25 March 2011

La Nostalgie: Dead Poet Societies

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be,” as Simone Signoret observed in the title of her (wonderful) memoir. What strikes me is how much nostalgia depends on who’s around to feel it.

Brassens: Un copain d’abord
He described himself as “Le pornographe du phonographe, le polisson de la chanson,” but really, his songs aren’t dirty.

For instance, France is now commemorating the 30th anniversary of the death of Georges Brassens, a sly and gifted songwriter about whom I’ll write more, one of these days. We just finished an exhaustive series of tributes to another songwriter, Serge Gainsbourg, who died 20 years ago and who has been the subject of countless “Un an déjà,” “Dix ans déjà” and “Quinze ans déjà” retrospectives. Among the tributes to Brassens is an exhibition at the Cité de la Musique in Paris, co-curated by Joann Sfar, who made last year’s fever-dream biopic, Gainsbourg, vie héroïque.

Gainsbourg: Vingt ans déjà
His songs can get pretty raunchy sometimes.

Poor Charles Trenet had the bad luck to die exactly 10 years after Gainbsbourg, and moreover, he died an old man. Many of his fans were hardly younger than he, and by now they’ve followed him to the Great Beyond, whereas Gainsbourg died young, with an even younger fan base. And so, on the anniversary of Trenet’s death, you didn’t see a single TV report or magazine cover to commemorate him. I’d like to do my part to correct that omission, and I encourage you to follow the links above to other articles I’ve written about him.

Le vieux chantant: Trenet in old age

The other night, I caught a nostalgia-tinted documentary series with an unfortunate title, something like “50 Years That Changed the Way We Live” — as if any half-century would not have meant change. But in looking back at these developments in France, I was surprised to see how many have become part of my life; some of them, I witnessed more or less from the get-go. In the next few entries, I’ll examine these extraordinary phenomena: shopping malls, bank cards, and the legendary Minitel.

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