And so Uruguay are vanquished, and Europe come to dominate; it’s a Holland vs. Spain final, and Jules Rimet is promised a European home for another four years. That’s not how it looked three weeks ago though, or even two weeks ago, when England bumbled, Portugal stumbled, Italy crumbled, and France…..well. What to say about France?
I’m not one for hyperbole, but – with respectful nods to Andrés Escobar – I don’t think any team in the history of the tournament has ever had a worse world cup campaign than France have this year. Coached by a mental invalid, who dumped their greatest player to the bench and didn’t even pick two of their most gifted for the squad, they staggered through an excruciatingly dull opening match with Uruguay before being thoroughly tanked by both Mexico and South Africa – and in the midst of all this, the whole team went on strike after the centre-forward leading their line was sent home for being smart enough to realise his manager was a cock. The whole scenario was among the most embarrassing and shameful things ever witnessed in international football, and it was enough to ensure that not a single member of the French team emerged from the tournament with credit (except, maybe, the ones that didn’t play). As such, I wonder whether any of them deserve a picture here. So here’s a memory of happier times.
France’s history is as storied and prestigious as anybody’s when it comes to art music, back from the Ars Antiqua and Ars Nova of the Notre Dame school in the 1100s, 1200s, and 1300s, up to the electronic experiments of Edgard Varèse and the cutting-edge spectralism of Gérard Grisey, and all points between. Within that time period, one genre of music really stuck to France, becoming the flagship genre its national identity is judged by in the classical world – Impressionism. Originating in Parisian visual art circles – the name comes from a Monet painting – it crossed over to music and was utterly dominated by the French – Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Ernest Fanelli, Paul Dukas, Lili Boulanger, Camille Saint-Saëns, and so on. It’s the first of those names that reigns as the king of Impressionism to this day.
As well as this, France can also lay claim to having composed the best opera ever (or at least my favourite, and as far as I’m concerned that’s the same thing), in the shape of Bizet’s Carmen. I’m not going to post it here, because two pieces of art music would be overkill, but it needs to be acknowledged, because it’s so good the very thought of it gives me a semi.
Aside from the Impressionists, the most iconic representatives of French music were the chanteurs and chanteuses of the middle part of the 20th century. Chanson actually dates back much further than the popular era, and is as at least as old as French art music – think back to the Serbian entry a couple of days ago on this blog and the epic poetry posted there, and you’ll have a vision of what the earliest chanson was like – but it didn’t become an international phenomenon until the rock’n'roll era, where it was the foremost representation of popular music outside the English speaking world. Its commercial peak was Serge Gainsbourg’s massive ’60s hit “Je t’aime…. moi non plus” – a great song but a poor representation, truth be told – but the one true icon of chanson, and of French pop music as a whole, was Edith Piaf. Her seemingly relentlessly tragic life, coupled with her tender, arresting voice, made her a national treasure yet to be surpassed.
And finally, here’s a band I discovered – fittingly for this blog – through another great French footballer known for his tantrums and his spats with the national team. That man is Eric Cantona, and he contributed vocals to La mécanique du cœur, a 2007 albym by art rock band Dionysos. That’s far from the only reason to pay attention to this fascinating band, though; their surrealist sense of humour and literary attention to detail makes them surely the most interesting act currently making music in France. Their singer also published a book alongside the album in question, which is a fantastical Tim Burton-esque concept album based loosely on Pinocchio; there may also be a film in the works.