French chanson music may seem very alien to ears weaned on pop music, and it may not seem to bear much relation to what we think of as rock and roll, but if rock stardom can be seen as a state of being; if self-destruction, dysfunction, and bad luck are among the defining characteristics of what it means to be a rock star; if tragic, larger than life glamour is what we look for in a rock star; then Edith Piaf was on of the first and greatest rock stars. Piaf had an outstandingly shitty life, marked by tragic loss and physical suffering. She was the daughter of a street acrobat, abandoned by both parents, raised in a brothel by her madam grandmother, discovered busking in the streets of Paris, lost her only child and the love of her life, went through a series of lousy relationships, descended into morphine addiction after a near fatal car accident – if her life was a movie (which it has been made into) you’d think it was farfetched. Like Billie Holiday, she was one of those people who, despite all their success, couldn’t seem to catch a break. And like Holiday, she poured the pain from all of her bad breaks into her music. Her music remains alive and compelling and her legend still holds, and if she’d enjoyed a happier life, that probably would not be the case.

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