*Warning: this is kind of a long post. It does have a poem in it, though.*
I don’t know if I’ve told this story before. If I did, tough. It’s important to me.
When I was in 3rd year university one of the things I sang was a Poulenc song cycle called “Calligrammes”. (Yes, my fellow Poulenc nerds, I *know* it’s a mezzo/baritone cycle and much too low for me. I had a terrible case of mezzo envy at the time.). Never having sung Poulenc before, I asked my grandfather to get a me a recording of it for Christmas.
And either because he forgot the title or couldn’t find it alone or because he was just an extremely nice person, he bought me a 4-CD set of the entire Poulenc vocal oeuvre.
Now, when I was in school I worked part time shelving books at the music library. This was a boring and repetitive job made tolerable by a) it being less disgusting than working in, say, an orthopedic shoe store, b) the opportunity to surreptitiously browse while putting things away, and c) you were allowed to listen to your Walkman or Discman as you worked.
(Yes, the IPod hadn’t even been invented yet. That’s how old I am.)
So I took my new Poulenc box set and I listened to it over and over and over again as I put copies of “The Well-Tempered Klavier” and “The Best of Lerner and Loewe” back where they belonged. And I absolutely fell in love. Poulenc became one of my favourite composers.
Buried in the middle of (I think) CD 3 was “Parisiana”, a little 2-song set of poems by Max Jacob. The second one, “Vous n’ecrivez plus?” (Don’t you write anymore?) stopped me dead in my tracks. Partly because it sounds an awful lot like the theme from “The Muppet Show”, but also because it affirms the dignity of the artist stuck working a crappy job to survive.
Anyway, fast forward about nine years to when I started doing the lounge act. Mostly I do Kurt Weill, Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra, and New Order covers, but I thought “Parisiana” would fit in well. So I translated the first song, “Jouer du bugle”, fairly faithfully and added it to my set. But “Vous n’ecrivez plus?” stumped me.
So since I have a show coming up (April 26 at the Cameron House) I thought I’d finally take a stab at it. Instead of trying to translate Jacob’s very France-specific list of shitty Parisian jobs, I used my own list of Canada-specific shitty London and Toronto jobs. Here it is:
Don’t you write anymore?
Did I sell you your Toronto Star
At the local corner store
For you to say, in the Arts-Life page
That I’m immoral and insane?
That my verse goes from bad to worse
And I’m as bad as Charlie Sheen?
Did I make you a fancy drink
At Starbucks down at Richmond and Queen?
I turned in my hat – next one’s green!
Did I sell you a pair of shoes,
Clean your toilet and your room?
I don’t mean to bitch, whine or bait
Make you cotton candy at the fete?
Champion and judge of all,
Arbiter, if you’re arbitrating,
On Friday night against a bar.
If you want to hear it with music, come to the Cameron House on Tuesday, April 26, 9:30!
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