A coffee with Michel Rivard | A thousand times on the job…

Michel Rivard celebrates 50 years and a career that is far from stopping. With his show Around the block, on Wednesday he will kick off the summer programming at the Théâtre de Verdure, at La Fontaine Park. Our columnist spoke with the singer-songwriter who claims the right to do things his way.


Posted at 1:46 a.m.

Updated at 5:00 a.m.

I have a very vivid memory of an interview that Michel Rivard gave to Lise Payette the day after the death of Félix Leclerc. It was in 1988, Michel Rivard was 36 years old, and the host had asked the singer to “take back the torch”.

By this, the former minister of René Lévesque was of course alluding to the fight for the independence of Quebec.

Rivard and I are sitting on the edge of Chaleur Bay, on the sidelines of the Carleton-sur-Mer International Journalism Festival where he was one of the guest artists. I remind him of this interview which had a great impact on the young adult that I was.

The author of The seal’s lament in Alaska – taken up by Félix, in fact – remembers this meeting very well. And the discomfort he felt at M’s requestme Payette.

“I felt honored, but at the same time, there was a sort of reproach on his part towards my generation who were not as fierce as Pauline Julien, Gilles Vigneault and other artists who had preceded us. »

PHOTO BENOIT DAOUST, SPECIAL COLLABORATION

Michel Rivard and Nathalie Collard, near Chaleur Bay

I didn’t want to be handed a torch. The art I practice does not need to carry a torch. And I didn’t want to be the new Felix. I wanted to be the new Michel…

Michel Rivard

Artisan work

Over the years, Michel Rivard has carved out a place of his own in the song ecosystem in Quebec. First with Beau Dommage, a legendary group which, in just six years, has profoundly marked the history of Quebec music. Then with his solo career which he led in his own way, “like a craftsman”, he explains. “I would say that I didn’t give that much importance to my success and my image,” he explains.

PHOTO BENOIT DAOUST, SPECIAL COLLABORATION

Michel Rivard sees himself as an artisan of song.

I tried, and still do, to keep it artisanal. I see singing as a profession. And I do it in an honest way, with respect for the people I work with.

Michel Rivard

“I am someone who just followed a line that was drawn before him and who felt that it was his,” he adds.

Michel Rivard may not have accepted the torch with a capital F that Lise Payette handed him at the time, but he got involved in his own way. For example, he wrote The heart of my life, a song about the French language. “I wrote it because, at that moment, I needed to say that my language is dying,” he explains. And I was a little bit in reaction to the song about language by Yves Duteil which presented an absolutely postcard vision of Quebec. I never really got into that song, so I needed to do one. »

Commit to daily life

Beyond the causes for which he sang in his life, alone or with Beau Dommage, Michel Rivard’s commitment is first and foremost a question of personal ethics. “I have a commitment to an audience that brings me to life and that has been there for 50 years,” he emphasizes. Then, when I had a family, I worked very hard to reconcile family life with the love of my job, the need I have to leave, to be a troubadour on the road. I did everything I could to balance that with the responsibility of raising kids, taking them when possible, then cutting shows when that wasn’t possible. All of this, for me, is daily commitment. »

While he welcomes the commitment of a group like Les Cowboys Fringants, who naturally integrated a political discourse into their work, Michel Rivard is against songs with a message.

His writing process is “organic,” to use a buzzword.

“I have difficulty separating the commitment from the honesty of the writing,” the singer-songwriter explains to me. I try to write truth, to go with what I perceive of life, of what I read in the newspapers, of the state in which the news plunges me, and which will perhaps manifest itself in a sentence, at a given moment. I work like that rather than saying to myself: “Now I have to write a song about what’s happening in the world.” »

At 72, Michel Rivard evokes “the harsh desire to last” of which the poet Paul Éluard spoke. “How can I continue to do this job as honestly as possible? “, he asks himself.

All of this is part, for me, of a commitment to doing this job that some see as a “star system”, a ladder to climb. You have to get to the top! I see it more as a path that I want to follow for as long as possible.

Michel Rivard

The Rivard way

In 50 years, Michel Rivard has enjoyed numerous successes within Beau Dommage and as a solo artist. He collected the Félix (him again!) and many other honors. He has performed at the National Improvisation League. He has played in the theater, on television, in the cinema. He even played politics, in a humorous way, within the Rhinoceros Party. These years he plays Christine Beaulieu’s father in the hilarious comedy The eye of the storm. The more time passes, the more he claims the right to do things his way.

“I no longer try to create songs that last the number of minutes required to hope to play on the radio,” he says. I made a big let go at this level. My big victory was a few years ago, when I did the show The origin of my species. It was a daring project where I arrived with ONLY new songs, and a long introspective text about the quest for truth in what I knew about my parents’ history, what had been told to me and what I had been hidden. I toured Quebec twice with this show in which there were no concessions. It was a poetic text, sometimes funny, but not always, and then it worked. »

PHOTO BENOIT DAOUST, SPECIAL COLLABORATION

“When you are true to yourself, things can just go well,” believes the singer-songwriter.

“Now,” concludes Rivard, “my decisions are made based on what I feel like doing. It takes the time it takes, and the budgets it requires. And I have a schedule that, if all goes well, takes me to 2026-2027… When you are true to yourself, things can just go well. »

Next September, Michel Rivard will be 73 years old. He is happy to still be here and to continue doing what he loves. “I open my show Around the block saying: you have before you an authentic elder… [rires]. I talk about growing old in a very honest way. I’m so happy about it because I’m offering people my age a quality show, with songs from several eras, but which isn’t retro for two seconds. It makes me proud to be that age and to do a show for people who come away with a smile on their face…”

Questionnaire without filter

Coffee and me: It’s a story of love and addiction. It must be strong, “old school”, Italian style. Two cortados with oat milk before noon, never after. I don’t have a big, complicated machine, I’ve always had good little machines. At one point, when it was absolutely impossible to get good coffee in the provinces, I walked around with my Nespresso and even a bigger machine, and I made coffee for the whole team.

The books found on my bedside table: I loved Rue Duplessis by Jean-Philippe Pleau. It moved me. Sociologically, it is an incredible document. I am rereading Paper towns by Dominique Fortier. I read quite a bit of everything she wrote, but she came to see my show at the Théâtre Maisonneuve and gave me as a gift the French edition that she had autographed, so I said to myself: here it is a good opportunity to reread it, because it is a book that had such an impact on me. Finally, I devour Can I keep some secrets? a book of interviews with the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson that I bought in Paris. I find there not only great lessons on photography, but even on writing in its attitude of humility towards its profession. It’s absolutely extraordinary.

People, dead or alive, that I would like to bring together for a meal: I would like to sit my parents down around a table and tell them: well, you have been dead for a while, there are no more arguments, you no longer have anything to hide or to prove… can you tell me exactly what happened? I wish my sister and my brother were there, that we could have a family reunion like we’ve never had before. Just have a nice chat, without secrets and without tension.

A dream ? I publishes a photo almost daily, sometimes accompanied by a short poem, on Facebook or Instagram. These are random photos taken from my walks or dressing room photos. My dream would be to publish a small, unpretentious book of what I call my photo-poems.

Who is Michel Rivard?

PHOTO BENOIT DAOUST, SPECIAL COLLABORATION

Michel Rivard

  • Born in Montreal in 1951
  • Singer-songwriter, guitarist, actor, comedian, host
  • Member of the Beau Dommage group
  • Rhinoceros Party candidate in the 1979 and 1980 federal elections

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