Bill Mankin, Studio 360 listener, describing how his feelings for Edith Piaf changed as he encountered her music at different points in his life (2.22.08):
"I had a high school French teacher named Mrs. Leike...this sort of dour appearing woman with her hair in a bun and glasses and a long, straight dress -- not particularly interesting, at least to us as teenagers.
"We were sitting at our little desks and she pulled out an LP and put it on the turntable and announced that she was going to expose us to something extremely wonderful. And began to play this really weird sounding woman singing. It was Edith Piaf. I distinctly remember that Mrs. Leike started crying. We thought that was the weirdest things we'd ever seen. So we rolled our eyes and hit each other under the desks and just had a laugh. That was it. I'd forgot all about it and never cared about Edith Piaf, that's for sure.
"Many years went by, and I had occasion to do some international travel. One evening I found myself in Brussels, Belgium looking for a drink of some sort and stumbled into this very strange, subterranean bar. It was dark. It took my eyes some time to adjust. Finally, I could see this place was full of stuff from World War II -- photos, flags, books, records, you name it. And there was this music in the air, coming out of these little tinny-sounding speakers and swirling around with the smoke and it was Piaf.
"It was aching and pleading and world-weary, but also kind of sassy. Like she had a finger in your face and a defiant, clenched fist. It just made me feel like I was in another time. And then I left and it was like, Whoa! I had to catch my breath. It was like I had been shaken and then hurled back out onto the street. It was amazing.
"Recently I saw the movie La Vie en Rose, and I've had also in my bookcase a little, thin paperback which is Piaf's own life story that she wrote. It's really short -- about heartbreak and very hard living. And for some reason, all the pieces just slotted into place and this memory of Mrs. Leike, my French teacher, came flooding back. And I thought, Well, so that's what she was about. That was the point.
"I react to Piaf on a gut level. Essentially, she's challenging the doubters with everything she sings. In spite of it all, I'm gonna strut, I'm gonna dance, I shall not be vanquished. She's like this weak little heart fighting to beat its way out of this crushing crowd and when she does there's no stopping her. You kind of just want to raise your fist and cheer. If you don't cry when you're listening to Piaf, you're actually not listening.
"Apparently Mrs. Leike is deceased, but I would say, Look. If you happened to notice me in the back of the class that day, rolling my eyes and attempting to ignore you, I apologize. And I appreciate what you were trying to do. Thank you."