Friday, April 18, 2008

The Saints, or Une Voyage Bizarre

This is as hazy a memory as I could possibly dredge up.

I was living in France and several months into my new approach to life hors des etats-unis. I'd completely ceased attending class...I'd made a tight circle of French friends and felt as if I was learning infinitely more about the language by actually speaking it with natives instead of sitting in classrooms with other English/non-French speaking exchange students. Of course, I probably could have been doing BOTH and learning a great deal more, but the call of the wild was too strong.

Life seemed to have devolved into an endless series of dares to be met. We borrowed a car and drove the equivalent of Rhode Island to North Carolina. We stole pallets to start bonfires. We jumped onstage with local rock bands. We shamelessly used our accents to flirt.

When I say that this memory is hazy, I am not kidding. I don't remember who I went with, where we went, how we got there, how long it took, how long it took to get back, what the name of the joint was, what month the show was in, what day it was on, what songs were sung, how many cigarettes I smoked, how many bieres I buveed.

In fact, at the moment I am writing this, I don't know the name of the artist we went to see. I only know that he was the lead singer of The Saints and someone had managed to convince him to come to France to play this show. Pardon while I go Google...

His name is Chris Bailey. The Saints were (are) an Australian band that plays straight forward rock and roll. I had never heard nor heard of The Saints before this night.

I have an image of a ramshackle restaurant in a forest just adjacent to an arced moss covered stone bridge over a small stream. A windmill perhaps? A pointy shingled building with old-fashioned windows held together by the trees that surrounded it. I have no image in my head of another building anywhere near it. It is as if we'd been brought to some Hobbit hideout.

I know it was a bit of a drive from Orleans where I attended school. Who got me to go to this concert? I don't remember. It wasn't anyone in the circle I knew so well so it must have been one of those 'take the American!' kind of hospitality experiences that exchange students always find themselves in.

I seem to remember being in a round little orange car for a good long while. In French I got the lowdown on The Saints. Perhaps this is why I can't remember it.

Once at the Hobbit inn we ate some French food, mostly ham dunked into melted cheese. Chris Bailey would be coming out to sing later on. There was no stage, no microphone. I imagine this was some French version of a bed and breakfast. Again, my memory fails me. I see nooks at the top of short stairwells, arched crannies shoved up against ceilings...

Everyone hushed once Bailey began to sing. The show seemed to go on forever, in a good way. His voice has that gruff storyteller quality and he seems to know how to play every song ever written. There was one zealot there who'd obviously arranged this unlikely concert. He kept shouting out Frenchly pronounced titles of Saints songs. Other people shouted out Motown classics, Beatles tunes, whatever the hell came into their heads.

Thus the concert had a schizophrenic quality, like a lurching drunk virtuoso expatriate trying to appease a group of local politicians. He stood on tables and exhorted sing-alongs, he serenaded blushing girlfriends, he probably sang the Marseillaise for chrissakes.

We stayed until the bitter end, which seemed to be 5 days later. I know the restaurant emptied and whoever the hell dragged me all the way out there and I sat and drank and raved with Chris Bailey, whose name I just had to Google. I have no memory of what we discussed but I'm pretty sure it involved outrage, hilarity, anti-Frenchiness, anti-Americanism, anti-Australianism, and long burps.

He put on a hell of a show, did that Saint, in the Hobbit hideout in the uncharted wilderness of the France of my memory.

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