The Art of the Song Lyric

As part of some preparatory research into the “sorta memoir” I am at work upon, I have been poring though old boxes of my life’s detritus. (Whose most artful definition, for my purposes here, is: ‘Organic matter produced by the decomposition of organisms …’ The book will be about decomposing in some notable locales — Paris, Ireland — but, then, re-composing myself and thriving after such decomposition).

I wish today, though, simply to share the art of three pages from a small notebook I traveled with while bouncing around Paris and the midlands of France, south of Clermont-Ferrand, in the formerly volcanic heartland of Gaul. This was in the late 1970s, before easy access to printers and scanners. I forget the specific details about the creation of this particular palm-sized notebook. But I must have transcribed from a songbook these favorite songs, in preparation for playing them on my further travels.

On a layover to visit a dear friend in London on my way to France, I purchased a cheap Chinese guitar for 25 pounds sterling. Slung over my shoulder in a nylon guitar sack, it banged against my hip on my travels henceforth, through Gare du Nord, up rues near Le Sacre Couer and via trains hither and yon.

I landed at a chantier — a workcamp — for international youth in Issoire, five hours south of Paris (even though I was 29 at the time and ended up serving more as a supervisor helper). Our goal was to renovate this 17th century farm estate, Le Ferme du Gran Mas, which pre-dated Napoleon. One day, I befriended a dear French-Moroccan fellow from Issoire named Maloud. He showed up one day in leopard print shoes, a pompadour, and no English. But he had a guitar and loved to sing and play. I spoke pre-kindergarten French at the time. We more communicated through song.

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Maloud had learned Elvis Presely songs phonetically as a kid. So, when we tried to duet on the Rodgers and Hart ballad “Blue Moon, a 1954 hit for Elvis, his pronunciations were a bit unconventional. Elvis sang the opening line to “Blue Moon” this way:

Blue Moon of Kentucky, keep on shining | Shine on the woman that’s gone and left me blue …

Maloud rendered it something along the lines of: ‘Bleh men en kentacky kep in shaning …’

But, as he helped me with my French, I returned the favor in English. We were soon harmonizing the tune just like two little Elvises in the French outback. We ended up performing a set of tunes at Issoire’s Cafe Tabac one night in 1979. And then a friend of his featured us on his radio program. Since it appeared no one in that part of France could pronounce my name — Douglas — as it is pronounced in American English, I was forever introduced and known as ‘DOO-gloss’ in the French midlands. And, so, for one brief, shining moment, Maloud et Doogloss sang out across the ancient volcanic hill country pf France.

HERE ARE SOME DRAFT CHAPTERS from “WHAT HAPPENED: Confessions of a Failed Boulevardier

“When ‘Frankenstein’ Came to Town: “Listen to this!” say Tommy. He shifts the Les Paul to his lower back, rock star-like. “Edgar Winter,” he says, almost reverently. “Johnny’s brother …”

“Stormtroopers & Grandmas”: The balls of his black pupils stare at me intently, oddly echoed by the round marble of a self-shaved head. Moments later, I have second thoughts about my diplomacy as “Speak English or Die” batters the room.

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