For the Français-challenged, the last words sort of mean “missing singers” but a chansonnier isn’t just a singer, it’s a French male pop singer in a particular romantic kind of old-fashioned style. Anyhow, they’re still missing, despite the best efforts of some really remarkable software; oh, and there’s a P2P vs. RIAA angle too. [Updated: found one out of two.]
The story starts with Hans Muller’s piece A Desktop Java “Killer Application”, by which he’s referring to LimeWire. His write-up sounds interesting and hey, it’s a free download. So I checked out LimeWire and... suddenly it was 2000 and I was sitting in my basement, a small part of the great Napster feeding frenzy.
We’ll get back to that, but first: Hans is right, LimeWire has a very fine UI indeed. I will freely confess that having spent quality time with AWT and early Swing releases, I had at one point concluded that “Java GUIs suck”. And I still firmly believe that for most business applications, you’re better off staying inside the browser. But, given my NetBeans experience in recent months, and now LimeWire, in good conscience I have to acknowledge that Java GUIs are in some scenarios a plausible option.
Assuming, in the case of LimeWire, that you’re not worried about record-industry goons breaking down the door.
Those Napster Issues · OK, I freely admit that in 1999-2000, when I was a consultant and master of my own time, I went completely Napster-crazy for a few days and grabbed a couple thousand low-hanging musical fruit. But even then, I was kinda nervous and didn’t share back. I also rationalized that pretty well everything I snagged was something I already owned (usually on LP) or would cheerfully buy if I could find it.
Which was almost always true, if you ignore the thirteen different versions of the Theme From Peter Gunn (some very obscure; if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, right?), and triumphs of musical corniness that I’d be too embarrassed to buy, like Mason Williams’ Classical Gas, Herb Alpert’s The Lonely Bull, and Neil Diamond’s I’m A Believer.
So, after I signed onto Napster a year later, while it was vanishing down the litigation maëlstrom, and got a stern legal notice from The Estate Of Roy Orbison, I decided that I wasn’t going to put my heretofore clean criminal record on the line in defense of my views about the broken-ness of the current record-company business model.
And I naïvely thought that the bad guys had crushed the file-sharers, that that stuff was all over. Ha. Ha. Ha. LimeWire is a thin layer over Gnutella, which I suspect can’t be litigated out of existence, and I suspect LimeWire can’t be either. I’d always thought the RIAA strategy of large-scale litigation against its customers was stupid in the big picture, but I’d kind of got the impression that it was working in the here and now. It isn’t. There’s just as much stuff available today, and it’s about as easy as to get, as in Napster’s heyday.
The conclusion is that the Record Companies’ business model, like General Franco, is still dead. If I were a teenager I’d be all over LimeWire and I’d be too stupid/oblivious to worry about the knock on my parents’ door, and there are just too many oblivious teenagers for the RIAA to sue out of existence. So I was right, the battle’s over; only I was wrong about who won.
But let’s not let all this technology and jurisprudence distract us from our outing à la recherche des chansonniers perdus.
Les Chansonniers · I spent some of my teenage years in Lebanon, which used to be a French colony and that’s how I picked up usable bad French and some unusual musical tastes. Teenagers hang around in dorm rooms and at friends’ places and listen to music, and while I liked Led Zep and Black Sabbath as much as any other red-blooded little Anglophone, I also liked some French singers. In particular, I liked Georges Moustaki, pictured right.
He sings Mediterranean-folk-flavoured numbers in a low, throaty voice with mostly acoustic accompaniment, often with female harmony, nicely orchestrated. And a lot of the songs are pretty wonderful. I’ve got a couple of CDs and scored a ton of other stuff off Napster (LimeWire shows more or less the same selection).
But the song that made the deepest impression on me is one that I’ve never seen on a record in a store and never saw on Napster and it’s not there on LimeWire either; it’s called L’homme au coeur blessé (The man with the wounded heart), and it has a wonderful chorus that you’ll never forget once you’ve heard it: Jour après jour, les jours s’en vont / Laissant la vie à l’abandon.... The Apple Music Store doesn’t have it, even the French version.
In general I’d rather pay for music and I’d rather stay out of legal trouble; but I’ll poke around record stores and used-record stores and online stores and file-swapping sites and grab that song the first time I see it.
Whereas Moustaki is a French male singer, some would say he’s not a chansonnier; they’re supposed to sing florid songs in big voices while wearing sharp clothes and emoting operatically. Michel Jonasz (right) is a real chansonnier; the picture dates back to the mid-Eighties, he’s gone bald and it suits him, he looks a lot less goofy now.
My affection for Jonasz doesn’t date back to my Lebanon days, but falls out of my high-end audio habit. Jonasz has a live double CD called La Fabuleuse Histoire de Mr Swing [WEA 2292-42338-2] which, fifteen years back, was an audiophile cult classic. I wrote this in 1990 or so for The Absolute Sound, an audiophile magazine:
When I first heard Mister Swing in a high-end shop here in Vancouver, I nearly impulse-bought a pair of $5,000 Genesis speakers (dealers take note). This double album is solidly in the chansonnier tradition, which is something of an acquired taste, but is definitely a good ’un of its genre. All you audio nerds, though, just go straight to disc 2, track 2, Le Temps Passé, and crank up the volume.
The band is drums, percussion, two keyboard players, bass, and Jonasz on vocals. This not the kind of instrumental line-up that warms an audiophile heart (one synthesizer on stage is too many, if you ask me) but these boys can play and then some. Le Temps Passé is a terrific song and a remarkable audio construction, with great space between the notes, and a muscular bass line cleverly doubled by a LOOOOOOOOWWWW synth to gain heft without losing that bass-guitar snarl. The drums, percussion, and electric piano come a-bustin’ out of the speakers into your lap.
This kind of record raises some troubling issues; among other things, it has a great big convincing soundstage, and I just know the vocals and pianos didn't sound that good over the PA at the event. This was digitally recorded and mixed, and in the process, they have come damn close to producing an Absolute Sound that wasn't there the first time around, which, by the way, was at La Cigale on January 5, 1988.
The song I want isn’t there on any of the file-sharing services, nor have I seen the album in a record store outside Paris. It does seem to be for sale online but I’m not doing that, buying an audiophile showpiece as a compressed MP3 would just be silly. I actually had a CD of this but it was stolen, and I plan to replace it next time I’m in France. For now, I’m gonna grab it, on an interim basis, the first time I see it on-line.
Update: One Out of Two · “What about Amazon.fr?” Lauren asked. Bingo. They have both CDs, used, but won’t ship the Jonasz to Canada; so I just spent €21.75 and Amazon claims to be closing the deal between me and some used-music vendor in France for a Moustaki collection with That Song. They even had a little sample... music I hadn’t heard for thirty years or more. Still sounded good.