A French taxi driver and actor/singer Yves Montand
BROADCAST: 1962 | DURATION: 00:47:45
While waiting to see Yves Montand, Studs speaks with a taxi driver through an interpreter, Michelle [Viande?]. Also speaks to Yves Montand. [This Montand interview is also 1915409-3-1. Peggy Nelson is on 1925288-3-1.]
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Auguste Humet [French].
Studs Terkel This is the voice of cab driver, a French cab driver who has been working his beat for the past 38 years, and I'm curious: Michelle [Vian? Viane? Viand?] is seated in the back here, and this is just before we're interviewing Yves Montand, we're waiting outside, and since he's been driven--been driving for 38 years, ever since 1924. What is his reaction, Michelle? What has happened to the traffic situation?
Michelle Viand It's very different because, of course, there weren't so many cars and for example, they were very much more considered, and he was called "Mr. the Mechanician, and now they just say "chauffeur."
Michelle Viand Auguste Humet. J'habite dans Boulogne sur Seine. And he lives in Boulogne, which is very near Paris, it's a suburb of Paris in the south, and Mr. [Humais?] was in 1922 the chauffeur of an American family.
Studs Terkel Delaney probably would be Delaney, I suppose. I'm thinking now, Monsieur, you were a chauffeur. Now you are a cab driver. But the traffic itself, have the people changed in 38 years since you are no longer referred to as "Mr. Technician" but merely a chauffeur. What are the attitudes of people generally on the streets driving? What change have you noticed in the
Auguste Humet [French].
Michelle Viand [French].
Auguste Humet [French].
Auguste Humet vieux temps? Eh bien, oui, j'etait [French]. Yes, he was very happy. Parce-que vous savez le dimanche, nous avions le famille, et nous sortions au de Paris, nous allions a la compagne, [French].
Michelle Viand It was much more familial. For example, every Sunday--not sometimes, but every Sunday--he used to take families out of Paris, and they went, going into picnics, and visiting. Now, from time to time, he has an American that wants to see the Chateau de Versailles, and goes there, but it's very seldom. The work isn't so nice and isn't so familiar as it was.
Auguste Humet [French].
Auguste Humet [French].
Auguste Humet [French].
Auguste Humet [French].
Studs Terkel Thank you very much, Monsieur, beaucoup. Thank you. No, no, please! [pause in recording] This is the eve of homecoming for me. Seven weeks away in Europe, Rome, London, Paris, back to Paris again. And I can't think of any better way for us to return home and end this trip than being in conversation with the most natural of men. Last night at the Theatre Etoile--
Studs Terkel De l'Etoile. De l'Etoile. Theatre de l'Etoile from the second balcony. There were four of us watching an artist at work. But he was more than an artist, he was a free man on that stage. He was, I suppose we'd say the natural man, Yves Montand. And I understand now why it is that all France, people in provinces and cities, feel such a deep affection for him, because last night on that stage they saw a free spirit in action. We'll talk about, I hope, with Mr. Montand about his craftsmanship itself, the discipline, the body, but more than that, the spirit of the man. Monsieur Montand, with your permission, because this was quite an experience for me last night, and my companions, the songs that you sang could be the basis of this conversation. The very songs.
Yves Montand Oui, I'm sorry for--at the beginning, I have to say, I don't speak English so well, so I'm going to try to speak very slowly and sometime I'm going to speak in French and Mademoiselle near from hers, she translate what I can't say correctly in English. Now, first of all, I'm sorry, Monsieur, I can't understand very well what you--
Studs Terkel But now I will speak a little more slowly. By the way, your English is very good, and Michelle [Viand?] will be here because again we must carry through the same principle of being a free man here in the conversation, too. So by all means, French and English, whichever suits you. The songs that you choose, see, we'll find out about your life and your thoughts, I think, through the songs that you sing.
Yves Montand [French] We know our city, everybody know his city, but we don't know very well until we go by foot, I mean, to walk in the street and see just a simple people, ordinary people, the children and little shop and the girls, of course, and I think this is put the audience in, I think, in a good relaxation through this song with the story of the ordinary man going to walk through the street.
Studs Terkel You say, this is interesting, you choose this song. True, it's a good opening number, relaxes the audience, but there's something else involved here: I think every song you choose has a special kind of meaning and flavor. The song of the ordinary man, you see, walking, you see. We live in a pretty fast time, you know.
Studs Terkel Here, then, this song, which is the nature of more--it's a vignette, too, because you act. We should, we'll point this out as we go along. You act this out, you mime it, too, and you dance it in more of this--let's hear this then, walking through, walking through life's of--"Je
Studs Terkel "A Pies", with the feet. As we listen to the song, and it should be pointed out that Monsieur Montand's art is visual, as well as audio, it's seeing him. Perhaps I should ask this now, the complete control you have on your body, the way the--when you answer the audience applause, you are still in the rhythm. You're still in the spirit.
Yves Montand Yes, because I think it's important to keep the timing of the show especially when you do the one-man show. And we must sometime, I don't know if you see that, I stop the applause because we must go on, otherwise the timing is wrong. And in the same time they applaud, we must keep, I'm try to keep the same spirit I gave a little while ago and prepare the next number coming.
Studs Terkel So this is a very definite and careful programming. It's a blending, isn't it? I mean, you don't lose the swing. You know, jazzmen would say it's the swing of it, and you're completely in the swing, in rhythm. At the same time, it's not a sharp cutting-off.
Studs Terkel As you do, indeed, as we watch you there. I think we should ask something about these songs and, before we continue the other songs, these are not pop songs, pop as we know them in America, like "boy meets girl, boy loves girl," you have love songs--
Yves Montand Well, you know, I think it's sometime a little bit difficult to explain, because I feel it. But quelque fois, sometime is difficult to explain exactly why I am in--for me, it's impossible to sing a song if I don't feel completely inside. Even if I make a mistake, because sometimes I make mistake like everybo--people, but I want to be first, first sure by myself, and if I'm not touched by the heart I don't give, and sometime I make mistake also, because in the 25 number I give there, probably three or four, some people, they don't like it, you know, but because the taste is different--
Studs Terkel Ahh, well, you've just said something that's very interesting to me. Some people don't like it, but you like it. I mean, you choose a song, I want to ask you, this is a key question. You choose this song. Not to please the--but to please yourself.
Yves Montand That's it. I think it's important. Otherwise, you are very, I don't think you can go a career in this case. You must impose what do you feel and what you, is touch you and not what the people all time wants, because, you know, even here in Europe, "The Twist", for instance, is one of the best sell records. But how strange coincidence it is, I made the 10 years ago, the French folk songs, French, this record continue to sell like nothing move about cha cha cha, or twist, or rock. Nothing. I think is the same for American song like Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, who they are the real spirit of American songs for me.
Studs Terkel Let's continue if we may, with these, now here you were walking, what is another song, we may go down the line, there are, of course, 25, but if we could cover let's say about a dozen as we go through. Now what is second, I like all these, there's "[J'Aires a la Java?]", now this is, the one of Jacques Prevert, this one.
Yves Montand "Quelqu'un".
Yves Montand "Quelqu'un" is something, he's a man completely idiot, but more than idiot, and I'm sorry to censor, you can't said that on the radio, you can say onstage. He is a man, he is sad because his name is a very, I don't know if I can said, a dirty name.
Michelle Viand Dustbin.
Yves Montand Unique.
Studs Terkel Oh, yes, I think we can use our imagination on this. But what's, as you did it, again we must recall last night to us, because people are listening, the art of Montand is a dual one. It's the visual, the mime, the acting, the athletics, the acrobatics, and the singing. And there's a wonderful humor in the doing, and of course, the audience, so we'll hear the song, then. It's "Quelqu'un", meaning somebody?
Yves Montand Somebody.
Studs Terkel Somebody.
Studs Terkel Jacques Prevert. [pause in recording] Here, then, is a man who has arrived finding his own solution. He is unique, no matter what others may say about his name. And so we go in, again, I think--what is occurring to me as we're doing this, it's suddenly occurring, that it'll be all aspects of man in one way. This is a wild kind of humor. The first of the simple walking, what's another aspect? Oh, there's one, "L'Etranger", is that "The Stranger"?
Yves Montand "L'Etrangere".
Studs Terkel "L'Etrangere".
Yves Montand Is a--"L'Etrangere" it mean "The Stranger", a woman stranger, is a story about a gypsies guy who came in the little village of France to play at night. I'm sorry, the poem was wrote by Mr. Aragon, who is one of the most talented--
Yves Montand And it decrit, it describe where some people go, there were gypsies dance and sing. And he met a wonderful girl and he take this girl and come home and make love with her. But he described these with very rich and wonderful and simple words. It's not only meet some gypsies, is more than that. And they make a big fiesta, and the big fiesta and, oh, gee, it is very difficult to
Studs Terkel I think just before we hear this song, I think you've pointed something out here. It's not just a Tin Pan Alley boy-meets-girl, boy-loves-girl, this is, some of your poems I notice are written by some of the finest of--Apollinaire, we'll come to him in a moment. Louis Aragon, [Beauvert?] was a good writer, you have the--you choose--the lyrics are very--this--literature!
Yves Montand I try to keep the lyric the most more musically best writing, but is not to be--you know, a song is just a song. You cannot sing a song is too much write like Shakespeare, for instance, he's too strong for--
Studs Terkel Simple.
Studs Terkel That's it. You're doing this beautifully. You're making this, this is again, I think, is a very key point. We'll probably have to just repeat. This point of, what makes a good lyric for a song? If it's too rich--
Yves Montand Oui.
Studs Terkel Like, let me cite an example, Sean O'Casey, "Juno and the Paycock", the Irish playwright, was put to music. And it flopped! Because some said this was a song in itself without the music, you see, it was too rich. So you must choose something simple--
Yves Montand Voila.
Yves Montand lend itself. That's it. For instance, Aragon wrote many other poem, beautiful poem, but is good to read it, not to sing, not put music on, because the poem is enough in itself, it not need music about it.
Yves Montand "Er-re".
Studs Terkel [French]. [French]. Here, then, here then another aspect, and if we may, I may be romanticizing this of the enthusiasm I felt for last night's and talking with you right now. We did just wander a bit, this will all be informal, we hear the songs, but Yves Montand, these songs about gypsies, strangers, people who are looked upon--we always fear something strange, everybody fears something strange. Yet, you make it become part of this audience last night.
Yves Montand Yeah.
Yves Montand Yes, I--no, I born in Italy. I came in France when I was 2 years old. We came here because the fascism coming from in Italy and like many Italian who some many goes to America, we came here in France and we live in Marseilles in the south of France, many years, 20 years, and I came in Paris six months before the French liberation. The Nazi were still there for six months before the liberation. And I sing for many times.
Yves Montand Yes, I work in the waterfront, I make many work in the manufactory, hairdresser, because my sister she was hairdresser for women, and I work there because, you know, the Italy family like the child, the children stay home, you understand, and this is difficult to go to working and go by yourself, you must. And like I am a lot of work, like I suppose many people do in their life.
Yves Montand Oui.
Yves Montand Well, at the beginning I didn't want to come a singers. I, when I was very young, I--very few little years ago, I went many days to see a movie. The big, a wonderful American movie with Fred Astaire. And the jazz, the good jazz with Armstrong and I'll have--J'avait--I had?
Yves Montand I had a very big admiration for Chevalier, with was and is still very good, wonderful performer. But singing for singing, I didn't like it so much. But one day I'm start because one of a very famous composer in France for us strange was Charles Trenet, who immediately every people in France sing the song of Charles Trenet, I want to go onstage for myself, choice some song of Trenet, because nobody wrote the song for myself. As you know, in France, if you want to come singer, you must have your own material. You cannot sing, for instance, the song of Chevalier sing, or Charles Trenet, or Georges Brassens, or Edith Piaf. You must have your own material.
Studs Terkel This is a very, this point you make. I remember interviewing Piaf when she was in America at the Chicago, at a club once, and asked about a song that I love to hear you sing. I wondered whether she sang it. It was called "Actualite", I think. I asked her about it, she says, "No, that belongs to Montand!"
Studs Terkel Yes!
Yves Montand Well, I worked when I was 20 years old. I work, I learned the classic dancer with a Russian professor in Marseilles and every week, three times a week, I went there to work for my legs, for dance like in opera, because you want, desire, I came a dancer for the opera because he said, "You have a big elevation and you are strong and I think is very good in the opera if you have the men like this because you can help very much the women dancer and he give to me very much. He kill me, completely, because he was too tough for me. Three hours dance like this and especially I didn't start when I was young. I mean, when I was a child. I start 18, 19 years old. Nineteen dix-neuf? Yeah, 19 years old, but this give to me a wonderful basis to can walk, acting and to
Yves Montand Yes.
Yves Montand Oui.
Michelle Viand [French].
Studs Terkel Because you do the variety. I think we should point out to the audience the variety of what Yves Montand does, aside from the songs we just hear his voice on these records. It's the dancing, the acrobatics, but the sense of rhythm. But I ask about boxing because you--the
Studs Terkel So if we may, another aspect of your observations, a part of your life, there's a song that the audience recognized immediately, and it's called "Sir Godfrey". Now, "Sir Godfrey" is a very frightening sort of figure. Tell us about "Sir Godfrey".
Yves Montand Well, "Sir Godfrey" is, I think, this in this case I utilize--utiliser, I utilize I suppose my silhouette and the story is good. I mean, but is more for you a silhouette. And what happen in the song with the story of a British exteriorly he look like sir, but in fact he is a gangster life but not with the gun, but with umbrella. And in umbrella he have a--
Studs Terkel Sword.
Yves Montand Sword. That's it. And what he explained he's tried to explain at the beginning he's a very high bry (sic) exteriorly sir. He gives oyster to his horse, and he play golf, billiard. He doesn't like to talk too much with a young girl, because we suppose maybe he's a little bizarre
Studs Terkel This is a frightening--it's funny, and at the same time frightening, and use of production, you say, it's your silhouette. On the screen behind Montand, behind which we see the orchestra, too, it's transparent, yet, we see the silhouette and, so, it makes it all the more sinister.
Yves Montand Yes.
Studs Terkel This is a drama, I should point out, too, that many of these songs are not so much songs alone, they're vignette, I suppose would be the way to describe them. They're little dramas, they're stories. So you are actor, singer, dancer, it's all three.
Yves Montand Oui.
Studs Terkel I think Yves Montand is saying now he, there were several phone calls in the middle of his work. He obviously has many, you know, involvements in theater, in films, and on--involving his one-man show. But he was just saying something. You were saying, we were speaking of the ease we feel here with you, Monsieur Montand, this ease, and you were saying this is your whole approach as a performer on the stage.
Yves Montand Yes.
Yves Montand That's it. And, I think, is one of the secret we have to give to the audience, to give the impression, look, is very easy and come and stay, and you can do the same thing. Like you remember many years ago and still now, when the big Fred Astaire dance in the movie, you think, "Oh, I'm going home and do the same thing, is so easy." No.
Studs Terkel The secret of the artist who makes it seem so easy. I think this involves a point I had made earlier in describing you as a free man. That is, a natural man. It's that ease that you have. And, yet, there's a discipline there, too.
Yves Montand Oh, and how, and very much work. But when at the moment you appear on stage you must forget everything about what it was the work, preparation and everything, discipline, and come on do it, and give me. So you must give.
Studs Terkel I think one of the things audiences want, and this is what happens with performers who just miss something, when the audience feels tense. They want that man to succeed, to go over, then we know something is missing.
Yves Montand Oui.
Studs Terkel And, yet, within that time, within this two-hour period of these oh, 20, 25 songs you op--which are, really, song dramas, you give us different aspects of your own observations as this man, Montand, and aspects of life. So we've just seen part of this Godfrey, Sir Godfrey, this bizarre figure who is rather menacing underneath. So we go from him to what, shall we say, "Syracuse", or?
Yves Montand "Syracuse".
Yves Montand Well, "Syracuse" the word it means death. The words are very good. You said, after I'm finished "Sir Godfrey", I said okay, London is a wonderful city and the people are very nice people. Because we remind what it was during the war without British people for us maybe we still now under the Nazi. We don't forget these, we don't forget Stalingrad, we don't forget the 16th of June when the American troops come in in France. For us, for our generation, we cannot miss that. On dit "missed"?
Studs Terkel Introduction?
Yves Montand Introduction to explain London is a wonderful city, the people and so and so on, go on and go on. And, but, maybe I know a lot of city in my life and many country, but still I would like very much "J'aimerais tont voir Syracuse", Syracuse who is the place like Syracuse, Babylon garden of Babylon, the llama--
Yves Montand It exist. I would like to see of this country they said is so beautiful. Going to drink palm, wine of palm, to hearing the wind sing, and the guitar play like this. Yes. Before my youth go completely and "Avant que ma jeunesse s'use et que, et que, avant que ma jeunesse s'use, et que"--Before my youth is gone and all my spring--"Et
Yves Montand Yes.
Yves Montand Also a little bit melancholy, to--yeah, that's it. For instance, what I have here now. I went Russia and America and in England, in Japan, in every country in the world and is very warm to me to remind all these places I met and a lot of people I met there, simple people or healthy people, or, you know.
Studs Terkel Here then, this is all in "Syracuse", which seemingly is just a gentle song, and it is that, you know, but at the same time has all Yves Montand's own impressions in it. This is a question of the song. I think this is another case, we'll hear "Syracuse" now, but it's an extension of your own personality, of your own observations. You cannot be separated from the songs you sing.
Studs Terkel "Syracuse". [pause in recording] As we just heard "Syracuse", or part of the song, there is something you said before the song was on, about--you spoke of London and Syracuse, you speak of things that happen in the world in recent years. And you make this part of what you do. We know that people are aware there was a war. They're aware of tensions in the world. But you bring all this out naturally. It's this--Natural man?
Yves Montand Yes, I think is difficult for our generation to get off what happened to us, especially for European people. I mean, we live under the horror of Nazi occasion, and we know what we're talking about this, and I think for us, it's difficult to separate what we call the "art" and what we call the "life." I mean, it's something--I think everything is gone together, all together, I cannot separate it. Of course, in some number I sing just art for art, like the young lady in the--
Yves Montand one. We'll come to that. You know, it's not always all the time, I say, let me see, let me think. Well, the Nazi was here, and now, okay, forget it. I mean, not forget it, but still the little life must go on.
Yves Montand That's it. And we have now the other problem. I mean, I don't know anything about atomic bomb or many thing like this. I mean, I cannot separate what is our problem, and sometimes not big problem, sometime just a little simple problem we have every days just to live, is so complicated sometime, you know, even for--I realize it's very easy for us, especially for me. I made a lot of money. And as you know, when you have a lot of money, lot of problem you can resolve very easily. This I realize that. But still we have also many problem, you know, and what I try is to, I try every night to say for two hours, "Hey, people now, forget. What we have the children, your wife, your hair gone or your teeth, or your I don't know, bodies. I mean, and come on, the life is the life." And is this something also beautiful. Many things are so.
Studs Terkel Please.
Studs Terkel We were saying, or you were saying, Monsieur Montand, about the song depending so much on the actual words, [although this is in French?] we listen to it in America, yet, as you are telling us this, it comes out clear. You said it deals with people's thoughts, serious or humorous, or sometimes problems now, and again, the use of the poet, of the serious poet, whether it's Prevert or whether it's Apollinaire, or Aragon.
Yves Montand Aragon, oui. For instance, this song I call "Est-ce Ainsi Que Les Hommes Vivent", it mean, is like that, the men live. This poem was wrought by Aragon just after the first big war, World War. When he was in the French army occupation in Germany around the years 1920-21 and I make, I say something about the voice. In this song I speak more than sing. I mean, because each word are so beautiful, and so important. We must say it with more application.
Yves Montand Yes. With the atmosphere of the birth of the blues, not the blues, but the jazz band, the first--remember in 1920, especially for here in Europe, you were in America, we were, vous etiez, we were a little bit farther.
Studs Terkel Except for one thing. I must make one point, Monsieur Montand, please forgive me for making this point, but even though we were ahead, American public wasn't, and it was men like Panassie, and others who, really, in writing these books, made other Americans conscious of jazz, you see, so it's strange how it worked. But this song that you sing, this, it's--you don't sing, as you say, this is a drama with music almost. It's a story with music.
Yves Montand is--uh. Go ahead. You were going to say something? I wanted just the explanation of this number is the story of a man who is in the French army occupation in Germany, and he stay in the closed house. I don't know if what they call it.
Studs Terkel Something like that. And there he is in for protection. No, well, crib is a word of [vulgar?], that's a New Orleans word, but this is the brothel, the universal word, and here then this drama. [pause in recording] As we listen to this, again we come to something you said earlier, other aspects that some of the songs are humorous, humorous and this one about the cigar, smoking the cigar.
Yves Montand For this song? Okay, is a guy, is a tramps, if you wish, who his name is Rockefeller, is call him, his name is Rockefeller, and we start, and he say, oh, is very wonderful to smoke cigar, just relax, playing guitar and drink rum, and especially when the name, my name is Rockefeller. Do you see the people laugh there, once they [over?], yes, I'm go travel in the car with a Cadillac and so and so. But now the second chorus is yes, this is true. We realize he is tramps in the station without not too much train come down, and the, under a paletuvier, I don't know what to call, under a tree.
Yves Montand Under an exotic tree, and, well, why I'm going to be worried, worried by myself when my name is Rockefeller? Is that say, see like this, and in the end he said the same thing. "I have not to be troubled because my name is Rockefeller." Is not the big [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel It's a sardonic song, at the same time there's a nice ease to the whole thing and I think we should point out in seeing you on the stage, there you are, we see the guitar, we see the drinks, we see a man on the road just enjoying it so much. Again, this is your particular art, so "Fumer Le Cigare".
Studs Terkel As we hear this song, I was thinking, I remember my thought, I was in the balcony, 'way up in the last row watching you do this, I think I was saying, I says, "You know, the complete way we're captivated by that, we read of jazz musicians in America smoking marijuana cigarettes, or they take certain stimulants, you know, so they could be high, here are you, the artist. You are so good. We're high without marijuana. Do you know what I mean? You see, we felt, we feel stimulated by your particular art, you know.
Studs Terkel An observation, this is a compliment, but I meant it as an observation. So we go again with the variety. Oh, we come to, I think this is my, almost my favorite number, this next one. Yes. This one here: "Les Saltimbanques", Saltimbanques. Now these are
Yves Montand Yes, a very, very small little circle with one bear and one monkey and just maybe four or five or six person. And like, if you wish, like two or three centuries ago and he wrote by Guillaume Apollinaire. The words were just marvelous, very short. In this case I say it twice. One just for the words, the second I mime, but this baladins, we call the "Baladins Saltimbanques Deux." If you wish, is the personage of this baladins are what Picasso painter (sic).
Studs Terkel Painting?
Yves Montand Well, I don't think so. Maybe my subconscion (sic) make our [unintelligible] this thing and in fact I didn't try to give these [eke him?] like these because the poem of Guillaume Apollinaire is in a connection with Picasso, one Picasso painting.
Yves Montand Yeah. Without you still sing. Now, isn't there-- This is a big gift. This, I think, is the technique. I have, every day I make some training for this, and I make the barre like the dancer in the opera every day, yes. Ten minutes every day and after this, this pirouette, you say pirouette?
Studs Terkel Yes, you do, this is the keeping your training like an athlete, like a prizefighter. But the song, I think, what's impresses us all about this song, here is almost the whole human comedy in this. You do the acrobat. You do the magician, you do the, you do all these, and yet, with a wistfulness, there's a sadness, there's a melancholy, a sort of the homeless actors, this idea. You know the, did you follow that?
Yves Montand les danceurs, [French]. The melancholy. [French], le melancolie de tous-- Yes, because it is true, I mean I try to, I mean, it's true--I'm sorry I said it about melancholy--I said, because when people give to you very big joys in the same time you are already a little bit melancholy because the joy, she's gone. When they go, they gone. They go, we still a little