I like telling stories. Fiction is always fun, but I seem to tell best what I have seen with my own eyes. Stories then become autobiographical to some degree, and as always when using the word “I”, arises the fear I might sound like someone trying to tell others about a dream they had: nobody really listens and heads just nod, unless the dream happens to be particularly gruesome or completely nuts…
Le grand Pagnol once said he found it easer to write a book than to write for theater, both of which he did masterfully. When writing for stage, he explained, an author tears his guts out and and gives all he has, and then peeks from backstage while the actors serve his dish to an audience in real time, wishing for a catharsis but readying for the worse. Writing a book or article, on the other hand, requires the same initial commitment but then, when the book is printed or the blog published, the author can retreat to the safety of not being there, of not knowing. He can choose to discard the bad reviews and focus on the praise. He needs not stay when tomatoes fly. Like a tree sending its pollen adrift, he can just hope that his writing will grow a forest rather than end up in someone’s eye and make them swear. (This is a loose adaptation of his original comment in French, the tree being mine.)
I can’t write plays, and I consider Marcel Pagnol a god when it comes to prose. But I still like to tell stories, even if I am only talking to myself. And I often do.
Trying to sum up my life up to this point in preparation for a big celebration next year, kinda putting Part One behind and stepping into Part Two, equal parts as I intend to make them, I have been looking for cues, for highlights and for rhythms. It turns out rhythms are always there and each season of a lifelong cycle is forever marked with the melodies of our moods and emotions.
Whether we admit it or not, we are musical creatures. Every step of the way, every inch of our crawl, for each little victory won and all major defeats, there was a soundtrack. Think about it, what were you listening to when [fill in the blanks]?
So as a distraction, I came up with a music timeline, a hit-parade of selfish introspective analysis, summarized into a few unavoidable headlines. Here they are, in case you like music too:
Late 1960’s, South of France – The first sounds I remember came from an AM/FM radio the size of two cigarette packs, dressed in a old leather carrying case with wholes for the speaker and dial. Its antenna extended about a foot, I’m pretty sure that we, as a family, listened to the broadcast of the Apollo moon landing huddled around that radio. I would have been five.
1970’s, Côte d’Azur – The family record player typically played a lot of classical music. There were loud cannons in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and a soft canon by Pachelbel. Before dinner, brilliant trumpets sounded in De Lalande’s Symphonie pour les soupers du Roi, and later the Spanish guitars of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez closed the evening. There was a wonderful Little Night Music written for us by no other than Mozart at bed time. Then many Seasons passed but Vivaldi remained.
Then many seasons passed but Vivaldi remainedThe record player also spun French the classics of Brassens and Brel, oddities like national anthems, the Russian Army Choir, Tahitian and Jewish music as well as oldies like Pat Boones’ Speedy Gonzalez, Herman’s Hermits’ Silhouettes or the Shadows’ Apache. There were memorable soundtracks I still whistle such as Never on Sunday, Cría Cuervos and Le Rapace, and above them all, the eternal musical scores of the great Ennio Morricone.
In elementary school, I remember a kid my age mentioning Pink Floyd and Genesis, stating that listening to these bands was like being on clouds, a phrase he had no doubt picked up from adults around him as we were only in 6th or 7th grade. He was the luckiest kid around as his parents had just bought him a moped, a red Ciao which he drove in an infernal pétarade with his feet up on the center bar, silly pedals being for cyclists as any moped driver would have told you.
Once we had moved from Antibes to Aix, my own small portable FM radio carried the sounds of the first pop I ever paid attention to, Plastic Bertrand, Trinita, Boney M. Then I took the radio apart to rig a better external speaker scavenged from some broken thing, and was fascinated by the electronics inside. So when I realized people were using electronics to actually make music, I was hooked.
Circa 1976 – I purchased my first LP records with pocket money: Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygen and Equinoxe, and Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity after a friend of my parents’, Jean Guillermet, made us listen to it. He had just bought a 125 CC motorcycle and I lusted for it secretly. Little did I know that I would one day own a 900 CC Kawasaki.
I discovered Tangerine Dream, the Alan Parson’s project, adopted U2, signed up for Meat Loaf, got rid of Tomita1978 – Across an ocean: Michel Fugain et le Big Bazar, a French musical showman and his band, accompanied the move from France to Canada. It is with great embarrassment that I admit settling in Beloeil, QC and into the songs of ABBA, simultaneously. But having at last purchased a decent stereo, I also started listening to CHOM-FM’s rock and to my sister’s music. She was much ahead of me in terms of musical tastes and knowledge. She brought Supertramp, Simon and Garfunkel, Murray Head and the mighty Pink Floyd into the house during those high-school years.
1981 to 1984, College and flight school – I discovered Tangerine Dream, the Alan Parson’s project, adopted U2, signed up for Meat Loaf, got rid of Tomita. Metal tape cassettes were the hottest thing around. My friend Jean-Luc, a few rooms away, would blast disco and pop music with much more treble than base, and I owe him Spandau Ballet, The The and the Human League. He now flies for Air Transat as Captain. Alain, two doors down the other way, is now based in Dubai, an A380 Captain for Emirates after flying CF-18’s in the Canadian Air Force. Funny how life tosses us around like dust in the wind.
Late 1980’s, Montréal – Going though a pitch black period, I started hanging out on the lower level of a nightclub called Thunderdome, and later at Mars where the defunct Garage had been. Alternative music took over my heartbeat. I wore black clothes, a short pony tail and lived at night. I discovered the Sisters of Mercy. I love them to this very day. The band members have actually changed quite a bit throughout the years, the only steady figures being lead singer Andrew Eldritch and Doktor Avalanche, the drum machine. Back when I lived in beautiful Vancouver a few years ago, I once went to see the modern version of the band. Other than that, I quote them rather, well, often. Temple of Love remains my all time favorite running song and literally gets my feet itching. The Cure, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Bronski Beat were mainstream sounds. The Sisters, Bauhaus, the Joy Division were a little further off the beaten path.
1990’s, Under the tropics – My diving years were surprisingly empty of new music. I still enjoyed all the alternative repertoire, as well as REM’s new albums, Midnight Oil and Crowded House, especially after landing briefly on aussie soil. Club Med resorts played a lot of silly music but I vividly remember the grandiose crescendo of Jarre’s Rendez-Vous on the upper decks of CM1 and CM2 when sailing out of Old San Juan, or into Halong Bay.
Rastas danced slowly to the languorous beat of reggae, machetes hanging from their belt and eyes half-closed, talking to JahI took a great liking to Bob Marley, but reggae can only truly be enjoyed in the Caribbean, on location, immersed. There was a small nightclub to which we would go late at night from the St Lucia Club Med compound, jumping the fence to avoid reporting at the gate. The joint was filled with smoke, the crowd mostly male, exclusively local, systematically high. Rastas danced slowly to the languorous beat of reggae, machetes hanging from their belt and eyes half-closed, talking to Jah.
1998 to 2005, Little Cayman – My alternative inclination drifted mysteriously into a more goth-industrial style and the music CD I recorded for my Utah photo and paragliding solo road-trip featured Rammstein, Nigthwish, Within Temptation and Lacrimosa. I didn’t understand Rammstein’s lyrics, and didn’t really want to. Their music was rough, loud and aggressive, but very catchy, and sounded great while driving through the Four Corners’ heat, all windows down and nobody around. Muse was appearing to balance things out. Frenchies were also making a come back in my ears, Bernard Lavilliers, Mylène farmer, Zazie, Indochine, and I was enjoying, many years after the lights had gone out, the sounds of Brel, Aznavour and Peyrac.
Present – And here is the strange thing: my new music consumption has died off. Nothing I hear tickles me. Yeah Cold Play is cool, but my playlists are on random, and repeat. Muse plays a lot, as well as a handful of others, and the many classics. But I think I would now rather listen to the sounds of nature – a rainfall’s echo on a tin roof, the wind in tall poplars, birds chirping their hearts out at dawn – than to the beat of a drum and the wittiest of lyrics.
And photography, it seems, has become my introspection tool. I used to recall places, people and feelings when hearing a particular song. It still happens, sometimes. But more and more, it is the magical assembly of tones and textures, its formulas as complex as those of the Ride of the Valkyries, that triggers memories and carries me through time and space, instantly, to where I once stood and left a little bit of me, in exchange for a fistful of pixels.
“If people in America buy the album, we’ll play in America.
If not… well, we’ll fly over America on our way somewhere else.”
Attributed to Andrew Eldritch – The Sisters of Mercy