Dispatch: Paris

Listen to some American music that is rooted in France.


From time to time, The Times will feature dispatches from Islanders around the globe. This week, Nicolas Ruderman writes again from Paris. Ruderman has spent his summers on East Chop since he was born (19 years now). He is Franco-American, and during the school year, lives in Paris. He is a second-year student at l’Ecole W, a media school. He is also a second-year student in acting at the Cours Florent.

It’s the start of a new year, and finally the end of a devastating one. Hopefully we will know brighter days soon. Meanwhile the pandemic continues. In France, restaurants, bars, cafés, theaters, cinemas, and museums remain closed. A rigid curfew means that during the holiday season, I stayed indoors binge-watching TV shows, my fate relying on an algorithm.

Lo and behold, before long, my suggested watch list included “Emily in Paris,” by Darren Star. I was quite amused by the way Americans perceive the French and the French culture. Unsurprisingly, in one of the episodes, a character sings “La Vie en Rose,” which is one of the most well-known French love songs. “La Vie en Rose” was originally performed by Edith Piaf in 1947, and became popular in the U.S. in1950 when jazzman Louis Armstrong performed it in English.

But did you know that other French songs also inspired American artists? Let me share a few.

Shortly before Edith Piaf recorded “La Vie en Rose,” Charles Trenet recorded “La Mer” (1944). The song depicts the beauty of the sea and the seaside. In 1960, the song became a hit in the U.S. when Bobby Darin adapted it. “Beyond the Sea” became a song about a man and his love for a woman waiting for him “beyond the sea.”

“If You Go Away,” released by Frank Sinatra (1966), is none other than Belgian artist Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (1958). Here both songs have the same theme: a man afraid of being abandoned by his loved one.

Another Frank Sinatra hit is “What Now, My Love” (1967), adapted from the song “Et maintenant” by French singer Gilbert Bécaud (1962). The melody of this breakup song hits a crescendo, emphasizing the overcoming of grief, by the end of the song. You may have recognized Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” melody in the background.

“My Way,” also performed by Frank Sinatra (1968), and one of the most famous songs in the world, was originally a French love song. “Comme d’Habitude” was initially released by French artist Claude François (1967). The French meaning of the song is different from the American one. It is about the loss of love and passion due to routine, the fading of love, whereas “My Way” is about a man’s lifelong accomplishments.

On a more contemporary note, hip-hop also owes some of its hits to French songs. For example, “What’s the Difference,” by Dr. Dre (1999), featuring rapper Eminem, samples Charles Aznavour’s song “Parce Que Tu Crois” (1966). Dr. Dre remixed the melody of the song to create his beat.

I find it fascinating that even with different lyrics, sometimes totally different meanings, some melodies are successful on either side of the Atlantic.

In these uncertain times, we can find comfort in simple things, such as singing a song (as suggested by the Carpenters), whether in English, French, or any other language.

Bonne année to all! (To be continued …)