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Paris Dispatch, 4-27: Jazz is Paris
Miles and Miles and Miles of Malcolm McLaren

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2010 Paul Ben-Itzak

"I often go to Paris to live yesterday tomorrow."

--Malcolm McLaren, "Paris."

LES EYZIES (Dordogne), France -- I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that none of the obseques to music and fashion impresario Malcolm McLaren on French radio earlier this month mentioned his landmark ode to Paris -- and everything it has represented for romantics around the world for centuries -- in the concept album of the same name. Thanks to Malcolm, I was already dreaming of Paris for years before I'd ever seen it, having made a nightly ritual of taking my apero in my W. 8th Street Greenwich (Hint to Frenchies: Don't pronounce the 'w') Village flat accompanied by his "landscapes of love." (Skip to the end to read more extracts.) But when I first played "Paris" for a bunch of smart French friends and collegians, at a Thanksgiving dinner I hosted shortly after I moved there in 2001, the only reaction I got was from a young intello who called Malcolm's version of Gainsbourg/Bardot's "Je t'aime? moi non plus" (with Blanca Li taking the Bardot part) blasphemous. It's almost as if Parisians resent that a non-French person could have a more profound attachment and appreciation of their cultural icons -- or at least a more eloquent expression of it -- than them, as if by doing so he was usurping their right to encadre or frame it. Consequently, all (all too brief) obits of McLaren preferred instead to segregate him into foreign territory, that of the punk rock - fashion maven, for instance.

To me, though, Malcolm McLaren was simply a soul in search of a muse, following it where he found it -- fashion, music...Paris. And it's in this fashion that he linked himself the rest of us sentiment seekers, those who have often found the pantheon of sentiment -- albeit often of a melancholy and/or nostalgic color -- in Paris. Or at least the dream of Paris, a movie in black and white with a soundtrack by Erik Satie and Miles Davis, and sung by Juliet Greco, Francoise Hardy, Catherine Deneuve, Serge Gainsbourg -- all the garcons and filles who serve as McLaren's inspirations and collaborators in "Paris."

Paris's rich past, and the lingering expression of this past,, can pull one like a sort of luxuriant quicksand. When I did my own running down the rue Caulaincourt on the butte (Montmartre) last Spring, I was almost overwhelmed and overcome by that passion, as earlier in the month I'd been subsumed in nostalgic longing for Boris Vian, then the subject of numerous exhibitions and concerts on the 50th anniversary of his death at 39. (Dommage that McLaren didn't have room for Vian on his tribute, which features Deneuve talk-singing, Hardy singing, Amina in a dance track mixing up audio from a James Bond film, and tributes to Greco and Sonia Rykiel; if Paris is Jazz, as McLaren sings in "Miles and Miles and Miles of Miles Davis," Vian was Jazz in Paris.) The ghosts there in Montmartre are particularly strong; in that late afternoon alone I'd run past the demeures of Satie (high up on the butte), Pissarro, Steinlin, patron saint of the cats of Montmartre, and Lautrec, finishing by dashing across the bridge over the Montmartre Cemetery which shows up in three of the five films in Truffaut's Antoine Doinel cycle, and where Truffaut himself was finally interred in 1984, like McLaren a victim of cancer.

But the question for me, still, is whether the romantic power and pull of that past -- evoked in the Truffaut films, Pissarro and Lautrec canvasses, Steinlin sculptures, Satie and Greco music, and Deneuve films -- can manifest itself in a romantic present. Or is the pull of these emotional landscapes so strong that it's hard to find their match in present, vital, living reality?

Excerpts from Malcolm McLaren's "Paris":

I often go to Paris to live yesterday tomorrow
Because Paris is a place of dreams
Francoise Hardy. Tous les garçons et les filles.
Juliette Greco, Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve
And I'm walking with Eric Satie
Along the boulevards of Paris in the springtime.
Un orchestre d'oiseaux every so often breaks
This map of feelings
Drifting through these landscapes of love
Watching strays from Pere Lachaise."

-- "Walking with Satie," from Malcolm McLaren's 1997 "Paris."

"The Velvet Underground meets
The Velvet Gentleman.
Running down the Boulevard Saint-Germain
Happy in the spring sunshine
Into the rue Vermeuil
And the house of Serge Gainsbourg.
On his piano sits a portrait of Sid.
Sid Viscious. I sing to you
For all the things that you do
Because I love you like a girl."

-- Rue Dauphine, from "Paris."

"Meeting Juliette Greco in bed in the afternoon with Miles Davis
In a cheap hotel in Saint-Germain
Seeing them later in love at the Club Taboo
A ghost of New Orleans.
Juliette dances with Miles's trumpet
Miles and miles and miles of Miles Davis
echoes around the room
With Juliette sobbing and moaning the verses
A funeral of sublime passion
'I didn't know he was black,' she said.
'I don't know why, I just didn't.
And when I discovered he was black
I just cried and cried.'
Jazz is Paris and Paris is Jazz."

-- "Miles and Miles and Miles of Miles Davis," from "Paris."

For more of Paul's reflections on life, society, culture, food, and politics in France, click here. E-mail Paul by clicking here.

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