Culture Shock – or How Charles Aznavour Broke My Heart

It was one song, really. I felt so naive. It turned out that Tu te laisses aller was NOT the love song I thought it was.

I’ll back up a little. One of my favorite pastimes since childhood has been to do deep dives into musical artists or genres – or even a single song. It might have come from having just a few records when I was young. I was always happy to play and replay what I had. Later in life, a Bill Monroe performance led to all things bluegrass for months. “Ain’t Misbehavin’” launched weeks of Fats Waller and stride piano. Then Celia Cruz. Klezmer. Fado. You get the picture. Casual listening would never do it for me.

Back to Charles. I had been busy on a project for a few months and had hit a dry spell. Thoughts of Charles Aznavour kept popping into my head – thinking how nice it would be to take a break – to linger with him – just lean into love for a while. A potential secondary outcome might be that I could finally learn to roll my r’s and pronounce ‘amour’ with the pucker it deserved. L’amour et je t’aime et mon coeur filled my days. Apres l’amour confirmed for me that this was a language – and a culture – simply filled with romance.

When I heard Tu te laisses aller, using my very limited knowledge of French – I thought it was about a wise and loving man saying, ‘Let it go. No biggie. We’re okay.’ Then, a couple nights ago I decided to look up the lyrics in both French and English – blink, blink. Gasp. Disappointment. Tu te laisses aller means, “you’ve let yourself go.” Six stanzas of him complaining, ending with him imploring her to be the little girl she used to be. I wanted to say, “Charles! What are you doing here!” “Why!”

Then I put on my big girl pants, took a deep breath – and set about appreciating that this song was not just from a different culture – but from a different time in a different culture. It was composed in 1960! We are in such a different world today. Dieu Merci!

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