Clémence DesRochers’ La vie d’factrie with music by Jacques Fortier was first released in 1962 on her debut album. With this “militant” song, the singer-songwriter asserted her voice and her writing style—social poetry anchored in the present tense. La vie d’factrie had such an impact in Québec that it is still, to this day, associated with the history of the workers movement. And nearly sixty years later, the song is as deeply moving as it was when it was first written.
The lyrics describe a day in the life of a cotton factory worker and tells the industrial history of Québec, specifically the work conditions of the female dominated workforce of the textiles industry. It’s a powerful song that talks about a colourless life, the din of machinery, gruesome work shifts, resignation and solitude. In just thirty-two lines, Clémence DesRochers makes a statement and moves us. Transposed by her expert hands, the Québécois French language gets the royal treatment.
The songwriter once told Radio-Canada that she was happy with La vie d’factrie “because I believe it gave ‘la chanson québécoise’ something it did not have before: songs about urban life. And I’m really proud to have written about women.” Especially women who were not seen or heard. An outstanding portraitist, she captures in lines of verses and prose the sometimes not so pleasant lives of a cortege of ordinary women. She gave them courage and pride and was by their side as they took back control over their bodies and identity. She turned anonymous lives into the heroines of her songs and monologues like so many annunciators of a discourse that was rarely heard until that point.
Clémence DesRochers has a unique way of describing the lazy days of summer, childhood, deeply buried pain, a cat on a porch, a lake in September. . . She is a master at giving a voice to “those who always whisper”—big Raymonde, medium Adrienne, Yvanna the scrubber—, to scorned lovers, to women who have been hurt, abandoned, who are menopausal and afraid of cancer and bowl while waiting to grow old together. She has a unique talent that masterfully intertwines satire and tenderness, hilarious comedy bits and sad songs.
Poet, author and lyricist, singer and monologuist, actress, visual artist, TV host and quite a good swimmer, too, Clémence DesRochers, whose father was the immense poet Alfred DesRochers, was born in Sherbrooke in 1933. She will forever remain a crucial artist that leaves behind her a marking body of work and cultural footprint: she started alongside Jacques Normand before getting involved in Les Bozos, she helped the “chansonnier” movement flourish and incarnated countless characters in various Radio-Canada programs (including the unforgettable Mademoiselle Sainte-Bénite in the youth program Grujot et Délicat), she also gave us Québec’s first musical (Le vol rose du flamant), stage reviews (among which Les girls stands out), novels, poems, solo stage shows, and drawings on the joys and fears of childhood that leave no eyes dry.
She has been received as a Knight of the Ordre national du Québec and Officer of the Order of Canada; she received the Prix Denise-Pelletier for her entire body of work, a Governor General Award for the Performing Arts, the SOCAN Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as a few Felix Awards from ADISQ. As a concerned citizen, she supports many causes including Les Impatients, an organization that helps patients with mental health issues through artistic expression.
Now 86, she is an emblem of freedom and has an inquisitive mind that is like a springtime breeze but focused like the eye of an eagle, while the blue hue of her own eyes reminds one of the sea—this accomplished artists will forever remain “our Clémence.” Unique and exemplary.
La vie d’factrie also appeared on the album “Il faut longtemps d’une âpre solitude pour assembler un poème à l’amour,” in 1973 and, in a rerecorded version with a new keyboard accompaniment, on “De la factrie au jardin” in 2003. The song was covered by a plethora of artists such as Renée Claude, Fabienne Thibeault, Marie Savard, Richard Séguin and Salomé Leclerc.