Category Archives: Songs

Comments on songs and lyrics…

Les plus désespérés sont les chants les plus beaux…

This striking and rather dramatic cover was illustrated by Pol Rab who is known for the two cartoon doggies Ric et Rac, later the title of a children’s magazine. According to Hergé they were inspirational to the creation of Tintin’s Snowy (or if you prefer Milou). But one inevitably makes the link with the famous dogs for Black & White Whiskey.

Ri-Rac-Milou

The song Pars gets its full flavour of self-pity and tragedy through Yvonne George‘s rendition. She is known for having lived the bohemian life in Montparnasse in the 20s, and the (often amorous) attention she got from intellectuals and artists such as Robert Desnos, Erik Satie, Henri Jeanson, Jean Cocteau, Maurice de Vlaminck, Kees van Dongen…  At the age of 33 Yvonne George died of tuberculosis in Genua, ravaged by the excesses of alcohol and drugs. Listen and weep!

 Pars sans te retourner
Pars sans te souvenir
Ni mes baisers ni mes étreintes
En ton cœur n’ont laissé d’ empreinte
Je n’ai pas su t’ aimer
Pas su te retenir
Pars sans un mot d’ adieu
Pars, laisse-moi souffrir
Le vent qui t’apporta t’emporte
Et dussé-je en mourir, qu’importe
Pars sans te retourner
Pars sans te souvenir

Portrait of Yvonne George, from a poster by Kees van Dongen
Yvonne George, poster designed by Kees van Dongen

Les plus désespérés sont les chants les plus beaux
Et j’en sais d’immortels qui sont de purs sanglots.

Alfred de Musset

Best are the songs most desperate in their woe —
Immortal ones, which are pure sobs I know.

Alfred de Musset translated by Emma Lazarus

Anarchist squatter helps French composer

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This cover by Roger de Valerio  represents a caricature of the French singer, composer and lyricist Léonce Paco. He created some songs for the Montmartre cabaret ‘La Pie qui Chantebut little else is known about his life. In the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, we found a picture of him being assisted by Georges Cochon and his fédération des locataires. Apparently Léonce Paco was having trouble with his landlord.

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Léonce Paco (without hat) being assisted by sympathisers of Georges Cochon after having trouble with his landlord (1912). [photographie de presse] / [Agence Rol] Bibliothèque numérique Gallica (BNF)
Georges Cochon was an anarchist and maybe the first squatter ever. He was very popular in the years before the First World War when cheap, decent lodgings were hard to find. Georges Cochon founded a tenants union (Syndicat des Locataires) and was, like a kind of Robin Hood, always ready to assist people being evicted by their landlord. According to The New York Times he moved poor (large) families out of their lodgings on which the rent was overdue so quickly that the landlords couldn’t get papers executed to seize the furniture. He then moved them into any other place available. And if he couldn’t find lodgings, he created them in empty houses or buildings.

Georges Cochon in action to defend Parisian tenants
Georges Cochon in action (©R.Violet)

Furthermore, to draw attention to his cause, he was the author of hundreds of playful protests. For example, he and his union erected a shack in the Parisian Jardin des Tuileries. On a banner one could read ‘House with garden donated by the Union of Tenants to a homeless family of 10, chased by their landlord and abandoned by the Public Assistance.’ Thanks to his protests public opinion changed and housing and renting conditions became more human.

Georges Cochon Tuileries - social protest
Georges Cochon’s Syndicate erecting a shack in the Jardin des Tuileries, being interrupted by the police.

Georges Cochon was a welcome subject in the Parisian Cafés Chantants. In our collection Images Musicales we have two songs sympathising with Georges Cochon: ‘Donnez des Logements’ and ‘C’est Cochon !’. The cover of the first song shows his picture and some cartoons of overprized poor lodgings. The cover of the second song illustrates his strategy to move the furniture of tenants with overdue rent on pushcarts, so that their furniture could not be confiscated.  Both are illustrated by the same artist E. Muller. So far we have found no information about this illustrator.

French Petits Formats sheet music covers; songs about Georges Cochon