Charles Aznavour – Désormais

It’s a pity that this kind of orchestral pop fell out of fashion. Sure, singers still perform with orchestras, but there is something missing. Often they sing covers of hits originally performed in a different genre, making the performance sound like a schmalzier, romanticised version. And nowadays new songs in this style sound the same, as if they were also covers.

Perhaps it’s easier to sound authentic when expressing sadness, but here Aznavour manages splendidly. The strings are booming and swirling, and the horn section blares as if inserting exclamation points between phrases. With these elements the song could easily sound tacky, but to my ear it’s still refreshing. Sadness and despair become a show, a performance, but underneath it all it feels like it is genuine, like the pompousness is just a way to make it more bearable. Wear your heart on your sleeve in such a dramatic fashion that it feels a bit fake, maybe that will ease the pain. And yet it makes it all the more evident. It’s a difficult trick to pull off. I have praised Aznavour’s acting skills before, how he infused the song with emotion in each performance, and here he sells the despair.

The title means “henceforth” or, more simply, “from now on”, and it’s a poetic text about things that won’t be happening anymore, now that the relationship is over. I never realized it before, but this could be a sequel to Brel’s Ne me quitte pas. Brel’s song is intimate and pleading, and the desperation leads to self-sacrifice, willingness to become the “shadow of your shadow, shadow of your hand, shadow of your dog,” if only the lover agreed to stay.

Here the message is different. There is no more pleading, simply all-encompassing sadness that doesn’t let on. In the second verse Aznavour sings “I, who wanted to be your shadow, will be the shadow of myself, my hand separated from your hand,” so that’s the connection to Brel.

In the chorus Aznavour faces what was lost, but the focus is on how the separation is eternal, as the music is at it’s most dramatic when he sings “nevermore” (Jamais plus). The images are simple but fitting in their intimacy. We won’t bite the same fruit, sleep in the same bed, perform the same gesture. And what seems most heartbreaking of all, we won’t feel the same fear of seeing our happiness flee from us. The break-up has been anticipated, but it doesn’t make it less sad. It even feels more tragic because if they’ve both felt the same fear, they’ve tried to hold on to the relationship even while seeing the dark clouds. And then failure and admittance that it was doomed.

Yet, maybe the arrangement suggests strength and defiance. At least compared to Brel’s song which is like all the remaining strength is channelled into the last plea, here the passion of the song shows resilience even while things are looking very dark. Life itself is not over, and while in this song there’s melancholy in the thought that the two people will move on and will be seen with someone else, it feels like a different feeling is around the corner.

It’s not the only time Aznavour expresses this contradictory feeling: the fact that there will be others is simultaneously sad and hopeful. There is no reason to deny that the break-up is sad, and Aznavour often elevates it to describe impermanence as the human condition, full of gentle or dramatic wistfulness, and yet he embraces the idea that he will rise again. Even if there are failures in the future, the drama will continue, new moments of happiness will come. When they go away, we will grieve again, then look up, see another sunrise. Maybe that is what I find especially attractive about these songs, the acceptance of sadness as a part of life, and the ability to go on. There is a time to dwell in what was lost, but as surely as the strings howl and the singer belts “nevermore”, there will be strength to dwell in new moments of happiness.