Friday, 23 November 2012

Carla Bruni’s songs with English translation and vice versa

I am a great admirer of Carla Bruni  and her songs.  I like the very personal poetry in her lyrics and I like her music. 

My English version is meant to help me fully enjoy the French as I watch and listen to a very charming and gifted lady. 




Click on a song title in the following index to access your selected song.

Album One: Quelqu'un M'a Dit (2003)

With the help of Louis Bertignac, friend and former member of the group Téléphone, Carla Bruni wrote and composed all twelve songs in “Quelqu’un m’a dit”, which came out in 2003.

Quelqu'unm'a dit - When a treasured relationship is breaking up, one clings for a time to vague hopes that are as valid as rumours.

2  Raphael -           
Carla Bruni tells of her passionate love for Raphael, the philosophy professor and media personality, with whom she formed a relationship in 2001.
3  Tout le monde - The crass indifference of those who are happy to let even the most cherished memories die. 

4  La Noyee - This is a cover version of a song by the famous French singer and poet Serge Gainsbourg. His influence creates a darker and more pessimistic picture of the human condition.

Le Toi du Moi - One can imagine that this is a traditional game that lovers might play, in which they are trying to prove how they perfectly complement each other

Le ciel dans une chambre - Carla Bruni sings of the magical transformation of her bedroom when she is in the arms of her lover.

J'En Connais – She reflects defiantly on all the many men in her life

8  Le plus beau du quartier - A satirical portrait of a paragon of fashion, whose bisexuality permitted him a universal pasture for his vanities.

9  Chanson triste - A short song at the end of a love that failed but does not deserve to be forgotten.

10  L'Excessive - Carla Bruni introduces her song by saying "Cest une chanson de quelqu'un qui aime beaucoup les exces.  Mmmmm Mmmmm!"

11  L'Amour - Carla Bruni and her musical collaborator, Louis Bertignac, present a song in the style of American Blues.

12  La dernière minute - Carla hopes that at the end of her tumultuous, chaotic life, she will be allowed one brief moment to pay her last respects to it all it has meant to her - just one minute.                                                         

Album Two: No Promises  (2007)

It was not until January 2007 that Carla Bruni’s second album, entitled “No Promises” finally came out. Once more accompanied by Louis Bertignac, Carla chose to set to music texts from British and American poets of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Yeats, Auden, Emily Dickinson and many others. She moved away from the style that made her first album such a success, by singing in English.

6)      "Autumn"  - Walter de la Mare

8)      "I went to Heaven"   - Emily Dickinson

9)      "Afternoon"  - Dorothy Parker - Looking forward uncertainly to old age

10)   "Ballade at Thirty-Five" -  Dorothy Parker - a young woman's defiance at a difficult time

Album Three:- Comme si de rien n'était" (2008)

Having decided to combine her position as France's First Lady with her ongoing singing career, she released her third album on 11 July 2008.  The title: "Comme si de rien n'était"  was that of a photographic work by her brother, Virginio Bruni Tedeschi, who had died in 2006. The release of "Comme si de rien n'était", a year after her husband had been elected President in May 2007, caused great excitement in the international media and journalists and commentators were unable to decide whether to discuss the album from the point of view of music or of politics.

1)      "Ma Jeunesse”   - As her youth is coming to an end, Carla Bruni looks back on the mixed up, tumultuous years and her main thought is regret at the time she has wasted as this period has sped by
2)      "La Possibilité d'une Île”  - This is an adaptation of a poem by Michel Houellebecq which she finds as romantic, and as  beautiful as verses of Baudelaire.
3)      "L'Amoureuse “ - The exhilaration of the intoxicating, sensuous enhancements that the world assumes when a woman falls in love.

4)      "Tu es ma came “ - Carla Bruni is saying that her love for her boyfriend exhilarates her as if she had taken a drug. 

5)      "Salut Marin” - These are words of farewell to Carla’s elder brother, Virginio Tedescki, who died in 2006, at the age of 46. He had been a fanatic for solo yacht expeditions.
6)      "Ta tienne “ - Having had so many lovers, she now offers herself to to belong completely to just one
7)      "Péché d'envie»- In each cryptic line Carla gives suggestions of things she has done, her enjoyments and her trials, her ecstasies and disappointments, loving and fighting, behaving sweetly and not so sweetly
8)      "You Belong to Me"  - Carla sings with feeling the American hit song of the 1950s
Not yet translated

9)      Le temps perdu - Carla Bruni is proposing to some lucky man that he should take a break from all the useful things he is doing and waste some time having a cuddle with her.

10)   "Je suis une enfant»   - In a sweet, simple song, she tells how a loving childhood creates a shell in which each individual child can survive regardless of age.
11)   "Déranger Les Pierres” - Carla Bruni tells us that she based this song on the music, which Julien Clerc gave her. She finds that it makes a very big difference.
12)   "L'antilope” –
      Carla Bruni’s painful awareness of the strains of her celebrity lifestyle, with the sometimes excruciating mistakes of your past, paraded for evermore by the media and with speculation about your future fall from grace its delight.  The only way to cope is to focus narrowly on the present.

After all their wild romance, one day her lover came and told it was not working for him and their great love was over.-

Album Four:- 2013: "Little French Songs"

As early as 2010, there had been rumours that Bruni was preparing a fourth album and this appeared in April 2013 …… "Little French Songs
1)      "J'arrive à toi "
After her marriage to Sarkozy she wrote this personal song of love coming back into her life and of all the many things that were wrong before. 
2)      Mon Raymond "
Carla Bruni provides us with an insightful and novel character sketch of her husband and reveals her deep admiration for him. “Raymond” stands for “Nicholas”!
3)      "Priere "
For some moments, alone each night, she speaks aloud to someone or something beyond herself, in the vastness of infinity.  From this she is able to gain real consolation and hope.
4)      "Pas Une Dame"
She says why she does not see herself as a lady (and her evidence has already been voiced in other songs).  She is still the unruly, unfeminine child she once was. 
5)      "Dolce Francia"
This song is Carla’s own Italian version of “Douce France”, one of the most famous songs of Charles Trenet. (1913 – 2001).
6)      "Chez Keith et AnitaThis song expresses nostalgia for the 1970's.  Looking at photos of the period, Carla imagines herself present in the company of the Rolling Stones, when they were recording the album, "Exile on main street", in the South of France.

7)      "Darling"
Carla talks with total frankness about the painful loss of a close personal friend - François Baudot (1950- 2010). In tribute to him, she produces this sad and melodious song.
8)      "La Valse Posthume"
Carla Bruni puts words to the beautiful music of Chopin’s Valse Posthume”. The three time of the waltz becomes symbolic of the three stages of her life.
9)      "La Blonde Exquise"  
In her struggle to give up smoking, the thoughts of her favourite cigarette (with tabac blond) persist in harassing her.
10)   "Liberte"
Carla Bruni’s lament about the progressive erosion of our personal freedoms in the modern mass society and her desperate hope that personal liberty can yet survive.
11)   "Little French Song  "
In this nice simple song , mainly in English, Carla enjoys herself rhyming English words and French.
12)   "Lune - Carla spends her nocturnal moments of lone reflection under a full moon.

13)   "Le Pingouin"   The identity of the person satirised in this song is not revealed, but as soon as the song appeared the majority of the media was convinced that her words were directed against the man who had replaced her husband, Nicholas Sarkozy, as President of France, François Hollande.


1)     Nobody knows you when you're down and out. (Traditional American Blues)

2)     And I love her.  (Beatles song) -Carla in duet with Harry Connick Jnr.)

3)     Those little things and Ces petits riens

5)     Make You Feel My Love (Song by Bob Dylan)

6)     Fernande  (Song by Georges Brassens)- Although advised against this song, previously banned on French radio, Carla performs Brassens’ study of the inconsistent sexual consolations available to men when they are in situations deprived of women.


I am compiling some biographical notes on the following link:-  Biographical detail to serve as background information.

Friday, 5 October 2012

La Princesse et le croque-notes - a sweet trap innocently set by a vulnerable girl

This song describes an incident in the late 1940s when Brassens was still unsuccessful and living in an extremely squalid area of Paris. (He was known locally by the disrespectful nickname of "Croque-notes" -keyboard basher according to this account)  It is the story of his encounter with a sweet thirteen year old girl that seems to have disturbed him long afterwards. She had made him a very personal invitation.

The comment which follows the You Tube video recording that I have embedded on this posting, is almost unanimous in finding the story deeply touching. The blogger “Benbuken” says that one listens to the poem with a lump in the throat as it contains so much emotion and truth.

Unfortunately, the very last line of the song intrudes to cause controversy - enough to cause even  enthusiastic admirers to express very serious reservations.  The line is open to different understandings however.

La Princesse et le Croque-Notes

Jadis, au lieu du jardin que voici,
C'était la zone(2) et tout ce qui s'ensuit,
Des masures des taudis insolites,
Des ruines pas romaines pour un sou.

Quant à la faune habitant là-dessous
C'était la fine fleur, c'était l'élite.
La fine fleur, l'élite du pavé,
Des besogneux, des gueux, des réprouvés,
Des mendiants rivalisant de tares,
Des chevaux de retour, des propre' à rien,
Ainsi qu'un croque-notes, un musicien,
Une épave accrochée à sa guitare.

Adoptée par ce beau monde attendri,
Une petite fée avait fleuri
Au milieu de toute cette bassesse.
Comme on l'avait trouvée près du ruisseau,
Abandonnée en un somptueux berceau,
À tout hasard on l'appelait Princesse.

Or, un soir, Dieu du ciel, protégez nous !
La voilà qui monte sur les genoux
Du croque-notes et doucement soupire,
En rougissant quand même un petit peu :
"C'est toi que j'aime et si tu veux tu peux
M'embrasser sur la bouche et même pire...(3)

"— Tout beau, Princesse, arrête un peu ton tir,
J'ai pas tellement l'étoffe du satyre(4).
Tu as treize ans, j'en ai trente qui sonnent,
Gross' différence et je ne suis pas chaud
Pour tâter de la paille humide du cachot...

— Mais, Croque-notes, j'dirai rien à personne...
— N'insiste pas, fit-il d'un ton railleur,
D'abord tu n'es pas mon genre, et d'ailleurs
Mon coeur est déjà pris par une grande..." (5)

Alors Princesse est partie en courant,
Alors Princesse est partie en pleurant,(6)
Chagrine qu'on ait boudé son offrande(7).
Y a pas eu détournement de mineure,

Le croque-notes, au matin, de bonne heure,
À l'anglaise a filé dans la charrette (8)
Des chiffonniers en grattant sa guitare.

Passant par là quelque vingt ans plus tard,
Il a le sentiment qu'il le regrette.(9)

Georges Brassens 1972 – Fernande
In times past instead of the garden here
It was the Zone and all that that implies
Ramshackle homes and slums beyond belief
Ruins that were not Roman in the least.

As for the fauna dwelling there beneath
T’was the fine flower, t’was the true élite.
The fine flower, the elite of the street-life,
Of the destitute, the outcasts, the rogues,
Beggars competing their phys’cal defects
Of the jailbirds, of just good for nothings,
Such as a pianist bloke, a music-man,
A wreck washed up clinging to his guitar.

Adopted by this chic smart set, soft at heart,
A little fairy had blossomed here
In the midst of all this degradation
As she had been found next to the gutter
Abandoned in a sumptuous cradle
They chanced on the name of Princess for her.

Now, one night, God in heaven, protect us!
There she is climbing up onto the knees
Of piano man and softly she sighs,
While blushing all the same a tiny bit:
« It’s you I love and if you like you can
Kiss me upon my mouth and even worse…”

« -Steady on Princess, just hold your fire,
I’m not made to be a cradle snatcher.
You’re thirteen years old, I’m turning thirty
Big difference and I’m not all that keen
To sample the damp straw down in the clink.

But piano-man, I won’t tell a soul
 “Don’t keep on like that”, said he jokingly
Firstly you are not my type and besides
My heart’s already booked by a grown-up …

At that Princesse left, running all the way,
At that princesse left , weeping all the way,
Hurt that he had spurned her benefaction There was no corruption of a minor.

The piano-man, in the morning early,
Stole away inside a rag and bone man’s
Cart, while strumming notes on his guitar.

Passing through there some twenty years later
He has the feeling that he regrets it.


1) le Croque-Notes - This is the nickname that Brassens gives himself in this story of himself where he talks of himself in the third person « he ». Larousse tells me that it means a bad musician. (There is a word “croquenot” that means a clodhopper shoe)
Picture below la Zone in 1939

2) La Zone – full name "zone militaire fortifiée", was the fortified ring built around the city in 1844. In later times, “la zone” came to mean the belt of land, 250 metres wide, which had been cleared outside the city fortifications, to remove cover benefitting an attacking enemy and to provide an unobstructed view for defending guns. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, shanty towns grew up illegally on this vacant land, housing the homeless poor, who were known as Zonards. When these were dismantled from 1919 onwards, the land was re-developed with a green belt of sports fields, parks etc. and a second belt of low-cost housing.

3) tu peux m'embrasser sur la bouche et même pire – The little girl shows she is well aware that it is a very naughty thing that she is proposing, just as next when she says she will keep quiet about it. However the brazen nature of the proposal is tempered by the pathos of her words.

4) Satyre -In classical Mythology this was one of a class of woodland deities, who were attendant on Bacchus. They appear in many works of art and are represented as part human, part horse and sometimes part goat and noted for riotousness and lasciviousness. As it is a learned word, it does not shock when Brassens uses it to say he isn't a sex fiend. In translation a word is needed appropriate to use to a little girl.

5) Mon coeur est déjà pris par une grande….Brassens was living there as the secret lover of his landlady, Jeanne, who was very grown up. It has to be said that Brassens was not desperate for young love as he used to smuggle up to his room, a succession of young street women, hidden from the jealousy of Jeanne. His delight in their sensual offerings is seen in numerous poems e.g. Les amours d’autan

6) Princesse est partie en pleurant - it would seem that Brassens was startled to see the sudden deep distress that he had caused as she ran away in a flood of tears.

7) on ait boudé son offrande – This line seems to show Brassens’ realisation of the insensitivity that he had shown. Princesse like Brassens was a different character from the rest of the natives of this area, where they had both found themselves washed up. The "love" she felt for him could have been an awareness of their affinity. The significant word is “offrande”.  Even if she came as a sexual offering, he now sees it not as an offer "une offre"but as an "offrande", which has a spiritual overtone. Larousse defines the word "offrande" as “tout ce qu’on offre par une bonne oeuvre”. He knew that the little girl was different from the other girls who crept up to see him on a regular basis. Cruelly, because of his panic about her age, he had rebuffed her as if like them she was just coming for some moments of sexual fun.  But she had offered love and deserved some tender understanding.

8) a filé dans la charrette – The fact that he cleared off for a time is a further sign of the flap he was in about having an underage girl in his room. It could be that Jeanne would have something to say about Princesse running from his room in great distress, the previous night and he thought it safer to lie low for a time.

9) Il a le sentiment qu'il le regrette – I leave this phrase vague in my translation. I have made clear my own interpretation in the translation notes abovebut there many different views of what Brassens actually regretted:
The blogger, VALOOSHKA2307, says it is a beautiful song, but only if the final words of the song are deleted. In the last line, Brassens says (referring to himself in the third person): “ il a le sentiment qu'il le regrette". VALOOSHKA’s understanding is that “it” refers to his rejection of the little girl’s offer of sexual contact and that Brassens is now sorry that he did not sexually abuse a little kid of thirteen. There are other bloggers who express the same reaction, some with total disgust. However, other commentators, while going along with this interpretation, do not take the final remark so seriously. To them it is just Brassens, the anarchist, seeking to shock the croquants and croquantes by confessing his continuing appreciation of the potential charms of the young girl’s offer while still aware that it was out of bounds.

In my opinion this interpretation is wrong and risks destroying a sensitive poem. I believe that Brassens regretted not what he did, but the way that he did it. In my translation notes, I point out the lines of the poem that lead me to this conclusion.

There is the added complication that “regretter” in French has the extra meaning of “to miss”. In the last verse of "Auprès de mon arbre", he said how much he missed the simple life, however squalid – and the girls – that he enjoyed in the Impasse Florimont and perhaps this is the same meaning here.


This song has grown on me as I have been working on it. I find myself wondering what happened to the unfortunate little girl- if she was, in fact, real. I would like to think that she made a stupendous success of her life after the disadvantage and sordidness of her early years from which she perhaps drew huge resources and great strength of character. I would see her becoming a modern version of Céleste Mogador, whom Paul Fort admired in “Si le bon dieu avait voulu”.

If I was French and a talented writer, I would write a film script to celebrate Brassens’ music but, to avoid the corny run of the mill biography, tell principally the story of Mogador in the character of the “Princesse”. At every point where Brassens is weaved into the story, I would have Princesse outperform him.

I have formed this notion as I would like to see the final moments of the film enacted from this poem: Princesse is a beautiful woman in her thirties when the chance of circumstances puts her alone with Brassens for the first time since the fatal night in 1948. He has no idea who she is but he is strongly attracted to her and makes the inevitable pass. With a charming smile, she listens as each of his increasingly desperate chat-up lines fall flat . Then she makes a dignified response:

— N'insiste pas, fit- elle d'un ton railleur. D'abord vous n'êtes pas mon genre, et d'ailleurs, mon cœur est déjà pris par un grand..."

The words strike home and Brassens is puzzled and taken aback. In the silent interval that follows there is some recognition then Princesse turns and walks elegantly away.

 Classy films always end with someone walking off, but this Brassens film will have a refinement for Princesse will have a Calipyge rear to add to the hero’s final despair.

Please click here to return to the full alphabetical list of my Georges Brassens selection


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

La fille à cent sous -a skinny girl who proves an even greater bargain through her character.

The opening lines give the impression of a song on a familiar theme of Brassens – the social outsiders for whom he had sympathy, but who aroused the disapproval of conventional society.  Two men are presented to us with uncompromising frankness. They are dirty, revolting, drunken and the more desperate of the two has sold his wife to the other for one hundred pence. But the focus of the song turns out not to be sociological but sentimental. The new relationship that had been bought sparks empathy, compassion, instant passion and then, incredibly, mutual love, which, even more incredibly in Brassens, proves to be everlasting.  The story that began harsh and grim is, at the end, sweet and romantic. 
It is an intriguing song. Did Brassens, in real life, tease some-one whom he loved deeply for being skinny?  Could that person be Jeanne?  We know from his friends' accounts that Georges was able to carry on his affair with Jeanne freely, because her husband, a heavy drinker, was out to the world from early in the day.

It is possible that we have in this song a very tender account of how Brassens and his Jeanne first came together physically.

La fille à cent sous

La fille à cent sous

Du temps que je vivais dans le troisièm' dessous (1),
Ivrogne, immonde, infâme,(2)
Un plus soûlaud que moi,  contre un' pièc' de cent sous
M'avait vendu sa femme.

Quand je l'eus mise au lit, quand j'voulus l'étrenner,(3)
Quand j'fis voler sa jupe,
Il m'apparut alors qu'j'avais été berné
Dans un marché de dupe.

"Remball' tes os, ma mie, et garde tes appas,

Tu es bien trop maigrelette,
Je suis un bon vivant, ça n'me concerne pas

D'étreindre des squelettes.
Retourne à ton mari, qu'il garde les cent sous

J'n'en fais pas une affaire.".

Mais ell' me répondit, le regard en dessous :
"C'est vous que je préfère...
J'suis pas bien gross', fit-ell', d'une voix qui se noue 
Mais ce n'est pas ma faute..."

Alors, moi, tout ému, j'la pris sur mes genoux(4)
Pour lui compter les côtes.
"Toi qu'j'ai payée cent sous, dis-moi quel est ton nom
Ton p'tit nom de baptême ?
Je m'appelle Ninette. - Eh bien, pauvre Ninon

Console-toi, je t'aime."

Et ce brave sac d'os dont j'n'avais pas voulu

Même pour une thune (5),
M'est entré dans le cœur et n'en sortirait plus
Pour toute une fortune.

Du temps que je vivais dans le troisièm' dessous  Ivrogne, immonde, infâme,(2)
Un plus soûlaud que moi,  contre un' pièc' de cent sous
M'avait vendu sa femme.

 Georges Brassens
1960 - Le mécréant. 

At the time I was living in total squalor

Drunken, dirty, disgusting,
A much worse drunk than me, for a hundred cent piece
Had sold to me his wife.

When I’d put her to bed, wanting to try her out,
When I whipped off her skirt
It seemed to me right then, that I’d been strung along
In a deal where I was fooled.

Wrap up your bones my love, and hang on to your charms
You are much too skinny for me
My tastes are quite refined, it’s simply not my line
To cuddle skeletons
Go back to your husband, let him keep t’hundred cents
I won’t make a fuss about it.

But she replied to me, decidedly downcast “It’s you that I prefer………
I’m not so fat,” she said, in a strangled voice

But that is not my fault… »

Well then, I, deeply moved, took her upon my lap
In order to count  her rib-bones.
« You who cost hundred cents, tell me what is your name
The little name you were baptised ?  
I am called Ninetta.—“Well then my poor Ninon
Don't be upset, I love you. »

And this goodly sack f’bones, I wanted nothing of
Even for a dollar,
She came into my heart and wouldn't leave again
For all the wealth that can be

At the time I was living in total squalor
Drunken, dirty, disgusting,
A much worse drunk than me, for a hundred cent piece
Had sold to me his wife.

Translation Notes

(1)   dans le troisième dessous- This is an idiom meaning: " in the most abject poverty".

(2)   Ivrogne, immonde, infâme – (Poetic style) – Emphasis is achieved by the euphony of  three adjectives beginning with the same vowel.

(3)   Quand j'voulus l'étrenner – It is the noun “les étrennes” that is well-known to us- meaning the Xmas/ New Year present.  Larousse tells me the verb means to make first use of something.

(4)    Je la pris sur mes genoux – This can be taken as a gesture of tenderness but also as an indication of intimate sexual position as he is seduced by the girl.  In some of his other poems, skinniness is associated with eroticism - Oncle ArchibaldDans l’eau de laClaire fontaine and also Don Juan is captivated by a girl who lacked conventional beauty.

(5)    Une thune is, in fact a five franc piece.

I very much like this lively video made by Lez Enfants Terribles

Please click here toreturn to the alphabetical list of my Brassens selection