Track of the Day: 'Salut Les Amoureux' by Joe Dassin

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Reader Marc pivots off our track from Thursday by Willie Nelson:

Although I do love “City of New Orleans” (sadly, I’ve never ridden the train nor visited the city), I didn’t hear it until some time after I heard—and fell in love with—a song by Joe Dassin set to the same tune: “Salut les amoureux” (“Hello, lovers”).

It’s about a couple who are going for a walk to have The Break-Up Talk. At first neither of them has anything to say. Then, as they talk, they imagine that their relationship might be rekindled—but “we’re past that age; we don’t believe in fairy tales anymore.” At last, having settled their break-up, they pass the local café, where the proprietress sees them walking together and calls out “Hello, lovers!”

Joe Dassin and his dad (Wikimedia)

Joe Dassin had an interesting story; he was the son of Jules Dassin, a Hollywood director who moved to Paris after being blacklisted by HUAC. (Jules became famous in France for Rififi and Never on Sunday; moved back to Hollywood after the Red Scare died away, and was nominated for an Oscar for Topkapi.) Joe, having spent his teenage years in Europe and his college years in Ann Arbor, somehow emerged as one of the biggest French pop stars of the ’60s and ’70s. More than a few of his hits were French lyrics set to songs that were popular in the U.S. at the time; sometimes they were fairly straight transpositions—The Doors' “Mosquito Song” became “Le Moustique”—but others were, like this one, complete re-imaginings.

This isn’t my favorite Joe Dassin song—that would probably be “Mon village au bout du monde”—but I like it a lot.

The English-translated lyrics to “Salut les amoureux” are full of wisdom and pathos:

The mornings pass and look the same
When love embraces the everyday life
We weren't made to live together
Loving each other isn't enough
It's funny, yesterday we were bored
And we barely found
Words to talk about the bad weather
And now that we must go
We have a hundred thousand things to say
Which are too important for so little time

We loved each other the same way as we're splitting up
Simply without thinking of tomorrow
For tomorrow that always comes a little too fast
For goodbyes that sometimes happen a little too well

We do what we have to, we play our roles
We look at each other, we laugh, we show off a little bit,
We always forgot something
It isn't easy to say goodbye to each other
And we know too well that sooner or later
Maybe tomorrow or even tonight
We'll say that everything isn't lost
From this unfinished novel, we'll make it a fairy tale
But we are too old to believe in this

We loved each other the same way as we're splitting up
Simply without thinking of tomorrow
For tomorrow that always comes a little too fast
For goodbyes that sometimes happen a little too well

Romeo, Juliet and all the others
At the heart of your books, sleep in peace
A simple story like ours
Is one that will never be written
Come on little girl, we have to go,
And leave our memories here
We'll go outside together if you want
And when she'll see us go by
The owner of the coffee shop
Will still say "hello lovers"

We loved each other the same way as we're splitting up
Simply without thinking of tomorrow
For tomorrow that always comes a little too fast
For goodbyes that sometimes happen a little too well

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)