Despite New York's reputation as one of the most expensive cities on earth, there is not a single day of the year that you can't find at least one totally free event to partake in--everything from live performances to gallery openings to street fairs. Today, of course, was Bastille Day on 60th Street in Manhattan, which is held annually on the Sunday following the actual Bastille Day. For several long blocks along 60th Street, just below Central Park, you can listen to free live music as you wander by stalls offering French eats, groceries, knick-knacks, books and--you guessed it--music.
Last year, I picked up three French hip-hop records for $1 each, one of which I posted here. At today's fair, the Alliance Francaise Library was offering French CDs withdrawn from their library for 25 cents apiece. I happened to be at their stall the moment they opened. Fifteen seconds after they opened, I walked away with all 16 CDs they had out for sale. I knew it was a gamble; after all, these were rejects, la merde de la merde. I stuffed them all in my backpack and promptly forgot about them as I wandered around, taking in the sights and smells and sounds. Hours later, when I returned home, I plopped the first CD into my computer to have a quick listen (Arthur H's first album, Arthur H--that's an image of him from the back of the CD at the top of this post).
The opening track, "Quai No 3" (listen to sample above), had me sitting up and taking notice. I created a new playlist in iTunes, titled it "Merde," and dragged the song into it. Not that I thought every album was going to be a winner, or even have single listenable track. But I thought it would be fun--and appropriately French--to perform a kind of oulipian experiment using the Alliance Francaise Library's withdrawn CDs I had picked up this year and last.
When the second CD (Johnny Hallyday's Les Grands Success De Johnny Hallyday--second sample above) turned out to be as great as the first, I figured I'd just gotten lucky. When the third, fourth and fifth CDs all proved to each be as fabulous as the last, I almost started to cry. Really? I'd spent four lousy bucks on this merde. And all of it was kicking my ass.
In creating tonight's mix-tape I gave myself a couple of rules: (1) I could only include one track per CD and (2) I had to use EVERY CD I'd gotten at the fair, both this year and last. I admit that I broke the second rule--while I found a couple of tracks on Florent Pagny's Re:Creation that didn't make me want to do violence to myself, I also remembered how OuLiPo creators had embraced the "clinamen"--or "unpredictable swerve." In layman's terms, it means the Oulipians allowed themselves one opportunity to cheat. So I took mine.
That said, this is an effing supremely fabulous mix, especially considering the fact that I only passed on one of the CDs I picked up in the last two years at a street fair. Do note, however, that while I did stay true to the first rule of only including one song per CD, I wound up getting two CDs each by two artists Java and Dominique A, which is just as well, as they're both incredible. Also, JL Murat's Lilith is a two-CD set; I picked a song from each disc.
Obviously, this is not a representative sample of contemporary French pop. It seems skewed toward the experimental (Franck Vigroux's collaboration with Elliott Sharp!) and the music dates from as far back as the 60s to the present, with quite a bit of 90s action.
If there's anything you find yourself particularly thrilled by, let me know and I'll perhaps post a few entire CDs of the creme de la merde.