chanson (n.f.) : song
In spite of my obvious culinary leanings and insatiable appetite (both literal and conversational/conceptual) for all things food – when I think back on Paris, it isn’t the things I tasted that bring back the memories les plus vifs. It is la musique, in fact, that reincarnates Paris for me most vividly. And I’m not simply speaking about a clever air played on an accordéon. There are certain chansons– whether the obsessions of friends, the big “tube” of the moment, or a true classic – that will forever be Parisian, for me.
And so, I bring you (à la suite de my favorite edible aspects of Paris):
Part II : Mes meilleurs…Chansons qui évoquent Paris (Songs that evoke Paris)
1) Le poinçonneur de Lilas (The metro attendant/hole-puncher of Lilas), Serge Gainsbourg (Think : Morning rush hour)
The first time I heard this song was in a cours de français in college. It embodies for me everything that is right about French singer/songwriters. They may not have the best voix (Gainsbourg, in fact, wanted to be an artist, not a musician), they may not be the most beau, but gosh can they tell a story. In both text and music, this song is the métro incarnate. And as a (perhaps over-zealous) fan of the Paris métro – j’adore.
2) Koop Island Blues, Koop (Think : Killing time smoking/strolling by the Seine)
Yes, the music video starts with a glimpse of the Moulin Rouge. And the two men searching for this seeming prostitute in the woods does remind me of the time I took a taxi out to a swanky soirée in the Bois de Boulogne at night – and passed a whole slew of femmes de bonheur en route. But long before I ever saw the music video, I always thought that there’s something about this song – and really anything by Koop (a Swedish group) – that makes me think of Paris. There’s a sort of care-less, rambling, lounge-style to their music that mimics the lifestyle. And when I heard their music playing at several French parties – I realized that my French friends étaient d’accord.
3) Lady, Modjo (Think : Getting ready for the club)
As a rule, I don’t like house music. In fact, je l’ai détesté before I moved to France. But like the first bottle that turns you into a wine-lover, Lady was the first chanson that made me appreciate House. It’s a throw-back for me, from my undergrad study-abroad days. But I remember the first night je l’ai entendu – out dancing with some fashion-designer guy friends. And they could definitely could move.
4) Aerodynamic, Daft Punk (Think : Walking home as the sun rises)
This song is really a Parisian nightlife anthem (or at least was for a time). As perhaps best memorialized in the drunken revelry of L’Auberge Espagnole – it forever reminds me of blurry, care-free dancing and the time entre leaving the bar and crawling into mon lit.
5) La valse à mille temps (The thousand-tempo/time waltz), Jacques Brel
One phrase comes to mind whenever I hear this song. “Ouai, Brel – il est belge – mais ça va.” (Yea, Brel – he’s belgian – but it’s ok). It was a chilly November night in La Butte aux Cailles – and we had stopped for a post-dinner drink in a cozy dive. In no time, everyone was dancing – backyard wedding style – and they really went crazy for this chanson. Waltzing and swaying – de plus en plus vite – it’s the perfect drunken end to a lovely evening. (Much better than Stairway to Heaven, or Pianoman anyway…)
6) Queremos Paz, Gotan Project (Think : Daily life under grey skies and rain)
I don’t know why, but this song was partout in 2009-2010. In every film, every commercial – it seemed the unofficial soundtrack to Parisian life. It thus reminds me of every stereotypical scene from a good Paris movie – taxi rides in the rain, grey-skied ponderings off a wrought-iron balcon – essentially anything that Roman Duris does during the movie Paris (which I love, despite the mixed reviews).
7) Walking on a Dream, Empire of the Sun (Think : The best damn house-party ever)
One thing qui me manque about Paris is the house parties. Living in New York, everyone has very little space, and so we head out to bars instead of congregating in peoples’ homes. My friends were the masters of the house party. We threw not only cremaillères de pendaison, but re-cremaillères and moving-out parties — any excuse to get everyone together for a snack, a drink, and dancing. And while Parisians may think our habit of going out in public in costume for St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween bizarre – they throw fantastic costume parties. Case in point – our “Empire of the Sun” party. So yea, we played this song on repeat.
8 ) J’en ai marre (I’m Fed Up), Alizée (Think : French people do Karaoke)
(It was a toss-up between this one and “Je vais à Rio” by Claude François) – just in case you were starting to think that French people only listen to good music. This gem of a catchy love-it/hate-it tune is representative of the ugly, delightful underbelly of French pop. Oh, Alizée – where to begin? I think perhaps that what I like best about you is the absolute lack of coherent connection between the “peau douce” and “j’en ai marre” sections of the song. I mean, what does your suggestive bain de mousse have to do with your list of complaints? Rien, that’s what. Annnd…instant classic!
9) Buika (Think : Palais Royal under the stars on a balmy spring night)
For this one, it’s not just one song – it’s a concert. Now I’ve gone to my share of concerts in Paris – including an amazing Kurt Elling (my fave) concert at New Morning – but by far, the best concert I ever saw was Buika at the Fête de la Musique in 2010. I immediately went home and bought all her recordings – but they just do not stand up to her live performance.
10) Ne me quitte pas (Don’t leave me), Nina Simone (Think : The days you can’t leave your lit)
The remix of Simone’s Sinnerman was extremely popular when I first lived in Paris – so it was only a matter of time that I came across this lovely cover. Given, I’ve loved this song since the first time I heard the Brel recording – but it was Nina Simone who got me through my première séjour à Paris. Something about her crackly, soulful voice was so fitting for the grey-sky’ed winters – it’s no wonder the French have practically adopted her as their own.
And a few more chansons nécessaires on my Paris playlist?
–Elephant Gun & Bratislava, Beirut (because it brings back memories of many nights drinking Rakia in a Serbian hole-in-the-wall bar)
–Paris s’enflamme (Paris is Burning), Ladyhawke (It’s a perfect pre-party groove, and I heard it -ironically – for the first time during the whole “death of Paris nightlife” debate)
–Rabbit Heart, Florence & the Machine (this was my Basque crew’s anthem)
les plus vifs > the most vibrant, striking
la musique > music
accordéon > accordeon
tube > hit (as in chart-topping hit)
à la suite de > following
cours de français > french class
voix > voice
beau > beautiful/attractive
métro > subway
j’adore > I love (it)
Moulin Rouge > The “Red Windmill”, a famous burlesque club in Paris
soirée > party
Bois de Boulogne > a large park on the western edge of Paris
femmes de bonheur > “women of happiness”, prostitutes
étaient d’accord > were in agreement
je l’ai détesté > I hated it
je l’ai entendu > I heard it
L’Auberge Espagnole > “The Spanish Apartment” A very popular French film starring Romain Duris
entre > between
mon lit > my bed
La Butte aux Cailles > One of the oldest neighborhoods in Paris, in the 13e
de plus en plus vite > faster and faster
partout > everywhere
balcon > balcony
qui me manque > that I miss
cremaillères de pendaison > house-warming parties
re-cremaillères > re-house warming parties
peau douce > soft skin
bain de mousse > bubble bath
Rien > Nothing
Fête de la Musique > An annual music festival in Paris
première séjour à Paris > first time living in Paris
chansons nécessaires > necessary songs