(Here's a little something I did earlier this year (en Anglais, remerciez Dieu!) for an oddly-titled French publication that hasn't actually gotten around to paying yet, of course, but will, undoubtedly, certainly, soon. It was, however, lavishly illustrated with some of Jean-Marier Perier's amazing, startling photos, including one of Jacques Dutronc lounging in the black interior of a yellow '69 Pontiac Firebird convertible while thoroughly surrounded by naked women. I'm not sure any of my writing has ever been so pleasantly illustrated.)
“To tell the truth, you must lie.”
Possibly there are more important questions about Jacques Dutronc. Still, I have less curiosity about his living arrangement with Francoise Hardy than.... well, than practically anybody else in France. She with her quiet Paris apartment, he in his Corsican villa legendarily crawling with cats, with fifty cats, or sixty cats, or seventy cats, or more. They, together, a couple for forty years, married for more than twenty-five; how do they do it? My burning question, the only one that matters to me: Just how many cats does Jacques Dutronc actually have?
At his early career peak, Dutronc unleashed a set of sardonic songs, satirized the excesses of the moment, a moment that has since been lumped together lumpily as The Sixties. Dutronc, whose hair was only long-ish, long-esque, at a time of long-nosity, wore very stylish but very proper suits at a time of paisley and purple and Nehru collars. He was a bespoke set of ironic quotation marks. Much more a rocker than his peers on the French pop charts, he dressed instead as an up-swinging broker of stocks, a ruling-party political hopeful. It was a joke, sort of. He was a playboy (just when his pal Daniel Filipacchi was selling French Playboy back to a startled Hugh Hefner), surrounded in photos by women en deshabille. His mere proximity, said the photos, worked as a powerful anti-clothing device for women, yet he himself managed to keep unmussed and amused.
Earlier, hanging handsomely around Le Golf Druout — the ‘60’s CBGB’s of Rock Et Roll En France, with shing-a-lingin’ copains et copines, as instructed by the arm-and-leg-flinging likes of Sheila and Clo-Clo, stomping et tromping around the 16th fairway of a mini-golf course above an English tea room in Paris — the young Jacques is just another guitar-playing loup garou impatiently waiting for his mini-tee-time with fate. His greatest asset? His look, casting his ironic blue eyes up and out and at and through you from a deGaulle-esque height. And perhaps the fact that in a time of astonishingly bad bandnames (Les Chaussettes Noires; Hector & Les Mediators; Gil Now & Les Turnips), he achieves a bandname that rings out in awe-inspirational awfulness: El Toro et les Cyclones.
For this, apparently, he is made musical director of Vogue Records. But in an elevator with Jacques Lanzmann, founder of Lui, greatest skin magazine in the inglorious history of such, they are joined by Antoine, hippie kid who has just blown youthful French brains with “Le Elucubrations.” A legend in his own mind, Antoine cuts them dead, ignores the be-suited salarymen, and righteously pisses ‘em off. Together , apres lunch, they write “Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi,” a meta-parody of such youthful self-orbitration, and Dutronc is launched.
Dutronc’s music, Lanzmann’s lyrics, these are certainly, unquestionably some of what made Dutronc into a central icon of the late ‘6os — the only popstar ever noticed (and thus, automatically, denounced) by Guy Debord, Pope of Situationism. But in fact, as good as this music is and enduring as it has turned out to be, there’s no question that much of Dutronc is his image, and it arrived first in the photos of Jean-Marie Perier, Dutronc’s friend, the man he replaced at the side of Francoise Hardy.
“For thirty years, my work was shit. Now they tell me it’s art. It’s neither art nor shit. It was just pictures to put on the wall of young people to make them dream.”
Jean-Marie was the photographer for Salut Les Copains, a magazine that showed up in France in the early ‘60s and instantaneously gathered in all the pop moment as no other publication ever has. If one man had singlehandedly invented MTV in the early 1980s . . . but MTV never had as much impact in any single pop universe as SLC had in France. It was everything, and Jean-Marie’s photos were everything about SLC. The only direction he ever received from his friend and boss, Daniel Fillipacchi, was this: “The parents must hate your pictures.”
As SLC arrived, so did Francois Hardy, but so much more quietly. “Everybody in Paris, in show business,” Jean-Marie observes, “was obsessed by America, because America is the future in this time. They’re all trying to look American. Suddenly Francoise arrives. She has a French name, she writes her lyrics, and she makes original stories in her music. She is the only one! Everyone else is a copy. And she had a French name.”
It’s her complete lack of ye’-ye’ loco-motion, her disinclination to twist disrhythmically, that distinguishes her. She will become, whether we in the English-speaking world ever got it or not, the first Girl With A Guitar. Silent, serene, seventeen, she stands in front of Jean-Marie and his camera and she captures the Canal St. Martin, le Tour Eiffel, him, his Nikon, and all the rest of us. She begins, mild and beatified and bemused, as if she happens to know the precise spot where Lourdes and Fatima triangulate with the 14th Arrondissement, as though she’s perfectly prescient about how many cats Jacques Dutronc will posess in Corsica in the year 2009. Presumably Jean-Marie treated her to a croque madame to celebrate before dropping her back home to la mere. He was, after all, as dazzled as the rest of us.
“She was extremely beautiful — she didn’t know it — and she was great, especially for a girl of her age, and especially for a guy who’s in love with her.” And what follows, what transpires, what we can still see, is the greatest series of photographs a lover has made of just how lovely his love is. And she is. Dante’s Beatrice was kind of butt-ugly by way of comparison. Nobody ever loved Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn nor Louise Brooks in quite this way.
But Jean-Marie cuts to the chase. Or in this case, the crash. “So we live together five years, and then one day she tellls me, ‘I’ve met someone.’ I met her when I was twenty-two, she was seventeen ... we were children. Ok, life separates us, voila... I said, ‘Alright, so I want to meet him....’ Because for me, it would not have been possible to not love the person that she loves, since I love her. She’s my best friend, so who she loves, I will love.” A pause. “So she presents me Jacques." Another pause, but shorter. "For at least two years, I was more in love with him than with her.
“And with his music, it’s the same thing as with Francoise six years before. These are the two who are saying things in their music, Francoise and Jacques, because all the rest of the singers are singing stupid lyrics, stupid copies of stupid songs.
“Plus Jacques had an.... insolence? Isn’t that the right word? So loose, so....almost aggressive, that all the people in the business, I mean all the singers, used to go and look at him ....What he was daring to do on stage, he was daring so much! When Giscard was President, a big charity show, and the announcer asks Jacques, ‘What do you think about singing in front of the President?’ And Jacques pushes the President — like this! — and says to the crowd, ‘I fuck him like a rat at the pinball machine!’" Jean-Marie is pensive. "Jacques was the most insolent person of all the Sixties and Seventies.”
“Eddie Barclay said, just before he died, ‘Today there is more business than show.’” Jean-Marie Perier
Looking at Jean-Marie’s photos of Francoise Hardy, a friend said, and with truth, “But she doesn’t look this way any longer.” C’est vrai; this can be said of us all. She has returned to be the sixty-some-year-old version of the petit-bourgois French schoolgirl she was when her life exploded merely because she wrote a few simple songs. She has fulfilled that girl’s destiny. But more, much more: Once Jean-Marie’s astonished, astonishingly loving photographic eye left her, once his eye fell more modestly away, she was free, in her way, to be perhaps even a bit more of an artist, but ever so less an icon. It’s easier to be an artist than an icon, and surely so for Francoise Hardy. Pursued hotly by Mick Jagger, by Bob Dylan, by Peter Sellers, by the florist’s assistant down the street, by any guy with eyes, she is now the mother of Thomas Dutronc, manouche guitarist, gypsy-esque Djangoist of much modesty and some style, who waited into his thirties before bothering to venture near the mass-media launching pad that was his inadvertant birthright; of whom his mother has said, in effect, in her way, “He’s really quite good....”
And an email, as I write, from Jean-Marie:
“Jacques has actually 30 cats.”
In journalism, accuracy is all.