Yesterday, I had a piece here about the Kennedy Center Honors, which lead, in a convoluted way to a discussion of French composer Marguerite Monnot and a video of Edith Piaf singing one of her signature songs, "Milord," co-written by Monnot. I also mentioned that she'd written another of Piaf's iconic songs, "The Poor People of Paris," which became a hit in the United States and has been recorded by many, including Yves Montand and Maurice Chevalier.
I suspect that the name of the song is more familiar to most people than having the tune on the tip of their tongues, so I thought it would be nice to have a little reminder, and another video of Edith Piaf singing it.
But a brief story first.
The original French title of the song is "La Goualante du Pauvre Jean". The complaint of poor Jean. So, how did it get to be "The Poor People of Paris," if it's poor jean who is the one upset? One story I've heard is that things got lost in translation. The name "Jean" in French is the same pronunciation as the word "gens." Or -- people! And it's possible that someone wrote it down as "La Goualante du Pauvre Gens". Mind you, I'm not sure if that's exactly what happened. But it's possible that the story is related. More likely might be that the person doing the translating recognized the homonym and realized a story about the people of Paris might have a more interesting connection for American and world audiences than the tale of one guy who's bothered.
Beyond that, it's a fun little video that looks as if it's taking place at a party, and begins with a fellow named Nate Jacques Pills talking with a friend. M. Pills, it should be noted, was the husband of Edith Piaf. As for his friend, it's some guy called Maurice Chevalier.
Anyway, I suspect that after a few bars of Marguerite Monnot's music, most people will look up and say, "Ahhh, that's 'The Poor People of Paris'"!
Except for Poor Jean who will say, "Non, ce n'est pas des gens, c'est moi!"
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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