SUR LA CHANSON
The Beatles were from Liverpool but they were never of Liverpool.
In a biological sense they were Irish, much more than, U2 for example. 15 of their 16 grandparents hailed from Ireland and Celtic self pity drips from almost every Lennon lyric. Many of their melodies are direct descendants of Irish tunes.
As a business or cultural entity it could be argued that they were a German band. They came to Hamburg as boys with little musical experience and as men ready to invade the world with a totalitarian vision that would appeal to the masses and frighten the establishment.
What The Beatles were not was English, and certainly not Scouse. As soon as they could they ran like a drug-crazed Ben Johnson away from Liverpool never to return.
At this point we would like to apologize to our British readers. We know that you know what Scouse means but our international cousins…. well y’know…
The origin of the name “Scouse” comes from the name of a very a basic stew of meat, potato and vegetables not unlike a goulash or Irish stew. The people who ate Scouse were nearly all sailors. Eventually all sailors within Liverpool were referred to as Scousers. As time passed everyone from the region of Liverpool is known as a Scouser.
So what defines a Scouser?
1. Place of birth – Liverpool or within shouting distance of The River Mersey. Yep all four Beatles were born in this area
2. Accent – Scouse is a fast, highly accented manner of speech, with a range of rising and falling tones unlike any other English accent. Irish influences include the pronunciation of and the 2nd Person plural (you) as ‘youse/yous’
The scouse accent sounds like this
The Beatles do not.
3. Football – Ask any Scouser “Red or Blue?” and they will immediately answer Liverpool or Everton. Identification with these two teams is a vital part of Scouse life. The only time any of The Beatles were spotted at a football match was Paul at the 1966 FA Cup Final between Everton and Sheffield Wednesday and whenever he is asked if he is Red (Liverpool) or Blue (Everton) he always answers in a typically diplomatic fashion “Well… both really”.
Diplomacy is not a Scouse trait.
4. Loyalty to the City. As soon as they could all four left the city never to live anywhere near the area again. Ringo in Los Angeles, John in New York, George in Henley and Paul walking distance from Abbey Road and summers in Long Island. But never Liverpool or any of the countryside around it. Paul and Ringo have done concerts for the city but when interviewed by Jonathan Ross Ringo was asked if there was anything he missed about his birthplace Starr replied:
"Er, no… I was a child in Liverpool. I grew up in Liverpool. My family members are in Liverpool. But you know…”
On some level The Beatles knew they had to kill the father that sired them to fulfill their destiny. One of the ways that The Beatles escaped Liverpool was via fantasy. The writing of Michelle was an example of this.
The outline to what would become the Michelle was written by on Paul McCartney’s $15 Zenith guitar in 1959 at the age of seventeen. It was originally written as a joke song. Paul would sit in a corner at parties with a black beret making up nonsense lyrics with a fake french accent. It got some cute laughs and the song was promptly forgotten by everyone except John.
Fast forward six years. The pressure to create new material was great. John mentioned that the “joke song” had a pretty good tune and could be reworked into a track for the Rubber Soul album.
Paul did not speak French so he visited French teacher Jan Vaughan, the wife of former Quarryman Ivan Vaughan. He had the title, Michelle and the rhyme “Ma Belle” he asked her what it meant. She told him Ma Belle meant “My Beautiful” to which he replied “Those are words that go together well”. She then translated what he said back to him “Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble” and the song was all but written.
John had been listening to a lot of Nina Simone at the time and the proof of this comes in the bridge. Check out her version of “Put A Spell On You”. At about 1min 59sec a melody and lyric not unlike the John contribution to Michelle appears.
So out of a Childish joke, a rudimentary French lesson, a $15 guitar and a second hand Nina Simone riff they managed to create massive worldwide hit and their only “Song Of The Year” Grammy.
In that same year Record Of The Year was won by one of the other giants of 20th Century popular culture, Frank Sinatra for “Strangers In The Night”. On the surface these two songs have little in common but in fact one is about two lovers who cannot communicate because they cannot speak the same language while the other is about two lovers who cannot see one another because it is so dark.
A passing of the flame indeed. Sinatra hated The Beatles. His favorite Lennon and McCartney song was “Something” (sic). Dispite being a musical genius he simply didn’t get it. 65/6 saw a changing of the guard culturally and musically from the big band, solo singer with outside writer model to self contained musical entities that is to say, bands.
So to have two excellent songs about miscommunication being so popular at that very moment was perfect.
McCartney, being the forever, eager to please puppy dog that he is performed the song to Mrs Obama a couple of weeks ago. This time the guitar cost more that $15.
Our version is sang by Floanne, the most Gallic woman in Manhattan. We have reversed the lyric so the English is in French and the French is in English. We have also reversed the roles telling the story from the female perspective. Her “Michelle” is a sweet boy who she has feelings for but she just can’t make herself understood. She is frustrated because their love lives outside of language.
But of course love always lives outside of language.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Floanne grew up on a French farm and moved to New York in 2000 to hone her work on stage and with the camera. She is a singer, actor and filmmaker, who started her training in operatic voice with Patricia Scimeca. Under the mentorship of Jean Brassard, she developed a cabaret show of romantic French songs called "J’avoue" (English: I admit) exploring classics from the sixties. She collaborates with musicians in New York and Paris to create her own songs, and performing at cabaret and in the underground scene. She is the current voice of Kate Moss for the Yves Saint Laurent commercial “Parisienne" and has been featured in music videos including with Coco Rocha. More information at www.floanne.com
Floanne has performed as an actor at the Public Theater and the Guggenheim Museum. Her experimental dance films have received awards across the country. Her documentary on a French farm was shown at this year’s Cannes Film Market. She is an avid comedy improviser and collaborates on numerous film and stage projects with her company, SIMPLE production (www.simpleproduction.com