I know nothing about marketing books, even though that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing over the past year – trying to sell The Rebel Nun. Writing blog posts, organizing and executing a self-directed and financed book tour, and wrangling as many in-person appearances (real and virtual) as I could.
So it was a bit of a surprise when Blackstone, my publisher, asked me to put together a playlist for the launch of the paperback version March. 1. A playlist for a sixth century historical novel?
Some novels inspire playlists like cereal invites milk: it’s easy to put them together. Think of all the World War II historical fiction on the market today. Just pull out grandma and grandpa’s old 78’s and vinyl, and there you have all the ingredients you need for a soundtrack to the 1940s.
But The Rebel Nun is more of a challenge. The only music approved for monasteries and churches in the year AD 589 (the year of the rebellion) were in the vein of Gregorian chants. The Catholic bishops and popes forbade singing in harmony, let alone with instrumental accompaniment. Outside of the church, musicians might entertain at fairs or on market days with flutes and lutes, but most of that music has been lost to history, very little of any is recorded today, and while you might hear some purported recreations at your local Renaissance fair, it’s more likely to be “El Condor Pasa” than the real thing.
I thought long about what kind of music might be inspired by Clotild and her struggles to regain control over the female monastery of the Holy Cross. I didn’t want to pull together hymns or a number of religiously inspired classical pieces, as, actually, I am hoping some people listen to this. I decided to focus on a broad definition of French music: music sung in French, music from Francophile movies, and music of the French country heritage. So here’s an eclectic collection of songs to get your head in the right place—in the beautiful French town of Poitiers.
And here, I must give a huge grateful hug to my French/Luxembourg friend Veronique duPont Roc, who not only was the most helpful beta reader for The Rebel Nun (having grown up in Poitiers and gone to school with the nuns), but also gave me many new ideas for this playlist.
Here’s the link to the Spotify playlist for The Rebel Nun, and following the link are the notes I was asked to put together for this playlist. I hope they help explain some of these choices.
Notes for The Rebel Nun Playlist on Spotify
1. Parlez moi d’amour – Dana Boulé (from the soundtrack for “Midnight in Paris”)
I have watched the movie “Midnight in Paris” about two dozen times (no kidding), as it reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, one of the books that enticed me to become a writer. “Speak to Me of Love” is the way I would translate the title of this song, which conjures up a fantasy of strolling down the Left Bank, browsing in the used book stands, and stopping now and then at a sidewalk cafe for a ruby-red glass of a Rhone blend or a cognac.
2. Bistro Fada – Stephane Wrembel
Another track from “Midnight in Paris,” this features a French jazz guitarist playing in what I think of as the Django Reinhardt tradition, the kind of music that always gives me wanderlust, especially the desire to return to France and walk among the vineyards of Provence and the Rhone River.
3. Minor Swing – Django Reinhardt
Speaking of Django, this is probably his most well-known composition, which has been featured in many movies, including “Chocolat,” another of my favorite French-themed movies. I’ve probably seen it a dozen times, and have watched it even since I learned of executive producer Harvey Weinstein’s crimes. It may be the only movie with both Dame Judy Dench and Johnny Depp, which would be enough, but Juliette Binoche is very charming and even the stiff Compte de Renaud (my aunt’s last name!) has his moments.
4. Passage of Time (from the soundtrack for “Chocolat”)
This is one of the many songs composed by Rachel Portman for “Chocolat.” I include it because I think it has the right air, the right gestalt for a movie based on The Rebel Nun, and if I have my druthers, she’d be the one I’d hire to do the score. Now I have to get some Hollywood producer invested in the idea!
5. La vie en rose – Edith Piaf
I don’t remember how I was originally introduced to Edith Piaf, but it was decades ago, long before I saw the movie titled “La Vie en Rose.” (The movie won Marion Cottillard an Oscar and many other critics’ and film festival awards for her starring role, even though the movie was unevenly reviewed overall.) I bought the CD of her greatest hits, titled “The Voice of the Sparrow,” 31 years ago, when it was first released. I know every song by heart now, even if I don’t know what the lyrics mean in English.
6. Non, je ne regrette rien – Edith Piaf
I once took French lessons from my friend, Veronique, and we used to sing this song together at the top of our lungs (chasing my husband out of the house). I think that Clotild would sing of a similar sentiment as well, but without the romantic connotation at the end of Piaf’s song. Even though Clotild regrets the deaths of her fellow nuns in the battle that ended the rebellion, she knew she had no choice other than to lead it.
7. La mer – Charles Trenet
The second most successful song from France to ever appear on American charts (after “La Vie en Rose”), the original "La Mer" was sung in French by Trenet, who also wrote it, and the English version, “Beyond the Sea,” was the signature song for the American singer Bobby Darin. It was covered by Robbie Williams for the credit roll in the movie “Finding Nemo,” while the Trenet version was used in “L.A. Story.”
8. Dominique – The Singing Nun (Jeanne-Paule Marie "Jeannine" Deckers aka Sister Smile)
While it may come across in the cynical 2020s as a bit treacly, perhaps, this song reached No. 1 on the U.S. charts in 1963, edging out such popular artists as Elvis for four weeks. Sung by the Belgian nun, Jeannine Deckers, aka Sœur Sourire (Sister Smile), it celebrated the life of Saint Dominique, founder of the Order of the Dominicans. Deckers never was able to repeat her musical triumph and, like Clotild, eventually left the convent. The “singing nun,” as she was known, died in poverty by suicide at 58, accompanied by her lifelong partner, Annie Pécher.
9. Comme d’habitude – Claude Francois
Another top 10 song to travel from France to the U.S., “Comme d’habitude” was adapted in 1968 by Paul Anka and given new lyrics as “My Way,” Frank Sinatra's signature song. The French song’s lyrics tell of the sad quotidian routine of a couple who are falling out of love, while Wikipedia describes the English language version as “set at the end of a lifetime, approaching death, and looking back without regret" – expressing feelings that are more related to Edith Piaf's song, ‘Non, je ne regrette rien.’
10. S’il suffisait d’aimer – Celine Dion
Although she is Canadian, Celine Dion is the No. 1 best-selling French-singing artist in the world and was a staple of the Las Vegas stage. Translated into the English as “If It Were Enough to Love,” the French version reached the top of the charts in Canada, France and other Francophone countries in 1999, and was one of Dion’s most successful songs of all time.
11. Ne me quitte pas – Karrin Allyson
Karrin Allyson is one of the most popular balladeers playing on U.S. jazz radio stations. My husband won her CD “From Paris to Rio,” on which this song appears, as a door prize on a KPLU (now KNKX) jazz cruise in Puget Sound in 2001, two years after it was released. That was our introduction to Allyson, and we have collected every one of her CDs since. Like China Forbes of Pink Martini, Allyson performs songs in many different languages, including French.
12. Plasir d’amour – Karrin Allyson
Allyson is only one of many artists who have covered this song, including Paul Robeson, Joan Baez, Charlotte Church and Judy Collins. Written in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, the love song was adapted from a poem that appeared in the novel Célestine by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian. It has enjoyed popular success since the beginning, its lilting melody gaining fans for more than two centuries.
13. Sadeness – Enigma
My French friend Veronique recommended this song for the playlist. Performed in Latin and French, it is based on religious melodies, and so, I’m thinking it is very appropriate for Clotild’s playlist. On the other hand, it is sensual song that questions “the sexual desires of Marquis de Sade,” hence its name. It became an international hit, reaching the tops of the charts in 14 different countries, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the U.S. Its sensual power is attested to by the YouTube comments of listeners who confess to conceiving children to the song. (I’m blushing.)
14. Sympatique – Pink Martini
“I can’t eat. I can’t work. I only want to forget. And so I smoke.” That’s my rough translation of the chorus of this, the title song of one of the group’s earliest CDs. Like Allyson, China Forbes is a versatile singer in many languages, but I think I love her French songs the most. My husband I have seen Pink Martini, a group based in Portland, Ore., live in Seattle more than once. Some people say the troupe’s genre is “cabaret,” but I think it’s far more eclectic than that.
15. Dansez-vous – Pink Martini
Sung by China Forbes, Robert Taylor and Timothy Nishimoto on the CD “Hang on Little Tomato,” this song dares you to sit still. The lyrics suggest that “you have to dance with me before I know who you are,” which is about the best dating advice ever. (Not that I have ever listened to anyone’s dating advice, and certainly not since I got married 33 years ago.)
16. Je ne t’aime plus – Pink Martini
Sorry, but I really love Pink Martini, so here’s another one. “I don’t love you anymore,” is my translation of the title song, and it’s really funny. Listen for yourself.
17. J’ai deux amours – Madeleine Peyroux
First performed by Josephine Baker, the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, the 1927 silent film “Siren of the Tropics,” the song expresses Baker’s love for Paris and France, which conveys by omission her disappointment in her native U.S. She spent most of her life in Europe, and refused to sing for segregated audiences in the U.S. Baker worked for the resistance in Paris in World War II and was awarded the Resistance Medal by the French Committee of National Liberation, the Croix de Guerre, and was named a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by de Gaulle.
18. Nuages – Connie Evingson
Connie Evingson has performed and recorded with Pearl Django (more on the group next), and this song comes from “Gypsy in My Soul,” her first of four solo CDs. These lyrics, written by Evingson’s fellow jazz balladeer, Susannah McCorkle, are about a love affair falling apart, and its lovers leaping into the clouds (nuages), set to the music by Django Reinhardt. McCorkle died by suicide in 2001 after not achieving the success she expected of herself.
19. Under Paris Skies – Pearl Django
You can tell I lived in Seattle for some time, as so many of these songs are performed or written by groups from the Pacific Northwest. We were introduced to Pearl Django by our favorite jazz station at the time, KPLU (now KNKX). We used to see the group perform free during cocktail hours on the patio of Interbay, the par-three golf course just north of downtown Seattle. The setting was friendly and informal, and I think this song “speaks” to the lightheartedness of many of the group’s songs, all composed and performed in the French tradition of Django Reinhardt. The group’s name, playing on the name of a more famous Seattle rock band, has always made me smile. This song, from their 2002 CD of the same name, is another one that invokes Paris street scenes in my romantic imagination.
In case you’re still interested in listening to this, here’s the link again: