Young at Heart

Charles Aznavour has died.

Curiously, when I type his name here Spellcheck underlines it:  Spellcheck has never heard of him.  Yet when I type ‘Sinatra’ it raises no objection.  And this is strange because through European eyes Aznavour’s diminutive 5ft 2inches frame was the embodiment of Sinatra, Bennet, Martin and even a little bit of Perry Como.  His career was as long, his fan base as widely spread, and his talent every bit as undeniable.  He just wasn’t American:  no, more than that, he was definitively French.

Aznavour was 94 years old.  He was born in 1924.  His career was ‘launched’, if that is the word, by his appearances with Edith Piaf, but international recognition had to wait until he was fifty years old.  ‘She’ became an international hit, launching a brief spate of added ‘interesteds’ to his already devoted followers.  He was feted by, and dueted with  Nana Mouskouri, Lisa Minelli, even Pavarotti for a while before fading back, not into obscurity, but to a level of established stardom that assured him of a packed house wherever he went.  He spoke fluently, and therefore sang, in five languages; his own native French, Italian, German, Spanish and English.  At the age of 90 he filled London’s Royal Albert Hall with a rapt audience for a concert.  He never retired.

To me, Aznavour was the ultimate singer/songwriter.  His songs were never covers, they were all of his own authorship, and they are many.  Hundreds, perhaps.  There were collaborators, of course, there always are, but those evocative lyrics, those haunting semi-tones were his.  Lyrics that wrenched at the heart – the regretful:

Yesterday, when I was young
The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue
I teased at life as if it were a foolish game
The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame…

Or the defiant, the ebullient:

I have lived each single moment, as a man of flesh and blood
With my soul and all my senses open wide
I have lived and tasted everything that called out to be tried
I’m afraid of neither heaven nor of hell
Never caring if I had a soul to sell.

I have one particular memory of an Aznavour song.  From such a consummate showman the lyric is the more surprising because he was a convinced heterosexual, and its timing (this came out in 1974) perfectly reflected a society struggling with the questions of a new morality.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlgQloEy2HE

Lyrics that made the thinking among us think a little more.  Bonne nuit, Charles, but no regrets.  I am sure you tried all that was out there to be tried.

Obituary for a Joker

A brief note but I have to do this.

Five days ago Alan Irwin Abel passed away.  Really.

Now I’m guessing if you live in America most of you know, but in case it slipped past you, or if you live elsewhere in the world where his death does not seem to have received coverage, here are some quick insights to a man who was multi-talented, and who sense of humour will be missed.

In 1959 Abel founded SINA – the Society for Indecent Naked Animals, whose object was to clothe all animals from toy dogs upwards.  He published a magazine as its organ of support and gained the attention of Walter Cronkite, who gave it a ten-minute slot on his news programme.

He ‘died’ in 1980 of a heart attack while skiing in Colorado, posted his own obituary in the New York Times, then held a press conference the following day to prove his death was a hoax.

Yetta Bronstein, housewife, was another of his creations.  Yetta (a mythical figure, his wife providing her voice) sought election for Presidential office; her platform included national bingo, self-fluoridisation, a suggestion box on the White House fence and Jane Fonda naked on postage stamps, to boost the ailing income of the postal service.  Yetta herself never appeared (couldn’t, of course) at rallies, so Abel appeared instead as her campaign manager.

In 1985 he organised a protest at the quality of daytime television by arranging for a ‘mass fainting’ by members of the audience for the Donahue Show.

Among his enterprises could be counted a ‘School for Beggars’ in New York (which claimed to teach down-and-outs ways to improve their ‘income’), and ‘Euthanasia Cruises’ – which sort of speaks for itself.   I believe, although I haven’t been successful in tracking back to this one, he also suggested the famine of human body parts for transplant could be resolved by a system in which the recipient paid a rental for a donated organ on a 99-year lease.

I guess Abel’s time has passed, in that anyone can be a hoaxer now.  But he didn’t have, for most of his life, access to mass media, so the orchestration of these, and many other pranks must have taken an elaborate sense for detail and considerable organisational skills.

So this was my brief obituary.  The world is the worse for the loss of Alan Irwin Abel.

https://theinfluencers.org/en/alan-abel/video/2