Boris Vian

I had the pleasure together with some Montmartre friends to visit the flat which once was occupied by Boris Vian. For some foreign visitors to this blog, it may be necessary to give some information on Boris Vian (1920-59).

Vian graduated as an engineer in metallurgy and had some “serious” jobs, but his artistic gifts soon took over, first especially as jazz musician, but he was also a poet, novel writer, singer, translator, critic, actor…

He was an excellent musician, but his involvement in music also meant that he served as liaison for e.g. Duke Ellington and Miles Davies in Paris, that he produced recordings by them and other jazz musicians, like Louis Armstrong.

As a writer he had some success when writing under the name of Vernon Sullivan, but his more serious writings under his own name were less successful… until after his death. His literary work is now celebrated, studied in schools. His complete works have been published in the exclusive collection of “La Pléiade”, an honour given to a limited number of authors. A few of his novels have been filmed.

Vian also wrote and composed a song, “Le Déserteur”, an anti-war song which was written in 1954, during the (lost) French Indochina war. It was forbidden to be sold or broadcast until 1962. It was translated into many languages and later became a major anti-war song, performed by e.g. Joan Baez and Peter Paul and Mary during the Vietnam war years. Here you can listen to the first performer, Marcel Mouloudji. You can also listen to Boris Vian himself here: http://youtu.be/gjndTXyk3mw.

Vian was, or became, some kind of legend in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés intellectual and artistic post-WWII circles with friends like J-P Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Juliette Gréco…

There is a lot more to say about him, but I suggest then that you go e.g. here.

Boris Vian suffered from bad health his whole life and died from a heart attack in 1959, at the age of 39.

Boris and his second wife moved in here in 1953, a rather modest flat, but with access to an enormous terrace overlooking Moulin Rouge, from the backside. You enter by a small and narrow passage called “Cité Véron”. A year later another leading personality in French cultural life, Jacques Prévert (1900-77), poet and screenwriter for a number of successful and famous films, moved into a larger flat, with access to the same terrace. They spent some years as good neighbours and one can imagine the parties that took place in the apartments and on the terrace.

Boris Vian’s flat (like Jacques Prévert’s – not visited) have remained fairly as they were. No photos allowed from the inside. I visited the place in the evening and there were no lights on the terrace, so I’m sorry for the bad quality of the photos. (Jacques Prévert's flat to the right on the middle photo below... and to the left you may see some "men in white" by street artist Jérome Mesnager.) 

To complete this post, here are some photos of Boris Vian with friends ... and some of Jacques Prévert. 

I suggest also that you watch some more videos. Here is one where we can see Jacques Prévert walking in the “Cité Véron” and listen to him reading a poem about Boris Vian. 

Here are links to Joan Baez and to Peter Paul and Mary singing “Le Déserteur”. 


[G@ttoGiallo] said...

Excellent post, Peter.

martinealison said...

Bonjour Peter,

Oh la la !!... mais j'ai manqué un nombre considérable de vos billets !...
Aussi entre la Sicile, la Banque de France, Frida Kahlo et aujourd'hui ce joli reportage sur Boris Vian, je viens de passer un excellent moment avec ma tasse de thé. J'ai dévoré toutes vos photos avec délice !
Gros bisous à vous cher ami.

Cezar and Léia said...

Very interesting post. I'm always learning with you Peter, thanks for sharing your beautiful photography and info!

Adam said...

This terrace was used in filming for the Canal + Series 'Pigalle' I think...Maybe there are some clips of that online.

Jeanie said...

Oh, Peter -- what a fabulous experience! I am not familiar with his career, so I really appreciate the links you shared. I think I'll dig into the videos -- I do like jazz! And it was especially fun for me to see something in this area, knowing that we walked it with you!

JoeinVegas said...

Thank you very much for the overhead city views with lines and comments - it makes it easy to imagine where you are talking about.

claude said...

Quel bel hommage, Peter !
Jeune on nous interdisait de lire "J'irai cracher sur vos tombes" et j'avais une cousine qui le lisait en cachette.
Je connais presque par coeur "Le déserteur" et j'aime la version de Mouloudji.
Par contre je ne connaissait pas le poème de Prévert pour Vian. Emouvant.
J'aimais bien ausssi la chanson "Fais moi mal Johnny" chanté par ...
Mince ! je ne me souviens plus de son nom, je l'ai sur le bout de la langue mais ça ne veut pas sortir.
Il me semble que son prénom était Noëlle.
Non, ça y est ! Magali Noël.

Alain said...

Un auteur longtemps censuré. C'est toujours curieux de voir comment les endroits où vécurent les personnes célèbres correspondent à leur personnalité.