Arts & Entertainment, Music

Melodies of a lifetime with Claude Dubois

As I pulled into the parking lot of Théâtre Hector-Charland on March 29, eager to see a Québecois musical legend perform, I noticed a bus transporting residents from a nearby retirement home had beat us there. This moment hinted at the crowd that I would find sitting inside, waiting for the imminent arrival of Claude Dubois, a ’70s and ’80s star of our province.

After we spent a few minutes of fidgeting in our seats, the 76-year-old singer arrived onstage, walked straight to the microphone as the crowd applauded, and sang as though it was as natural to him as breathing. He started with his composition “Le Labrador,” followed by a string of his sometimes groovy, sometimes melancholic classics, such as “Femme de rêve,” “Le mangeur d’étoiles,” and “Besoin pour vivre.” After a few songs, he took a few gulps from a bottle that he promised was filled with water, eliciting laughter throughout the whole audience.

Dubois isn’t a stranger to substances, having a complicated past with alcohol and heroin. While some of his less-than-responsible decisions may have sent him to jail a couple of times, nothing could stop the old man from singing his heart away—not even the cancer diagnosis that brought his career to a halt in 2016.

Halfway through the show, an elderly woman shouted, “We love you, Claude!” To which he answered, “I love myself, too.” Sometime later, the same woman exclaimed, “We’ve been following you for over 40 years!” He responded that he was impressed, as even he had a hard time following himself all those decades ago. 

A talented band accompanied Dubois—a drummer, a bassist, a pianist, and a guitarist—with whom he shared the spotlight on more than a few occasions. They harmoniously combined their individual strengths like pieces of a musical puzzle to complement Dubois’ work with jaw-dropping musical solos.

It was impossible not to feel nostalgic when he sang “J’ai souvenir encore,” a song in which he revisits his childhood growing up in the Old Port of Montreal. The artist expressed a common homesickness felt when thinking about those memories time has painted yellow— childhood feels like the happiest time of our lives, even when, looking back, it wasn’t always perfect. Notably, he mentioned the rats living in his house, and the sex workers waiting on the neighbouring streets. But the sweet, innocent melody that accompanied these lyrics made it clear that no amount of rodents could change the warmth with which he reflects on these golden memories. 

Claude Dubois received three standing ovations, one of them for his performance of “Si Dieu existe,” which he dedicated to all our lost loved ones, especially those who left us too early. The song describes a dying person’s soul slowly floating up toward the sky, seeing the world from above. In a room full of retirees, it not only stirred emotions but also highlighted a sense of solidarity among the audience. It was not difficult to spot more than a few wet pairs of eyes. When the crowd stood up from their seats to applaud the singer, there was a collective recognition of our interconnectedness, especially in moments of loss, and it was clear he had touched our hearts.

Many have an insatiable love for art that society often encourages us to set aside to pursue more professional, corporate careers. “Blues du businessman” perfectly describes this sentiment. It is an anthem of sorts for those who aspired to be artists, singers, or actors—for those who always feel like they could have been more, and who spend a few hours between nine to five daydreaming about who and where they would rather be. Though the feeling might be melancholic, the crowd found solace in the idea that Claude Dubois did become an artist—and a wonderful one at that. 

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