Fête de la Musique

Bird of the fete de la musiqueWe went to la Fête de la Musique tonight. I have never seen Paris so exuberant. It was lovely. As nothing is ever done by halves in France, neither was this night. Over 300 bands played literally on every street corner. We arrived at Metro Palais Royale Musee du Louvre around seven, and saw a few musicians playing a bluesy kind of jazz geared towards dancing families with children. A search for tea in a cafe brought us cokes inside the Jardin du Palais Royal, which was just beginning to fill with people. We found a striped concrete “chair” and waited. In a few minutes we discovered surprisingly lovely acoustics. I won’t be able to classify the music, the first song was mainly guitar, drums, and one of those plastic children’s toys that, when spun around, makes a screeching noise. The fourteen member band had the right combination of very melodic moments and more abstract solos. The abstract bits grew less solo and we moved on, walking vaguely in search of an Indian restaurant.

We found one, just before we found a Peruvian band, in an archway near Place Jardin du Bellay, playing salsa music. Around the corner, rock music might have been nice had it not been so loud and offered somewhere to stand apart from the middle of the street. It wasn’t that late, so the cars hadn’t given up. All this was competing with a house party, which had ended up on the balcony, belting out classic French songs on a Karaoke machine, without an ounce of professionalism but plenty of fun. There was so much smiling and so little inhibition, people danced happily to music of inconsistent quality. In France, expressing such strong sentiment is rare and almost never done falsely, because, the stronger your statement the more likely someone will contradict you.

Heavy metal blared and punks moshed (if that’s what they still call it), within a block of hippies, smoking to reggae, in one direction, and in the other, rowdy pub crawlers, blocking a street, singing bawdy old French songs, accompanied by a complete horn section. On more than one occasion bands played within 30 meters of each other with everyone in between dancing to both. The drum section of a marching band had people following them from block to block and found an excellent blend when they arrived in front of a Marais bar, filled with very pretty boys, blaring house music, and spraying foam from a second story window. People bought Moroccan sausage from venders who had set up in the middle of the street. The smoke and fire, from their makeshift grills, made the fireman nervous but heightened the carnival atmosphere.

On this crazy night, the music was not nearly as special as the atmosphere, normally reserved, French don’t show enjoyment of anything. Something has to be REALLY good to make an impression. But perhaps this is the night to be easily impressed, to show exuberance, to allow oneself to visibly enjoy. Maybe they use it all up a few nights a year so they can return to an ordinary cynical state that makes them so damn stylish.

Like fireworks being shot from the middle of a crowd to celebrate the New Year, it was completely disorganized; roads not clearly blocked off but not functioning, police only in the center of town, no extra trash bins and rubbish piling up after the first hour never mind the 12th, beer bottles in quantities that made walking impossible. Waiting in line at the grocery store in Paris can cause riots, yet Parisians deal nonchalantly with utter disorder. People didn’t get upset, when two bands were competing, because they set up across the street from one another. They didn’t seem to notice. Some sort of extra refined taste in chaos.

A tight, yet very loud, punk band, near the Jardin du Luxembourg, had somehow had lost its fans to the much less interesting heavy metal band head banging to detract from their Michael Bolton hair. A question of placement I suppose, though that seemed fairly flexible. Finally we saw two mellow guys playing, not stairway to heaven but that other one, and we decided we were too old to stay up all night and began to make our way home. As an American, I’m used to people being overly-enthusiastic, especially about things of questionable quality. Yet Parisians managed to surprise me again. . . always complicated, often contradictory, and delightfully unpredictable.

(The bird at the top of the entry was created by André François for the festival)