Parisian of the Month : Michel Dreano
> To say Michel Dreano is a Renaissance man is big understatement. He is a highly accomplished man and is a poet, songwriter, musician, journalist, documentary filmmaker and teacher. Michel is my neighbor in my building and a few years ago he took me to St. Denis for an adventurous day. Click here to read.
> Where were you born and where did you grow up?
> I was born in 1952 in the « Maternité de Port Royal » - the largest baby boomer factory in Paris.
> The eldest of four children, I grew up in a working class area, near Porte de la Chapelle. When I was 8 years old, my family moved into a housing project in the 20th arrondissement in the Eastern part of Paris. I saw the last moments of an area named « La zone », which surrounded Paris from 1840 to 1973. Nowdays, what used to be « la zone » is the boulevard périphérique – the highway that surrounds Paris. I made a documentary film about « la zone » in 1997 (À ma zone). It can be seen in the Forum des Images, Place Carrée in Les Halles You can also see an excerpt of it on my web site.
> Except for periods when I worked in Spain and Ireland, I have always lived in the Paris area - and almost always in Paris.
> How did you become a journalist and please tell us about some of your various jobs.
> I first worked as a social worker, helping fragile young people and school drop outs. Then I became an entertainer for tourists at Club Mediterranée and Tourisme et Travail ! That’s how I realized I liked to be on stage. So I started to write songs and practice my guitar whenever I had time. Then I changed jobs again and worked for Automobile Club de France.
> In 1989, I started doing freelance journalism. I was 37. It had been my boyhood dream to become a writer, and I thought it would be easier to first become a journalist. I did not know anybody in that field at first. But little by little, I made my way into it. I had the opportunity to do documentary films for TV and radios. My topics were often linked to cities, and to the social effects of urbanism on populations. I worked for Jardin des modes and Journal de Saint-Denis, but as time went by, they hired less and less people in order to reduce costs. Getting regular assignments became difficult, so I finally became a teacher in 2000. I have been working in a professional high school in Seine-et-Marne, East of Paris - going towards Disneyland, where they grow wheat and corn. That’s twenty miles away from my Parisian home. I don’t care much for my daily commute, but I like my students.
> Becoming a teacher has enabled me to start a new creative period of songs and poetry performances. In 2009, I took a year off to get a master’s degree in sociology and anthropology. I am now a young sixty year old !
> You worked in the town of St. Denis for a long time writing for a newspaper. Please share with us about that experience.
> I spent eight years of my life in Saint-Denis. As a local journalist, I met people from all walks of life, including politicians. I also met great actors and rap performers. The first French rap band, NTM (NTM stands for Nique Ta Mère – F--k Your Mother) was made of kids who had grown up in Saint-Denis. I still have original recordings of them on a dictaphone tape archive.
> Ninety thousand people live in Saint-Denis. I covered all cultural events : the Festival de Saint-Denis (for classical music), Les Acteurs à l’Ecran (a film festival), Africolor ( the African music festival), including the World Accordeon Festival. I remember great moments with Michel Piccoli and Giuletta Massina, Federico Fellini’s muse and wife.
> I also made three films in Saint-Denis in the 1990s : Passe ton rap d’abord ( 1991), Jean Weinfeld, citoyen du Bauhaus (1993) et Ca va sauter, chronique d’une cité ( 1995). They were all shown on television. You can see excerpts of them on my website, micheldreano.org
> Saint-Denis is also where I met the photographer Robert Doisneau at the end of his life. He used to call me « Michel de Saint-Denis ». One day, at his house in Montrouge, I played a song I had written for him. « I don’t have a musical ear» he said, « but it is as if Rouget de l’Isle [who wrote La Marseillaise, the French national anthem] had sung La Marseillaise to Rude [the sculptor who decorated l’Arc de Triomphe]. »
> I often think of the three days we spent together. We use to laugh a lot. He would told me anecdotes about french musicians of the old days in the fifties (like for instance the jazz guitarist Henri Crolla, one of his best friends). And he showed me very beautifuf « tirages » of his work that had never been published. One month before he died, I met him out of the subway station in Saint-Denis, where he liked to shoot pictures. He always went near the canal. That’s also where he took walks with his friend Jacques Prévert, the poet, in the late 1940s. That day – the last time I saw him- Doisneau said to me « It’s hard to age, you know. »
> i would not forget my friend René Kersanté who is, to day, the last and only survivor of the corporation of market gardeners in the Paris vicinity ( after second world war, 400 hundred families of farm estate gardeners produced vegetables. They also delivered themselves, around 4 A.M., their salads, radishes and carrots in Les Halles, the central market of Paris until 1971)
> You recently wrote and produced a new CD called « Hommes Sensibles des Quartiers » Please tell us about the title, the music, and the inspiration for it. Also please tell us about your former CD’s.
> That CD sums up my life in Saint-Denis, even though the place is never mentioned. It is about the people I met there, even though I also invent their stories. I started working on that record in 1995. I was lucky to work with talented French and African musicians. My favorite title so far is « Tenir les murs » because it refers to two of my documentary films. Musically speaking it is a mixture between jazz oriented, songs, slams and raps a capella, poems talked over acid jazz beats. And two pieces with sanzas or kalimbas background.You can also hear an instrumental for African kora and chromatic mouth harp.
> I also made another CD titled CELA S'APPELLE LA VILLE, with pictures by Gérard Monico, who was one of Doisneau’s apprentices.
> This CD contains a lot of songs and the style of it has nothing to do with hip hop. It is more traditional « chanson française » including latin bossa, folkish accordion stuffs, waltz musette and « parisian java » stuff.
> You are also a poet. Please tell us about your poetry and about some of the poetry slams you have been in.
> It is difficult for me to talk about my poetry. I like to experience all sorts of styles – satire, social realism, take offs, including classical Medieval forms. I have been attending Claude Lemesle’s master class. Lemesle wrote for the greatest French singers. He has been telling me to look into Verlaine’s poetry.
> I have been involved in Slam Poetry since 2000. This year in June, I will be part of the Granville team for the Grand Slam national. I also won -individually, not in a team) the Grand Slam de Paname in 2010. It took place at Les Trois Baudets, the theatre where Brel and Brassens began their careers.
> My musical and poetical influences were Léo Ferré, Claude Nougaro, Bob Dylan and bluesmen in general.
> You have lived in the Marais for a very long time. How has the neighborhood changed in the time you have been here?
> When I met my wife Marguerite, in 1980, we lived in a small one room appartment on rue Beautreillis, just accross from where Jim Morrisson is supposed to have died. In those days, there still were people in the street who pushed carts of vegetables and others who carried packs of glass on their back and shouted « viiitrier ! (glass maker) Former minister Jack Lang, actor Sami Frey and a bunch of other famous people used to hang out there all the time. The neighborhood remained affordable until the late 1980s. Then Paulette - the last vegetable seller whose cart now is in a real estate window – retired, and Le Marais became hype and expensive - as the price of vegetables shows.
> You have also directed some documentary films. Please tell us about some of them.
> The one that gave me the hardest time, for technical and financial reasons, was my first 52’, [Jean Weinfeld, citizen of the Bauhaus]. It is about the life and work of a former Bauhaus member named Jean Weinfeld, who invented a gorgeous but unplayable musical string instrument called FONICS. Weinfeld helped me get into television when I didn’t know anybody. That film is the one I am proudest of.
> If you were stranded on a desert island what would be the one piece of music and one piece of literature you would have to have.
> Rimbaud’s poems and Bach’s partitas for luth or guitar.
> What do you prefer about Paris?
> The infinity of possible encounters. The feminine beauty of the city. The light in May, when the sun sets on Haussmanian buildings. I also like that there are so many different movie theatres. I love movies, and Paris « salles de cinéma » for me is like Mecqua for a Muslim. It might be that mineral Nineteenth Century flavor that Walter Benjamin mentions in his book Passagen werk.
> Below is a list of upcoming poetry events Michel will be appearing in.
GRAND SLAM 2012 (in Paris)
Different spots in June. From Monday the 4 th until Sunday the
> For what its' worth and to whom it may concern, I compete with GRANVILLE (team "la cigale voyageuse").
1 : Thursday the 7th, 9 P.M.. Bar Culture rapide, 103
rue Julien-Lacroix (near Place Fréhel) PARIS. M° Belleville.