The story of “La Bohème”, the famous song by Charles Aznavour

Bohemia, that meant we are happy”, do his words trigger a feeling of reminiscence in you? This is the genius of this famous song by Charles Aznavour. 

You have certainly heard this timeless song, the most famous among the beautiful songs of Charles Aznavour hummed by your grandmother or your mother? “La bohème” is essential French music, since its release in 1965 it has been a song embraced by all generations. 

But why is this song so timeless? This is certainly because it evokes a particular story in each of us. The meaning given to it differs from one individual to another while the words put on it are the same, those of “La Bohème”. 

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Who is Charles Aznavour

His childhood as an artist child

Let us first recall that Charles Aznavour was born in Paris during the interwar period, on May 22, 1924. His parents are Armenian, his mother from Türkiye and his father of Georgian origin. He was immersed in the artistic world from his childhood as his family led a life where music and dramatic art were present. From his earliest childhood, Aznavour attended a school for performing children and it was at the age of 9 that he took the stage of the Petit-Monde theater, he took his pseudonym Aznavour very early. He is therefore an artist from his childhood and this is undoubtedly one of the secrets of his success, he was lulled into the world of music very early. 

He frequents many artists thanks to the small family restaurant on rue de la Huchette in Paris: Le Caucase. Within this restaurant itself, Charles Aznavour performs for customers accompanied by his sister on the piano. 

When the Second World War broke out, Aznavour's family took part in the daily Resistance by hiding Jews and Armenians in their apartment. 

His life as an artist

Charles Aznavour is struggling to take off as an artist. He was spotted by Edith Piaf in 1946 who made him her protégé and asked him to participate in her tour by opening for her performances. For 8 years Charles Aznavour accompanied Edith Piaf as pianist during her concerts. 

In 1956 he had his first big success thanks to the title “Je m'y voir déjà” in 1956. A title which speaks of the dreams of fame and glory of a musical artist. 

It was especially in the 1960s that Aznavour achieved great success thanks to his work as an author for other artists. He notably writes songs for the singer Sylvie Vartan, Johnny Hallyday and Mireille Mathieu. 

être un artiste

An artist committed to various causes

Due to his Armenian origins, Charles Aznavour feels concerned by the Armenian cause. In 1995, he became Armenia's itinerant ambassador to UNESCO. Upon her death in 2018, the Director General of UNESCO announced that she deplored the loss of a defender of cultural diversity and the Francophonie. 

Aznavour could be defined as a committed artist. Indeed, he affirms that all the subjects which touch him deeply have been evoked throughout his songs. This is how he writes about homosexuality with the title “as they say”, the feminist cause with the title “Women's rights” or even the Armenian cause with the song “ They fell".  

The musical style “à la Aznavour”

Charles Aznavour's titles are above all songs that fall into the 'popular song' category. She remains in the lead and is still a must in French song today. 

In the 1960s it became an essential name in French variety, which designates a set of musical compositions in the French language composing several musical styles such as jazz, pop and rock. It was at this time that he experienced great success. 

Charles Aznavour claims to deplore the ultra-commercialized side of his songs, preferring that we remember his work rather than the sales figures he achieved during his life. 

Charles Aznavour is a complete artist and an outstanding lyricist, songwriter and performer. It was even covered by the greatest artists in the world such as Ray Charles, famous American jazz singer, who sang “La mamma” in 1976 or Bing Crosby who covered “Hier encore” the following year.   

The story of his famous song, “La Bohème”

The song “La Bohème” was written by Jacques Pante originally for Georges Guétary, an operetta singer, finally performed by Charles Aznavour in 1965. It is one of the most emblematic songs of Aznavour's career, it sold more than 200,000 copies in France in 45 rpm records. It also enjoyed international success and was translated and performed in five other languages ​​by Charles Aznavour: English, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. 

She reached first place in the Turkish music rankings, third place in France, second place in Brazil. It is therefore a French song with immense international reach. She helped to promote French culture internationally. 

But what is this song about? 

The song opens with lyrics that evoke a past time, a bygone time, which seems regretted by the author. “I’m talking to you about a time that those under twenty cannot know”, evokes a period in the youth probably of the protagonist of the song. 

“La Bohème” evokes the nostalgia of an artist who lived in an idyllic Montmartre for the Bohemian life but a Montmartre which is no more. It’s the nostalgia of a place that has been completely transformed over the years. The loss of the bohemian spirit of the place and the bohemian spirit of everyone comes through throughout the song. 


Bohemia, for Charles Aznavour

Charles Aznavour, in an interview given in 2012, explains what “La Bohème” is for him. It is above all unconsciousness and total freedom, a moment where we can invent ourselves artistically, but also build ourselves in relation to others. So it is, a song that deals with the bohemian lifestyle, a carefree artist's life in poverty. 

However, it seems that this way of life is no more. It’s a mise en abyme, because if the much missed Montmartre of the protagonist of the song no longer exists, the lifestyle mentioned in “La Bohème” no longer exists either, according to Aznavour. 

He already notices that the Bohemia of the 20th century is no longer that of the 19th century and that we experienced it differently. Thus, Bohemia seems to be a period of life which can be embodied in each of us in different forms, expressed in the form of a period of renewal, social construction or personal development. 

Beyond a period of life, Bohemia also refers to a literary and artistic movement of the 19th century, which is characterized by life in day-to-day poverty. It is a form of romanticism, but more aristocratic than one could in the 21st century defined as the “bourgeois-bohemian” social movement. 

Through this song, Aznavour warns us against tidy lifestyles in which there is no room for carelessness and where everything is calculated. In short, he declares that Bohemia is happiness and that this happiness has been lost forever. 

But let's not be so pessimistic, it's a way of life that is being reborn in the 21st century thanks to individuals who are embracing this bohemian lifestyle. The Greenwich Village neighborhood is an attempt to reform Bohemia and is famous for its frequentation by many artists and its alternative culture