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I said Rivard was the lead singer because he is most often associated with group’s male vocals, however, in the same post, I also referred to his group, Beau Dommage as a type of French Abba. This latter description may be more accurate because there were a couple of male vocals (Michel Rivard, Pierre Bertrand) and one female vocal (Marie Michèle Desrosiers), as well as a couple of other members on instruments.
Although Beau Dommage was only active as a group for a bit more than four years in the 1970’s, you however would think they were together for 40 years judging from their place in music history, their success, and their continued popularity.
Just as Abba broke ground by bringing pop-folk-rock groups to the forefront of the Swedish music industry, so did Beau Dommage for Québec. Along with the group Harmonium (the subject of the next post), Beau Dommage is synonymous with a transformation of music in Québec, during a decade full of change (see the timeline in “The Mythic Three” post).
Like Robert Charlebois’ music, that of Beau Dommage rallied the youth of the 1970’s around their music, and helped to channel their fan base towards sovereignty. Beau Dommage served as a metaphorical banner, in the form of music, for the movement and Québec identity of the day.
The group disbanded at the end of the 1970s, after making only four Albums. This is a huge contrast with Robert Charlebois’ 40-year career, during which he released scores of albums and songs. But it is probably because Beau Dommage only released four albums that everyone knows all their songs. They’re amongst the few groups that the public can readily sing all their songs and all their lyrics without tripping up.
Since disbanding, Beau Dommage has periodically come back together for reunion performances, and they did release a subsequent reunion album in the 1990s. But for the most-part, their members went their separate ways and pursued separate careers after 1978. Despite his own career, Michel Rivard has become synonymous with the group, as has Marie Michèle Desrosiers. Both are still highly visible in the media and music scene.
And like Robert Charlebois’ music, Beau Dommage’s music is still commonly heard on air, but is no longer considered political (despite it’s political echos from the past). It’s now appreciated simply as music, not necessarily a political message in itself – especially by the two generations who grew up since the 1970s (those under 40 to 45 years old). In fact, it’s likely under 30’s no longer even make any political association with their music.
Some of Beau Dommage’s (and also Québec’s) most well-known songs are:
- La Complainte du phoque en Alaska
- Le blues d’la métropole
- Le Picbois
- Ginette (but this Ginette was not “Lette”! Clin d’oeil à Stage Lacroix).
- Harmonie du soir à Châteauguay
- Le géant Beaupré
Their music is available for sale through various platforms. Please stick to official sites and do not pirate. Our artists form part of our cultural heritage.
This is the first in a four-part post series titled “The Mythic Three”.
We’ll look at three of Québec’s biggest music icons, Robert Charlebois, Beau Dommage, and Harmonium – all hugely popular during the post-Quiet Revolution and nationalist re-affirmation years of the 1970s.
Although there are other cultural icons whose careers spanned this era (Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, Claude Léveillée, Jean-Pierre-Ferland, Michel Tremblay, Richard Séguin and Yvon Déchamps, to name a few), these three icons of contemporary music together formed a core rallying point of a generation which marked Québec’s period of self-empowerment, re-affirmation, and modern transformation, embodied through music. Apart from their music, they represented a wave of sovereignist nationalist fervor in the 1970s. Even for certain aspects of society to this day, they continue to embody a certain degree of nationalist aspirations.
Irrespective of one’s age, Robert Charlebois, Beau Dommage, and Harmonium are viewed and treated more as revered cultural institutions of Québec society, rather than mere pop-stars.
However, what I believe has changed, in the context of modern politics, is the de-politicization of their fan base. I believe their modern fan base of today, myself included, is more attracted to their music, for the sake of music, than to their role in the politics of yesteryear.
Below is a timeline which places things into context (click to enlarge).
As you can see, the music composed and sung by Charlebois, Beau Dommage and Harmonium came in an age charged with emotion, intensity, and rapid changes for Québec. It gave their music a special meaning and significance, as well as an association to society as a whole. Often their songs had charged words, reflecting the political climate and tendencies of the day – as well as nationalist and sovereignist political aspirations of the artists.
It’s a fascinating story of how culture, music, politics, change and social upheaval meld together, and the associations people continue to make when they hear such period music today. Their songs continue to be played on the radio – quite often in fact. When played now, however, they’re played as popular songs – no longer as a nationalist statement in themselves (but that in no way takes away from their significance in history 30-40+ years ago).
Charlebois’ career has continued strong into the present. Beau Dommage, as a group, has intermittently come back together for special events, recordings and performances. 2014 Québec is a very different era than it was in the 1970s. With hindsight, society as a whole continues to appreciate their musical contributions, and cherishes the role they played in history.
The next three posts will touch a bit upon each of these three symbols of an era.
One of the most iconic, culturally and politically significant music groups in Québec and Canadian history, ever, is the 1970’s group Beau Dommage (Canada’s French “Abba”, if you will – forever changing the face of Québec music and cultural coming-of-age).
But the lead singer, Michel Rivard, is a star in his own right – forever tied to the living legacy of Beau Dommage. He therefore holds a special place in the hearts of Québécois as being a part of their living history, a living cultural legacy of La Révolution Tranquille, and everything that period embodied.
He’s more a spiritual figure with guru status – in a sense, a living founding father of modern Québec. If Québec history is not your strong point, it would require me to give a history lesson to help you fully grasp his significance.
Suffice to say, I can’t even imagine what it must be like being Michel Rivard – or what the public’s reactions must be when they run into him on the street. I’m sure there is demographic out there who would want to just touch him, or kneel down and kiss his hand – and I’m not joking. He’s politically active, so that demographic would be specific, but it wouldn’t be small. Regardless if I do or do not agree with his politics, he also has my respect.
This is one guy I would love to sit down with over a meal – I have a billion questions I would want to ask him. By simple nature of the significance of Beau Dommage, he was a pole of gravity through some of most dramatic moments in modern Québec history.
Now for the the elephant in the room (as there often is)… I’ve recommended a number of times to Anglophone friends that they should view Rivard’s now famous 2008 YouTube video if they want to get a sense of the flip-side of the coin – of how things can politically feel for many Francophones who have political views of Québec’s place in Canada (or rather, not in Canada). And I’ve likewise recommended to Francophone Canadian friends that they too should watch the video so they know just how much some issues can be over-exaggerated, twisted, and misrepresented. So, there’s my “on-the-fence” point of view for you – making opposing points with the same video, but different arguments depending on which linguistic group I’m showing it to. It always makes for great discussion… or at the bare minimum, causes an awkward silence … (hahaha – my sick humour – but it’s 2014, so sometimes you need to just take it with a grain of salt). You can view the YouTube video here:
(For English subtitles, turn on the YouTube “closed caption” function when you open the video).
Anyway, I love Michel Rivard’s music, I respect the man, I cherish Beau Dommage’s place in history, and his politics make for great discussion (regardless of one’s political stripes).