“Tu me fait tourner la tête / Mon manège a moi c’est toi…”
No doubt Edith Piaf was spinning in her grave at eight-year-old Danny’s rendition of her song, but if Danny noticed he was butchering a classic it certainly wasn’t stopping him. Not that he sung badly, mind you, as a matter of fact he, like the rest of his family, was really quite a talented musician.
It was simply that Edith’s trills and rolling “r’s” were too much for his young voice, but if nothing else the sight of the scrawny eight-year old boy dancing and skipping through Piaf’s song was extremely entertaining to all those present, namely his family and their traveling band.
They were in London for the night – his father, Francois Rivault was on tour for his latest record and he’d decided to bring the entire family along with him to Europe.
It was hardly as glamorous as it sounded. Francois Rivault was a rather popular folk singer, but hardly what you would call famous and they weren’t being jetted around anywhere. They were driving around Europe in the three caravans the band had rented for the summer. The Rivault family in one van, the rest of the band in another and a van for all their instruments and stage equipment. Although Sylvaine and Vitalie often complained about the lack of comfort, Danny had found this nomadic and really rather Bohemian experience perfectly charming and he was positively thrilled by it.
Touring with the band there was of course, eight-year old Danny, his older sister Vitalie and their mother Sylvaine Rivault, née Dubois. Eleven-year-old Vitalie provided her voice for some of the songs, occasionally her tambourine playing while Sylvaine lent her talents on the harmonica and harp to the band. Auntie Mirabelle, who was actually no one’s auntie and whose real name was not Mirabelle but Philippe Lautrec, played percussions for Francois’ band, and took on the role of nanny to the younger Rivaults whenever they were on tour. Danny personally loved her best out of all his father’s band members, because she was the only one who indulged his every whim (like wanting to sing Edith Piaf onstage, for instance).
“She’s going to turn my boy into a bloody fif,” Francois would grumble to Sylvaine, but as he found no other percussionist willing to put up with his moods and his energetic kids as well, Francois was stuck with Auntie Mirabelle. Spending so much time with one another meant that they were all rather like one great big extended family.
Being only eight years old Danny wasn’t really expected to perform with the band, but he did play along sometimes. He knew all the songs and could even play a few on the guitar. His papa had given him a harmonica when he was three, as well as guitar lessons. This was also true for Vitalie. Francois was determined that his children would be musicians, or at least, musically able. Their mamman taught them the piano and made sure they knew how to dance. Properly.
It was all tap dancing and rock’n’roll mainly, and both Rivault children were made to learn it, whether they wanted to or not.
“I don’t want to dance mamman…” Danny would whine. Secretly though, he loved nothing better than to jive to Bill Haley’s ‘Rock around the clock’ – but he had an image to uphold. He was an eight-year old boy for goodness sake; he couldn’t appear to actually enjoy dancing. It was positively mortifying that he was the only boy in the 5th grade that had to go to dance practice on Saturdays instead of soccer.
“You’ll thank me for it later,” his mother assured him, “Trust me, girls love a boy can dance…”
And so dance he did, although girls were the last thing on his mind. Every eight-year-old boy knew that girls were useless. Apart from a few notable exceptions, they didn’t like video games and they all seemed to think that boys were gross anyway. All of this changed when Danny hit puberty.
Suddenly he was expected to find girls attractive and actively seek them out. If there had been a change in girls Danny hadn’t been made aware of it. Admittedly he didn’t mind them so much anymore – some of them were actually really quite fun to hang out with but to date? The whole concept seemed alien to him.
On the other hand he did notice that there were some boys he preferred over others. Even as a twelve-year old he knew this was probably the sort of thing best kept to one self, at least for now.
Unfortunately it was the sort of thing that became harder and harder to hide. Even if he hadn’t been attracted to other boys it was obvious that he was different. His parents were musicians – that in itself was unusual enough. Then there was his music and dancing lessons, his vibrant and colourful “auntie” and his increasingly ostentatious older sister. Not to mention his own naturally slightly flamboyant character – the way he dressed and the way he talked. Everything about him was just that tiny bit more colourful, that tiny bit more subversive. And while schoolboys were more than happy to subvert authority, they did not take kindly to one of their own subverting the pack.
All this Danny took as it came. What else was there to do really? He tried to placate them when he could, and otherwise kept quiet what he knew they weren’t yet ready to accept.
At fifteen his life changed. He had fallen in love.
Well, as close as one got to love at fifteen.
It was a boy, naturally. A certain Jonathan Renoir who had moved to Quebec City from Montreal.
He wasn’t like the boys Danny usually liked. Jonathan was quiet, rather a bit standoffish although Danny suspected that was more due to the fact that he was new and vulnerable than because he was actually arrogant. But he was smart and he was beautiful.
Nothing ever came of it, other than Danny experiencing his first painful pangs of unrequited love.
It was also the first time he’d dared tell to anybody his feelings on matters concerning other boys. Not to Jonathan of course – Danny was sure never to let Jonathan know how he really felt about him. Even assuming Jonathan had been a girl instead of a boy beneath his exuberant exterior Danny was still discovering his feelings and what exactly they meant to him.
Ideally he wouldn’t have told anyone at all, but it was all too much for him to keep to himself. The sudden mood swings that came with unrequited love took him by surprise. If Jonathan said hi or smiled to him Danny would be over the moon – he could swear he was the happiest boy alive. This never lasted long though. Within minutes Danny would come crashing back down to reality – usually by the sight of Jonathan with a girl.
But deciding on whom to confide in was not as easy as it sounded. As far as he was concerned, his love for Jonathan was sacred and he wanted to keep it that way. He couldn’t bear the thought of it being brought down on a par with schoolgirl crushes by someone else’s insensitive comments or lack of imagination.
One fine day, he finally settled on an ideal candidate. His sister,Vitalie.
It was a lot more nerve-wrecking than he thought it would be.
Vitalie was, as always, in her room, David Bowie turned up to full volume, notebooks, school textbooks, formal letters and university prospectus scattered for as far as the eye could see.
Danny sat down on Vitalie’s bed, wondering whether the fact that she had so far completely ignored his entrance was a good sign.
Just say it. Get it over with.
But he couldn’t. The words wouldn’t come out of his mouth.
After five minutes Vitalie looked up from her homework
“What do you want?”
“I really like someone. But it’s not a girl it’s a boy. I really like this boy.” There. He’d said it. It felt strange saying it aloud for the first time. As if the mere fact of saying the words to someone else somehow made it more official.
To his surprise and enormous relief Vitalie simply looked up and said,
“Is that it?”
Danny stared at her.
“Aren’t you at all surprised? That I like a boy?”
Vitalie rolled her eyes.
“Danny, I’m your sister. I’ve always known.”
And when she went back to doing her homework as if what he’d just announced was perfectly normal Danny knew he’d made the right choice in coming to see her. She never pressed Danny for information on Jonathan, which was also a relief to Danny. He would tell her what he wanted to tell her, when the time was right. For now he wanted to keep his crush a secret, like a treasure he could take out and admire that no one else would know about.
“Tu me fait tourner la tête / Mon manège a moi c’est toi…”