Louis Lewitan asked Philippe some questions for Zeit Magazine: When the musician fought for his life, the story of a rescue gave him hope.
LL: Mr. Cohen-Solal, with your band Gotan Project you created a new music genre. Why Gotan ?
PCS: Gotan is an anagram and means Tango. I always wanted to create a music that one never heard before. Up to the age of 40 I made my living with music for films and commercials. These jobs were very well paid. With that money instead of buying a house in the countryside, I created my own label in 1995. For our first album I wanted to produce only 500 copies of our first release and the guy who was working with me, said, no, but let’s do 1000 copies, so I told him, you are crazy, it will take years to sell them. We sold over 3 Million records.
LL: What a great success story. Did you ever come close to a crisis, to a turning point in life?
PCS: Oh yes, in 1989, I was fired from the record company Polydor because I was not delivering any success. I couldn´t do commercial mainstream music as they expected. After that failure at Polydor I started psychoanalysis that I haven’t finish yet. I’ve been trying to be Woody Allen for almost 30 years.
LL: Did the psychoanalysis help you to find any answer?
PCS: Yes, after I was fired from Polydor, I felt very humiliated and unhappy. I really hated to go to work and to listen to horrible tapes all day long. While my dismissal was a liberation, I was at that time I felt blocked, I was unable to do my own music. I said to myself, why should I do music, I can’t beat Prince and David Bowie, they are just too good. My analyst said, it’s absolutely true, but you can be Philippe Cohen Solal and do your own thing. His advice was true and very simple: I can be myself. But then two years ago, I had an accident that definitively became a turning point in my life.
LL: What happened exactly?
PCS: In 2017, my family and I were visiting my wife´s family in Sweden for Christmas. On December 26th my wife came back from jogging. She said, you should run too it will do you good, so I put on my running shoes. I took the same path as I always do, it was raining and very windy. I run to a little bridge along the sea when suddenly in the middle of the bridge the wood planks collapsed under my feet. I went targeting the water and my left arm was floating on the side. Its was dislocated and triple fractured.
LL: You were all alone, nobody heard you screaming for help?
PCS: There was no one around and the water was about two degrees. The edge was to high to climb up because of my crashed arm. But I finally succeeded to catch a little rope from the bridge. I held the rope and put one of my feet on a wood planks and I started to scream “Help!” and in French “je ne veux pas mourir ici!” (I don´t want to die here”), I started to cry for my mother, who just died a few months before, Mama! Mama! More than 20 minutes had passed I was still hanging in this icy water.
LL: What went through your mind?
PCS: I started to lose hope, I thought my wife will never find me, it´s too late, I will let it go and stop fighting, I was desperate. At that moment I remembered a very short documentary on facebook that I watched the night before on my Iphone. It was about an old woman and her twin sister who had survived Dr. Mengele´s experiments in Auschwitz. There both were inoculated with typhus and then separated in two different barracks to see which one will die first. That woman recounted how she was crawling on the floor, screaming and saying to herself, I have to survive. Her only target was to meet her sister again, which happened. In that situation I thought if she survived, I have to survive too. Her example gave me an extra strength.
LL: How come nobody heard your screaming?
PCS: There were only one house more than 100 meters far away. A woman was there by coincidence who heard some sound. At first, she thought it was a dog barking or seagulls but the sounds didn´t stop and she decided to go out with her phone. She found me in the water and called help from a village nearby. She had no strength to keep me out and I had no more strength either.
LL: How long did it take to get you out of the water?
PCS: A first guy arrived about 10 minutes after her call with a float, he succeeded to bring me to the shore, but there were some slippery rocks and he couldn’t pull me out. We waited again and my body was more and more sleepy. I just remember some arms took me out of the water. After 50 minutes in the icy water my body was completely in hypothermia, they brought me to an ambulance because the helicopter couldn´t land. I remember that I was in a kind of tunnel, a black tunnel with a white light at the end, some blue shapes and the blue shapes were diminishing slowly. I had the feeling that I was dying. At that moment my wife arrived but I did not recognized her, I was screaming her name and I said I don’t want to die.
LL: How did you finally survive?
PCS: The physicians didn’t succeed to put any perfusion in my veins because my body was too cold, the veins were breaking one after the other, so they drilled me and put the perfusion directly into the bone. In Sweden they know how to handle this kind of accident, it saved my life. They drove 60 km to the hospital. One hour later my body was still 32 in hypothermia. For the 2 first nights I couldn’t sleep a second because each time I was closing my eyes I felt as if I was in the water. But I also remember that when I left the emergency room I had only one thing in my head, these words : Chapter 2.
LL: You mean because of a second life? Did this accident change your minds?
PCS: Yes, as if it was now the second chapter of my life. I am more empathic and I have more compassion. I realized I don’t want to live with anger anymore. I lost all my regrets completely in a snap. I realized how precious my family is, even more than music. I am more scared about life accidents but I am much less scared about anything else. I knew that I was kind of fighter guy, but I didn’t know that I was such a fighter. The accident gave me confidence. I fought for my children but also for this little old lady with her story on Facebook. I wrote a message to her but I never had a reply. I wanted to explain to her that she saved my life by giving me hope and strength until help arrived.
The original article in German here: https://www.zeit.de/zeit-magazin/2019/52/philippe-cohen-solal-filmkomponist-rettung