“Live now. Tomorrow, who knows?”
We each have our heroes. Today, I am writing about one of mine because it’s impossible to write about anything else.
I’m not going to tell you how many songs Aznavour wrote, or discuss the controversial topics many of his songs tackled.
I’m going to tell you, instead, why Aznavour broke many hearts when he died yesterday, despite being 94 years old.
Aznavour has always been a hopeful symbol for Armenian youth, especially diaspora Armenians. In foreign tongue that many of them, having grown up in predominantly English and Arabic speaking countries, didn’t even understand, he was exceptionally relatable. After all, he too was the product of a forgotten genocide that left his family searching for a new home and identity. He, too, was caught up half way between two very different worlds, belonging to both but, at the same time, to neither. He was one of the fathers of French song, and also the beacon of the Armenian dream: to live freely, to be accepted, to be recognized, and to belong.
Charles Aznavour’s voice has been playing in my ear since the day I was born. Before I could speak French, I had memorized many of his chansons. I remember the first time I finally understood one, I was blown away… all these years, I had been singing along to a voice I knew so well, telling a tale I couldn’t even comprehend. I was excited by this realization and went on a good old fashioned Aznavourian binge, listening to all his songs and dissecting them, trying to finally grasp sight of the man behind them. What I found in the end was ironically the same man I expected… a fighter, a dreamer, a seeker of justice… an Armenian.
I’ve inspired some laughter since learning of Aznavour’s death, as I was caught off guard by the sudden and persistent tears that overwhelmed me at random times throughout the day. “It’s like you lost a family member,” one friend joked. “He wasn’t better than anyone else,” another told me. “He’s just another celebrity;” “he was 94! What did you expect?”
They’re right. Nobody is better than anybody else. But Charles Aznavour was my beacon; he was a light in this world for many of us, wandering in search of our stolen identities.
Charles Aznavour did what others could not… he showed us that whether we call ourselves Western or Eastern Armenians, we all have one thing in common: due to our history, we can see people, really see them, and if we choose, we can be makers of magic for everyone else.
Charity, integrity, gratitude, faith and story telling are the pillars of my life. Whenever a crack started to form in one, it only took a sprinkle of Aznavourian magic to repair it.
A few years ago, when I finally went to see Aznavour in Doha, Qatar, I was mesmerized by the frail old man that greeted us humbly from the stage. He told us he had been feeling sick, and everyone expected he couldn’t make it, but he had willed himself to feel better because so many people were waiting. I was relieved… selfishly, I worried until the very last moment that he would not show up, and that I would never get to see him.
And yet, there he was, tired and sick but with a booming voice, faking a heart attack on the stage in good humour… 91 years old and still going strong, refusing to retire. As he painted through his signature La Boheme act, I thought to myself… this man is a true designer of his own life and luck.
And so, I saw new light.
Thank you, Aznavour. May you be seated in the heaven of heavens. (22 May 1924 – 1 October 2018).
And remember… “I love life! Live it! Don’t spoil it!”