By John M Davis
Today, April 6th 2018 , the ever stylish Françoise Hardy is releasing a new album on Parlophone. Her 28th French album is entitled, “Personne d’autre” (see link here). ‘No one else’.
Françoise Hardy, actress, fashion icon and inspiration, is said to have been a member of the Yeah Yeah! Generation of French and European female singers influenced by 1960s Britpop including Sylvie Vartan, France Gall, Francoise Hardy, Chantal Goya, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin and dozens of others – (see link here). But, she is so much more than simply a 1960s ‘IT Girl’.
She could have simply been some kind of teenybopper sensation that went out of fashion – but her musical ability matured quickly and became so thoughtful, original and engaging that it has spanned the decades. Had, she been a man – the English speaking press would have long got over her early career and been only too happy to more profusely highlight her longevity and international significance from their keyboards.
The fact that in 1998 she appeared in a book called, ‘Unknown legends of rock ‘n’ roll’ and, from time to time, men of a certain generation in the USA pop up on you tube to state they have ‘discovered’ this incredible talent – tells you all you need to know about the difference between the way that French and English speaking media outlets approach her work. In France, where she is a National icon, “Personne d’autre” has been given the full works; including months of build-up stories and TV appearances.
Hardy’s new album is a triumph of emotion, meaning and togetherness. She attributes the relative ease with which the album was delivered to the leadership of Erick Benzi (59) French musician, songwriter, composer, record producer, former member of group Canada and member of El Club, who has also produced albums for Celine Dion. Benzi created the music for four of the songs on the album; À cache-cache, Un seul geste, Train special, and Brumes.
The album is said to have the central message that love, even impossible, is stronger than death. Hardy suggests that the album almost ‘made itself’. Once word got out that she was thinking of a new album, collaborators came from near and far. For example, La Grande Sophie, (Sophie Huriaux 49), French singer-songwriter from the mid-1990s Paris alternative scene, contacted Hardy with a truly beautiful song called ‘Le Large’ (Sailing Away).
Huriaux has created a number of successful albums and won a Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles Cros for her 5th album Des vagues et des ruisseaux. Huriaux has a similar aptitude to Hardy. Both songstresses create clear and uncompromising lyrics that are written with a firm hand that has more than a passing acquaintance with the sentimental velvet glove du coeur. See for example the tune Ne M’Oublie Pas for a clear and catchy example of La Grande Sophie’s work (see link here)
In the subtitled video on you tube ‘Le Large’ has the English translation ‘Sailing Away’. Google gives the translation ‘step away’ or ‘take off’. This is what makes the song so good, it has multiple meanings.
Some commentators have connected the record to the fact that Hardy relatively recently skirted with death her-self. Step into oblivion or the unknown would be the most extreme of interpretations of the phrase Prendrai Le Large but that might miss the albums reference to love conquering all.
Prendrai Le Large is, indeed, something many creative people are prone to. Yet, music allows the listener to interpret songs in their own way to fit their own contexts. Le Large’s quality lies in its infinite meanings. Prendrai le large could simply be about death or its words could also mean: contemplating an expanse, contemplating infinity, contemplating the universe, contemplating our nothingness, contemplating life’s pain and/or contemplating our very being in our souls that are connected to other souls – for eternity.
I was struck by the video to Le Large which has a boy in his pyjamas watching the 1960s version of Françoise Hardy – Hardy’s own son Thomas Dutronc collaborated on a previous album. From a very young age, myself and my siblings listened to our parents Britpop 1960’s records. We placed them on the tiny record player as if they were treasures from a world already lost to us – most prised of all was a Françoise Hardy ‘import’ pressed in 1964, before any of us were born..
We were those children in pyjamas who listened to a 20 year old angelic French accent talk of the need for understanding, in songs such as I Wish It Were Me : ‘Then you might know how it feels when you’re trying to hide All of the pain that you made my heart suffer inside’.
Our mother had a Françoise Hardy 45 Tours EP Vinyl Import of Catch A Falling Star / Find My A Boy / Only Friends / I Wish It Were Me. It was positioned next to our mother’s favourite Beatles album – indicating its importance in our home. This record seemed the height of exquisiteness, to three young children in Dunfermline, Kingdom of Fife, Scotland.
At that time, France could only be a place that we dreamed of going to. Our early family holiday’s rarely stretched further than Aberdour along the Fife coast; and a trip over the rail bridge to the city of Edinburgh was an adventure into a different urban world full of cars, tall buildings, columns, monuments and roads that were metal plated with disused tram lines that would slip and trip you as you went your way.
The words on the back cover of the ‘imported’ Françoise Hardy record were in a beautiful language that matched the emotive voice of the singer. Life-long romantics were born out of that record which taught us important lessons about relationships, care and affection – lessons that Hardy has recently called for all mothers to teach their sons.
The young Hardy sang, from a woman’s perspective, of her aspirations, frustrations and need for a kind gentlemen to have a pocket full of stardust ready for that moment when a lady should require some magic in her life – kindness, generosity and care, in the face of adversity.
The importance of the song, Catch A Falling Star (written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss and made famous by Perry Como) has never left me – when you have watched generations of Scottish women graft to give their communities, families and offspring a better life – you know the importance of a pocket full of stardust, to ease the daily grind, to lift hearts that are worn by life’s travails and to give meaning to those moments when we look back and Prendrai le large.
Very few English-based writers have captured the essence of Françoise Hardy – their class ridden upbringing seems to prevent them from getting past her 1960’s UK image as the princess to Britop male royalty, the bridesmaid to Beatlemania.
It is a mistake to typecast Françoise Hardy as the sad, vulnerable angel of the 1960s, decades of creativity have produced a rounded personality who interviewers describe as: smart, funny, and direct. You only have to look at her recent television appearances to witness her formidable energy, expressiveness and ability to tell the story of her work (see link here)
Le Large may well be an extremely meaningful full stop to an outstanding career, it may be the major talking point of “Personne d’autre” but that would short change the album which also includes a cover of Michel Berger’s Seras-tu là ?, where Berger reveals the pain of his separation with Véronique Sanson.
Similarly, Hardy describes Pascale Daniel’s music for the album title song Personne d’autre as haunting and says that the song Your’re My Home, by Yael Naim/David Donati (English lyrics by Yael Naim) brought tears to her eyes.
It wouldn’t be a Françoise Hardy album without some tears. However Hardy attributes the whole album to one song, Sleep by Finnish band Poets of the Fall, that she played to Benzi and that inspired him to send her melodies which she put her lyrics to. From such small seeds of love, friendship and respect do hugely meaningful collaborations grow.
Similarly, you just have to look at all those singers and designers who cite her as an inspiration to know that this woman has had the ultimate staying power and continuously influenced both music and fashion at home and internationally.
Hardy is no one else’s poster Girl. The English speaking media are fixated with the fact that an American folk singer once wrote a poem about her on the banks of the Seine (see link here)
In the 1960s she had sung lyrics that might have suggested, to anglophile ears, that she was an innocent abroad: For example Tous les garçons et les files has been translated as: “All the guys and girls my age know how it feels to be happy, but I am lonely. When will I know how it feels to have someone?
But, this women is so much more than a Holden Caulfield’s wet dream – her response to interview questions concerning one singers unwanted advances is short and uncomplimentary – she met with him but he ‘didn’t seem well in himself’ – Chapeau for avoiding the pedestal.
Similarly, she worked with grand-père terrible of French pop Serge Gainsbourg (who died aged 62 in 1991) but resisted his offers to collaborate on an album because she would not have had artistic control – Chapeau, encore une fois, for avoiding the Pygmalion syndrome.
Previously in this blog we have discussed the problems that arise when men put women on a pedestal rather than basing relationships on sharing, knowing and valuing each other’s ways of being (see link here). Hardy’s explains this well:
“All these major artists were in love with my image. They did not know my songs. My genre is so much different from what they like. So you cannot say I was truly their muse. What I think happened was they probably saw me on TV and they liked what they saw!” (see link here)
An equitable relationship does not require women to be objet trouvé, stowaways in their own lives, to hide their ability and to sacrifice themselves for men. Françoise Hardy has always stood out from the crowd, forged her own identity and had decades of musical success. We need to celebrate her ability to eschew the advances of ‘Pygmalion’ men who would expect her to down play or sacrifice her own life-plans to ensure their ‘male’ aspirations are achieved and egos massaged.
Younger men, women, social justice keyboard warriors, n’all, have much to learn from a woman that refused to take the role of talented ‘assistant’; who reject cul-de-sacs where she would have never be allowed to independently fulfill her potential; least it hurt her male collaborators pride.
Yet, paradoxical, in matters of the heart, her life has not always been so straight forward. Like, Audrey Hepburn, her family life suffered at the hands of WW11, where an absent father may have led to early esteem issues. She is still married to Jacques Dutronc, a charismatic pop singer turned actor and father to her son Thomas. They live apart but she describes him in interviews, and with great force, as the story of her life – a life, we can be thankful, is still being written. Even if she is now, like this blog-post, contemplating Le Large like “Personne d’autre”.
Tracks on “Personne d’autre”: