Bénabar: Le Début de la Suite

October 29, 2018

Ordinary People

Listening Post 174. Gavroche, Eleanor Rigby, Lili Marlene—evocative characters of literature and song are often everyday people in uncommon circumstances or described in illuminating context. When it comes to finely detailed portraits and scenes, the French singer-songwriter Bénabar (Bruno Nicolini) leverages his modest start—he played more than 300 bar concerts before he met his first record executive—and varied experience as a photographer, actor and screenwriter before turning to music. Le Début de la suite (The Beginning of the Sequel), Bénabar’s eighth album, turns his French chanson in a folk-electro direction but he sticks to the scenic formula, with some innovative twists. The album’s heart is a twice-told romantic tale focusing on different protagonists: La Petite Vendeuse (The Little Salesgirl), showing a young woman selling purses—after a cigarette, of course—observed by a security guard and a narrator/intruder (video 1); and its twin-melody spinoff, Le Jeune Vigile (The Young Guard), revealing the salesgirl’s defender, with his conflicting motives (video 2). Though the album’s track order seems random, it offers other subtle pairings of characters and themes: weekend runners in Marathonien (Marathoner) versus a couch potato in Le Complexe du sédentaire (Sedentary Complex); and, more pointedly, the human threat of Chauffard (Reckless Driver) offset by the tender Chevaliers sans armure (Knights Without Armor), about the courage of gravely ill children in a hospital ward. Leaning into hope, the title song bears the message to treat every day as a new beginning (video 3). One track that stands on its own, ironically, is Ça ne sert à rien une chanson (It’s a Useless Song), about the occasional necessity of sending words into the unknown—rather like recording an album (video 4). Life, Bénabar knows, is neither tidy nor logical, but its quotidian deficiencies can inspire affecting stories and scenes. (Sony Music Entertainment France)


La Petite Vendeuse/The young salesgirl
A salesgirl takes a break to light her second cigarette/On the sidewalk behind Les Galeries Lafayette
She isn’t miserable and from a distance you might say/She’ll be happy as soon as the nicotine kicks in
Dressed in grand department store manner/By the delivery entrance, where trucks unload in the morning

In the leather department she enchants clients of means/Selling trendy high-class bags she could never afford
She plays her part well, I watch her, slightly concealed, from afar/I look like a pervert, the security guy spots me… I better go
I leave my salesgirl and her pricey trinkets in my memory/I hope she’s happy, that nothing stands in the way of her future
Farewell my salesgirl, don’t be sad, I forbid it/I want to tell you but—gotta run, security is after me

I come back in a knit-cap and glasses/No sign of you at the leather counter, no trace by the delivery entrance
Where are you now, I’ll never know… Bastard Cupid!/To keep you close, I won’t blame me in this song


Le Jeune Vigile/The Young Guard
A plainclothes security guard in the department store/Solid as a rock, walks out of the changing room, radio in hand
He is a little unsure, this young guy, but from a distance/He seems calm and serene, afraid of nothing… but it’s not true
He’s ambitious and worries about what his life will be like/Sports coach, “That would be awesome”, he says

He sees the salesgirl, deceptively cheerful, selling handbags
He combs through displays, and as he patrols he wants her to notice
Graceful and gracious the little salesgirl has touched his heart
He looks at her—and in an aisle he spots a pervert looking at her, too

He chases the intruder, who flees like a rabbit, and the salesgirl smiles
The princess saved by her valiant knight… who blushes
He is a little unsure, this young, guy, but from a distance it seems
He’s calm and serene, afraid of nothing… but it’s not true

The pervert ducks out, cap on his head, to the busy street
The guard laughs, t
he salesgirl off duty, no reason to worry
His mood high, he’ll meet the salesgirl he defended tonight
There will be ups and downs, they’ll be happy or not, we can’t know
There will be ups and downs, they’ll be happy…/I don’t know but I want to believe it


Le Début de la suite/The Beginning of the Sequel
The hands of the watch turn in only one direction/Even when we rewind it, it’s to make it go forward
This is the beginning of the sequel/Why read a calendar backwards?/Yesterday’s paper with outdated news?

This is the beginning of the sequel/Forward, forward flight, forward, don’t worry little one
Tomorrow is another day, always/The beginning of the sequel

Why run after departed trains, or bygone years/We’ll never be on time for the appointments we missed
The past is the past, we can’t change anything/These are the bastards who rewrite history
One knee on the ground, regrets, old sorrows/Stone backpack, that’s the beginning of the end

Forward, forward, forward don’t worry little one
Tomorrow is another day, always/The beginning of the sequel


Ça n’sert à rien une chanson/It’s a Useless Song
It’s a useless song, unless it’s for letting go/Those things that disappear, that we dare not remember
It’s a useless song, a smoldering fire/The embers will reignite the moment you breathe

It’s true, it’s superfluous/Like a statement to someone who doesn’t love you anymore
It’s true, the words already spoken/Optional, like something you can’t live without

It’s a useless song, unless it’s to celebrate beginnings/Love that confuses ephemeral and absolute
It’s a useless song, unless it’s to annoy
It’s a useless song/But there, that’s all we found
To stand up to the idiots/Who would want to stop us from singing




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