Friday, February 18, 2011


Song: "Le Parvenu"
Artist: Leo Ferre & Jean Gabin
Search Term: "Parvenu"

Less a song than a dreary French poem with a watery musical refrain, "Le Parvenu" is a rumination on the isolation and moral decline that accompanies a sudden and significant boost in one's socioeconomic class. Now, I don't speak any French beyond the occasional term that has made its way into common American parlance (and I'm not sure how far I could get in Quebec on the phrases "carte blanche" and "menage a trois"--as far as the nearest jail, most likely), so I have to assume that Google's translation tool is giving me an accurate picture of what the speakers are ruefully muttering here. That said, I really like some of the turns of phrase such as, "And in these sheets of adultery ... I will be sad litter," and, "When I sink in glory in my cozy apartment, lots of unexpected friends will bite at my crib," to describe the empty social calls and inadequate approximations of human connection that descend upon our newly moneyed narrators.

The refrain, in which a women's chorus screechily laments the absence of the narrators' former friends, could fairly be called overwrought, but it may not have seemed that way in 1951, when it was recorded. Overall, it's an effectively downbeat, anti-bourgeoisie character piece. If any reader would care to add a zero or two to the end of my annual income, I would gladly confirm or debunk firsthand this piece's moral, but I do think it's engaging in spite of its mostly unmusical heavy-handedness.

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