus d’après

"Juliette Gréco's career was played out against a backdrop of Bohemianism and existentialism in the glittering café society of the post-war years. In the heyday of Paris's buzzing Left Bank, when Sartre and Camus used to sit and discuss philosophy in the Café de Flore, and young French teenagers hung out all night in the wild jazz clubs and cabarets of la rue Dauphine, Gréco rose to fame as the face of France's New Bohemianism."
From her biography at RFImusique.com

She sang songs written by French poets and writers such as Robert Desnos, Raymond Queneau, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jacques Prévert.

Was imprisoned by the Gestapo.

Starred in Jean Cocteau's classic film, Orphée (1950), as well as in films by Jean Renoir, Jean-Pierre Melvile and John Huston.

The song "Il n’y a plus d’après" was written by French singer and poet Guy Béart, father of the actress Emmanuelle Béart.

Juliette fell in love with and almost married Miles Davis when he came to Paris in 1949. She reminisced about their relationship in a Guardian article last year.

"In spite of her international star status, Juliette Gréco would remain true to the political ideals of her early days. Indeed, the singer would seize every opportunity to speak out against oppression and use her fame to defend human rights' causes. One of the most famous instances of Gréco's political outspokenness was when the French star performed a concert in Chili while the country was still under the military dictatorship of General Pinochet. Taking to the stage in Santiago to confront an audience made up of soldiers and top-ranking generals, Gréco would launch into a repertoire of openly anti-military songs. The performance proved to be a complete fiasco and Gréco was practically booed off stage - but the singer was immensely proud of her personal act of resistance."

One of my friends saw Juliette in concert in Rome. Perhaps he will recount the tale.

Her voice encompasses millions of poems.
Jean-Paul Sartre

Juliette Gréco & Miles Davis – Paris, 1949


Jeff said...

Cool stuff. What is that genre called? Do they still do it? I think anyone who's ever read any Ernest Hemingway or Anais Nin wants to live that Montparnasse/Left bank life for a while. Have you spent any time in Paris? How's your French?


cowboyangel said...

The music is generally called Chanson or Chanson Populaire, and the most famous chansonnier was, fo course, Edith Piaf. It's an interesting mix of French folk music, with cabaret and music hall elements, often the accordeon (adapted from the Italians), and almost always with strong emphasis on the lyrics. Jazz was also incorporated by several of the biggest names, beginning with Charles Trenet in the 1930s (who wrote "La Mer," which Bobby Darin popularized over here as "Beyond the Sea") and continuing on through Yves Montand (1940s-80s), Henri Salvador who also incorporates Brazilian music), Greco, and Serge Gainsbourg. Amazingly, Salvador and Greco, who both began in the 1940s, have recently released albums.

Chanson is actually going through a revival right now via the Nouveau Chanson movement, led especially by Benjamin Biolay, who worked with Salvador and Greco on their recent albums and happens to be married to Chiara Mastroiani, the daughter of Marcello Mastroiani and Catherine Deneuve (how about those 2 for ugly parents?) Carla Bruni (video) is another young chansonnier who's work you can find over here. Hers is a tragic story, however - born into one of the wealthiest families in Italy, she moved to Paris as a young girl and wound up becoming one of the top supermodels in the world. If the curse of incredible beauty and wealth wasn't enough to suffer through (choke), she then embarked on a successful career as a singer-songwriter. It tears me up just writing about it.

I've been to Paris once for a week and thoroughly loved it, though I was absolutely broke and had to borrow money just to get to London where my plane was flying out of. Unfortunately, my spoken Fench sucks. I can read some. And I am learning bits and pieces as I watch more and more films and listen to the music. But, alas, I miss a lot of great writing in this music. Jacques Brel, in particular, was an amazing lyricist - I've been able to find some English translations of his work. And sometimes, La Reina and I put our mutually broken French together and, with a dictionary, translate some of our favorite songs.

And I realize writing this, that I need to blog about my 3-years and counting obsession with French music.

cowboyangel said...

In case anyone's interested, I've added a link to my Chanson playlist at finetune.com over on the right-hand side of my blog.

Unfortunately, finetune.com is rather hit and miss when it comes to French music, either not including important people (Greco, Frehel, Damia) or having very limited choices for an artist. The playlist isn't strictly "Chanson" in the end - it's really just French - but it does have work by Piaf, Montand, Brel, Gainsbourg, Salvador, Trenet and some others.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the background, pretty cool.

Btw, Miles is looking very natty in that photograph.

The man was a genius (Bitches Brew), if not somewhat eccentric.

Liam said...

Yes, I remember that concert. But it was in Paris, not Rome, and the year was 1948, when I was living in the Latin Quarter, making a living translating Baudelaire into Romanian for an eccentric Transylvanian count and working on my own Magnum Opus, the history of Wilfred the Hairy, 9th-century Count of Barcelona written in free verse Latin. I went to the concert with my friend Jean Cocteau, and we went out with Juliette afterwards. She and I had a brief but passionate affair, and Miles caught her on the rebound.

Okay, it was in Rome, not in Paris. 1991 or 1992, not in 1948, in a small theatre near the Spanish steps. She was older, but still beautiful and with great presence, dressed, of course, in black.

cowboyangel said...

"Somewhat eccentric." That's a polite way of putting it. I love some of Miles' work, but having read about so many of the jazz musicians, I can't say he's one I've ever really liked as a person or would have wanted to hang out with. Maybe in 1949, in Paris. Reading Juliette's article about their relationship, I wondered what she must have thought of him later on. She says they always remained close, and he was at her house months before he died. She seems so different as a person from how I imagine Miles was by the 1970s and beyond.

cowboyangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cowboyangel said...

Liam, what a lovely story of your time in Paris. You're so cool - Cocteau, Greco, Count Chocula . . . I bet you wrote jazz songs with Boris Vian as well, didn't you? I feel lucky sometimes just to say I've eaten fried cow tit with you.

But, wait, are you telling me that your history of Wilfred the Hairy, 9th-century Count of Barcelona written in free verse Latin doesn't actually exist? That's terribly sad. I had such high hopes.