Thursday, February 22, 2007

For the Record: Les Zombis et Les Loups-Garous


I know I concluded my last post by tipping my hand, a little; I said I intended my next entry to be about either Spirited Energy or Rod Bruinooge.

And those were my intentions! Even the best intentions, however, are subject to shifting when something suitably significant surfaces as a subject.

(I am given to brief bouts of alliteration. Humour me.)

Remember, my plan was to see which of the two choices would be the first to trigger my hilariously impotent and indignant rage. (I suspect this is likely how Tom Brodbeck does his writing, too -- except for the part where I've admitted to actually experiencing happiness about anything ever.) But neither one had emerged as a clear frontrunner, yet, and then they were both sidelined yesterday during a trip to Into the Music.

As I mentioned last post, I got a record player last Christmas; I had a surprisingly large pile or records even before then, in a series of plot contrivances that I can always tell you about later. And (as I also mentioned last post) now that I can combine my record player and my computer to form a neat new toy, well, a neat new toy needs neat new accessories.

Celebratory record shopping! Off I went after work to Into the Music, where I happily puttered around before buying a few cheap items. And, as you may or may not already know, a purchase of $5 or more at Into the Music grants you the opportunity to take a free item of your choice from the box of unwanted stuff sitting in front of the counter. (Assuming there's anything in there that you would want, of course -- hence my referring to it as a box of unwanted stuff.)

Fortune smiled upon me that fine day, for in that box I found something that has made me a very happy man. (If Tom Brodbeck ever writes 'I am a very happy man' in the Winnipeg Sun, I will buy all of my readers a delicious Slurpee.) Indeed, as my free item, in that box I found:

Be honest. This is what you would have taken, too, if you were there at the time.

This 1979 album, Raffi's third LP, features a variety of similarly minded small-time Canadian artists and was produced by a young Daniel Lanois (!). And it predates his breakout Baby Beluga album by a year, meaning this is the Raffi stuff that nobody knows about. Hell, I sure didn't. And it's too bad that I didn't, too!

See, in recent years, Raffi has transmogrified himself into a successful global-political activist and philosopher. He's released a worldbeat album; he's worked alongside at least half a dozen non-governmental organizations; he's called out Rogers Wireless for their shameless marketing towards children; he's written the theme song for David Suzuki's current tour, with David Suzuki as a background singer; he's performed for Nelson Mandela; he's established a new philosophy based on improving living conditions for children worldwide; he's even compiled and edited a book about said philosophy that includes contributions by Barbara Kingsolver, Lloyd Axworthy, and the Dalai Lama. He refers to himself as a global troubador, and -- unless Bono or someone seriously steps their game up -- he might be the only man on the planet who can justifiably get away with calling himself that.

(To quote Tom Lehrer: "It's people like that who make you realize how little you've accomplished.")

But this is way before all of that. When tasked with thinking of early Raffi, people think of Baby Beluga; when tasked with thinking of pre-Baby Beluga Raffi, they picture a seemingly infinite expanse of pure white where nothing ever existed.

So it's Raffi, you might say. It's Raffi before people liked Raffi. Big deal. What, you might ask of me, is your excitement here?

Well, now! This is also a song in French, and my love for songs in languages I don't necessarily understand has been previously documented.

Hearing that, you might well still ask, so what? Of course he recorded some stuff in French; he was, after all, operating in the Canadian music scene. English or French, it's still Raffi, in this case Raffi in his indieearly years.

And that is true. But.

This is not just Raffi. And this is not just Raffi singing in French.

This is Raffi, singing in French, about zombies.

Raffi - Les Zombis et Les Loups-Garous [buy (on CD) | official site]

Zombies! God damn! This is awesome!

I am not lying to you when I swear that this song, from the moment I popped it on my stereo, has remained at the forefront of my brain right through to the time I am spending right now typing these words. It certainly made the hours fly by at work, I can tell you that. (A particularly cute office girl now thinks that I'm a lunatic -- but I am a lunatic, so I suppose it all evens out.)

The liner notes credit the writer of the song as being 'Bill Russell', possibly the same Bill Russell who was one of the foremost authorities on early New Orleans jazz. I can easily imagine this song having originally been a Louisiana tune, what with the mythology all its own that the area cultivated for centuries. Zombies? Werewolves? French lyrics? From New Orleans? Yeah, I can buy that.

These are the times when, briefly, I regret not becoming an academic; there are some subjects, like these, that I feel like I could happily study and chase for my entire life without ever getting bored or losing my passion for them. This feeling passes quickly, of course, because I then remember that no institution would ever voluntarily support me on these sorts of ideas; the kinds of topics I find interesting enough to publish about would be considered kooky even by modern university standards. C'est la vie.

And to think -- even with the seemingly inescapable prominence of Raffi amongst children's musicians, this song never once grazed my childhood. I had never heard this song before yesterday, I had never even heard of this song before yesterday, and if you had tried to tell me about it before yesterday I would have sworn you were making the whole thing up just to be mean to me. How did I finally find it? Entirely by luck and by chance, buying a completely unrelated album at Into the Music and just picking the right day to look in the box of unwanted stuff. My luck is not nearly that good, normally; such is the power of Raffi.

Raffi is love. And one day Raffi is going to save us all. Just you watch.

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