Although I’ve long been aware of Brigitte Fontaine, it was more like I’d read about her but never really heard her actual music. I was curious, but it was never put right there in front of me. This was remedied yesterday as I was running errands and listening to her album, Comme à la radio, which came in the post via Superior Viaduct, the San Francisco-based record label that specializes in high quality reissues on vinyl and CD of unusual artists (like Tuxedomoon, Glaxo Babies, Monitor, etc).
Comme à la radio hit me like a bolt from the blue. I was truly astounded. As in the “WOW, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me”/grinning from ear to ear type of payoff that a music snob gets when he or she hears something fucking amazing for the first time. There’s nothing like that hit and I got it from Comme à la radio in a big way driving around Los Angeles yesterday.
In France, Brigitte Fontaine is a deeply respected artist—a singer, actress, novelist—who has worked in the public eye for decades and changed styles many times along the way, from an initially poppy chanson sound to more of a modern Bjork-like thing she’s been up to in recent years (I’ve been giving myself a crash course in Brigitte Fontaine. Much to explore on YouTube). Post-May ‘68, she began to restlessly explore more avant-garde sounds and recorded two superb albums back to back: Brigitte Fontaine Est… Folle (“Brigitte Fontaine is crazy”) with Serge Gainsbourg’s arranger Jean-Claude Vannier and Comme à la radio recorded with members of The Art Ensemble of Chicago and her longtime collaborator and husband, Areski. Both come out on LP and CD next week from Superior Viaduct for the first time ever in America.
Brigitte Fontaine Est… Folle is a quirky, special album that all fans of Histoire de Melody Nelson must hear. It’s got a certain cabaret theatricality and dark humor whimsy that makes it very unique. I am a huge fan of Jean-Claude Vannier, so hearing Brigitte Fontaine est… Folle was indeed a great pleasure, but it didn’t prepare me for Comme à la radio which is one of the most far out things I’ve ever heard. It’s a fucking masterpiece, make no mistake about it. The album in various places (and even in the same song) brings to mind everything from Flowers of Romance-era Public Image Ltd. (I’m being quite serious) or later Can to The Master Musicians of Joujouka. Because she does a lot of “talk singing” and whispery spoken word en France the Serge comparison is difficult to avoid as well. (Comme à la radio stands up to the best of even his work. It’s that good. On that level.)
But The Art Ensemble of Chicago!?! To employ their unique talents to realize her bohemian Beatnik musical vision—a kind of wild, arrhythmic, Arabic free jazz—was a stroke of genius and fortuitous right time/right place luck—The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Fontaine were performing at venues across the street from one another in 1969 and decided to do a number of shows together in 1969 and 1970. That this album exists is nothing short of a minor miracle. There’s nothing else like it. Nothing I can think of.
At this point, I need to stop typing and you need to hit play on Comme à la radio‘s magnificent 8-minute-long title track. Turn it up loud.
If that didn’t move you, I can’t do anything else for ya.
“L’ Homme Objet” (about a “boy toy”) from Brigitte Fontaine est… Folle
Here’s a video—I love the way they shot this—of Fontaine, Areski and The Art Ensemble of Chicago performing Comme à la radio‘s “L’été l’été” in 1970:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Avant psychedelia: The Art Ensemble of Chicago show up in French hippie movie ‘Les Stances A Sophie’
Posted by Richard Metzger |
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