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"Je ne veux pas travailler..."

Oct 14

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Sunday, October 14, 2007  RssIcon

French transport strikes in 1995So all of France is in a state of gloom after being knocked out of 'their' Rugby World Cup by the old enemy.

And if that wasn't depressing enough, there'll be a transport strike this Thursday. President Sarkozy wants train drivers to give up their extra pension benefits so that they'll have the same retirement age and wrinkly-money as the rest of the public service.

To Sarko's surprise, the train drivers would prefer to keep their benefits - and so the rail unions are all out on Thursday. There's a legal obligation on the unions to provide a minimum transport service on strike days, but it remains to be seen if this will be honoured. There's also the possibility that the strike could continue for days or even weeks, as happened in the winter of 1995.

Anyway, the strike reminds us of a French song you sometimes hear on the radio in Ireland and elsewhere - a jazzy little ditty that goes "Je ne veux pas travailler..." You know the one we mean?

Pink MartiniOf course you do. The song is called 'Sympathique'  (which means 'nice') and it's from the 1997 debut album of the same name by a 12-piece jazz-lounge-pop band called Pink Martini (left). Strangely, despite the heady Gallic flavour of the song, the band aren't French - they're from Portland on the west coast of the USA, home to The Dandy Warhols, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and many other alt-rock bands.

Also, even though it sounds like an authentic artefact from the days of Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker, the tune was written by the band's core duo, singer China Forbes and pianist Thomas Lauderdale. But they didn't write the lyrics, which come from a piece of whimsical verse by the celebrated early 20th century French poet and man-about-town Guillaume Apollinaire. (Among his other feats: he coined the word 'surrealism', was accused of stealing the Mona Lisa, received a serious head wound in the trenches of World War I, died of Spanish flu two days before the Armistice and was buried in Pere Lachaise.)

The song came to prominence when it was featured in a TV ad for the Citroen Picasso (very useful in times of transport strikes), and it seemed to spread in popularity by word-of-mouth and occasional radio play. Your future blogger, before The Great Leap Frenchwards, recalls hearing it a few times on Ray D'Arcy's show on Today FM around 2001-02.

However, you might be surprised to learn who claims to have been the first to play the song in Ireland - none other than football commentator George Hamilton (right, on television). Now, we hasten to add that George wasn't spinning discs during Irish international games - he hosts a fine little music show called 'The Hamilton Scores' on Lyric FM on Saturday mornings. George also writes an interesting classical music column for the Irish Independent every Saturday.

[On a related football commentator/music DJ point, did you know that the Irish Top 30 chart show on RTE radio in the 1960s was originally presented by Jimmy Magee?]

For such a sweet little song, 'Sympathique' is actually quite subversive (the French rail unions would no doubt approve). The chorus goes: "Je ne veux pas travailler / Je ne veux pas dejeuner / Je veux seulement oublier / Et puis je fume" - in other words (i.e. English ones), "I don't want to work / I don't want to have lunch / I just want to forget / And so I smoke". In both French and English, 'smoke' here is clearly understood as being of the Cheech-and-Chong kind.

Pink Martini have just released their third album, 'Hey Eugene', which continues the band's cabaret sound and tradition of terrible titles and album covers (their second record was called 'Hang On Little Tomato').

Anyway, out of solidarity with our fellow-workers, here's Pink Martini and 'Sympathique'. The video is anything but sympa, by the way:

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Author

Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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