In one of the earlier James Bond novels – Diamonds Are Forever, published in 1956 – there is a scene during which Bond comes across a record player with the needle riding the groove at the end of the record. Bond goes to the record player and identifies the LP, which turns out to be Echoes of Paris by pianist George Feyer. Then, author Ian Fleming tells us: “He examined the other side and, skipping ‘La Vie En Rose’ because it had memories for him, put the needle down at the beginning of ‘Avril au Portugal’.”
I first read Diamonds Are Forever when I was twelve or so, and I missed a few things in that brief passage. First, I had no awareness of “La Vie En Rose,” one of the great French pop songs and one most frequently associated with singer Edith Piaf. Second, I missed Fleming’s hint that despite Bond’s stoic and sometimes aggressive demeanor, there were times when he was vulnerable. Third, because I had not yet read Casino Royale, the first Bond adventure, I missed what I think was a reference to Bond’s ill-fated love affair with Vesper Lynd.*
And fourth, I didn’t get – and I recall being puzzled – how a song can hold memories. That tells me that at the age of twelve, I didn’t yet understand one of the main premises on which a lot of my writing – including this blog – would eventually be based: That our memories come along with us (whether we like that or not) and one of the best keys to unlocking our closets of memories is music, whether it’s Lou Christie’s “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” Moby’s “South Side” or Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose.”
That last tune, the one that left me blank when I first read its title in Diamonds Are Forever, now has memories that come to the surface when I hear it: First, I’m back in French class during my junior year of high school as our teacher, Madame Coffman, tries to explain the impact Piaf had on French popular culture. And then, I have in my head an image of James Bond – played by Sean Connery, of course – looking at the label of an LP. He cocks his head ever so slightly to the side as he does. Then he carefully places the record on the turntable and sets the needle at the beginning of the third track before getting back to the task that brought him to the room with the record player.
And that’s how memory and song overlap: Sometimes the song comes to us before the incidents that create the memory. Sometimes those incidents come first and the song comes by later. And on occasion, the song and the makings of the memory arrive together, and those times, I’d suggest, are among the most potent of the things we carry around with us. And as long as we live, music will remind us of the people, places and moments that we store in our closets of memories.
So, for James Bond, for Ian Fleming, and for that twelve-year-old reader who had yet to discover the often bittersweet linkage between music and memory, here, from 1947, is Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose.” And it’s today’s Saturday Single.
*I saw a note at a James Bond board this week that referenced John Pearson’s 1973 book, James Bond: The Authorised Biography of 007, saying “Pearson (who I am reading) suggests Bond’s disaffection for ‘La Vie En Rose’ occurs even earlier than Vesper.” That may be, as I am no Bondologist. But there is, if I recall correctly, a reference to “La Vie En Rose” being played in a nightclub in Casino Royale, so I’ll stop right there.
Tags: Edith Piaf