New, blue, not tea

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A few days ago, next to a Salon de Thé in Bercy Village in Paris, I saw out of the corner of my eye a large poster showing a seriously blue young man labelled as "THE AVENER".

My first thought was, hmm,  interesting that French yuppies are so seriously into the personification of tea. But then I read the notice in the lower left-hand corner: a new album is available under the name "THE WANDERINGS OF THE AVENER".

I quickly figured out that this is not a new tea promotion, it's a French musician, originally Tristan Casara from Nice, who's adopted an English name for himself and for his first album, which his web site describes as "a sophisticated electro manifesto in the spirit of St Germain and his Boulevard’s nu-jazz sampling, reconciling the styles of Moby and Wankelmut, King Britt and Cassius…"

It's interesting to visit a country whose popular culture shares themes and memes with my own, but expresses them in ways that might as well be the background texture of an unpublished novel by William Gibson:

The ghost producer of many club hits, Tristan became The Avener when he decided to re-embrace the pleasure of music for its own sake, his early love of piano and melodies, his rich, eclectic, multilayered musical culture and deep house – an antidote to the mechanical chill that has crept into electro over the last few years.

Tristan shut himself away in the studio for months. “I began to rework old tracks that went unnoticed at the time, giving them a more modern feel…” He was determined to achieve a perfect balance: a mixture of acoustic and electro combining songwriting science with the intuition of a dance-floor specialist. And while The Avener wrote his own music, The Avener also covered Sixto Rodriguez, John Lee Hooker, Mazzy Star, The Be Good Tanyas, Andy Bey and Adam Cohen in a mosaic of seminal blues, underground folk, nocturnal pop, ironic rock and the work of forgotten artists from the 70s and 80s, exploring secret paths of memory. His sampling of Phoebe Killdeer & the Short Straws’ The Fade Out Line, a foretaste of the album, was quietly uploaded in summer 2013. It steadily gathered momentum by word of mouth in France before going massive in Germany and then all around the world.  

The Avener’s delicate, radiant style has been welcomed as a So French Touch of Elegance and acclaimed as the missing link between harmonic emotion and the urge to dance worldwide.

The Wanderings album includes a song performed by John Lee Hooker, "It serves you right to suffer":

John Lee Hooker's original version of this song featured a different pronoun and a different harmonic emotion — "It serves me right to suffer":

Update — back in Philly, the official Avener YouTube version is apparently blocked in the U.S., so courtesy of Ethan here's another that works for now:


  1. AntC said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 1:19 am

    [Sorry, can't help the gratuitous muso peevery.] This Avener character has subtracted enormous musical value from the great John Lee Hooker. It's as bad as putting a disco beat behind Gregorian plainchant. (IIRC that was also a Frenchman.)

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 8:48 am

    The pronoun shift is not new. The song was recorded in the "serves you right" formulation by the J. Geils Band on their debut album in 1970 (and further OED-like inquiry might be needed to see whether that's the first usage or could be antedated).

  3. Ralph Hickok said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 9:12 am

    What does "deep house" mean?

  4. Mr Punch said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 10:38 am

    Is "The Avener" really an English name? AFAIK "avener" is not an English word (or name); it's not French either, but does look like a variation on "avenir."

    [(myl) It's not clear to me whether "Avener" is related to avenir (= "future") or avenue, or maybe English "intervener" or what. But in any case this musician's whole context seems to be anglophone: Song and album titles, song lyrics, web site content, and so on, are all in English — though this seems to be an artistic/cultural stance rather than a personal psycholinguistic fact.]

  5. Eric P Smith said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 11:13 am

    @Mr Punch: According to Wiktionary there is an English word 'avener': an avener was an officer of the king's stables whose duty it was to provide oats for the horses.

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 12:04 pm

    The good news is that there's a possibly French singer living in Berlin whose stage name (I assume) combines the English names of two North American birds.

    I see that "going massive in Germany and then all around the world", and Ms. Killdeer's comment "currently topping all the charts worldwide", means number one in Germany but not reaching the American or British charts at all.

  7. Christopher said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 12:22 pm

    Ralph, deep house is a subgenre of house. See here:

  8. D.O. said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

    Google finds 243 pages for "buzzword salad" (but promises also "some entries very similar"), which means that I am not going to coin the phrase. But it fits.

  9. Ray Girvan said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 12:50 pm

    I don't suppose I'm the only one for whom the verbal association is "a wiener". I like a deal of French popular/fusion music, but the description is so unutterably pretentious…

  10. Ethan said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 2:47 pm

    Mark's youtube link seems to be blocked here in the US, but here's another that may work: "The Avener, John Lee Hooker – It Serves You Right To Suffer"

  11. Boursin said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 5:07 pm

    John Lee Hooker's canonical studio version of the song was titled "It Serves You Right to Suffer". To add to the confusion, his 1965 LP on which it appeared was titled It Serve [sic] You Right to Suffer.

  12. Adrian said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 5:29 pm

    I still haven't got why Mark thought it was an advert for tea. And I don't get why someone would choose a name for themselves that neither French nor English-speakers will know how to pronounce.

  13. Ray Girvan said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 6:17 pm

    It was in a shop selling tea, so the "The" evoked the French word Thé rather than the English article "The".

    [(myl) Almost — the poster was on the exterior wall of a passageway, next to an establishment whose sign announced it as a Salon de Thé ("Tea Room"). And the letters "THE AVENER" on the sign are in all caps, so that the presence or absence of an acute accent is not very salient. And of course all the other local signage is in French…]

  14. Mark Mandel said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 9:45 pm

    Ah ha. And here I thought it had something to do with the one likely hit (in several variations) in my Google search. Cafepress sells a lot of thermoses with various similar local texts, including Avenal, California and what seems to be Latvian for "raspberries".

    @Ralph Hickok: Wikipedia says:

    Deep house is a subgenre of house music that originated in the 1980s, initially fusing elements of Chicago house with 1980s jazz-funk and touches of soul music. The lengths of the tracks are usually around 7 and 10 minutes and lie between 120-130 bpm. This style of house music can often have an acoustic feeling. Deep house has gained popularity over the years according to Beatport, being one of its top sellers among genres.

    I found the term, unexplained, in their article on The Avener, and added a link to their article on it.

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 16, 2015 @ 7:09 am

    The pronoun in "spirit of St. Germain and his" etc. seems peculiar since it would be odd in context for the reference to be to the early-medieval saint (masc. in English) as opposed to the modern Parisian neighborhood (neut. in English), but I'm not sure whether this is just an ESL mistake caused by noun gender working differently in French or some sort of hipster rhetorical ploy that's going over my head.

  16. jaap said,

    February 16, 2015 @ 9:51 am

    @J.W. Brewer:
    The St. Germain referred to here is a musician: See wikipedia.

  17. Lane said,

    February 16, 2015 @ 11:24 am

    Interesting that at about :18 Hooker refers to this number "that I written…" I can't hear any hint of "I've." Seems unusual to me. Using the past participle for the simple past is common enough — "I done", "I been", "I sung", "I drunk" — but now that I think about it for the first time, it seems like this construction wants to take only a few common one-syllable past-participles. I don't know that I've heard much

    — these words I spoken
    — this song I written
    — this road I taken
    — these foods I eaten

    Of course I could be wrong. Been wrong before.

  18. Vasha said,

    February 16, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

    Also a nice example of the epenthetic r between vowels in Hooker's "So take a listen to-r-it." Reminds me of Carl Sandburg transcribing another Southern song lyric as "I wish I had wings like Nora's dove." [sc. Noah] This doesn't seem to be a feature of the current northeastern AAVE I'm familiar with, is it still found in Mississippi or anywhere else in the south?

  19. Boursin said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 3:42 am

    On this live album there is a nice sample from 1951 California. The white DJ Hunter Hancock introduces black gospel group the Golden Keys singing a song titled "Noah", and they then go on to sing "Nora".

  20. J. W. Brewer said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 11:09 am

    I think of the "intrusive R" in non-rhotic versions of English as typically-to-invariably occurring at morpheme breaks, which makes Hooker's use unexceptional but "Nora" for "Noah" rather weird. Am I missing something?

  21. Rodger C said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 12:33 pm

    /r/ often disappears between vowels in some nonrhotic dialects of Southern speech, though I think of this as very old-fashioned. Perhaps "Nora" for Noah is a back-formation or hypercorrection of this, i.e. some people pronounce the women's name Nora as "Noah" and have vaguely learned "better."

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