Hot As The 14th Of July

Elliott Murphy - As Hot As The 14th Of July

The French celebrate Bastille Day on the 14th of July like Americans do Independence Day on the 4th of July. Always seemed like more then a coincidence to me that revolutionary fervor gripped both these peoples in the hottest of times. But these two countries – one I was born in and the other I live in – celebrate nothing less then dark, glorious, bloody revolution every summer and both with a plethora of fireworks, which no matter how exciting they may be basically simulate the sounds, and lights of bombs bursting in air and blowing everything and everybody to smithereens. The Chinese invented fireworks and when I was a kid we would go down to Chinatown in New York City to buy Black Cats and Cherry Bombs. Lucky I didn’t blow my fingers off or I wouldn’t be writing this today. Sometimes it seems that I travel the world over looking for new thrills and yet everything remains the same. Wasn’t that a Led Zeppelin album? Anyway, my Paris neighborhood is home to no less then three Starbucks and countless McDonalds. Is this a bad thing? Don’t ask me because some folks would call Rock and Roll a low cultural invasion too. Personally, I always thought that Rock and Roll brought down the Berlin Wall, saved the world from nuclear annihilation, improved countless couples sex life, brought about racial harmony and ended the Vietnam War. Not bad for three chords and a backbeat. I’m a proud member of the baby boom generation and common wisdom says we will dominate the consumer culture until we disappear like dinosaurs in the ice age or lightning bugs in August. So, in a way, I guess I’m as responsible for all this cultural homogenization as anybody else. When I first came to Paris 30 years ago you had to wait over two hours just to make a long distance call. Now I can see my mother in New York on my computer screen while I talk to her from across the ocean. And yet, Hank Williams “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” seems just as pertinent as ever. Unreal city…

I wanted to do an album of songs of songwriters born in the same year as me. And an album of songs only written by women. And another of acoustic versions of heavy metal classics. Am I giving away my secrets? Recently my son Gaspard took me on a website that listed all the Beatles songs. Then he did a search for the word “love” and it kept finding that word over and over again in their wonderful songs until we just had to stop. I cannot think of any other band or artist with such a singular message. I envy them. The Beatles got the universal love market all sewed up. No use in me even trying to compete there. But I have my own theme, which is “What” and is far more difficult to rhyme than “Love.”

People ask me how I’m doing and I say, “Same as always, trying to figure things out and figure out where I fit into all of this.” Lately I have been threatening to no one in particular that I’m going to stop reading the newspaper or watching CNN. The news almost always makes me feel bad or scares the shit out of me, makes me want to pack it in and move my family to a small island in the south pacific. But only if they have a wifi Internet connection. Today, in Paris or New York if you don’t know everything that’s going on everywhere all the time people think that you’re some kind of ignoramus or extremely politically incorrect. I just want to be a rock and roll troubadour, perhaps the last one, and spread the news, my news that is, with songs and guitars and passionate voices. I have visions of heavenly choirs of angels accompanying me each time I sing “On Elvis Presley’s Birthday” and I invite them back to every show. Lunatics, Lovers and Poets agree you can get what you’re after but you get nothing for free. I’m drifting, I know because it one thirty in the morning and tomorrow I’m leaving for a weeks vacation in the south of France near St. Tropez and that, my friends, makes me very, very nervous. Will I bring the right books? 

So today I’m not gonna talk about future plans because I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with the present. I think I’m not alone when I say that no matter how organized I become I feel it all slipping away from me, like sand between the fingers. They say if you want to hear God laugh tell him your plans. I say you never know what you’re in for. 

The Beatles said all you need is love. I say yes, that and a good book. And wifi. But tonight I don’t want to hold on to anything in particular, all my memories are sleeping and I love the life I lead today. I always wanted to be an American in Europe and now I am. So what, you might say. Exactly is my response. Wishing you all and mostly myself a fine summer, the kind of summer we will always remember, full of mystery and sudden romance and beauty beyond belief. And enough time to see and feel all of that and take it in and digest it with a smile and a sigh. If you’re having a tough time de-stressing try downloading “Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith and his orchestra and listen to it over and over again until you know the violin parts by heart. At least, that’s what works for me. 

Where is that kind of music now that we need it again so badly? 

July 2007

Photo: Pierre Lecomte