Eighties’ best 100 redux: #97 The Box “L’affaire Dumoutier (Say to me)” (1985)

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My parents must’ve gotten tired of waking me up in time to go to school at some point a few years before high school because, one Christmas, I received as a gift my very own clock/radio. These are probably not in use as much these days with today’s youth, possibly opting instead for setting an alarm on their smartphones. However, it’s a gift I grew to love, not long after I got over the shock of unwrapping something other than games or chocolates or clothing. With the novelty of it, I plugged it in right away and placed it within arm’s reach of my single bed. I set the time and an alarm time around 7am and then, started playing with the other functions. I turned on the radio and found CFTR, an old AM radio station that has long since gone talk radio but at the time was playing current hits, and I likely didn’t touch the dial for quite a few years.

It was this clock/radio that started a habit that I didn’t break myself of until I moved in with my girlfriend, now wife, a decade and a half later. I discovered the sleep function and fell asleep to the sweet sounds of music every night, some nights I would have had to extend the sleep past the standard hour when it took longer. This is where I discovered a lot of music in my youth, some of which are still favourites and some appear on this list, including this song.

I definitely remember hearing “L’affaire Dumoutier (say to me)” quite often in the evenings while falling asleep or as the alarm went off in the mornings*. I didn’t know the name of it at the time, nor did I know who performed the song, I wouldn’t discover either of these until much, much later, during a period in the early 2000s when I started using the powers of the internet for good and ill and to reconnect with the long-lost favourites of my youth.

The Box was formed by Jean-Marc Pisapia in Montreal in 1981, a year after he left Men Without Hats**, and they released four full-length studio albums before disbanding a decade later. Little did I know that they were actually quite successful in the late 80s and had a string of hit singles on Canadian radio, many of which I actually knew and loved. I only discovered this last fact recently when I saw them advertised as touring here in Ontario with Chalk Circle, another classic Canadian alternative band, and decided to investigate songs other than “L’affaire Dumoutier”.

Although I can say now that I am more of a true fan of their work, this one is still my favourite. Based on a real news item that Pisapia had read that had haunted him, the song deals with mental illness and its dangers, a murder committed when its perpetrator was not in his right mind. The sound of the song is also haunting, the gonging of church bells interspersed with police sirens in the fog, the verses spoken as news reportage, including interviews and statements, both in English and French, and though I couldn’t understand it all when I was younger, I knew something dark was at play. Of course, the chorus as a counterpoint is a singalong and infinitely hummable, which I did at various points in my life whenever the song came back to me.

Original Eighties best 100 position: n/a

Favourite lyric:  “Non coupable! Pour cause d’aliénation mentale…” My French wasn’t strong enough for me to understand what this meant at the time but I still loved how this was spoken with such finality to end the song. Now that I can understand it, I appreciate it even more.

Where are they now?: Jean-Marc Pisapia revived the band back in 2004 with himself being the only original member. This new incarnation has since released two albums, an EP, and a bunch of singles and has toured quite regularly.

*Because, of course, I used to opt for radio rather alarm sound to wake me up.

**Another Canadian new wave group of whom some of you may have heard.

For the rest of the Eighties’ best 100 redux list, click here.