Johnny, from rocker to singer
Johnny's gone, but how was he seen abroad, for instance in London -- a rock'n roll mecca ?
The Guardian published on Dec. 6 (2017) an outstanding article on Johnny Hallyday‘s death ; it opens like this : « France has lost its cultural nuclear deterrent, its favourite granddad, its permanent teenager, one of its greatest national treasures and its longest-running national joke. Johnny est mort. »
[I quote John Lichfield, shortening a few paragraphs]
"Hallyday remained, until the end, the most popular live act (bête de scène) in France: ‘notre rockeur national’, one of the country’s biggest sellers of discs and downloads, popular with both grannies and their grandchildren. He recorded 1,000 songs, sold more than 110m discs, performed more than 100 live tours, had four wives, two children, two grandchildren and two adopted children. He attempted suicide twice and made dozens of films.
This was the Hallyday enigma – part of a broader French enigma. France’s fear of cultural colonisation by the US forged a national icon from a man who turned American popular music into French popular music. And yet none of his hits (tubes) penetrated far beyond the French-speaking world. Joue pas de rock’n’roll pour moi; Quelque chose de Tennessee (by far his best song), left the international charts undisturbed (n’ont pas bouleversé le Top 50).
It was common for foreigners to mock Johnny Hallyday, once described by USA Today as “the biggest rock star you never heard of”. He was also mercilessly teased (raillé sans pitié) by French satirists, despised by French intellectuals, both of the right and the left. Yet I think he deserves (mérite) to be remembered as one of the most remarkable of all rock stars.
His life and career were a musical tragedy wrapped in a political enigma. He started as a half-Belgian “corrupter of French youth” (his early concerts caused riots) and ended as a national totem, a symbol of French cultural resistance, proving that France is a grown-up country that does not have to rely on US missiles or US pop stars. He was a warm, genuine, big-hearted, uncomplicated man and a surprisingly good actor. He became a personal friend of two presidents, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy. He became a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, the order reserved for the “living elite of the nation”.
He had a rich, deep, gravelly (rocailleuse) voice – a voice that sounded as though it had been marinated in Gauloises cigarettes and cheap red wine. And this was his tragedy. He sincerely adored rock’n’roll. He sincerely adored America. But, he was irretrievably (irrémédiablement) French. His most memorable songs were ballads that could have been sung by Edith Piaf, whereas his wonderful voice sounded odd (bizarre) and unconvincing when he tried to rock. He once blamed the French language (s’en était pris à la langue française), which he complained had too many syllables to make good rock lyrics. Listen to him, though, singing a ballad in the chanson Française tradition, such as Quelque chose de Tennessee, or Oh Marie or Que je t’aime.
Johnny the rocker was an amiable imposter. As a French chanteur, Johnny was a genius."
• Credits : John Lichfield, The Guardian, 6 XII 2017.
Vocab. : a rock icon / tight trousers / blond mane (crinière blonde) / obituary (notice nécrologique) / an Elvis wannabe (qqn qui se voulait le nouveau Presley) / people'stribute (hommage populaire)
Tags: Johnny Hallyday, John Lichfield, rock'n roll
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