Edith Piaf, “Le Noël de la rue”
It is perhaps unfair both to Edith Piaf and to France how strongly we Americans identify the two. For us, she is France’s Mickey Mouse, Marlon Brando and Elvis all rolled into one, but also apparently the nation’s ONLY singer, if Hollywood’s our primary guide. Piaf is iconic, symbolizing the spirit of pre-war, then Occupied, then post-war France, almost like an updated version of those Greco-Roman personifications of “Liberté” from the Revolutionary era. American bohemians have always embraced her for this reason, and the sweet sadness of her singing, which seems to embody the suffering of the outcast, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the miserable, and the fucked-up.
Born this day in 1915, Edith Gassion was the daughter of a busking acrobat and a cafe singer. She was raised in a brothel, was blind for several years from illness, and never grew beyond the height of 4′ 8″. She begain singing in street performances with her father, gradually coming indoors to sing in cafes, working her way up to the great Parisian music halls and cabarets by the mid 1930s. Her stage name “Piaf” means “sparrow”. Her last record “L’homme de Berlin” was recorded a few months before her death in 1963.
And now, in honor of the season, that happy, happy Christmas jingle, “Le Noël de la rue”
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.