Discover more from The World of Tosh Berman
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Some individuals somehow become part of the fabric of life but are barely remembered afterward. It wasn't until I saw Richard Quine's film Bell, Book, and Candle that I realized that Philippe Clay made an appearance in this film singing Le Noyé Assassiné. A few days ago, I purchased the first Clay album, and I was deeply impressed with this song. It's a song about a murdered man who ends up at the bottom of the Seine River in Paris but is still conscious even in death. I forgot that Clay sang this song in a somewhat classic Hollywood film. In the movie, Clay is singing at the Zodiac Club, probably the most imagined bohemian nightclub in Hollywood's imagination. A few years ago, while trying to find obscure Serge Gainsbourg footage on YouTube, I found an extraordinary sequence of Clay singing with Serge on his L'assassinat de Franz Léhar. Here, Serge and Philippe change roles of either being a tuxedoed singer or a song and one-man dance band. There is something absurd and sad at the same time seeing such old film footage. Both artists have firm faces. Clay, at times, almost looks satanic while Gainsbourg looks simply amused.
Philippe Clay has a remarkable voice but even more impressive is how he uses his body while performing a song. A trained mine never overstates the arm gestures, but in his subdued, sensual manner, he gives himself entirely to the lyrical content of the song. One can see him as an entertainer, but I feel his music has blades sewn into his clothing. He cuts with words, but if you push him, the edge will come out.
It's funny that I see myself as a performer. I'm not good on the theater boards, but I'm excellent off-stage. When the spotlight is on me, I forget all my lines, but I never forget the written word once on a one-to-one level. Scraps of paper and used envelopes are stuffed in my coat pockets, and I always take a moment or two to study my lines. When I said "I love you" to a woman in my youth, I had those words written in the palm of my hand. She never caught on that I was playing a role.
Now, whenever I go to the Zodiac Club, I bring my Philippe Clay album with me. I sit there in front of the small stage. I prop the album cover against the candles on the table, and I want them all to know that I'm on the side of the artifice. The spotlight hits the stage, but then it shifts onto my table. I start singing Le Noyé Assassiné.