Edith Piaf’s story is rife with drama. The daughter of an acrobat and a singer, she was the first French superstar and sang with wild abandon in a voice that rivaled Judy Garland’s.
And yet, so often Piaf’s high-spirits are used against her and her life is made to fit the standard template of the tortured artist: early ambition, a meteoric rise to fame, a string of meaningless love affairs and substance abuse leading to an early death.
In light of this tendency, Carolyn Burke‘s No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf (Knopf, 2011) serves as a much needed corrective, breathing life back into the chanteuse’s legacy. During her short life Piaf consistently demonstrated an extraordinary boldness- in her relationships, yes, but also in her singing, her spirituality, her artistic collaborations and her commitment to France during World War II.
And the music! That voice! “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien” seems to pulse beneath the text of Burke’s book and, reading it, one cannot help but be steered back to Piaf’s records. Burke was undoubtedly conscious of this as it’s where she got her title.
“That kid Piaf tears your guts out.” So said Maurice Chevalier after hearing the 19-year-old newcomer sing in a Parisian nightclub. Nearly 50 years after death, as No Regrets proves, she still does.
*No Regrets will be available in paperback on April 1, 2012, from Chicago Review Press.