You were right, the French Fête de la Musique, or one-day musical festival on 21 June every year since 1982, is not cool. I had not experienced the Fête de la Musique in probably a couple of decades, and my memories of it were that it was splendid. All of Paris became one giant concert hall with musicians, groups, semi-musicians, half-musicians, full musicians, playing in the street acoustically, with amps, with radios and DJ sound systems, you name it – music everywhere.
So when you recently told me that the cool people stay in on the night of the Fête de la Musique in Paris, I must admit that I felt you were being overly cool, a little pretentious and pretty complicated too. But it now turns out that I have had a fresh experience with the Fête de la Musique, and I am sorry to have to admit that you were right about this, as you were with so many of the things that I misjudged you on. (Though I do not want to get carried away and say you were right about everything, because I know for sure that is not the case!)
There is always a small chance that my experience walking the streets of Paris last night in the Fête de la Musique was negatively colored also by the fact that I was doing it alone, without you, and therefore had a little grudge against the world and was seeing it through the dark glasses of my heart at the moment. But I don’t think so. I think you were just plain RIGHT.
And here’s why: Monday night being a good night for open mics and me being one who goes out as often as I’m alone to sing on a Monday night, I decided I would again seek out last week’s two venues. These, you will remember, were the Tennessee Bar and the Galway pub near St. Michel. Well, the first horror was taking the metro from Duroc to Odéon and finding the thing so jam packed with people going to see and hear the Fête de la Musique that although there was just enough room for me, there was no room for my guitar. I received some dirty looks from people for daring to think of carrying a guitar into a packed Métro – on the Fête de la Musique.
I also felt rather dorky and uncool carrying the guitar around as if I only did so on the day of the Fête de la Musique, when in fact I do it all the time. But I will return to that theme in a moment. Once I got out of the Métro at Odéon and went to the Tennessee bar for the open mic my worst fear was confirmed: I walked into the bar and the barwoman said, “There’s no open mic tonight. I thought James told everyone. He’s playing at the Moose.”
Okay, so the previous week, no doubt, James the MC did probably tell everyone there would be no open mic. But I had left well before the end to go to the Galway, so I didn’t hear it if he said it, and it was my own fault anyway. Still, the basement room was empty, and why not do an open mic anyway with another MC!? After all, it’s the Fête de la Musique.
Let’s move on. I then went to the Galway and found a soccer game of the World Cup on the television and a full crowd of soccer lovers. I asked the barwoman if there was an open mic.
“No, there isn’t,” she said. “But after the football game there will be a concert, and if you want, you can play. But it is not an open mic, it is a concert.”
This, at least, was more in the spirit of a Fête de la Musique. But it said this to me: Game ends between 10 and 10:30? Then the band prepares to play and plays and maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get to do a song sometime near midnight? Not worth the gamble, or the wait, I thought.
And in any case, I said, tonight is the Fête de la Musique in Paris, and maybe I should look around, and maybe I’ll be asked to play somewhere in the street or in a bar, when my guitar is spotted – you know, like in Istanbul, that music-loving city.
So I set out on a long, long walk through Paris, heading through several different districts, St. Michel, Les Halles, Oberkampf, Belleville, and elsewhere. And all along the way the city blared with music, just like in Istanbul, in fact. And here as you went from one quarter to another you often ran into the kind of music of the prevalent population of the quarter, as in Arab music in some places, African in others, French chanson in others.
But guess what? My growing feeling, actually it was pretty immediate, was one of disgust, a letdown and a feeling of a lack of authenticity. When I walk through the streets of Istanbul in a wall of sound in every street at nighttime, I know that it is part of the local culture. It is natural, and it happens EVERY DAY. Here in Paris last night, I had the sense of a fake culture being slapped on the usual staid and boring and silent world of the French capital. (Or rather, those parts of Paris that are usually able to be characterized thus.)
And I said to myself, too, “Where the hell do all these musicians come from? Why do I not see and hear them every other day of the year?” Actually, truth be told, I would not have WANTED to hear most of them every day of the year, and once was enough. My feeling was, you see, exactly what you were trying to tell me, I think: That suddenly all the weekend guitar players come out of their bedrooms to go into the street and “play Bohemian” on the one day in the year that it is not only permitted, but condoned. Whereas the people in your world – and also in mine, Dear X – are full-time bohemians and music lovers and committed to a love of music ALL the time.
One day a year for a Fête de la Musique? Get out of here. I think the people who had the best idea about the whole thing were the 239 thieves the Paris and regional police force arrested for petty crimes last night. Yeah, man, I hope they got a few of those guitars!!!!!
I considered recording some videos of the bands and the ambience with my Zoom Q3 for this blog as I always do on my musical adventures. Then I said, “No, don’t! Don’t stoop that low.”
So, once again Dear X, I must apologize to you for underestimating your understanding on a point of great importance – although again I will not go so far as to admit being wrong about everything! There were, for example, some cool, committed and hip bands playing about town, like The Shades, and as my son said, the ideal thing to do to really Fête la Musique, would have been to go listen to a concert pianist or an orchestra, or something that pop music lovers don’t usually do. That would really be paying hommage to music. But for the most part, you were also right, this was nothing more than another example of the hysteria surrounding the marketing tool known as Beaujolais Nouveau – it has a sweet and exciting smell to it, but no depth and is often downright unpalatable….