Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Montreal Women Are Wonderful"

"Montreal Women Are Wonderful"
"Easter parade is every day along St. Catherine street, with its steady stream of mad hats and multi-hued hair to bewitch — or bewilder — male eyes."

A November, 1961 article appearing in Weekend Magazine; the first in a series that featured artists' impressions of Canadian women...  Enjoy:

Montreal Women Are Wonderful
Paintings by Bruce Johnson

"You can see girls any place but in Montreal you see women." That was artist Bruce Johnson's reaction when he first arrived. Two years in the city have not dampened his enthusiasm. His face still lights up at the very Mention of the subject.

He should know. He is a keen practicioner of that old male custom of standing on the corner — purely in the interests of art — and watching all the girls go by. These paintings are the result of many long, happy hours doing just that.

"The first thing I noticed", he says, "was the individuality of the Montreal woman." It is not just her clothes, he decided, although her appearance leaves no doubt about her fashion consciousness. She follows fashion but is not ruled by it. Her costume may be years old but it fits beautifully as well as flattering her figure.

It is the French influence that is mainly responsible for setting the Montreal woman apart. Johnson agrees, "but the effects seem to rub off on many English-speaking women as well."

There is something different about the way a Montreal woman looks at a man: "She is not coquettish — just more aware." And it is much more rewarding to smile at her, because more often than not you get a smile in return, instead of a cold stare. "Much more enticing," he says.

Being a young man, Johnson devotes most of his attention to the younger woman. But older examples of Montreal womanhood do not escape his eye. His view of them appears here as well — in the first of a WEEKEND series of artists' impressions of Canadian women.

"Montreal Women Are Wonderful"
"Leisurely lunch is irresistible when your waitress in a tiny French café treats you as though you were her only customer."

"Montreal Women Are Wonderful"
"Fresh faces almost hidden by hoods, nuns take a quiet stroll in the shadow of Mount Royal."

"Montreal Women Are Wonderful"
"The real warmth of the French-Canadian woman — her understanding and compassion — shows in the plum rosy faces you see in old Bonsecours Market."

"Montreal Women Are Wonderful"
"Sweeping majectically across Sherbrooke street, her chauffeur-led poodle in her wake, is one of the formidable figures who form the backbone of Montreal's English society."

"Montreal Women Are Wonderful"
"Coffee bars along Stanley street are second homes to the Beatnick crop. Their pale-lipped, dusky-eyed faces world-weary in the smoky gloom, they huddle for hours over endless cups of bitter espresso."

image source:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Story Behind the Expo 67 Theme Song

In my years as an Expo 67 aficionado, I've always wondered why there were 2 different "official" Expo theme songs: one by Donald Lautrec and one by (my beloved) Michèle Richard.

Written by Stéphane Venne in the months leading up to Expo, "Un jour, un jour" ("Hey Friend, Say Friend" in English) was in fact the winning submission in a contest organized by the Expo 67 Corporation and Ms. Jacqueline Vézina, then-head of the "Festival du Disque", ancestor of the current "Gala de L'ADISQ".

During an Expo-related event last winter, Stéphane Venne himself discussed the competition, as well as the Donald Lautrec/Michèle Richard duality.

"I was 25 years old at the time," remembered Venne, "I had been writing songs for 10 years. I learned to write much like a young hockey player learns to play: by practice.  So by 1966, I knew what I was doing. But I was still relatively anonymous."

That year, he received a letter with a participation form for the Expo 67 theme song contest from his songwriter's guild.  Venne said he'd never forget the day he got his idea:

"At one point in 1966, the 'La Presse' newspaper published an artist's conception of Expo 67 on its front page.  It was a prettied-up image, à la Walt Disney, meant to give readers an impression of what the Expo site would be like. [...] The image was huge: from one edge of the page to another".  This was where inspiration struck: "The islands, the water, the colors, at once in the city and just outside the city.  The shapes, the dream, the future"...

Stéphane Venne submitted his song during the last hour of the last day of the contest deadline, slipping it under the door at 5 minutes to 5pm.  This was before the advent of cassette tapes, so the songs were submitted as musical partitions: musical notes and lyrics on paper.  Jacqueline Vézina had hired professional singers with accompanying pianists to perform the submissions before judges.  One of these pianists was Paul Baillargeon, a fellow who worked with lyricist Pierre Letourneau, a good friend of Stéphane's. 

When "Un jour, un jour" won out over the other 2,200 submissions, Letourneau knew immediately through Baillargeon and called Stéphane to tell him.  It was still a secret as the official announcement had not been made. "A few days before the official announcement, I knew," Venne admitted.

Donald Lautrec vs. Michèle Richard

A grand gala was organized by Radio-Canada to announce the winning theme song. Venne recalled the details:

"The director of this show, Maurice Dubois, had the habit of hiring Michèle Richard for all sorts of occasions and all sorts of reasons. I was not happy about this. I had a friend, [singer] Donald Lautrec, whose manager, Yvan Dufresne, I knew well. I called Dufresne a few days before the gala to confide in him: 'Yvan, I won the Expo song, the show is Sunday and you find that it would be fun if...' He understood immediately. The problem was: 'What do we do?' And the answer was: 'We work quickly, through the night, hiring musicians without telling them why, recording and manufacturing the records at full speed, so that they are in stores Monday morning after the Radio-Canada show...'"

This is how Donald Lautrec came to record the song, even though the Expo Corporation and Radio-Canada had chosen Michèle Richard...

On a side note, Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau was reportedly unhappy that Stéphane Venne's original lyrics made no mention of "Montreal" or "Expo 67".  One of the major differences in Michèle Richard's recording versus Donald Lautrec's was the inclusion of an intro and outro where she sang: "Expo, Expo, à Montréal... Expo, Expo de '67... Expoooooo à Montréaaaaal!"

No need to ask which one I like best.  And you, Expo Lounge visitor? Which version do you prefer...? 


The Stéphane Venne quotes were culled from a written French transcript sent to me by Yves Jasmin, translated and edited for clarity by yours truly.