Charles Aznavour, considered one of the greatest singer/songwriters of all time, is currently on tour throughout the United States. Dubbed the "French Frank Sinatra," the 87-year-old (soon to be 88!) has penned around one thousand songs. His songs have been recorded by an astonishing array of performers such as Andrea Bocelli, Bob Dylan, Liza Minnelli, Sting and Elvis Costello. The Belgian-born crooner speaks English with a charming crooked syntax in an accent that, dare we say it, sounds exactly like Pepe LePew. The man still radiates Parisian charm.
You’re 87 and still touring. When are you going to retire?
I don’t understand those who are trying to know this or that. I have the strength to live more than others. Most of the time when you meet someone and they say, "I’m 50," they do this (Aznavour slumps down in his chair) and then 60 and so on. I refuse! One day it’s going to be impossible but I’m sure I can do something with a (mimes a walker).
I said to my manager the other day, "We have nothing to do in October, try to find something to do." So we’re going to find cities in Switzerland and do concerts to raise money for Armenia. Then I have the pleasure to work and do something good.
What is your secret?
I’m tired only in the morning. Most of the time I swim. I’m a very bad swimmer. I do 340 meters every morning. I have a machine for my back, no one knows what it is but I have it. I do not eat three meals a day. I eat two. Very light meals. I read that we eat too much. We have to drop one of the meals. I have been very careful with my kids not to let them get fat. It’s very important. It’s unhappy to have that terrible life.
Edith Piaf discovered you.
No, Edith Piaf met me one day on a radio show and she found my writing interesting. At the evening I was at her house. For eight years I was a very close, close friend 'til she died.
What are your memories of her?
Too much. It will make a book. She was not what I’ve seen in the movie. I’ve never seen her (mimes injecting), not once. Never saw her angry. She had too much personality. She had a great sense of humor and in the movie there is no humor at all. But I’m sure Fanny Brice was not "Hello Dolly" either.
So many artists have covered your songs. Do you have any favorites?
I’m not going to tell you which one I’m going to say why I like some. I like the ones who hear or see the song in a different way. The one who sings like me, I’m still here, I don’t need it. It’s nice to have somebody come along and sing it in a totally different way. There are many. There is Sting, there is Bob Dylan. When they sing with my orchestrations it’s not interesting. I want to be surprised.
France has such an incredible tradition of singer/songwriters that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else in the world. Why is that?
We have the best songwriters in the world. I’m talking about those that interpret their own songs. Jacque Brel, Charles Trenet, Serge Gainsbourg, Leo Ferre. We have plenty, plenty. The writing is poetic and extraordinary. It is because we haven’t done it for the money. We have done that for the language. We love the language.
LISTEN to Aznavour's "She":
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Aznavour is Gallic. He is in fact not from France, but Belgian-born.