No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf
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The iconic French singer comes to life in this biography, which captures Edith Piaf’s immense charisma along with the time and place that gave rise to her international career. Raised by turns in a brothel, a circus caravan, and a working-class Parisian 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 all of Paris with her passionate voice, and No Regrets explores her meteoric rise; her tumultuous love affairs; and her struggles with drugs, alcohol, and illness. Piaf was an unlikely student of poetry and philosophy who aided Resistance efforts in World War II, wrote the lyrics for nearly 100 songs, including “La vie en rose,” and was a crucial mentor to younger singers such as Yves Montand and Charles Aznavour. Burke demonstrates how, with her courage, her incomparable art, and her universal appeal, “the little sparrow” endures as a symbol of France and a source of inspiration to entertainers the world over.
visage tout pâle. / Pourtant y’avait dans l’fond d’ses yeux, / Comm’ quelqu’ chos’ de miraculeux / Qui semblait mettre un peu d’ciel bleu / Dans celui tout sale, de Pigalle.” (“She hung out on the rue Pigalle, / She smelled of cheap vice, / She was black with sin / With a poor pale face. / Yet 1937–1939 • 63 there was something in her eyes / Like a miracle / That seemed to put a little blue / In the sooty sky of Pigalle.”) Asso’s tale of a whore with a heart of gold ends badly when the man who
to my old ideas of the perfect man but opened the doors to a world of refinement, whose existence I had never imagined.” Still other doors opened for her. One evening Madame Raoul Breton, the wife of Piaf ’s music publisher, asked her to dinner to meet Jean Cocteau, at his request. The “prince of poets,” who often sought new energy in popular art, was as entranced with Edith as she was with him. By the end of the meal they were addressing each other with the intimate tu. A friendship began that
been anyone like her; there never will be.” The audience was directed to study “this astonishing little person . . . her Bonaparte-like forehead, her eyes like those of a blind person trying to see” as she came onstage. After a moment of hesitation, “a voice rises up from deep within, a voice that inhabits her from head to toe, unfolding like a 112 • n o r e g r e t s wave of warm black velvet to submerge us, piercing through us, getting right inside us. The illusion is complete. Edith Piaf,
classics as he had done for her. Whereas her engagement with Plato had given her a taste for readings on the spiritual life, Marcel preferred lighter things, like A. J. Cronin’s best-seller The Keys of the Kingdom—the story of a priest who lives in imitation of Jesus, his hero. The book became a talisman for the boxer; he carried it everywhere. Yet, though it opened his eyes to higher things, he let Edith go alone to the nearby church when she wanted to pray. In time Bourgeat would be able to
Bonel ﬁlmed her astride the camel that she renamed Mistinguett because of the resemblance she saw between her mount’s teeth and those of the French entertainer. Piaf sang next in Beirut, at that time an outpost of French culture known as “the pearl of the Orient.” Between engagements, she flew to London in March to bring Cerdan luck at his next match, with Dick Turpin—who collapsed under his assault in the seventh round. In April, while Edith was singing at the A.B.C. with Les Compagnons, Marcel