Entertainment

Charles Aznavour

The legendary French singer and actor Charles Aznavour passed away at the age of 94. He was often called “the French Frank Sinatra,” though I always thought he had a sound all his own.

I was introduced to his music 25 years ago at a drag show while I was still living in Boston. One of the queens in the show did the most touching lip sync I’ve ever seen, starting the song in full drag and proceeding to peel off the wig, the makeup and the dress, and changing into men’s clothes as if in his dressing room after a performance. By the end of the number, on a black stage lit only by a single, stark, lonely spotlight, the queen had transformed into a man, alone. The song to which he did this lip sync transformation was Aznavour’s English version of “Comme Ils Disent” (“What Makes a Man”). I was floored.

The next day, I marched over to Tower Records at Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street to buy some of his music. I’ve been a fan ever since.

If you’re unfamiliar with his work, the Best Of / 40 Chansons is probably a good place to start. There is also a beautifully curated “best of” playlist in his artist profile on Spotify.

“What Makes a Man” lyrics:

My mum and I we live alone
A great apartment is our home
In Fairhome Towers
I have to keep me company
Two dogs, a cat, a parakeet
Some plants and flowers
I help my mother with the chores
I wash, she dries, I do the floors
We work together
I shop and cook and sow a bit
Though mum does too I must admit
I do it better
At night I work in a strange bar
Impersonating every star
I’m quite deceiving
The customers come in with doubt
And wonder what I’m all about
But leave believing
I do a very special show
Where I am nude from head to toe
After stripteasing
Each night the men look so surprised
I change my sex before their eyes
Tell me if you can
What makes a man a man

At three o’clock or so I meet
With friends to have a bite to eat
And conversation
We love to empty out our hearts
With every subject from the arts
To liberation
We love to pull apart someone
And spread some gossip just for fun
Or start a rumor
We let our hair down, so to speak
And mock ourselves with tongue-in-cheek
And inside humor
So many times we have to pay
For having fun and being gay
It’s not amusing
There’s always those that spoil our games
By finding fault and calling names
Always accusing
They draw attention to themselves
At the expense of someone else
It’s so confusing
Yet they make fun of how I talk
And imitate the way I walk
Tell me if you can
What makes a man a man

My masquerade comes to an end
And I go home to bed again
Alone and friendless
I close my eyes, I think of him
I fantasize what might have been
My dreams are endless
We love each other but it seems
The love is only in my dreams
It’s so one sided
But in this life I must confess
The search for love and happiness
Is unrequited
I ask myself what I have got
Of what I am and what I’m not
What have I given
The answers come from those who make
The rules that some of us must break
Just to keep living
I know my life is not a crime
I’m just a victim of my time
I stand defenseless
Nobody has the right to be
The judge of what is right for me
Tell me if you can
What make a man a man




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