Issue 572 : September 14, 2006 - September 20, 2006

Photo: Emi Usa

by James Gavin

He’s 82 now, and though his crushed-velvet voice is as graceful as ever, his eyes are wistful; they suggest a dashing young lady-killer trapped inside a sage grandfather. Charles Aznavour has been called the French Frank Sinatra, but unlike Sinatra he writes almost everything he sings. The songs tell of squandered youth and the bruises suffered by the eternal romantic; through it all he upholds love as the only reason for life. In 1998, following a bout of ill health, Aznavour bid the stage adieu with a worldwide tour (which included a month at New York’s Marquis Theatre). The concerts continued for three years; in France he never retired. But Aznavour is back, on a long good-bye trail. This suavest of chansonniers spoke to TONY before a rehearsal in Montreal.

Is this tour your true farewell?
It’s gonna be my last one in the English-speaking countries. I have many, many cities and countries to go to if I want to be polite with my public. It will take at least three, four years. After that I’m gonna start the Spanish-speaking countries. Then I’m gonna sit down like an old writer and write books. I had a best-seller [his 2003 memoir, Le temps des avants], and the second book is coming along very well.

Why call it a retirement at all?
The voice is still okay, but who knows what it’s gonna be in a few years? Who knows what kind of face I’m going to have? I’m very careful to not give the impression that a has-been is coming back because he wants to do more concerts.

You were under 40 when you wrote your most famous song, “Yesterday When I Was Young.” Why were you so interested then in lost time and regrets?
Because I’m Armenian, and because the family went through very difficult moments in Turkey; we lost 80 percent of the family there. Even though my parents never talked about that, I had to write about things which were older than I was.

My friend Cindy, a beautiful woman who worked as a model in the ’50s, says you once tried to seduce her in an elevator.
I’ve done that? It’s absolutely possible. It has to be before ’68. I married in ’68.

Tell us something good about getting older.
I’m not old—I aged. It’s different. The old man is the one who abandons everything, the man who’s always talking about the past and says, “Ah, it’s terrible today.” The man who loses le regard de l’enfance, you understand? That’s an old man. An old man can be 30 years old.

Charles Aznavour plays Radio City Music Hall Monday 18 and Tuesday 19.