Sunday, 29 November 2015

Mais nous, nous serons morts

A news item from the CBC described our new prime minister Justin Trudeau visiting the Bataclan concert hall where the most people died in the Paris attacks two weeks ago. The visit to the site had been organized by a Québec delegation, and a Franco-Ontarian singer named Véronic Dicaire (who is from Embrun, which is south-east of Ottawa) sang "Quand tous les hommes vivront d'amour".

I first heard the song when I was in a summer French Immersion course in Trois-Rivières. It was sung at several gatherings in a folksy style, but the original recording by its composer Raymond Levesque is in the jazzy and relaxed rhythm of the cafés of Paris, which belies its melancholic message: "When people live in love and peace, life will be beautiful, but you and I will be long gone, bud."

Raymond Levesque, who was born in Montréal, was living in Paris in the 1950s, and wrote this song in response to the war in Algeria in 1956. The lyrics are not totally pessimistic; they suggest that the world of peace and love must have its beginning in us, if only so those enjoying it might remember those who used to live in an atmosphere of hate and war.

Last week, when the official memorial service was held in Paris, another song I had not heard for a long time was featured, and it was also written by someone who lived in Paris, but was not a Frenchman: "Quand on n'a que l'amour" by the Belgian Jacques Brel. I am more familiar with the English version of the song which was featured in the stage musical and movie Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. (He isn't - he died in 1978.) This is from the 1975 film version starring Mort Shuman, Elly Stone and Joe Masiell. The English lyrics are by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman.

If we only have love, we can melt all the guns, and then give the new world to our daughters and sons.

Gotta hold on to the dream.

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