From Charles Trenet, two musical De Gaulle anecdotes

Re the songs, L’âme des poètes and Douce France.

The lyrics to L'âme des poètes on a Narbonne wall.

The lyrics to L'âme des poètes on a Narbonne wall. Image: Kuxu76.

L’âme des poètes/The poets’ soul

Trenet’s 1951 song-about-a-song is a tribute to his friend, the poet Max Jacob, who died en route to Auschwitz in 1944. Long, long, long after the poets have disappeared, their songs still walk the streets. The crowd sings them, slightly absent-mindedly, ignorant of the author’s name, not knowing for whom their hearts beat. Sometimes we change a word, a phrase, and when we run out of ideas, we sing la la la:

Longtemps, longtemps, longtemps
Après que les poètes ont disparu
Leurs chansons courent encore dans les rues
La foule les chante un peu distraite
En ignorant le nom de l’auteur
Sans savoir pour qui battait leur coeur
Parfois on change un mot, une phrase
Et quand on est à court d’idées
On fait la la la la la la
La la la la la la

The anecdote:

In 1965 Charles Trenet is presented to General de Gaulle on the occasion of the annual gala of the Ministry of Justice. The Head of State says to him: “You know, I mentioned you this morning in the Council of Ministers. I said to them, ‘And above all, remember that long, long, long after you have disappeared, your decrees will still walk the streets.'”

1951, with ondioline played by Jean​-​Jacques Perrey:

A later, more lyrical arrangement:

Douce France/Sweet France

The French Wikipedia entry suggests a link between the commonplace taken as the title of this song, issued in 1943, and the 11th century Chanson de Roland, in which Roland dies fighting the Muslims at Roncesvalles,[1]Roland seems to have suffered a cerebral haemorrhage as a result of blowing the elephant horn. I believe this to be the first self-inflicted death by aerophone on record. Joshua’s trumpets at Jericho must have caused considerable loss of life, but afaik there were no recursive (or even friendly fire) casualties. his gaze fixed on Spain but his mind recalling sweet France:

Le comte Roland s’étendit dessous un pin.
Vers l’Espagne, il a tourné son visage.
Bien des choses lui reviennent en mémoire,
Tant de terres que le baron conquit,
La douce France, les hommes de son lignage,
Charlemagne, son seigneur qui l’éleva.
Il ne peut s’empêcher de pleurer et de soupirer.

Mad Beppo: Dear land of my childhood, I have kept you, cradled with tender thoughtlessness, in my heart:

Cher pays de mon enfance
Bercée de tendre insouciance
Je t’ai gardée dans mon cœur

The anecdote:

General de Gaulle visits Quebec, where the band, instead of striking up La Marseillaise, plays Douce France. The General doesn’t bat an eyelid and stands to attention.

I got to know Trenet’s repertoire via an artistic dynasty in Barcelona, which had a well-worn disc of La Mer from the early 1960s:

The clear barrel organ allusions in the arrangement of L’âme des poètes at the beginning of this post thus remind me of grandma, who inter alia created puppets like this Madrilenian dance scene with pianola which is currently in the marionette museum at Tibidabo:

Update 2020

We have an English version:


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  1. I knew I’d truly gone native when, on the flight back from a grueling trip to San Francisco, my iPod played La Jolie Sardane, with its lines about my beloved Cotlliure, and I suddenly had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

    In my defence, I was very, very tired.

    Summer road trips and afternoons on the terrace chez nous are not complete without some Charles Trenet, though I admit I’d never looked into the lyrics for L’âme des poètes. An already beautiful piece, rendered all the more so now.

  2. Ah, Collioure port, with its great pink dick! One of a few towns along that coast that ex-expats miss now rather than as it was at some half-remembered point in the past.

    Tag added for Général de Gaulle. Apparently no one has ever heard of him.

  3. The instrument I didn’t recognise on L’âme des poétes is an ondioline played by Jean​-​Jacques Perrey. Get the album here (via WFMU)

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