Yeah, I've been thinking about rock and roll, and listening to it a lot lately, but I've also been grooving on a collection of chansons douces by Henri Salvador, so it's no surprise that I woke up this morning with his magnificent "Syracuse" stuck in my head. To be honest, this dreamy travelogue has been stuck in my head from the moment I first heard it, several years ago.
Salvador is an international artist who's sadly unknown in the U.S. (Surprise!) He started performing in the 1930s and just released his new album, Révérence, a few months ago, which was given 4 stars in The Guardian, and includes performances with Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
The man is 90 years old. And his voice is still incredible!
His version of the French chanson style has included elements of jazz and Brazilian music, and his own career has been long, varied, and fascinating. He played with Django Reinhardt back in the 1930s; won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque de l'Académie Charles Cros in 1949; wrote over 400 songs with Boris Vian in the 1950s, the two of them basically introducing the French to rock and roll; had several "novelty song" hits; performed on the Ed Sullivan show here and had his own popular television show in France; did a series of children's albums in in the 1970s; and recorded with Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, and most recently, with Rosa Passos, on her highly regarded - and sexy (lovers, take note) - album, Amorosa.
So how do such impressive people like this vanish on the radar in the U.S.?
Unfortunately, the sound quality of this YouTube version of "Syracuse" doesn't convey the amazing production values on the original recording. The sound on my CD is so lush and open that you feel like you could just let go and fall back into it, be carried away on a cloud-pillow to the Gardens of Babylon.
Here's my quick translation of the lyrics - take them with a grain of salt; my French is nominal.
Words: Bernard Dimey. Musique: Henri Salvador. 1962
I would love so much to see Syracuse,
Easter Island and Kairouan,
And the large birds which amuse themselves
gliding on their wings on the wind.
See the gardens of Babylon
And the palace of the grand Lama,
To dream of the lovers of Verona
At the summit of Fuji-Yama.
See the country on a calm morning
Go fishing with the cormorant
And drinking palm wine
While listening to the wind sing.
Before my youth is worn out
And my springtimes have departed
I would love to see Syracuse
So I could remember it in Paris.
J'aimerais tant voir Syracuse
L'île de Pâques et Kairouan
Et les grands oiseaux qui s'amusent
A glisser l'aile sous le vent.
Voir les jardins de Babylone
Et le palais du grand Lama
Rêver des amants de Vérone
Au sommet du Fuji-Yama.
Voir le pays du matin calme
Aller pêcher au cormoran
Et m'enivrer de vin de palme
En écoutant chanter le vent.
Avant que ma jeunesse s'use
Et que mes printemps soient partis
J'aimerais tant voir Syracuse
Pour m'en souvenir à Paris.
UPDATE: Just found a recent live version of "Syracuse." The arrangment is a little schmaltzy (it's some big telelvision special), but Salvador's voice is still great, and the sound quality is much better. Miss the awesome finger snapping in the original, though.