Sing your way to French : the story behind “La Bohème”

The signification of song “La Bohème” @Canva

To start, “La Bohème” is a way of living day to day in poverty but also in carelessness. It is both a lifestyle that rejects bourgeois domination and its rationality within the framework of industrial society, and the search for an artistic ideal.

As for the song “La Bohème”, It was written by Jacques Plante, composed and sung by Charles Aznavour in 1966. It is, actually, a well-known French song on the theme of bohemian life.

In fact, this tells the story of a painter who remembers with nostalgia his years on the Butte Montmartre (french quarter), in Paris, the parallels with the life of Charles Aznavour are numerous, making it almost reminiscent of an autobiographical song.

Montmartre Paris. Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus @Canva

Behind this nostalgic evocation of an almost utopian Montmartre, Charles Aznavour takes stock of the life of an artist at a time “que les moins de vingt ans ne peuvent pas connaître” and where these artists lived literally day by day: “Nous ne mangions qu’un jour sur deux – Dans les cafés voisins – Nous étions quelques uns qui attendions la gloire – Et bien que miséreux – Avec le ventre creux – Nous ne cessions d’y croire”. At the end of the song, Aznavour signs his return to the places that have changed since: “Quand au hasard des jours – Je m’en vais faire un tour – À mon ancienne adresse – Je ne reconnais plus – Ni les murs, ni les rues (…) Montmartre semble triste – Et les lilas sont mortes.”

We know living a bohemian life might be appealing to you so here are a few steps you can take to enjoy that life:

  1. Have the courage to follow your own ideals and live your life to the fullest. 
  2. Free your artistic side and surprise yourself by living your bohemian life to the fullest! 
  3. Speak up about what you believe in.
  4. Dare to live a more unconventional life.
  5. Be proud to be different.
  6. Embrace your body now.
Lyrics of “La Bohème” : bohemian life @Canva

Here are the full lyrics: 

Je vous parle d’un temps
Que les moins de vingt ans
Ne peuvent pas connaître
Montmartre en ce temps-là 
Accrochait ses lilas
Jusque sous nos fenêtres
Et si l’humble garni
Qui nous servait de nid
Ne payait pas de mine
C’est là qu’on s’est connus
Moi qui criait famine
Et toi qui posais nue.
La bohème, la bohème.
Ça voulait dire on est heureux
La bohème, la bohème.
Nous ne mangions qu’un jour sur deux
Dans les cafés voisins
Nous étions quelques-uns
Qui attendions la gloire 
Et bien que miséreux
Avec le ventre creux
Nous ne cessions d’y croire 
Et quand quelque bistro
Contre un bon repas chaud
Nous prenait une toile 
Nous récitions des vers
Groupés autour du poêle 
En oubliant l’hiver
La bohème, la bohème,
Ça voulait dire tu es jolie.
La bohème, la bohème,
Et nous avions tous du génie.
Souvent il m’arrivait
Devant mon chevalet
De passer des nuits blanches
Retouchant le dessin
De la ligne d’un sein
Du galbe d’une hanche
Et ce n’est qu’au matin
Qu’on s’asseyait enfin
Devant un café-crème
Épuisés mais ravis
Fallait-il que l’on s’aime 
Et qu’on aime la vie.
La bohème, la bohème,
Ça voulait dire on a 20 ans
La bohème, la bohème,
Et nous vivions de l’air du temps.
Quand au hasard des jours
Je m’en vais faire un tour
À mon ancienne adresse
Je ne reconnais plus
Ni les murs, ni les rues
Qui ont vu ma jeunesse
En haut d’un escalier
Je cherche l’atelier
Dont plus rien ne subsiste
Dans son nouveau décor
Montmartre semble triste 
Et les lilas sont morts.
La bohème, la bohème,
On était jeunes, on était fous.
La bohème, la bohème,
Ça ne veut plus rien dire du tout. 
I speak of a time
That less than twenty years
Can not know
Montmartre that time
Hung his lilac
Just below our windows
And so the humble garni
That was our nest
Do not pay for mine
It is there that we knew
Me crying famine
And you who posed nude
Bohemia, bohemian
That meant we were happy
Bohemia, bohemian
We only ate one every other day
In the neighboring
We had some
Who awaited glory
And although poor
With an empty stomach
We never ceased to believe
And if a bistro
Against a warm meal
We took a canvas
We recite verses
Grouped around the stove
Forgetting the winter
Bohemia, bohemian
It meant you were pretty
Bohemia, bohemian
And we all had spirit
Often it happened to me
In front of my easel
Of sleepless nights
Touching up the design
The line of a breast
The curve of a hip
And it was not until morning
We finally sat
Over coffee-cream
Exhausted but happy
Was it that we love each other
And we love life
Bohemia, bohemian
That meant that we were twenty years
Bohemia, bohemian
And we lived the zeitgeist
When random days
I’m going for a ride
In my previous address
I no longer recognize
Neither the walls nor the streets
Who saw my youth
At the top of a staircase
I am looking for the workshop
Of which nothing remains
In its new setting
Montmartre seems sad
And the lilacs are dead
Bohemia, bohemian
We were young, we were crazy
Bohemia, bohemian
That does not mean anything at all

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