Take the goings on at the restaurant Baoli late Monday night. This was the setting mostly: a lovely, open-air scene, wonderful Asian-inspired food and wine, great conversation with our host, Initiative. But as the hour grew near midnight something changed. It's hard to know exactly when, but if I had to throw out a guess I'd go with the moment the DJ played Robbie Williams' 1997 hit "Angels." I once saw a documentary that argued this song's ascendancy symbolized the death of Britpop, the dashing of the hopes credible Labor government and shattering of the whole late 1990s Cool Britannia zeitgeist. I thought that was hyperbole. I'm a believer now, though, after witnessing the sight of a few dozen attractive, successful professionals swaying their arms in the air in unison to the chorus:
"And through it all she offers me protection
a lot of love and affection
whether I'm right or wrong
and down the waterfall
wherever it may take me
I know that life won't break me
when I come to call she wont forsake me
I'm loving angels instead"
Cheese clearly is a large part of the Cannes diet, and I'm not talking about Camembert. Was there some ironic intent? Hard to say, and even if there was, it was erased by what came next. "Angels" begat "Hotel California" begat "Should I Stay or Should I Go" begat "Magnificent Seven" begat "Year of the Cat" begat "Sweet Home Alabama" begat "Sweet Dreams." To make it throb just a little, the DJ turned up the volume to deafening levels on the choruses. The strobes flipped on. Sparklers were lit. Big fruity drinks with colorful, flashing ice cubes were brought to many of the tables, including Initiative's. There we took deep draughts of the sugar-alcohol-sugar solution, a taste I'd be belching up well into the next calendar day.
Was there dancing, you ask?
Oh, there was dancing.
If you told me there were a dozen different versions of "The Robot," each originating in a different Central or Eastern European country, I would, having surveyed that dance floor, believed you. It was, all said, a glorious moment for herky-jerky, mechanistic, seizure-like moves. And, by the time Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" wafted into the French night, I'm not ashamed to say I could feel my limbs starting to convulse a bit. Fortunately, this was right at the time a car arrived to spirit us away to the patio bar at the Carlton to do things I'm better at (drinking while sitting) and then the Gutter Bar (drinking while standing).
Camped out at the Carlton was James Blunt, singer of the massive drivel hit "You're Beautiful" and a performer at Cannes. He wore a black leather jacket and seemed smaller than he does in the video where he bares his torso and jumps into the ocean. But that was all for celebrities of the mainstream kind. His table was next to one dominated by media bigs like Procter & Gamble's Bernhard Glock, former Unilever and now Digitas CEO Alan Rutherford and a rotating crew of agency folk like Carat's David Verklin, Universal McCann's Nick Brien -- one of the droves who made it to Cannes without any luggage -- MediaVest's Bill Tucker, and Initiative's Richard Beaven.
But, really, it was a Robbie Williams kind of night. Just before 5 a.m., a poignant Cannes moment explained Mr. Williams continued relevance to me: A very senior agency ad exec was suffering with a persistent case of the hiccups and a kindly woman from a hot creative agency advised him to "drink upside from his cup." When the afflicted exec struggled to work this out, she didn't give up. No, she walked him through it. And, you know, the hiccups stopped, a cure that facilitated, if nothing else, another round. And another round -- both the concept and the thing itself -- is nothing less than a raison d'etre in these parts.
Walking back to my hotel, La Croisette still (except for a rival journo hooking up on a street corner), I realized I'd been given some truth: There really are angels out there.