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What Ive Learned
I want to introduce you to Renée Carl, but it's going to take 103 years.
Let's start with John Lennon. He wrote a love song to Yoko Ono called "Don't Let Me Down," which the Beatles recorded in 1969. Two years later, a singer named Charlotte Dada belted out a soulful version of John's song at a concert in Ghana.
I never heard Dada's 1971 rendition until December of last year, when I happened across it on the music review website, "Said the Gramophone." The reviewer described Dada's version as "a love-song sung at 11 a.m., during an accidental eclipse."
The words accidental eclipse made me stop reading, grab pen and paper, and write them down.
What a great title for a song. But what would such a song be about?
I experimented with words and ideas and soon had a lyric about a person who takes a day off to go relax at a spa and bask in the sun. Someone stands in the wrong place, blocking the sun, creating an accidental eclipse. The basking person is annoyed, looks up, and sees the face of the offender. The song implies that it's love at first sight, though alternate interpretations are possible.
By the next day, I'd written music for the lyric, and Accidental Eclipse was complete.
I told you that so I could tell you this.
To make a music video for my new song, I went looking for an obscure, out of copyright movie that I could rob some footage from. What I found was a French silent movie shot in 1908, entitled, Une dame vraiment bien (A Very Fine Lady).
It stars 33-year-old Renée Carl. She plays a woman who is so stunning that every man she passes has to look at her. As she walks along the streets of Paris, she leaves a string of disasters in her wake as everyone from a bicyclist to a carpenter to a squad of marching soldiers is distracted by her beauty. Finally, two policemen catch up with her and use a cape to veil her face until they get her home and safely off the streets.
For men to look at a woman and go weak-kneed at her beauty—a shopkeeper puts his hands over his heart and looks thankfully to heaven, a landscaper is so distracted, he sprays another man with a garden hose—is considered inappropriate these days. Nonetheless, Une dame vraiment bien is a gentle comedy that stands up well, even after 103 years.
Renée Carl, I have learned, acted in more than 180 movies--everything from tiny, four-minute charmers like Une dame vraiment bien, to a huge, six-hour 1925 version of Les Misérables in which she played Madame Thénardier. In 1922, she directed Un cri dans l'abîme (A Shout from the Abyss). Carl lived to be 79, dying in 1954.
Accidental Eclipse combined with Une dame vraiment bien provides moments of excellent timing. There's a place in the song that goes, "Your shadow moved across me, an accidental eclipse had begun. I felt it move across me, an inadvertent blocking of the sun." Just as I sing, "I felt it move across me," the tip of Carl's shadow crosses a man's feet and he falls down.
At another place, the song says, "All I wanted was some quiet time ... with no unintended consequences." Just as I sing that, a man carrying a plank turns to look at Carl, creating an unintended consequence with the back end of the plank.
And it's at a perfect place in the song that the gendarmes catch up with the beautiful, oblivious lady.
If you would like to see Une dame vraiment bien with it's original piano score – a delightfully comic ragtime piece – search for "A Very Fine Lady."
If you would like to see it with the song I wrote, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5lS3IKby74