19 December 2015

In celebration of Edith Piaf's 100th birthday

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Edith Piaf, who died in 1963 at the too-young age of 48. The best way I know to celebrate her career is by offering two videos of the outstanding movie La Vie en Rose.  The one above is the trailer for the movie, for which Marion Cotillard won every conceivable "best actress" award.

The iconic scene from the movie is in the closing moments, when Piaf/Cotillard delivers the final public performance of her signature song "Non, je ne regrette rien" -

To fully appreciate the personal significance of a song entitled "No, I regret nothing," one needs a little backstory, which is nicely provided by these excerpts from a well-written tribute in The Guardian:
From growing up in a bordello, to spending four years blinded by keratitis in her infancy, to joining her acrobat father on the road in her teens, to shooting up morphine, cortisone and falling into alcoholism to alleviate a dodgy back sustained in a car crash as an adult (precipitating what she described as her “years of hell”), [her life] certainly wasn’t without event.

To paraphrase an old footballing cliche, fashion is temporary, class is permanent. Her brand of torch songs and cabaret showtunes might seem antediluvian to some, but a voice with such power to convey emotion never dates. What’s more, she led a life so bohemian and wild that she makes the Jim Morrison – buried, like her, on Père Lachaise cemetery – look like a calculable conformist who got a bit carried away on his gap year. Avert your ears and Piaf’s life was a punk opera decades before the genre exploded.

After her death, Piaf received the highest honour from the French government when the tricolor flag was draped over her coffin. It was no empty gesture. During the second world war, she toured the unoccupied zone of Vichy France and apparently helped free as many as 300 POWs at the Stalag III-D camp near Berlin, by talking the camp commander into allowing her to be photographed with all the inmates – the photos then used to create false papers for them, crediting them as free French workers in Germany.

In the years since Piaf’s death it’s been commonplace to refer to musicians as “brave” for all sorts of reasons: releasing an unusual album, saying unexpected things in interviews, touring places that are rarely visited, playing gigs while not feeling very well. On the eve of her centenary, it’s worth remembering a musician who really was brave.
"La Vie en Rose" is available from Netflix and should be available as a DVD from your local library.  I highly recommend it.

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