“La Vie En Rose”
By Naomi Bird (first published via email on April 20, 2019)
How uncanny that we have a French theme this month. The events of this week mark a particularly sentimental time for French culture and art.
No doubt, you have seen the tragic videos and pictures of the burning of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Have you ever been there? Perhaps you were prompted to rummage through photo albums or digital files from a recent – or long distant – trip to the breathtaking monument.
While much of the structure survived the blaze, it is still unarguably a major loss of beauty, art, history, and the every-day culture of the city. As has been apparent through observations of onlookers, it has been a loss of something more than wood and stone – something deeply embedded in the souls of many.
Nathan and I have not had the privilege of visiting Notre Dame, but multiple choir tours have brought us to other significant cathedrals in Europe. Our experiences in them – especially those involving singing with large choirs – moved us deeply and will never be forgotten.
This cathedral has been preserved and rebuilt multiple times. In the 1800s, after centuries of wear and tear and disgraceful usage, it was a publication of a piece of artwork that pressured the French government to restore the majestic cathedral. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo in 1831, was this art that changed history for Paris.
Fast forward a hundred and ten years; another season of political upheaval has been ravaging not just France, but the whole world.
This week’s featured song carries with it an inherently French touch that has lodged itself in hearts around the world.
What can a song do for a war? Not all artists are as politically motivated as Hugo was, but it is hard to imagine a performer, painter, or writer during civil unrest who does not let the pain of the experience influence their work somehow.
Sometimes, the role of the artist is to mobilize a resistance.
Sometimes, the role of the artist is to offer comfort.
Sometimes, the role of the artist is to highlight the ugly horrible contrast between reality and the ideal.
Sometimes, the role of the artist is to inspire hope for the future.
Sometimes, the role of the artist is to simply do that beautiful thing s/he does.
When Edith Piaf, a popular French singer, wrote the song “La Vie En Rose” in 1945, anyone out of their toddler years would have had significant memories of life during World War II. France was hit hard.
With a title that can translate as “Life in happy hues,” “Life seen through happy lenses,” “Life in rosy hues,” or “Life in pink,” perhaps it was just too dreamy and light. Her colleagues didn’t think the song would be a success, and they discouraged her from using it. She conceded, holding onto it for a year before finally introducing it to an audience during a concert in 1946.
Her colleagues were wrong.
“La Vie En Rose” became a fast favorite with audiences. Performances of it were broadcast multiple times over the radio before Piaf recorded it in 1947. One million copies of it sold in the US. It was the highest selling single recording in Italy in 1948. By 1950, with covers by Bing Crosby and Harry James, the song was a major hit across America.
Since it’s creation, the song has been recorded by many famous singers, featured in at least 40 films, and been included in numerous shows and book references.
Sometimes, a book can help restore a building.
Sometimes, a song can help restore the war-weary souls of millions.
“La Vie En Rose”
Original French words by Edith Piaf (1915-1963)
Music by Louiguy (1916-1991)
I thought that love was just a word
They sang about in songs I heard.
It took your kisses to reveal
That I was wrong and love is real.
Hold me close and hold me fast,
The magic spell you cast, this is la vie en rose.
When you kiss me heaven sighs,
And tho’ I close my eyes I see la vie en rose.
When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart, a world where roses bloom;
And when you speak angels sing from above;
Ev’ryday words seem to turn into love songs.
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose.
P. P. S. Feature photo credit: Patience Bird, our 8-year-old. I explained to her the concept of rose-colored glasses and asked if she could take some artsy pictures for me. I love what she came up with! Here are some of our favorites:
This is one of the last of our weekly songs that we will be sharing openly online. Sad.
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