Monday, January 30, 2012
Mylène Farmer, French singer, songwriter, actress and author.
Some say she is France's Lady Gaga, bien sur, before the latter was even born. Others say she is a sort of Madonna with more substance, imagination and artistry (la French touch), some compare her to Michael Jackson as, like Thriller, her music videos changed the way music clips were being made. What is certain is that Miss Farmer is a mega-star.
Mylène Farmer has sold more than 30 million records, is one of the most successful recording artists of all time in France and holds the record for the most #1 hits in the French charts with 12 to date, 8 of which were consecutive. She is the only French singer to have a #1 hit throughout four consecutive decades.
Born in Quebec in 1961 to French parents, she moved to France when she was 8. At 17, she discovered acting and changed her surname name to Farmer in tribute to her idol, actress Frances Farmer. In 1984, she met 17-year-old film student, Laurent Boutonnat, after responding to an ad for an actress in a small film he was working on. They became friends, writing and producing music together, with Boutonnat being the force behind Mylène's music videos--a collaboration that still survives today.
It was with the release of the single "Libertine" on her 1986 album, "Cendres de Lune" that the tone for Mylène's musical style was set, the lyrics are sensual and romantic, inspired by 19th century literature. Boutonnat, who directed and produced the video, was inspired by Stanley Kubricks film "Barry Lyndon" and the novels of the Marquis de Sade. It is the very first video in which a French female singer appears full frontal naked.
Here is part one of two of Mylène's richly decorous erotic epics set in 18th century France. They are certainly more films than music videos, carrying the watcher back to another époque.
Her second album, "Ainsi soit je" (a play on the French expression "ainsi soit-il", or "so be it"), has a much darker ambiance, and is more sexually ambiguous than her previous album. Its songs are inspired by Mylène's favorite authors, including French romantic poet Charles Baudelaire and American horror writer Edgar Allen Poe.
The first #1 hit of her career from her second album, "Pourvu qu'elles soient douces"is the suite to "Libertine".
Pourvu Qu'elles Soient Douces
Mylène Farmer notoriously shied away from the public eye, and hesitated to tour in concert. Finally she agreed in 1989 to a full scale 52-date tour in Europe; her costumes were designed by Thierry Mugler.
The release of her 3rd album in 1991, "L'Autre..." made her an icon with its single "Désenchantée" (the best selling French single of all time according the Guinness Book of World Records). Unfortunately, a man who had been stalking her entered Polydor Records in Paris and held employees at gunpoint demanding to speak with Miss Farmer. He murdered the receptionist. Mylène fled to Los Angeles to live for a short while.
In 1992, her album "Dance Remixes" was releases which included a new song, "Que mon cœur lâche", a song dealing with AIDS and sexual relations, and directed by the amazing French director, Luc Besson (I will blog about this director soon as his films are absolute masterpieces).
During her time in California, she wrote her forth studio album, Anamorphosée, again, a huge success.
In 1999, her fifth studio album, Innamoramento, was released, and later that year she toured, the Mylenium Tour, which set the record for the highest grossing tour by a non-English speaking artist.
In 2001, her first greatest hits collection came out, "Les Mots", whose title track and single, a duet with Seal, became a huge hit.
After a long period of silence, in December 2004, Mylène held a press conference to announce her new album "Avant que l'ombre" with her new single "Fuck Them All". The album went multi-platinum. This was followed by a 13-night concert engagement in Paris in 2006. There was little to no promotion, marking a new level of reclusively for the icon (to date, nothing is known about her personal life). This show was designed by Mark Fisher, and featured two stages connected by a mobile bridge and a curtain of words written with water.
She recorded a duet with Moby entitled "Slipping Away", to which she translated the lyrics into French.
Mylène then worked on Luc Besson's film "Aurther and the Minimoys", doing the voice of Selenia whose character was voiced by Madonna in the international version.
2008 marked the release of her electro-driven album "Point de Suture". Mylène Farmer beat her own record of having more #1 hits in France than any other artist with 5 singles from the album at #1.
"Bleu Noir" was released in 2010, produced by Farmer, RedOne, Moby and Archive with collaborations with Line Renaud and Ben Harper.
Her single "Oui mais... non" was produced by RedOne who co-produced "Poker Face", "Bad Romance" and "LoveGame" and who has worked not only with Lady Gaga, but with Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull.
Mylène Farmer performed this last Saturday at France's NRJ (pronounced energy) Music Awards.
So, my big question is... what is she going to surprise and astound us with next? En tout cas, well done, Miss Farmer, chapeau (hats off)....
Groses bisous de musique original et a bientôt.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
A quick recap from my last blog, History of the French language, and on to the rest (la suite).
France was first inhabited by the Celts, an Indo-European and ethno-linguistically diverse group of tribal societies in the Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages. This Celtic culture had expanded over a large area to the British Isles (Insular Celts), France (Gauls), Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, northern Italy and the Balkans. By the first millennium CE, following the Roman invasions and the Great Migrations, the Celtic culture became restricted to Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and to northern France (Brittany).
Expansion of the Celtic culture, BCE.
Then the Romans invaded, and Vulgar Latin quickly took hold among the urban aristocracy for mercantile, official and educational reasons, but did not prevail in the countryside until some four or five centuries later.
The Franks: From the 3rd century on, Western Europe was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and east, and some of these groups settled in Gaul.
Scandinavian Vikings invaded France from the 9th century on, which threw a few Old Norse words in the mix such as: mouette, crique, hauban and hune.
About the same time, many words from the Arabic language came into the mix primarily via Medieval Latin, Italian and Spanish. Words such as: élixir, orange, safran, alcool, bougie, coton, alchimie, hasard, algèbre and algorithme.
An aside: beginning in the 7th century, Arabic became what Greek had been to the Hellenistic world, a common language to the Islamic world. The language created an international network of letters, science, philosophy and medicine. Islamic people practiced religious tolerance, cultural tolerance, excelled in trade and were a curious people who quickly became experts in philosophy, astronomy, geography, mathematics, chemistry and medicine. Hence the words above. (For more, take a look at this series of films: The Byzantine Empire Parts four and five.)
So, where does all this leave us? With a mix of Celtic Gaulish and Vulgar Latin, sprinkled with German, Scandinavian, Old Norse and Arabic.
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in northern France, modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th to the 14th century. Old French is broken down into two principal types: langue d'oïl in the north, and langue d'oc, the Occitan language spoken in Provence.
Medieval French Scholar
In the third Council of Tours in 813, priests were ordered to preach either Romance or Germanic since the common people could no longer understand formal Latin.
Old French became a literary language with the chansons de geste which told tales of the paladins of Charlemagne and the heroes of the Crusades.
And, in 1539, by the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, King Francis I made French the official language of administration and court proceedings, ousting the Latin that had been used up until then.
This French is called Middle French (moyen français).
In the 17th and 18th centuries, following a period of unification, regulation and purification, the language developed into what we call Classical French. The foundation of the Académie française in 1634 by Cardinal Richelieu created an official body whose goal has been the purification and preservation of the French language.
.A total aside: (The Cardinal is played by Charlton Heston in a film based upon Alexandre Dumas père's The Three Musketeers, or read a little Alexandre Dumas père or fils.)
During The Age of Enlightenment, from the 17th to the 19th centuries, French became the lingua franca of educated Europe especially in regards to arts, literature and diplomacy.
Weimar's "Courtyard of the Muses"
An interesting side note: According to historian Eric Hobsbawm, "in 1789, 50% of the French people didn't speak French at all, and only 12 to 13% spoke it 'fairly'" as there were many local dialects or "patois". "...in the north as in the south of France, almost nobody spoke French."
In the last century, there has been a great influence of English in the French language (Franglais), especially in regards to international business, the sciences and popular culture.
Recently, there has been pressure from some regions of France for recognition and support for their regional languages (remember all those "patois" dialects above?).
Today, the Académie française continues to preserve the French language.
Whew, that was fun and interesting!!
Groses kisses et see you bientôt.
Friday, January 6, 2012
After much research, and discussion amongst French friends, I have come to the conclusion that France is indeed quite the melting pot! The history of its language is a real mish-mash of invading forces' languages and cultures, which makes for an interesting story.
French is a descendant of the spoken Latin language, Vulgar Latin, of the Roman Empire, as are languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Sardinian and Catalan--all are called "Romance Languages".
The Roman Empire in 60 CE
In the Roman Empire, there were two types of Latin: Classical Latin which was written and spoken by the upper class, and Vulgar Latin which was not written, but only spoken by the lower class.
The invading Roman forces were primarily lower class subjects who spoke Vulgar Latin. As the Romans stuck around for quite a while, their Vulgar Latin gradually blended in with local dialects and languages, creating new languages.
Julius Caesar, Emperor of the Roman Empire, conquered Gaul, now known as present day France, in 50 BCE. The Romans found the people speaking a language known as Gaulish, which is known to be an ancient Celtic language dating to before 500 CE used in the western and central parts of Europe and Asia Minor.
The most famous Gauls are, bien sur, Asterix and Obelix from René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's comic book tales of the Gauls fighting off the Roman invaders! Excellent reading, wonderful wit and prose (brilliant translation).
While the French language evolved from Vulgar Latin, it was nonetheless influenced by Gaulish, especially in its phonological development. In French, some 200 words of Gaulish origin have been retained, most of which pertain to folk life such as: lande, chêne, alouette, belette, boe, cervoise, mouton, changer and craindre. Other Celtic words were not borrowed directly but brought in through the spoken Vulgar Latin: béton, chainse, glaive, manteau and vassal.
Vulgar Latin quickly took hold among the urban aristocracy for mercantile, official and educational reasons, but did not prevail in the countryside until some four or five centuries later.
An invading tribe of Franks
From the 3rd century on, Western Europe was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and east, and some of these groups settled in Gaul. In the history of the French language, the most important of these groups are the Franks in northern France, the Alemanni in the modern German/French border area, the Burgundians in the Rhône Valley and the Visigoths in the Aquitaine region and Spain. Their language had a profound influence on the Latin spoken in their respective regions, altering both the pronunciation and the syntax.
The name of the language itself, français, comes from Old French franceis/francesc from the Germanic frankisc "french, frankish" from Frank ('freeman'). The Franks referred to their land as Franko(n) which became Francia in Latin in the 3rd century. (Whew, that's a mouthful!)
Sources disagree on how much of the vocabulary of modern French comes from Germanic words, ranging from just 500 words (1%) to 7% of modern vocabulary. (Note: according to the Académie française, only 5% of the French words come from English!)
The Germanic words are words associated with social structure like: baron/baronne, bâtard, féodal, garçon, lige, maçon, maréchal, and marquis. Military terms like: attaquer, bière, flèche, guerre, garder, loge, marcher, rattraper and troupe. Colores such as: blanc/blanche, bleu, blond/blonde, brun, fauve and gris. And Common words such as: abandonner, banquet, bâtir, bois, bonnet, chagrin, choix, chic, cliché, crèche, danser, flan, frapper, galant, gâteau, jardin, joli, laid, masque, massacrer, mauvais, mousse, orgueil, parc, rater, regarder, remarquer, riche/richesse, robe, saisir, salon, savon, soupe, tampon and tomber.
Duchy of Normandy in pink
In 1204 CE, the Duchy of Normandy was integrated into the Kingdom of France, and about 150 words of Scandinavian origin were introduced into the French language, most of them having to do with the sea and seafaring.
(Let us not forget that William the Conquerer came from Normandy, his granddaughter Empress Mathilda, see my blog--there is a lot of history in Normandy, lots of haunted places, check out the "Ghostly Stories" section of my blog for more info.)
Bon, to be continued....
Happy weekend, Happy New Year, and may all your lives be filled with peace, love, fun and happiness in 2012.