Chaud comme un jukebox

BY Ralph ElawaniPublished Nov 10, 2014

Aut'Chose officially bellied up in late November 1976, after a series of performances at Marc Hamilton's club, the Grand salon du domaine Mascouche, less than a month following the release of their third effort on CBS, Le cauchemar américain. A fixture amidst Quebec's counterculture, the rotating cast of musicians — among whom were composer Pierre Gauthier — and frontman poet Lucien Francoeur, have both fascinated fans and fueled the fire of their detractors over the years.

The fascinated, first and foremost, because of the group's idiosyncrasy: as a product of a generation that grew up during the '60s in the anachronistic (and to some extent, segregated — one needs only to read Sean Mills' The Empire Within or Pierre Vallières' White N*****s of America in order to get a glimpse of the zeitgeist) Province of Quebec, Aut'Chose were able to blend Francoeur's unpaired and highly quotable joual poetry — which drew influences from Quebecois writers such as Gilbert Langevin and Emmanuel Cocke, as well as from the Beats and the symbolists — with the heavy influence of American and British rock'n'roll. As a matter of fact, Aut'Chose are perhaps the only band this critic knows of that has ripped off a T-Rex riff for its most well-known song, "Nancy Beaudoin," AND covered Brigitte Fontaine ("Comme à la radio") on the same album.

As an artefact, Chaud comme un jukebox undisputedly had to exist. Not that Aut'Chose's legacy and Francoeur's life aren't sufficiently remarkable per se, but because for the first time ever, those three albums are released on CD (along with a DVD of live footage from 1975 and the 2005 album Chansons d'épouvante, featuring members of Voivod, Grimskunk and Groovy Aardvark).

Why were those three cult albums — Prends une chance avec moé (1975), Une nuit comme une autre (1975), Le cauchemar américain (1976) — not reissued on CD during the pre-Spotify era? Although one could cite the limited potential market, the actual reason lies in legal issues, which are briefly explained in the 32-page booklet provided with the box set.

Which leads us to the detractors. Lee Hazlewood once came up with the brilliant title Poet, Fool or Bum. One could say that very few performers have ever been so close to this formula as Lucien Francoeur. Francoeur, in the collective imagination, is remembered for a handful of things that have very little to do with "the underground": He was the first Quebecois artist to ever record a hit rap song ("Le Rap-à-Billy," in 1983); he has appeared in Burger King commercials; he has taught literature at Cégep de Rosemont for almost 30 years; and he has developed close ties with members of the French-Canadian jet set.

That being said — and this is perhaps what grinds most of his detractors' gears — Francoeur's knowledge of literature, music and counterculture of the '60s has enabled him to romanticize and mythologize a lot of stories surrounding his career. As Louis Cornellier (Le Devoir) once noted: "Francoeur's best work is not a book or a record; it's himself [...] this poet/rocker character he has forged and has been personifying for years."

Now, that doesn't mean one cannot divorce the brilliance of Aut'Chose songs like "Beau Bummage," "Le Freak de Montréal" or "Sexe-Fiction" (penned after Emmanuel Cocke's 1973 collection of psychedelic erotic short stories) from Francoeur's subsequent years and public persona. However, after reading the liner notes provided with the box set, the sly listener might draw a comparison between Francoeur's version of the story and the words of Rabbi Krustofsky (Krusty the Clown's father, from The Simpsons): "A rabbi would never exaggerate. A rabbi composes. He creates thoughts. He tells stories that may never have happened. But he does not exaggerate."

Ultimately, although a sense of humour, knowledge of counterculture and a craving for oddballs are necessary to fully enjoy Aut'Chose, one cannot go wrong with this one.
(A Music)

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