“I like Charles Aznavour a lot. I saw him in sixty-something at Carnegie Hall, and he just blew my brains out.” Bob Dylan
If you live anywhere near, or know someone near, or have been somewhere in the vicinity of France, or even speak the tiniest bit of French, you’ll know about Charles Aznavour’s recent passing at 94. Charles was a fucking legend. He’s been dubbed France’s Frank Sinatra and one of Armenia’s most famous exports. Motherfucker straight up sang for presidents, popes, and royalty like it was no big deal. He recorded over 1000 songs in French, English, German, and Spanish. He sold about 180 million records and was voted Time magazine’s entertainer of the 20th century (just above Elvis and Bob Dylan). Dude was a rockstar before the world knew what rockstars were. In fact, the term “rockstar” wouldn’t exist without this motherfucker.
If you know nothing of France, or the French language, outside of oui oui, baguette, and voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir (which, I must warn you, don’t say this shit in the wrong order or you’ll end up getting fucked with a baguette) than you’ll still know Aznavour, though maybe not by name. Elvis Costello performed a cover version of Aznavour’s “She” for the film Notting Hill (the film that famously turned blubbering, stammering, and angry white British men into sex symbols for a while). If you’re not the romantic type and would rather jam to Dr. Dre’s “What’s the Difference”, a song which helped introduce Eminem into the world, that’s Aznavour’s “Parce Que Tu Crois” you’re listening to in the background. Aznavour also has a star on the Hollywood Hall of Fame. He acted in around 80 films. His most notable appearance was in the 1960 Shoot the Piano Player. This film turned out to be one of Bob Dylan’s favourites and inspired his early work. Elton John pays homage to it by, not just singing a duet with him later in life, but calling his 1973 album Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player. This album includes this little underground song called “Crocodile Rock”. There’s a whole fucking homage movie about this film called The Truth About Charlie. His music has been featured in at least 150 movies and shows including Eyes Wide Shut, Ocean’s Eight, C.R.A.Z.Y., Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and so many fucking others that there is no use to list them all. The story of Aznavour’s life is truly fucking insane. He sold newspapers to learn how to sing and dance as a kid. In around 1946, he became Edith Piaf chauffeur, roommate, and lighting man until she convinced him to go solo. This is how he started his career. The more I learn about Charles the lower my jaw drops.
There are so many great Aznavour albums, it’s impossible to pick the perfect one. But, Heir Encore shows my two favourite sides of him at once. Side one: the crooner. That jazz orientated love song singer that makes you snap your fingers as he sings perfectly behind that slick smile, cheeky wink, and slicked back hair. Frank Sinatra had his famous rat pack. Charles didn’t require a group. Motherfucker was more than enough on his own. Side two: the helpless romantic. Love songs of anguish, heartbreak, wisdom, and crying till your guts fucking explode. Nobody did this shit better. When listening to Aznavour sing you can hear him ooze and inject emotion into every syllable. The title track of this album, “Heir Encore” shows thus side of him in spades. It’s fucking beautiful. If you don’t understand French, don’t worry, Charles recorded a version in English called “Yesterday When I Was Young“. Nobody did it better than Aznavour.
Farewell Charles. Enjoy the cigarettes with Frank, the booze with Gainsbourg, et apprends-leur ce qu’est aimer.