When I was a child there wasn’t so many sad songs arround.
At that time, my uncles haven’t had left their vinyl collection in our appartment. Not yet.
All I was left with was a radio tape player. It was in the late 70s. Disco, upbeat and joyful music were king.
I was sad at that time. But I didn’t knew it. I wasn’t aware of it. How is a 6 years old child is suppose to know what sadness is?
When I think about it, I wasn’t sad because my parents left their homeland or because they had to fight to survive as newcomers in this alien country called France. Sadness was simply a result of lack of sunlight and lack of street life. Compare to the streets of Phnom-Penh or Saigon, the surburbian city of Pantin felt like a permanent visit to some old boring relatives. Where adults would talk endlessly about boring things. Where kids would not be allowed to play. Not allowed to be kids.
And the grey sky I saw in Paris for the first time. Those grey highways, those grey buildings when we left the airport had left such an impact on me. It was like an iron mark on my soul. An impression that would last forever. Even the most sunny summer days that came later would not soften that feeling.
But after all these years, I came to terms with sadness. I even managed to find some joy in being sad. But how do you deal with sadness when you see it for the first time? When you have no experience in that matter ?
You deal with music. And that’s why sad songs are so important. Sad songs teached me sadness. Sad songs told me it was ok to be sad. They told me that I was not on my own in the face of sadness. I felt understood. I felt better. Sad songs made me feel better.
There was a Francoise hardy casset tape at home. I dont know who brought this to our place. I know my mother is a huge fan of her, but I am pretty sure she didn’t buy anything like that. She wouldn’t buy anything at all.
The music of Francoise hardy saved me. When she started, most of the singers of her generation would follow a well-known and successful recipe: some brainless french lyrics on top of American hits. Their songs were all about having fun, being young and happy. Her first released was also an adaptation of the american song « Oh oh Chéri ». But her first hit « Tous les garcons et les filles » (All the girls and the boys) displayed some unusual level of melancholy and sadness. That would become her trademark.
Most of her songs revolve around a recurrent lesson in life : nothing really last. She sings about loss. She sings about lost friends and lost loves. But for me, 2 songs hit home : « Mon ami la rose » (My friend the rose) and « La maison où j’ai grandi » (« The house where I grew up « ).
By the age of 5, France was the 3rd country where I had to move. I experienced the loss of my home twice already. But it didn’t really matter at that time. I had my parents, my grand-parents and no close relatives died so I guess I was ok. However deep inside me, there was a pain. When I first heard the songs from Françoise Hardy, there was something very familiar. As far as I can remember, I never paid attention to lyrics before. The feeling she expressed in her songs, it helped me organize and make sense of my own feelings.
In « La maison où j’ai grandi » she talks about returning to the place where she grew up and not finding the friends nor the house where she lived.
Je ne sais pas où est ma maison,
la maison où j’ai grandi.
Où est ma maison?
Qui sait où est ma maison?
Ma maison, où est ma maison?Qui sait où est ma maison?I dont know where is my house.The house where I grew upWhere is my house?Who knows where is my house?My house, where’s my house?Who knows where is my house?
Years later, in 2004, I made a trip to Saigon. My mother drew me a map from her memory on a sheet of paper. So I went there. I couldn’t recognize the streets. I had no idea where the house was. Nothing seemed to match my memories. Like a fool, I ran to every single elderly in the streets showing them my hand-made map :
Where is my house?
Who knows where is my house?
Where is my house?