Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Montand Redux

“Man's condition: inconstancy, boredom, anxiety.”
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

A follow-up to the earlier Yves Montand post... This is the letter I sent to WorldCat/OCLC (Online Computer Library Center).

Dear OCLC,

While looking for information on Yves Montand, one of the most important international cultural figures of the 20th century, I noticed that his AUTHOR RECORD in OCLC says: Montand, Yves, 1921- . Perhaps, like me, you love Montand’s wonderful singing and powerful acting, and you are hoping to keep his spirit alive by leaving off that painful closing date that signals the end of our time on this planet, but the fact of the matter is, he passed away suddenly and tragically in 1991, on the last day of filming a new motion picture.

At first, I thought little of the fact that you had ignored his death for 14 years. There was, to be sure, some disappointment and a touch of anger at this disrespect for such a beloved international figure – perhaps the ONLY artist in the terrible climate of the Cold War who scored enormous success both in Moscow AND on Broadway within a three-year span – but I balanced that with the understanding that technical errors do occur and that librarians (God bless you) are so often faced with tight budgets, understaffing, etc. But some disturbing trends appeared as I researched the matter a bit further.

First, it wasn’t just Yves Montand whose bibliographic record had been neglected for over a decade. The indignity his memory suffers is nothing compared with that of his wife, Simone Signoret, an international star in her own right, who won the Best Actress Oscar in 1959, wrote a novel and a wonderful autobiography, and was probably the most respected woman in France in her day. Her AUTHOR RECORD says: Signoret, Simone, 1921- . But Simone, who was a pivotal figure in the worldwide struggle for human rights in the 1950s and 1960s, passed away in 1985! TWENTY YEARS AGO! Getting behind in your duties for a while is one thing, especially at an institution as large as OCLC, but what excuse can you possibly give for ignoring for twenty years the bibliographic record of such a wonderful and important human being?

In comparison, I found that Katharine Hepburn’s bibliographic record was updated when she died in 2003. Now, I love Kate, and she’s an equally admired international actress, but if you asked a panel of cultural critics from around the world who was ultimately more important in the 20th century, I would bet a fair amount of money that Montand and Signoret would be given a slight edge over Hepburn because of their tremendous socio-political import in France, Europe and much of the Third World. You have to understand, this amazing couple was not some two-bit Brad & Jen or, God forbid, those two mental/media midgets that produced the Gigli monstrosity. Montand and Signoret moved among the highest intellectual, cultural and political circles of the day, dining with the likes of Picasso, Sartre and Khrushchev. They were regarded as heroes to the poor and working class in France (and beyond), eliciting the kind of deep love and spiritual connection that few performers ever achieve.

And though Kate Hepburn does a delightful version of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” when she tries to coax Baby, the tiger, down off the roof in Bringing Up Baby, her singing career can’t really compare to the tremendous legacy of Yves Montand. Yet someone at OCLC obviously saw fit, as they should have, to show respect to Hepburn by closing out the date in her bibliographic record when she passed away.

What’s truly disturbing is that there seems to be a clear American bias at work here. If you’re going to call yourself WORLDcat and offer services around the globe, don’t you think you should tend to the bibliographic records of people who are important AROUND THE GLOBE? In addition to Montand and Signoret, you’ve also neglected to note the deaths of Charles Trenet and Gilbert Bécaud, two more of France’s most renowned singers. Just because they’re not as well known in the United States as the completely exchangeable, look-alike Barbie dolls that gather so much media attention here, even getting coverage on what they call “news” in this country, Trenet and Bécaud are important figures who are still known and loved throughout the relatively cultured parts of the planet. You’re a bibliographic institution or great renown. You’re supposed to care about quality and posterity, about what will last forever, not just grace the Yahoo home page for three weeks. Where’s the regard? You may call yourself the “Window to the world’s libraries,” but the window seems to look out from the same old ethno-centric, corporate park headquarters called the United States of America. (Look at us, look at us, we’re so great! We’ve got Brittany and Paris Hilton!) And that’s disappointing to see in an organization – a business – that’s one of the pillars of the library community.

Finally, you’re disseminating these faulty records throughout the United States and the rest of the world, up to the highest levels of library-dom. This whole scandal came to my attention when I noticed the flawed Yves Montand record in the New York Public Library online catalog – the largest Public Library system in the country! The same record then appeared in the Library of Congress catalog – the main temple of U.S. libraries! It suddenly occurred to me that OCLC was probably the poisoned source of all of this misinformation. Imagine a diplomat in Paris visiting the Library of Congress catalog and discovering this blatant disregard for France's cultural heroes. How would Americans feel if the Pompidou Centre hadn’t bothered changing Elvis Presley’s bibliographic record since 1977? (“Ah, oui, he was nothing. Just some fat American who stole everything from the blacks. Bien sur!”) With great power comes great responsibility. You’ve neglected Simone Signoret’s record for 20 years (TWENTY YEARS!), and now every institution that uses your services is spreading this personal and bibliographic indignity around the globe. It’s like some horrible avian flu of the spirit. Please, in the name of human decency and bibliographic integrity, put the closing dates on Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Charles Trent, and Gilbert Bécaud! Allow these beautiful and noble people who gave the world so much pleasure and hope during their lives, to finally rest in peace in library heaven.


The Cowboy Angel


And some interesting blogs along my path:

Ron Silliman (http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/) discusses the poetry of Janet Kaplan, who definitely deserves the attention. Scroll down to the Friday, October 14, 2005 post.

Janet's book The Glazier's Country, which won the Poets Out Loud Prize in 2003, should be in everyone's poetry collection. One of the best - and most important, I would say - collections of poetry in the last few years.

Liam Moore has a very poetic list ("Saturday somewhere") on his excellent blog, sententiae et clamores. His list includes a link to yet another list from Borges. You can spend all day drifting through these beautiful labyrinths...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Yves Montand Is Alive and Well and Living in New York

"The inner, subtle essences can be contemplated only by sucking, not by knowing."
Isaac the Blind (12th-13th centuries)

Soundtrack this morning: Yves Montand - Selections from Les débuts, v. 1, 1945-1948 and v. 2, 1948-1949 [Boulogne, France : Forlane, 2000] and A Paris [New York : DRG Records, 1998?], which includes material from 1948 -1958.

Wonderful French chanson, with a jazz element at times. These CDs include Montand's first recordings, the period of his relationship with Edith Piaf, who helped expand his repertoire, and the commencement of his work with Bob Castella, who wound up being Montand's musical director and creative collaborator for the rest of Montand's career.

Yves and Edith
The two lovers in a still from the film Étoile sans lumière (1946).

At the moment, Montand's singing a slower, jazzy version of "C'est si bon" (Hornez/Betti), which Louis Armstrong had a hit with towards the end of his career, and which Eartha Kitt covered as well. Her version showed up in the 2003 film Something's Gotta Give.

So I'm verifying the titles of the Montand CDs on the New York Public Library's online catalog. NYPL says the CDs are "by Montand, Yves, 1921-". That's cool. I would love nothing more than for Yves Montand to still be alive, singing his wonderful songs and acting in more great films. But the fact is, the man died in 1991. Perhaps one of the catalogers at NYPL loves Montand as much as I do and wants to keep him alive, at least bibliographically speaking.

But the story doesn't end there.

"Hmm..." I think to myself. For kicks, and because I have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning, I go to the Library of Congress web site and look up Yves Montand in their catalog. Turns out he's alive in D.C. as well. For 14 years, the Library of Congress, the Temple of Bibliographic Greatness in the United States of America, has lied to the American public and to the world, claiming that a major international performer was still alive when, in fact, he had keeled over from a heart attack on the last day of filming IP5: L'île aux pachydermes (1992). But, hey, it’s Washington – it’s not like it's the first or second time they’ve lied to everyone. Perhaps they just missed the NY Times and Washington Post obituaries back in 1991.

But the story doesn't end there either.

Since the largest Public Library system in the U.S. and the Library of Congress are both mistaking a dead French dude for one who is un-dead, I start wondering if the source of this bibliographic necrophilia doesn't lie in the deepest, most sacred reaches of librariandom: OCLC (Online Computer Library Catalog). OCLC creates almost all original catalog records that other libraries use for their own systems. They own and produce WorldCat, the card catalog of the world, "the largest and most comprehensive database of its kind." Surely, the Holy of Holies hasn't been defiled by such a grave error? No pun intended.

Well, okay, pun intended.

And, yes, the Holy of Holies has been defiled: "Montand, Yves, 1921-"

I think I’ll start spray painting “Montand, Yves, 1921-“ on walls across New York City, like the old “Bird lives!” graffiti that began showing up after Charlie Parker died. (Or didn’t die.)

Or maybe I'm the one with the faulty information. Maybe Yves Montand is still alive. He's certainly singing to me at the moment - a sultry “Planter Café” (Marnay/Stern) from 1958. I hear his voice. I see him in the photograph with Edith, who may or may not be dead herself, despite dying in 1963. I heard her singing a couple of days ago. Are any of these dead people actually dead? What is it I’m hearing if not the living voice of Yves Montand? Just a collection of ones and zeroes thrown together in a pattern that produces the voice of Yves Montand. The mystical application of numbers.

But librarians are a hard bunch. Immortality doesn't exist when it comes to maintaining bibliographic records. Someone dies - you add his or her closing date. Period. “Cobain, Kurt, 1967-1994.” Just like on a gravestone. Except, of course, for the last name-first thing. (Though, I imagine there’s a dead cataloging librarian out there somewhere with a gravestone like that.) So OCLC, the Library of Congress, and the NY Public Library basically haven’t bothered to finish Yves Montand's bibliographic gravestone for 14 years now. What kind of respect is that for one of the 20th century’s greatest and most fascinating human beings?

But the story still doesn’t end there.

I start to smell a rat in all of this. I get ideas. Conspiracy! (It’s a slow morning, what can I say?) Some kind of anti-French thing going on at the highest levels of librariandom. Bush administration people stealing into the Library of Congress at night, wearing Dick Nixon masks and changing the bibliographic records of all those anti-war Frogs! So, I do more investigation. And the evidence piles up!

Signoret, Simone, 1921- (Dead since 1985 - 20 bloody years!)
Trenet, Charles, 1913- (Dead since 2001)
Bécaud, Gilbert, 1927- (Dead since 2001)

But: “Hepburn, Katharine, 1907-2003.”

So WorldCat, a “worldwide” library catalog, will take care of your bibliographic records if you’re an American, especially a famous white American, but if you’re a famous white Frenchman or Frenchwoman, well... better make other arrangements. You could be stuck in library limbo for eternity. Sort of a low-grade Purgatory, with fluorescent lighting and uncomfortable chairs. Then, if the Library God/Godatrix hears you sing “Les feuilles mortes” enough, maybe you’ll get into cataloging heaven.

Ah, poor librarians, always so overworked. Always getting their budgets cut. And here I am busting their chops. They can only tend to the records of the dead one corpse (American) at a time.

And the story ends there.

Montand, Yves 1921-1991


Friday, October 14, 2005

A Word from Guillaume

À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien
(In the end, you are weary of this ancient world)

A word from Guillaume Apollinaire ("Zone" ) to get this journey started...

Though I should probably begin with another line from the same poem:

"J'ai vécu comme un fou et j'ai perdu mon temps"
(I have lived like a fool, and I have wasted my life)

Drifting in time - to 1913 to be exact - Apollinaire's digital ghost reads another poem from Alcools: Le pont Mirabeau.

And soon, lost fragments of the true story of Kostro's unknown journey to Texas, in 1904, in pursuit of Annie Playden, but not quite yet, not quite yet...