Song Of The Day 4/23/2015: Joe Dassin – “Marie-Jeanne”

Speaking In Tongues: Joe Dassin (1938–1980) was a red-blooded American, born in New York City to filmmaker Jules Dassin and violinist Béatrice Launer. Jules was one of the artisans hustled out of Hollywood by the McCarthy witch hunt of the ’50s, so his family went on one of those backpacking trips through Europe. A really, really long one. Joe came back to finish his degree at Michigan, and moved back to France where he became a popular chanson singer. “Les Champs-Elyseés,” a song so infectious it just gave the feral cats in my neighborhood worms, and “L’Été Indien” were his big hits in 1969 and 1975, respectively. I was just telling the wife that when I was in high school my French teacher (who was German) played “Les Champs-Elyseés” for us in class. I think she was trying to “bond” with us. It was also played over the closing credits of Wes Anderson’s movie The Darjeeling Limited.

(Hey! That’s two days in a row with a Wes Anderson reference on this blog! I expect a thank-you note in the form of matryoshka dolls wrapped in furoshiki, delivered to my door by Jason Schwartzman in a male cheerleader outfit with a bouzouki player by his side first thing tomorrow, Wes! I’ll meet them in the middle of my driveway – the exact, dead-center middle of my driveway.)

Anyway. Dassin also handled a bunch of country- and folk-esque covers for the French people, especially during the ’60s. There was “City of New Orleans” and “Big Yellow Taxi,” and Dassin even took a sporting shot at “A Boy Named Sue.” He really nailed today’s song, his take on Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” It’s a very faithful cover, except he changed Billie Joe to Marie-Jeanne, made all the names French and had the father work in a vineyard instead of a cotton field. As in the haunting original, there’s still no clarity on what exactly the narrator throws into the river. Maybe it was Senator McCarthy's rotted corpse.

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