The latest single of Bertrand Cantat, a French pop singer who murdered his girlfriend and who was present in the house where his ex-wife killed herself, is being heavily played on French pop music stations. This would be of little interest to anyone who isn’t following French pop music or observing the tolerance of the French for men who abuse women, except that his new hit song is about us.
L’Angleterre (England) is vaguely an ode to a refugee camped in the jungle on the French side of the Channel, trying to get to England. Mr Cantat advises that this is not a good idea. The times are changing but nothing changes in England, where they always have another trick up their sleeves (a pun on La Manche, the English Channel). Mr Cantat laments, quoting Margaret Thatcher, the quintessential ultra-liberal, in the phrase that still rankles the French Europhiles: ‘I want my money back’.
Mr Cantat’s perspective on England is indeed coruscating and if the swing of L’Angleterre lacks something of the jolly rhythm of his previous megahit, Le Vent Nous Portera, it has more of a lament to it and risks becoming an anthem that will do nothing to improve my neighbours’ growing consensus that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is neither united nor great.
It is true that, closely reading the words from a British perspective, the Cantat hurlement seems somewhat confused if not incoherent. Even my French friends are a little baffled. ‘I don’t understand what ‘inénarrable’ is doing there’, says Jacques, puzzling over the lyrics. Migrants fleeing from the catastrophe of the Arab Spring are better off dying in Calais than working for the English ‘for nothing’, advises Mr Cantat, who says that there is, at the end of the tunnel, nothing. This theme of nothingness is repeated throughout the song, so perhaps if I was sufficiently smart I would understand this as a reference via John-Paul Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’ to the existential flight of the English from the continent.
Along the way (we are talking here of a man who lacks finesse with the ladies) there’s a sexist dig at Theresa May – ‘we’ve better than her and our cows are well guarded.’ (I must apologise if this seems rather obscure but it does seem he’s calling her a cow. The lyrics in French are also rather, er, skeletal.) In any case, there’s nothing subtle about linking Mrs May to an animal not credited by the French with overwhelming intellect.
Mr Cantat’s revival, after getting out of prison, had seemed to be momentarily checked when the music magazine Les Inrockuptibles put him on its cover last month, provoking outrage from Paris feminists.
The magazine subsequently apologised, but only after a blaze of publicity for itself, so perhaps this episode may not have been so very heart-wrenching for them.
But money talks and Cantat is a clever musician, even if not the person you’d hire as your babysitter and L’Angleterre has quickly become a fixture on the playlist of RTL2.
I will not attempt to offer a complete translation of L’Angleterre as, in any case, you can click here for a literal and unpoetic version and even hum along, as you will find the song itself here, complete with an article in Le Figaro applying structuralist analytical techniques to this latest masterwork of Mr Cantat.
Hang the arguments, nay even the facts. In any great conflict of ideas, it can often matter who has the best songs. While awaiting the great Brexit anthem, credit where credit is due. The Remainers have found their lyrical champion and the Brexiteers, lacking even a hymn sheet, remain wildly off-key.
Jonathan Miller’s France, a Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Gibson Square) is out now. He tweets at @lefoudubaron.
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