After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

French Appeal

(Charles Aznavour made a stop in Buenos Aires on his farewell tour the weekend before I returned from L.A. If I had been in town last week nothing would have stopped me from going to the Teatro Gran Rex on May 3 or 4, and possibly both. I've been an Aznavour fan since the 60's when he first played in Los Angeles, and I saw every personal appearance he made there since, until I moved away. And now he was here and I was there! The following is an excerpt from my unpublished book, The Church of Tango. Please be so kind as to indulge me.)

Sex appeal is fifty percent what you've got and fifty percent what people think you've got.
--Sophia Loren

In UCLA’s weekly Conversational French, Professeur Raymond assigned oral exposés on any topic. Students talked about French politics, their past global travels, their own hometowns, the French Resistance in World War II. One woman made a large chart to present tous les hommes de ma vie, all the men in her life.

For my presentation I brought a cassette player and photocopies of Jacques Brel’s song, Mon Enfance. After explaining a little about Brel’s life and art, I talked about the meaning of the poetry of his work and then read aloud his lyric/poem about growing up in Belgium, feeling alien in a world that did not understand him, waiting to get on the train that never comes. When I played the tape of Brel singing his autobiographical song, the class sat silent, stunned after the final arpeggio.

“Do you know about Charles Aznavour? Have you heard his recordings? If you’re familiar with Brel and Montand, now you must also know Aznavour. He wrote songs for Piaf and Juliette Greco, and is the most famous chansonnier of France,” Raymond told the class.

“Is he as good as Brel? No one can possibly be.” When I liked someone, I really liked them. And Brel was my current music crush.

“Yes, he’s good, but different. Neither is ethnically French—Brel was Belgian, Aznavour is Armenian—but they became quintessential French popular singers and songwriters. Tiens, I think he’ll be in town next week on tour. You should go. In fact, the whole class should go!”

And go we did to Charles Aznavour’s concert at the Doolittle Theater on Vine Street in Hollywood. Raymond got the class a block of seats in the sixth row and we had a field trip. When the orchestra began a jazzy tune with lots of brass, the curtain went up on the empty stage, and a very small dark man in a brown suit and narrow tie strode out from the wings.

Laisse--moi guider tes pas dans l’existence, Laisse-moi la chance de me faire aimer… Le Temps, le temps, le temps et rien d’autre..

I was mesmerized. This man was short, old—more than twenty years my senior—balding and homely, yet he was so sexy. He sang with purpose and energy about all aspects of romantic love: young love, old love, married love, suffering love, the beginning of love, the ending of love. He sang like he really understood what love was all about. What could a woman find more appealing than that?

His small body was graceful and his large hands expressive. The vibrato in his voice caused me to imagine all kinds of things. I was certain he was a magnificent lover. Suddenly I was so hot, I was sweating hard and took off my blazer in the air conditioned hall.

La Boheme was a crowd favorite I could tell, as the applause started with the first notes of the waltz from the piano. He sang of nostalgia in looking back on Bohemian artist days in Paris when the singer and his beauteous nude model were poor, in love, and foolish but happy, because they were young. At the end of the song, the orchestra played faster and Aznavour pantomimed an artist painting at his easel, wiping his pretend brush with his real white handkerchief. The violins tore on with a passion, then the music stopped, the handkerchief was thrown to the floor—and then the lights went out. Not a heart-beat later three women climbed on stage and fought over the scrap of white fabric.

“That always happens,” Raymond whispered to me. “They wait for it at each performance.”

I had never wanted Elvis’ silk scarf, but now I wanted Aznavour’s handkerchief. I wondered if it smelled of cologne, if he deliberately scented it in his dressing room before tucking it into his jacket pocket, thinking of the woman who would later take it home to put under her pillow.

As I drove home down Hollywood Boulevard, I reflected on the show, marveling how someone not very physically attractive could be so appealing. After all, Brel, too, was almost ugly, physically. What perfect examples of how beauty and sex appeal come from within. Or maybe being French didn’t hurt.

I didn't know then that all of this was oh so tango! I hope he'll make another farewell appearance soon in Buenos Aires.


La Tanguerita said...

There has been an Aznavour’s cult in my family as long as I can remember:-) I guess it was partly because of my family’s origins (my father is Armenian) that I grew up listening to his songs. But later on I learnt to love them for their own sake. And though Aznavour is almost thrice my age I still find him and his voice unbelievable. In short: I’d be fighting for this handkerchief too. :-)

tangobaby said...

That is so cool. I love hearing how you described Aznavour and his music. I totally understand what you mean. I feel that way when I hear some of his songs, too. And also Charles Trenet.


PS. Great Sophia Loren quote. I am going to have to remember that one!