As is the case with all the songs comprising Through Darkened Glass – my soon to be released album of original songs – the French chanson-style Emmanuelle is no exception to the fact that its existence is owed, wholly, to yet another of my life’s experiences and, whilst I don’t claim to have had more than my share of them, quite a few seem to have left a deep and lasting impression.
The inspiration for the song lies within the iconic, black and white photograph taken by the acclaimed, French photographic artist, Robert Doisneau. Its subject is two young people caught in a close embrace on a crowded pavement, opposite the town hall in Paris during the nineteen-fifties. The title of the photograph is Le baiser de L’hotel de Ville, Paris. (The kiss by the Town hall, Paris.)
I first became aware of the image during the mid to late nineteen-sixties when I was a student at The Royal Academy of Music in London. It became very popular. Though not having quite the cult “must have” following as did the poster images of, say, Che Guavera, Guernica, the Spanish Lady and a handful of other “bedroom wall icons”, Le Baiser had its own, special appeal – and particularly, though not exclusively, to teenage females.
However, it was not until much later – the mid nineteen-nineties (when I was attending a commissioning meeting in the Montreal office of the president of one of the major record companies) when I encountered the subject again. Actually, I couldn’t miss it!
On this occasion an extremely large print of it was hanging on the wall behind the president’s desk and measured at least five feet by three feet – maybe more! (You can work out the metric equivalent.)
Later on that afternoon, during the cab ride to the airport and musing over the events of my visit – the concerts I’d performed and the terms of the contract I’d been offered – I couldn’t get the pervading image of that haunting and demonstrably simple gesture of love and affection out of my mind.
It was as though I had seen the photograph for the first time that afternoon.
The people in the photograph – particularly the young woman – began to occupy all of my thinking.
Who were they – that man and woman, joined in a deceptively simple and arrestingly innocent embrace? What, I wondered, became of her afterwards? Were they an item or did she go home alone? (In the song I opted for the latter.) Was she happy ever after?……..who knows?…….maybe not………
(I wasn’t – that’s for sure. Maggie had died only earlier that year.)
Later that evening, after settling down on the night flight to London but energised by a welcome, though unexpected visit from my muse, I took out my notebook. However, before I could begin to write, I needed to choose a name for the girl in the photograph, about which I was now utterly obsessed. To me, she was the key and would be the subject of the chorus.
Emmanuelle came to mind. I thought it suited her.
Alors! Emmanuelle elle sera.
turns on the light - there’s no one there.
Puts on some sounds to fill the air:
“Motets of penitence and prayer”.
Walks down the hall, checks her machine;
the light stays still and green - it’s a mean machine.
Picks up the phone but won’t call yet;
reaches for her cigarettes.
Starts to dial but stops mid call
Puts down the phone - sits in the hall.
Emmanuelle, that’s life - that’s all there is to it;
Emmanuelle, it’s the same for everyone.
Life’s not so much a game of cards, Emmanuelle,
as how to play a bad hand well. etc.
…..et ca va…. (and so it goes….)
Before I arrived in London next morning the words and music were written. Finished. Complet! (Mind you, I think someone else had been pushing my pen!)
(The French version was completed some time later – just in case I landed a gig in Paris!)
(Taken in 1978, Martin Barre and I are the bookends of this photograph)
The recording features the guitar of guest soloist, Martin Barre – band mate from our years together in Jethro Tull and a life long friend. From his poignant, bluesy, entry at the end of the first chorus, Martin’s guitar solo and searingly passionate fills in the last chorus add a very special character and mood to the track. Great stuff!
To me, the song epitomises France and everything French. It reeks of it!
(Not the garlic and the cooking but that special…..“je ne sais quoi!”)
So, when you hear those first, unmistakably haunting tones of the musette accordion – that stalwart of french cafe music – just close your eyes and allow yourself to be transported back in time…….
Revisit those heady summer evenings and those dreamy, candle lit cafes a rive gauche ….
those halcyon, Salad Days of youth…..
and broken hearts……..
December 31st, 2017
(click on the arrow of the audio player below to listen)