Orelsan in New York

orelsan at irving plaza.jpg

About a year ago, on the very angsty eve of my 38th birthday, a song I had never heard before, but which was apparently a new French chart-topping hit, lifted me out of my malaise. It was called “La Pluie,” and Spotify fatefully served it up to me at the exact time when I needed it most. Buoyed by the words and the music, I listened to it about a hundred subsequent times while walking around Paris, which more often than not was fittingly rainy. By that point, I was just coming out of what had felt like a bottomless well of depression and anxiety. I was in the middle of battling a health issue that would require a hospital procedure to resolve. And I was staring down my persistent French underemployment, my dwindling bank account, and my lack of any clear direction. I was finally beginning to accept the inevitability of returning to the United States to become financially solvent and figure out what to do next.

“La Pluie” wasn’t responsible for my unexpected pivot from dread to beatific acceptance, but it was while listening to the song that I realized the change had already happened, and I felt a kind of aching serenity wash over me – sadness and hopefulness at the same time. Also silliness, because for French rap to inspire such profound feelings is ridiculous.

I went to see Orelsan at Irving Plaza in New York a couple of weeks ago because I wanted to revisit that absurdly intense period of my life and the emotions that – even though often highly unpleasant – had made me feel so alive.

I suppose I set myself up for disappointment. I should know by now it’s impossible to recapture the past, especially when you’re trying. Orelsan played “La Pluie” in the first half of the show, and it somehow didn’t hit the right notes, so the trip down memory lane I had wanted to take instead turned into five seconds of full-fledged emotion followed by another minute or two of trying unsuccessfully to force it to stick around.

The rest of the show I just took it all in without trying to make it something it was not. Yes, the place was filled with more French people than I have ever seen gathered in one place outside of France. But they did not make me feel the way I did in Paris. There, I felt like an outsider but in an intrepid and exhilarating way. At the show, I felt like an insider rendered an outsider by other outsiders who lost their caché outside of France. I don’t know how to adequately express it except to say that when Orelsan led the crowd in a call and response complete with a lot of ’90’s era hand waving, “Quand je dit Irveeng, vous dites Plahzah. Irveeng? Plahzah! Irveeng? Plahzuah!” I both smiled and flinched at the awkwardness of it all.

So it wasn’t a transcendent night, but it was still a lot of fun.

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il fait quand même beau

near invalides.jpg

I turn 38 in a little more than an hour, and I’m resenting France for getting me there six hours sooner than New York would have. Not looking forward to my new age, though 37 has not been a walk in the park either. The world went ass-backwards mere weeks after my birthday last year, and it has remained fairly challenging, let’s say, since then – both globally and personally.

But as I was sitting here staring sourly at my computer screen, wanting to write something nice about the weekend but not feeling a bit of real positivity, I decided to put Spotify on. I guess based on my prior activity, the app suggested I listen to a playlist called “New Music Friday France” and out of curiosity, I hit play. The first song was French rap, which 99% of the time I find super awkward. But then I listened to the words and, since I’m always looking for and finding meaning in the flimsiest of “signs,” I became convinced that this song – La Pluie by Orelsan – was sending a direct message to me:

Toujours autant de pluie chez moi
Mais il fait quand même beau, il fait beau.

(Translation: “Always so much rain where I’m from, but it’s nice out anyway, it’s nice out.”)

The thing is, the song really is speaking to me, in ways I don’t feel like going into here. Suffice it to say, there’s been a bunch of both literal and figurative rain in my life lately, but for the past month or two, it feels nice anyway.

The song continues (this is a word-for-word translation because I can’t be trusted to do a more interpretive one): 

“Where I’m from, there’s sun 40 days a year

You could spend most of the year waiting for it.

I used to look out the window, closed up in my room,

I used to pray for the end of the downpour and to go skate the ramp.

I knew the sound of the rain, the smell of wet concrete.

If I left, it was because I was afraid of rusting.

Soaked, I would have never thought,

That in the end I’d miss the bad weather.”

(The last line could also be interpreted as, “That in the end I’d miss the bad times,” since temps can mean weather or time. I’d guess it was an intentional play on words here.)

What started out as a slightly annoying song really grew on me, and now I think it’s incredible and I’ve listened to it like six times in a row. Here it is, if you’d like to give it a go yourself. 

And now I feel buoyed enough to face the cruel march of time. 

Have a good weekend! I hope that whether warm and sunny or rainy and cold chez vous, quand même il fait beau, so to speak.