Edith Piaf… “No Regrets”

The iconic French singer comes to life in this enthralling biography written by Australian author Carolyn Burke, who captures Edith Piaf’s immense charisma along with the time and place that gave rise to her unprecedented international career. Burke’s previous biographes include  “Lee Miller: A Life” and “Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy.”

Raised by turns in a brothel, a circus caravan, and a working-class Paris neighborhood, Piaf began singing on the city’s streets, where she was discovered by a Champs-Elysées cabaret owner. She became a star almost overnight, seducing Paris’s elite and the people of its slums in equal measure with her powerful, passionate voice.

Piaf’s singing reflected her life, with her specialty being ‘les chansons réalistes.’ Her songs include “La Vie en rose” (1946) “Hymne à l’amour” and “L’Accordéoniste” (1955). For many Piaf may be best remembered for “Non, je ne regrette rien,” a song she performed almost 50 years ago, late in her career, during a a legendary concert at Paris’ L’Olympia Theater. Piaf was visibly not well during the performance and would indeed die 3 years later at the age of 47. Yet the song and it’s message of utter defiance, in the face of the considerable pain that life had thrown at her, resonated with audiences everywhere and will forever be the song she is most famous for.

‘Piaf is often portrayed as a Gallic fusion of Billie Holiday and Judy Garland. Yet she was more feral than either and, like her friend (Maurice) Chevalier, more completely identified with le petit peuple-the “little people” to whose dreams she gave voice, whose adoration nourished her career from its inauspicious start in the streets of Belleville to her international fame..’ Burke explains.

“No Regrets” explores her rise to fame and notoriety, her tumultuous love affairs, and her struggles with drugs, alcohol, and illness, while also drawing on new sources to enhance our knowledge of little-known aspects of her life. Piaf was an unlikely student of poetry and philosophy, who aided Resistance efforts in World War II. Indeed, timing is everything. When Edith Piaf arrived to an occupied Paris after touring the South of France in June 1940, Burke tells us that her ‘..girl-of-the-streets persona helped audiences reimagine the city that had, until recently, been theirs.’ And after a concert at the prestigious Salle Pleyel in September of the same year, “Paris-Soir” wrote that “She possesses the best quality an artist can have – sincerity.”

Perhaps in the midst of the current economic gloom, Piaf’s  “intemporelle” songs about love, hardship and resistance have a particular resonance.