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Les chansons d’un mensch

[Originally published 1993 |
Updated here 1999.06.20

I have always hated French music. Banal, middle-of-the-road, bereft of groove and rhythm, it is, quite simply, a bore and a national embarrassment – for whichever nation you side with. Attempts to add some zing to francophone music through he-man guitar chords or preprogrammed dance beats (Kathleen, Vanessa Paradis, Mitsou) have been unconvincing. Grafting elaborate rock-and-roll forms onto the delicate French language has been just as unsuccessful, though Indochine, Les Rita Mitsouko, and Les Garçons Bouchers have given it the old college try. Boring French-language singers are often boring in English too, as crypto-fag Roch Voisine and Manitoba’s Hart Rouge abundantly prove (though Céline Dion, oddly, is dull only in English). There is, however, some glimmer of hope that rap and the French language may turn out to be simpatico (listen to MC Solaar and Le Boyfriend’s groovy 1991 single "Le Rapper Chic").

And amid this mess there is Luc De Larochellière.

If you fancy mellow Vancouver songstrix Mae Moore, you might just like this fellow. Less is more with the laid-back Luc: Less bite, less stridency, less passion. Only 27 and currently struggling to grow some facial hair (keep at it, Luc! I know you can do it!), the Laval native has put out three albums that might as well have come from Turkmenistan for all the notice they got from the Toronto media establishment: Amère America (Bitter America), Sauvez mon âme (Save My Soul, with truly dreadful graduated-filter cover art), and his newest, vaguely bitter release, Los Angeles.

Luc’s sensibility rests on the bedrock of his pleasantly high voice, sincere eyes, and even-handed delivery, all of which conspire to bring the subject of the song to the foreground. What we call lyrics the French tellingly call textes, and this lexical difference manifests itself in a rich song structure. He’s an interprète, a medium between the message and the listener. Luc is wont to cast an eye on seemingly inconsequential slices of life. "L’entraîneur" links phys. ed. with war; if an American songwriter made the same point, he’d be called a queer and a commie. "La route est longue" speaks sympathetically of the travails of (illegal) immigrant women: "Ces femmes-là n’ont pas de nom, n’ont ni âge ni parent sur les listes officielles de nos bons gouvernements. Elles sont parties en vacances il y a peut-être dix ans d’un pays où le soleil était un peu trop pesant."

In videos, Luc habitually wears a half-smile that could suggest a note of distant concern or ironic detachment; it is, in any event, amical, cementing Luc’s image (to mix languages for a moment) as un mensch. The video for "Ma génération" saw Luc seated on a dilapidated old couch in a variety of settings – an abbatoir (ick), a highway, a fight between schoolkids in which someone actually gets kicked in the gut on camera. Through all this Luc smokes a cigarette, cuts his nails, stares into space – aptly embodying, in other words, the wilful isolation from the troubles of the world evoked in the song: "Et c’est souvent à 20 ans qu’on découvre le monde. Après on fait de son mieux pour un peu l’oublier."

Sauvez mon âme’s song trio "La machine est mon amie" ("J’ai un four, un frigidaire, un extracteur à jus..."), "J’suis bourgeois," and "Cash City" are something of a Luc De Larochellière Ring Cycle on the twin subjects of materialism and stardom. In "Cash City," Luc sings, "Tout le monde veut être un star, mais personne veut être une planète. Tout le monde entraîne dans les bars où personne n’est honnête. Tout le monde veut que tout le monde l’aime mais personne n’aime tout le monde." The beguiling little video for "Cash City" shows Luc singing his own song at a karaoke bar, reading it off a lyric sheet and having the spotlight hastily yanked away from him the instant the song ends. Again the wry smile.

Ah, stardom. You can buy yourself a chunk of it about as easily as a waffle iron – and it changes your life about as much. In English, Luc’s gentleness of spirit would find itself restricted to the ghetto of folk music, a form which ain’t exactly topping the charts these days. Luc, on the other hand, is a Top 10 star in Quebec, giving his message a currency we scarcely enjoy in the rest of Canada. Tant pis pour nous.

Luc De Larochellière, Amère America (Trafic/MCA, 1988), Sauvez mon âme (Trafic/MCA, 1990), Los Angeles (Zéro/MCA, 1993)