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There was little music in Bruno’s childhood, other than what he heard at the church orphanage and pop songs from when he joined the army. A handful of them have stayed in his head, from the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, from Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA to the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms and some tracks by Blondie, Bob Marley.
Bruno has no TV set and relies on his radio which also plays CDs, of which he has a small but growing collection, most of them gifts from friends.
The Mayor always gives him a classical CD for Christmas, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, Bach fugues, Mozart concertos and most recently a compilation of Puccini arias which has sparked an interest in opera.
His friend the baron introduced Bruno to the music of bal musettes the classic French songs of the baron’s own youth.
The music Bruno has come to treasure are songs and tracks to which has been introduced by friends and lovers, or which bring back memories of people and places and moments that are precious to him.
A revolution in his listening habits took place when Isabelle introduced him to the videos and live performances on YouTube.
1) Que Reste-t-il De Nos Amours? by Charles Trenet, written and first recorded in 1942 under the Nazi occupation of Paris. One of the great French love songs and a charming melody, Bruno first heard it over dinner at the baron’s house and then the baron took him to a screening of the Francois Truffaut film ‘Baisers Volés,’ a title taken from a line in the song. For Bruno, it sums up his bitter-sweet memories of the happy summer of his love affair with Isabelle.
2) Le Port d’Amsterdam, Jacque Brel, one of the YouTube performances that Bruno first encountered through Isabelle. For Bruno, the Belgian Jacques Brel is the greatest of chanteurs and the one performer he most regrets never having seen live. This deeply poetic song of sailors, drunks, whores and raw human appetites has been powerfully performed by David Bowie and many others. But when Brel himself sings it in his harsh and uncompromising voice it becomes electrifying.
3) Sweet Dreams Are Made of This, Eurythmics. Bruno heard this for the first time at Pamela’s house, one of a series of CDs she had made of her own favourites from the music she heard growing up in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s.
4) Sultans of Swing, Dire Straits. Bruno remembered first hearing and enjoying this on one of his first overseas assignments with the army, in a canteen at the French military base in Cote d’Ivoire. But when Isabelle showed him live performances on YouTube of different versions of the song and the extended guitar solos he found himself discovering whole new depths to the music.
5) Je Ne Regrette Rien, Edith Piaf. It is impossible to grow up in France and never to have heard this classic Piaf song. But Bruno has always heard it a little differently since the baron told him of watching the French legionnaires and paratroops in Algiers returning to their barracks after their failed military coup against De Gaulle. They sang this as they left the city in their truck convoys, headed for arrest and the dissolution of their rebel units, and singing this song.
6) Feuilles Mortes, Juliette Greco. Another song he first heard at the baron’s place. He had heard of Greco but this song made Bruno take a copy of her autobiography ‘Je suis faite comme ca,’ from the St Denis library and began reading more widely around French history of the 1950s and 1960s.
7) Leyla, Eric Clapton. He had heard this on the radio, in barracks but it became sealed into his memory when he heard it played in the Sarajevo basement dance clubs where they turned the music up loud to block out the sounds of incoming artillery.
8) Atomic, Blondie. This was Bruno’s favourite song as a teenager. Like many young French people he picked up more English from pop songs than he ever learned at school. Two phrases from the song, “Make it magnificent” and “Your hair is beautiful” have never left him.
9) Le Chant des Partisans, Yves Montand. There are many versions of this anthem of the French Resistance, written in 1942 by Anna Marly and based loosely on a Russian folk song and broadcast as a signature tune of Honneur et Patrie, the BBC wartime radio service from London for the Resistance. Bruno finds this version, from Montand’s album Les Grands Chansons, particularly powerful because of the sound of marching boots and the strains of the Nazi tune, the Horst Wessel, being steadily overwhelmed by the Partisan voices. Bruno can never hear it without tears in his eyes.
10) Love Song to a Stranger, Joan Baez (Katarina’s favourite song). This is a song that brings back his love affair with Katarina when Bruno was stationed in Bosnia as a member of the UN peacekeeping force. He first heard it sung by Katarina in her room, accompanying herself on the guitar. Many years later, he came across Joan Baez singing it on YouTube in a live 1973 performance in Paris.
11) Niz polje idu, babo, sejmeni by Nestor Gabric. A Bosnian folk song, of the kind known as Sevdah, the music that helped the Bosnians to survive the war, and was used by many politicians to try and unite the country. For Bosnians it is of huge cultural importance and for Bruno it brings back the horrors of the siege and of a doomed UN mission to ring peace where there was no peace to be kept.
12) Vienna, by Ultravox, another of the rock videos he first saw on YouTube as he and Isabelle spent a long morning in bed while she browsed through some of her favourite songs.
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