Composed by keyboardist Pierre Flynn when he was studying French literature at CEGEP Saint-Laurent in the fall of 1971, the song was first presented to his bassist friend Mario Légaré, and was then finalized in early 1972 before being recorded the same year.
The first record of Octobre was released in 1973 and the album entered the charts on September 22 that year for six weeks, reaching No. 13. The 45 rpm record version (GPI 3013) has, on its B-side, the song Dans ma ville.
Pierre Flynn, keyboards, Mario Légaré, bass, Jean Dorais, guitar and Pierre Hébert, drums launched the self-titled album—produced by Bill Hill on a $3,000 budget—that featured the song La maudite machine.
“Basically, we were just kids who wanted to play rock ’n’ roll,” says Flynn. “We forged ahead and discovered more music… I’ve got to say I was lucky to have with me three musicians as creative and as invested in the sound of the band. On the first demo of Octobre, there were three songs in English and three in French. We made the shift to only French after Charlebois dove into rock: that had become a powerful call. Offenbach, Richard and Marie-Claire Séguin were there, Harmonium and Beau Dommage were going to emerge the following year, and musicians of my generation were keen to build a Quebec rock that would not have to blush too much when compared to the bands we admired. There was a space for us to fill.”
The social context that led to the writing of La maudite machine was tense. There was the strike of the Front commun des syndicats, the political climate of the period … a whole generation got engaged:
“I was sixteen or seventeen, and I was starting to come out of my shell and seeing that people’s lives weren’t always rosy, that injustice and exploitation existed. Later,
I felt a bit like an impostor to have written this song. Did I have the right to do this, not having known hardship myself? But then I understood—in the general noise of that boat being rocked that was heard at the time—that I was the antenna of a song that needed to be written one way or the other, a song that was at times juvenile and clumsy, but that I am not at all inclined to disavow today.”
“The song was rarely played on the radio, says Flynn, maybe because it was too rebellious, but we quickly felt its impact around us, particularly in the reaction of the audience during live shows. La maudite machine had become the climax of the show, a song people were waiting for. It became iconic, really.” Here are a few excerpts:
J’ai vu à matin
Un vieux robineux
M’a tendu la main
Pour une cenne ou deux
C’pas drôle dans la rue
Quand il faut dormir
Dans les fonds d’ruelles
Ça peut pas être pire
Rien dans l’fond d’l’écuelle
Peux-tu t’en sortir ?
Et un peu plus loin :
T’as perdu ta job
Tu sais pus où t’mettre
T’as pu l’air ben sobre
Trois tavernes de faites
Comment va ta vie ?
La maudite machine
Qui t’a avalé
A marche en câline
Faudrait la casser
Faudrait la casser
Freely: This morning I saw an old tramp / He reched his hand out for a penny or two / It’s no fun in the street when you have to sleep in the back alleys / It can’t get worse / Nothing left in your bowl / How do you get out of this / You lost your job / You’ve got nowhere to go / You don’t look too sober, three taverns later / How,s your life goin’? / The damn machine that swallowed you is operating at full tilt / Someone should break it.
Flynn talks about the creative process: “I almost always write the music first. I came up with the text fairly quickly because we had to produce a demo. Then, I arrived at the rehearsal space with all the components of the song, the tune that I composed at the piano and the lyrics.”
La maudite machine is a great song also because of its sweet chorus which contrasts vividly with Flynn’s fiery text, like an oasis of serenity:
J’ai l’goût de m’en aller quelqu’part
J’voudrais sacrer l’camp
Plus ça va, plus ça devient mort
C’tait plus beau avant
J’aimerais ça être bien chez moi
Sans qu’on m’mange le dos…
Freely: I feel like getting out / I’d like to get the hell away / Things get deader as time goes by / It was more beautiful before / I would like to be comfortable at home / Without someone trying to fleece meeating my back.
“It wasn’t conventional to insert a softer and sentimental section in the middle of a hard-hitting song like that. But I was fundamentally self-taught, I didn’t know the rules and I was following my instinct. I took music lessons only AFTER the first album!”
Pierre Flynn still has the manuscript of La maudite machine: “It’s full of crossed out bits; I didn’t have a rhyming dictionary yet,” he says, with a bit of self-mocking humour. The final version of the song is 4:02 minutes long, but the first versions of La maudite machine that we rehearsed together could go over eight minutes!
Pierre Flynn is still Song Editor for the Éditions de la Maudite Machine label.
Several artists have performed this song in shows: Marco Calliari—who sang it in Italian, Boom Desjardins, Luck Mervil—in a reggae version, and also Karkwa, la Chorale de l’accueil Bonneau (a choir), and even Plume Latraverse, with whom Pierre Flynn played during a summer tour in 1983.
After Octobre broke up, Pierre Flynn started a solo career in 1984 but he decided not to sing his mythical song on stage, in order to mark a clear break between his two careers. La maudite machine is now reserved for special occasions, like the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée in 2006, when Octobre played a surprise reunion show, or during Quebec’s National Day (la Saint-Jean-Baptiste) in 2014.
Additionally, Pierre Flynn has written songs for Pauline Julien, Diane Dufresne, Louise Forestier and Renée Martel, and he has also composed original scores for film, dance and theatre.
In 2015, his most recent album, Sur la terre, was released.