Charmed by Leonard Cohen

with 8 comments

Beautiful interview with Leonard Cohen (google translation)in La Presse this morning. It is so refreshing to hear a Montrealer who understands and accepts with such lucidity the reasons of the estrangement he feels in his own city, without feeling he needs to condone or condemn.

“In Montreal, everybody felt like a minority: the French because they were a minority in Canada, the English because they were a minority in Québec and the Jews because they were a minority everywhere (nervous laugh). Three solitudes, indeed. It persisted until René Lévesque. I think the Parti Québécois really brought the French fact into consciousness.”

It is also rare to see a Anglo-Canadian artist, let alone one who is an international legend, treat the francophone public with such affection and respect. Not many international superstars play the Cégep de Chicoutimi and I’m pretty sure none ever addressed the Moncton public mostly in French.

Last Wednesday underground deities and most brilliant musical group since Harmonium to come out of Montreal, A Silver Mt.Zion and Tra-la-la Band (formerly Godspeed You! Black Emperor) played Sala Rossa on the Main. We got one “Merci” and one “Merci d’être venu ce soir”.

Written by angryfrenchguy

June 14, 2008 at 1:28 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Nice post. :-)

    The word ‘Jew’ takes a capital.


    June 15, 2008 at 9:29 am

  2. Oups. Fixed. No disrespect intended. Thanks.


    June 15, 2008 at 9:57 am

  3. Have they withdrawn this interview for some reason? There seems to be no way to pull that article up on the cyberpresse site at the moment.

    AFG, I have a question for you. Last night, not for the first time, I found myself in discussion with a French person (i.e. from France) on the topic of Quebec, its language and politics. And not for the first time, I had to listen politely as someone from the Metropole proclaimed that they could scarcely understand Quebec French. (Picture a smug curl of the lips, a Gallic shrug, a dismissive wave of a Galoises…)

    I’m pretty sure this is simple, if unconscious, cultural chauvanism on the part of the notoriously sniffy French– if an “aspiring” speaker of French like me can understand both varieties, why not a native speaker? I usually assume it’s a sign that people in France are not used to people from elsewhere speaking their language, as most native English speakers are.

    But one of the delights of the more rabid anglophone Quebec-haters is declaring Quebec French to be “substandard”– and indeed, I suspect there are some Quebecois who feel the same, in the same way that, say, Americans fawn over British accents.

    So what’s the story, AFG? Can the French understand you? Can you understand them? What is the France-Quebec linguistic dynamic, and how is it experienced by native speakers on either side?

    Sorry this is off-topic for the post, but as you can tell, these snooty Eurofrenchies get under my separatist skin…


    June 15, 2008 at 12:25 pm

  4. I updated the link.


    June 15, 2008 at 1:13 pm

  5. A few years ago I saw a movie shot in working-class Marseille called Fanny et Alexandre, I believe. I didn’t understand a word. Marseille French is further removed from standard TV French than standard Québécois.

    Then later I saw athing on TV about Haïtian writer living way out in a fishing village in Québec’s Côte-Nord. I could understand him fine. I couldn’t understand his neighbors.

    The British have had to accept long ago that most English-speakers lived off the island. Same for Spaniards and Portuguese. The French are still very much in denial, even though they count for only 60 million of the 265 French-speakers worldwide.

    Québec, unlike Latin America or English North America, is only 6 million people. Easy to ignore.

    People from France who come to Québec usually sort out the accent difference within weeks. Attitude has changed in France as well. A lot of Québec artist have made it big over there and our accent is not strange to them as as it used to be.

    I speak English, French and Spanish and I can assure you Québécois is not any more different from France French than American to British or Mexican to Castellano.

    It is French chauvinism. They wouldn’t be French without it. People in Québec are not usually offended by that attitude, we just ignore it like we ignore the Académie Française and Johnny Hallyday.


    June 15, 2008 at 1:39 pm

  6. Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions) by Denys Arcand did very well at the box-office in France just a few years ago and did not require any subtitles at all. Stuff from Quebec that requires subtitles would be similar to movies like Trainspotting where the characters are from a particular socio-economic background and have thick local accents. Not sure how many people in Omaha, Nebraska could “get” everything said in Trainspotting…

    Personally, I’ve never had any trouble undertanding or being understood by European francophones from France, Belgium or Switzerland. Sure, there are differences but they are no greater than those between British and American English. The main difference is that Brits spend a far, far greater proportion of their leisure time watching Jerry Springer and CSI than people in France devote to stuff from Quebec. So the British are more familiar with American English.

    Although, as has been pointed out Quebec artists have constantly increasing exposure in France, and I am often surprised at some of the folky “slangy” stuff from here that is catching on over there these days. I always ask myself: “are they really getting what they’re saying?”

    Finally, there is an ongoing feud between Quebec and France over dubbing of Hollywood movies. Both places would like to see most movies dubbed on their turf. The French argue that movies dubbed in Quebec are incomprehensible to French audiences because of the accent. But the reality is that Quebec actors who do dubs park their accents at the door and use a totally neutral international French accent. It’s just a bogus argument levelled against the Quebec dubbing industry when everyone know it’s really all about money.


    June 15, 2008 at 9:09 pm

  7. AFG, I’ve printed out and laminated your reply and will carry it with me at all times, so as to help those poor benighted citizens of France to live up, at least in some small way, to their ideal of fraternite….


    June 17, 2008 at 6:35 pm

  8. Love Leonard Cohen. I just sang “The Partisan” at a Kareoke bar recently. He’s a true poet. This post made him look all the more better.

    Thomas Dean Nordlum

    August 9, 2008 at 10:11 am

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