Café Mouffe: Julien Clerc

Many thanks to Alex at augmented illusions for suggesting Julien Clerc for the jukebox at Café Mouffe. “He was and is quite popular in the Netherlands,” Alex says. “I think of all his songs, I like Venise best.”

Alex pointis to an International Herald Tribune profile published in 1999 on the eve of Clerc’s first American tour for an introduction to the chansonnier and his genre:

Julien Clerc is a going, blue-chip French concern on a level with Charles Aznavour, Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. Of the three serious women in his life, the first two were the film stars France Gall and Miou Miou. (He is married now to Virginie, a professional horsewoman.) After giving it careful thought, he describes himself as being “part of the musical memory of my country. I guess I can say that by now. I have come to represent a part of the French consciousness.”

… The chansonnier tradition goes back to the medieval troubadours of the south of France. They are singers of stories, the words come first. It is a solo form. The backing bands are transient hired hands, way back. There is no equivalent, for example, in Bruce Springsteen’s pals, the faithful E Street Band.

Chansonniers sing on top of the beat with a fast, mechanical vibrato. The chanson is not funky and doesn’t swing, though of course swing has more than one incarnation. They are not bluesy (most of the songs are in major keys). Serge Gainsbourg was an exception. Gainsbourg and Clerc were “collaborators and buddies for awhile,” Clerc says.

“He was a mixture of creator, poet, musician and ne’er-do-well. He had the respect of intellectuals and at the same time a large popular audience. But the songs we wrote together do not have the best of his texts or the best of my music. When people who drink are with people who don’t, there comes a time when there is nothing to say.”

American musicians often ask Clerc about Gainsbourg. They are intrigued; there is nothing quite like him in America. Clerc toured with an American band for two years. They were marvelous musicians, but quite different from their French counterparts. Americans tend to be specialists. They zero in on one style — rock, blues, country, folk — and really nail it, often to the exclusion of others.

For his personal use, he prefers the French. The way Clerc sees it, he comes from an unusual collection of spaces, and French musicians are better able to fill them all. Being part of a minority culture, they learn wider vocabularies in order to survive in the international market. His influences include Gallic, Caribbean, Mediterranean (he calls it “tropicalism”), South American and classical music; in addition to what’s on the airwaves everywhere.

Encore: This Melody is another song from the same 1976 live performance on Veronica Television. Ah, we all had more hair then!

Café Mouffe has slipped into an irregular schedule for summer. Look for it on Friday afternoons or some enchanted evening. Please drop by for a listen and a chat. Sometimes the embedded videos don’t work here due to bandwidth constraints, but you’ll always find links to video sources in the notes. Try them. If you’re curious about the Mouffe, here’s the original idea behind it’s creation.

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