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A Dream Evening at the Cirque d’Hiver, Today and 24 Years Ago….

November 6, 2017

Cirque d'Hiver, Paris

Cirque d’Hiver, Paris

PARIS – The Cirque d’Hiver, or Winter Circus, in Paris is one of the great treasures of the circus arts. After the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently – and, for circus lovers, tragically – closed down after more than a hundred years of existence, this Parisian tradition is one of the last remaining great, great circus attractions. Over the weekend, I decided to attend its latest show – called “Exploit” – and was not let down. I threw together some of the videos I took during the show into a single little clip that you can see below. And I also decided on this occasion to republish, on the blog, an article I wrote about this great Paris institution 24 years ago in my blog articles section under the title: Cirque d’Hiver: A Unique Tradition Under the Big Top Ceiling in Paris. It all remains so incredibly true and fresh, and I cannot be happier to report that. The show, as you will see in the video, was stupendous.

A Smashing Pop In at the Pop In – and Happiness is a Warm Rehearsal Space

April 26, 2010

The Pop In is one of the mainstays of the live music scene in Paris. It has been a center for youth culture and a meeting place for almost a generation – well, at least a decade or so. I have had a love-hate relationship with this place as an open mic venue because it is often difficult to get one of the 15 spots available every Sunday night for the open mic. But last night I decided I would do all I could to get a spot for the show, that starts at 9:30 and ends around midnight. So I showed up at 7 PM and signed my name to the list. I got the fourth spot.

I have done a little introductory video this time, using my video editing software to link together a few segments to show the neighborhood – where there is a beautiful shot of the Cirque d’Hiver, which I have written about – and especially the very cool piano moment I found in the Pop In on the upper floor while the open mic was going on at the same time. And there were some fabulous acts playing in the open mic too, so I’m putting up a couple of videos of my favorites – although there were others that were also favorites of the evening, but I don’t want to put up too many videos.

Here was one of my favorites, a band I have already mentioned in this blog, called, The Rain, with Martin Rain and Julie Hoarau. Sorry the lighting is so bad.

And then there is this fabulous band from Luxembourg called Natas Loves You. I have seen them around for a few months now, including meeting them and talking to them during their very first week in Paris after they played at the Truskel bar. They’re making their name now, and it is easy to see why – with their fabulous CSNY-like harmonies:

Unfortunately, the recording I did of my own two songs did not work out. I did not dare ask anyone to record me with my Q3 and I simply propped it up on a wall box near the speakers. But when I looked at the recording afterwards, I saw that I had aimed it badly, and I was not in the frame of the video. This was unfortunate as judging by the compliments I received afterwards, I did a good job singing “Since You Left Me” and “Father and Son.”

On the other hand, I do have one video of me that worked out. It is an absurd, ridiculous, even embarrassing video that I took of myself playing in a new fangled rehearsal space that I created on the nearby boulevard. Thing was, because I had to arrive at 7:00 PM to get my name on the list, I had more than two hours to kill before going on stage to sing my two songs – that’s all anyone gets at the Pop In – and therefore I decided to use the time in two ways. First, I decided to eat dinner in a nearby restaurant. Second, while eating dinner and reading Mojo or Rock & Folk (can’t remember which) I decided that I needed to find a rehearsal space before I played one of my planned songs.

One of my feelings about my own failings as a performer is that I have very few happy, upbeat, up tempo, songs. Most of them are a little down and deep. That’s all very well for two or three songs, but you need to break the audience’s trance occasionally with something that really moves, or even brings a smile to their face and lets them wipe the tears away and return to a higher state of happiness. With that in mind I suddenly found myself singing a favorite song from my teenage years, one by The Incredible String Band called, “How Happy I Am.”

I recall singing this song as a teenager just days or weeks before falling into a funk of depression like none I’d ever encountered before, as a result of a break-up with a girlfriend. So it seemed appropriate. Then when I dug up the lyrics to this Incredible String Band song, “How Happy I Am,” on the Internet, I discovered that it was only on the surface a light and funny song, as it was actually referring to how the writer of the song decided to respond to being badly treated by his girlfriend. Just sing to her: “Oh Lord, How happy I am, oh Lord, How happy I am…” etc. It was inspired by the song by the Reverend Gary Davis, “Oh Glory, How happy I am.”

Well, just before running out to the Pop In I printed out the lyrics to the Incredible String Band song. But I could not find the song itself or the chords and so I had to try to figure out how to do it from memory. All the way there on the metro I tried working it out in my head, eager to sing it at the Pop In. Finally, after dinner I decided I needed another rehearsal. And that is when I had my absurd inspiration. There was, I knew, a nearby new public Paris toilet on the sidewalk of the boulevard next to the Pop In. I knew these new fangled toilets were massive inside and clean and provided the perfect environment for complete privacy.

Paris Rehearsal Toilet

A New, Free, Public Paris Rehearsal Space

So I decided to go there and play my song. But I also decided to record this moment on my Zoom Q3 as I was certain that I would do a better job of the song in the rehearsal space with no audience but the Q3 than I would live in the Pop In. In fact, as it turned out I was not only correct on that matter but I did not have the courage to sing the song at the Pop In. It was a wise decision, as the quality of my singing and guitar playing on this song I had never played before then was absolutely appalling. However, I am including the video on this page at the risk of embarrassment because it is so absurd, yet true, and finally because there is a surprise ending to the video which I had no idea was coming. A kind of deus ex machina that you have to watch the video to the end to appreciate.

For those of you who do not speak French, the voice that came out at me at just the right moment was telling me in French that I had used up all my allotted time in the rehearsal space and the door would open up automatically in two minutes. Still, as it cost no money, it was a great little rehearsal space and I recommend it to my fellow musicians everywhere if you visit Paris.

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