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Dédé Fortin (1962 -2000)

Anywhere you go around the world, if you take the time, you will hear music that is available only in that particular region. I have friends from various parts of the world and I always ask them to let me hear some of what’s being done in their homeland. In some cases, it is just so involved in the region’s culture that, unless you’re from there, it is almost impossible to understand. Other times, the music could be exported but isn’t for various reasons (bad promoters, lack of funds, no interest from the artist, etc.).

I want to tell you about an artist who took Québec by storm seven years ago. Understand first that the population of Québec is seven million, but we love our music. Per capita we have probably the biggest record market in the world. And we have strange relations with the British Progressive Rock bands. And Styx. Many years ago, I came to Montréal with some friends to see Pink Floyd at the old Forum. The parking lot was filled with cars bearing American plates. A few guys came over to us and addressed us in English. That is not very unusual in itself, but it is a French place. We started talking about the band. One of the guys then mentioned that his group were from Philadelphia. When asked why they didn’t go see that show instead, he replied that the only place to see a band like that was Montréal. And he was right.

I remember seeing Emerson, Lake & Palmer there in ’92. Bikers, Suits, Teens, Grandparents… The atmosphere was magical. Although, you have to keep in mind that their show at Olympic Stadium in ’77 with a 46-piece orchestra attracted more people than the Pope did several years later… Did I mention that we love our music? Seven years ago a new band emerged. They were called Les colocs. Coloc is an abbreviation for co-locataires, meaning “roomates”. That album was very cultural. The style was good party music. Personally, I didn’t like it very much. Good at parties, but not something I’d pop into the CD player and listen to. Although I recognized the songwriter’s talent from the start. Over the years the band went through all sorts of metamorphoses. The bass player died of Aids. He was a heroin junky and used a bad needle. The lead guitarist split and formed his own project. In the end, only the singer/guitarist/songwriter was left.

He added a couple of Black Africans for the second album. It wasn’t world-beat as such, but had a much less local flavor. Obviously, this guy’s talent was growing. For the third album, he had a whole other line-up. A much more personal album. It would have been exportable. But the album was very dark. The guy’s talent was at its maximum. André “Dédé” Fortin he was called.

Dédé tried so hard to be a rebel, but always ended up looking like a nice guy. One thing I always admired about him was that he did his music the way he saw fit. Disregarded what the record companies wanted and drummed his own beat. Dehors Novembre (November outside), the last album which was so dark was a bit of a mystery. Everyone attributed this dark side to the loss of the bass player who’d been a long time friend.

Last November, during the Félix awards (the Québec equivalent if the Grammy’s) when he picked-up his, he ended by saying “Adieu”, not “Au revoir”. Both mean goodbye. But “Au revoir” literally means “Until we meet again”, while “Adieu” means “To God” in the sense of “Goodbye, we shall never meet again”.

Of course, this became a topic of discussion… For a short while. People wondering wether he was retiring or putting an end to the Colocs. No more was said. All was forgotten.

Last Wednesday (two Wednesdays before the publication of this column), Dédé was found dead in his apartment in Montréal. He had a knife in his stomach and odd bruises. Two autopsies had to be performed to conclude that it was in fact a suicide. True to his nature, he did things differently. It must have taken him several hours to die. And he was only 37. Of course, no-one was expecting this. Although all the signs had been pointing in that direction for a long time. Including a recent painful breakup with his girlfriend. He did no hard drugs, only the occasional joint and did not have a drinking problem. According to the autopsies, he was completely sober when he did it.

The last song (never recorded) he wrote dealt with suicide and the dark side of the soul. Of course, still no-one could see through his facade. Or bothered to. In retrospect, it was so obvious. All of Québec has been mourning for the past week. Like him or not, we’re all going to miss him. I think an A-bomb dropped on Montréal would not have had the impact his death had. For a few days, everyone just held their breaths and you could feel the city going in slow-motion. Everyone, in their own manner, was saying “Adieu, Dédé”.