June 26, 2011: The world spins in interesting ways. Two years ago I came to know the name of French pop star Maxime Le Forestier for the first time. Through a series of *French Connections*, on Wednesday 6/22, I got to meet him in person, an event which I never dreamed would take place, and right here in San Francisco. Even better, on Friday night I got to sing both for him and with him. This moment of musical and cultural nirvana I will remember for all my life.
July 24, 2009: Did it all start with Rick Steves’ guide to France? That’s where, two years ago, my fiancé Hamilton Everts saw the name of Chez Georges, on Rue des Canettes in the Latin Quarter of Paris. I had just finished a rehearsal at the Swan Bar with pianist Sheldon Forrest and I was ready for my Paris debut the following night at the petite club. I took a big hike towards the Luxembourg Gardens from the Montparnasse neighborhood, and finally found my way to Chez Georges, which satisfied all my fantasies of a Parisian local cave-bar. Upstairs wine-tasting, downstairs a world music dance club, with music curated by DJ Jean Francois Devehat, grandson of the original Georges, who hosted the likes of Bob Dylan in this underground room with a vaulted ceiling, years ago.
It was still light out, and we looked for a white wine to taste in the upstairs wine bar. A gentleman named Jacques, clearly a regular, advised us and struck up a conversation with us. Learning that we were from San Francisco, and that I was a singer, he asked if I knew the song San Francisco. Which one? The one by Maxime Le Forestier! No, I don’t know that song. His utter shock that I did not know either the song or its famous French pop singer-songwriter motivated me to write it down and look it up when I got back to San Francisco. I loved the song immediately, learned it and put it in my new show, French Connection, which debuted at San Francisco’s Rrazz Room in September 2009. The song became a favorite, and I performed it often at San Francisco’s Bliss Bar with my band, also in New York and in Lille, France (April-May 2010).
September 2010, a young French journalist named Alexis Venifleis writes an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the Blue House, the house that was featured in the evocative lyrics of Le Forestier’s song San Francisco, (C’est une maison bleu…), written as a thank you to the inhabitants after Le Forestier stayed at the house for a month, 40 years ago, enjoying the full hippie life of San Francisco at the time. With the help of journalist Sophie Delassein, Venifleis had tracked down the Blue House, which was now sort of a greenish tan and had interviewed the current owner about this house whose history was so dear to the French, and yet quite unknown to Americans. I contacted Venifleis and invited him to hear us perform San Francisco, which we did at the Bliss Bar a few weeks later.
Fast forward to early May 2011 – through a web of French connections, I find out that Maxime Le Forestier is COMING to San Francisco. I’m wild with anticipation. The Blue House is being re-painted (blue) and will receive a commemorative plaque from the French Consulate and a visit from Maxime. A new CD is being released called The Blue House (La Maison Bleue) and at the time a concert at the Herbst was planned for June 24, which ultimately did not come to pass. But my evening of musical and cultural nirvana with Maxime Le Forestier took place exactly on that night.
June 20: A French phone number shows up incoming on my cellphone. A few hours earlier, I had spoken with the young French journalist who’d written the first Blue House article; he had just flown in from Paris. Now, it is Maxime’s producer calling me on the phone. I had been introduced to her San Francisco-based colleague by email the week before, told him about my connection to the song San Francisco, and had sent him a music track at his request. I sent Sous le Ciel de Paris (Under Paris Skies), which I recorded in 2008. Maxime’s producer wants to interview me. They are looking for a location where music can be performed for the documentary. I offer a lovely piano and living room at the yellow house of Candace Forest, (my friend and producer) who is out of town, tearing her hair out to not be in San Francisco when such exciting events are taking place.
Meantime, I am packing to go teach at the Young Actors Theatre Camp, off the grid in the woods of Santa Cruz, and it is happening in the middle of all this. No cell service, no internet. I’m leaving on Wednesday, June 22, in the evening. Won’t be back till late afternoon of Friday, June 24.
It is Wednesday, June 22, 3pm, and I go to the Blue House on 18th Street near Dolores Park for the official ceremony involving the French Consulate, Maxime, his documentary crew, and a bunch of journalists, French people from the community, and I am introduced to Maxime by his producer. (photo taken by Christine Lemor-Drake) The French Consul makes a speech, a plaque is presented to commemorate the newly painted Blue House. The cameras are all over it, click, click.
Maxime is so warm and lovely. I am embarrassed to speak French to him; we speak in English and his is very good. I tell him about my feeling for his song, San Francisco, and how honored I am to meet him. How his song has become a favorite of my audiences, touching their hearts even when they cannot understand all the words. This is true.
It is arranged that we will have a casual music session for the purpose of the documentary about the 40th Anniversary of this song and Maxime’s trip. We agree to do it at Candace’s house, and I call Jason Martineau to tell him that this is ON for Friday at 7pm. He’s been holding the time; fascinated as well, at the prospect of meeting the man whose song we have enjoyed performing.
I take off in my car. Within 2 hours I am cut off from all internet and cell phone service, in the woods, in a bunkhouse, preparing to teach an Elton John song to 10-year olds and to get them close to performance level on it in 2 days. (Electricity, from Billy Elliot)
Maxime Le Forestier’s music stays in my head. I have downloaded some of his most famous tunes and have picked out a couple more I could imagine eventually performing. I have the words but cleverly have not brought a French dictionary (no internet) and there are passages I cannot understand. But I’m listening and reading, and my heart gets him.
I’m particularly attracted to 2 songs of his. One, Saltimbanque, sounds somewhat autobiographical, about performing, and I connect with it. Another called Né Quelque Part, is about equality of people, and has a great world beat and a chorus in the Zulu language. I’m there.
Friday, June 24, 4:00pm. I’m back on the grid, having left camp, my wiggly and fabulous 10-year-olds and my dark and quiet bunk, and I’m in my car, driving towards my San Francisco studio, where I intend to renovate my camp appearance and get ready to sing with Maxime Le Forestier. Time is tight and I’m excited. I’ve got my hair dryer, a good pair of earrings and my city clothes.
Bleep! Messages begin to arrive, texts, voicemails, oh god, cops don’t get me but I’m answering everything and can’t make the damn new headset work. Do you HAVE the guitar? You want to come earlier? I’m still driving up. I can’t hear you. OK, I’ll call him. Can you hear ME? I try to text but the iPhone corrects my French to English. Is the house aired out? What if Maxime is allergic to the cat, as I am? Finally I am in my studio. The phone is still ringing. What am I going to wear? Can I get there in time? Where’s the hair dryer? Calm down and put your makeup on.
Friday, 6:50pm – I’m charging towards Candace’s house. They said they’d be there at 6:45. I’m late. Thank god David Rozelle is there, the perfect French native speaker-photographer-house sitter, with the gorgeous and talented pianist-songwriter Allison Lovejoy. Jason calls me – where are you? Where are they? Where is anybody? Is this thing really happening? 10 minutes later, we’re all there, we’re all introducing ourselves to each other: Maxime Le Forestier, this is Jason Martineau. Yes, please come in. Can I get you a glass of wine, if I force you? OK, 4 whites, one sparkling water. Is my makeup ok? Do the earrings make too much noise? Maxime would like you and Jason to perform San Francisco. Do you know any other songs of Maxime’s? Well, I’m in the process of learning some.
Maxime, salut! We clink wine glasses. I’m thrilled he has accepted a glass so I can drink one, too, and calm down. I tell him it helps my French; that I’ve been embarrassed to speak French to him. He banishes shame and embarrassment from the room. He’s warm and at ease. We begin to chat. The sound is ready, Jason’s at the piano, and the producer asks me if I will explain how I learned about the song San Francisco. I tell it to Maxime, in French. We talk about other songs of his; I mention Né Quelque Part, the one with the Zulu chorus. Maxime tries to teach me to say it in Zulu, with the difficult mouth-click sound on on the K. I try it, it eludes me, we laugh. They videotape. One take. They want it real or not at all, I think.
We perform San Francisco; Maxime’s still next to me on the light green couch; I’m sitting on the arm of the couch, between Jason at the piano and Maxime on the couch. I’ve told Maxime that we do it as a funk, with an instrumental solo; he’s cool with that. One take. They are very happy and don’t seem to want to do it again, although I’d been advised that we might do it more than once if they needed to.
Now Maxime picks up the guitar. It is a super duper fancy guitar and I have been told (by text a couple of hours before) that he loves it. They’ve borrowed it from Bobby Weinapple, my dear friend, colleague and director; I’d put them in contact earlier in the week. Whew. Shall we try one of those other tunes? Gulp; I barely know them. What about Saltimbanque, the story of the young one, born into a family of jugglers and acrobats, who can’t juggle very well but makes his way instead as a poet-singer-thinker? Yes, he leads me through it, we’re using the lyrics I’ve downloaded. I sing the choruses with him. I could cry it is so moving. I’m singing and looking into Maxim’s eyes.
Laissez-moi rester Saltimbanque.
J’aime la lumière et le feu,
Les tours et les mots dangereux
Toujours je manque.
Mon numéro n’est pas fameux.
Je jongle avec ce que je peux.
We try Né Quelque Part. I wish I’ve had time to show these to Jason ahead of time, look up all the words. We do a little of it until I get all befuddled at the Zulu chorus part. A bit later, Maxime jams with Jason on the tune. So cool. He admires Jason’s ability to improvise.
Maxime performs a solo – a new song of his, emotional, beautiful. He’s in excellent voice; the guitar is gorgeous. I’m thinking he would have done that at the Herbst tonight, had the concert not been cancelled. I’m thinking how unbelievably blessed I am to be sitting next to him on Candace’s green couch, hearing it.
8:30pm – Thank you, merci, au revoir. We are done, they are leaving to do one more shoot at the Blue House. They leave tomorrow. One more photo with Maxime, please? Goodbye, thank you, such an honor, we hope to see you in France, when is the documentary coming out? Thank you again. Au revoir. And they are gone.
DID I JUST DREAM THAT?
And they’re gone. We sit and debrief. We Skype Candace. We see a little video David was able to take, but which we’ve agreed not to publish until the documentary comes out.
CONCLUSION: These are the moments I live for. These are the moments I have sought out all my life, since I first tasted the excitement of travel as a stage-struck teenager. Editing this now, 48 hours after the fact, I am moved to tears at the memory of singing and looking into Maxime’s eyes:
Laissez-moi rester Saltimbanque… Je jongle avec ce que je peux.
Let me stay a performer, an acrobat… I juggle with what I can.
We will play San Francisco and very possibly a brand new English translation of it by Christine Lemor-Drake at our Bastille Day celebration at the vintage chic Bliss Bar in San Francisco on July 10, with 3 sets beginning at 4:30pm. Owner Pierre Letheule is French, loves us, and mixes a great cocktail.
ALL BY Sophie Delassein – Le Nouvel Observateur
BIRTH OF THE SONG SAN FRANCISCO FROM MAXIME’S TIME AT BLUE HOUSE
MAXIME’S RETURN THIS WEEK TO THE BLUE HOUSE
2010 article/blog by Sophie Delassein about the origin of the song, Luc, Joan Baez, etc
Maxime Le Forestier website
Blue House Article by Alexis Venifleis