Rabu, 23 November 2011

THE ONLY YEH YEH GIRL by Peter Nolan Smith

The 1960s were a time of idols for the youth of America. TV, radio, and movies brought stars to the youthful eyes, ears, and souls of my three red-light suburb south of Boston. While Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jayne Mansfield, and Buddy Holly were reincarnated in our fantasies, our generation’s fervent devotion to fame focused on the living gods of rock and cinema.

John Lennon declared the Beatles bigger than Jesus. He was only right for some of the people. The Rolling Stones were our Satan. STREET FIGHTING MAN was the real anthem for the young in revolution against the old order. Movie actresses existed as wingless angels fallen to Earth. Julie Christie won our hearts in DARLING. My older brother chose Raquel Welch as his muse after her debut in the movie 1,000,000 BC. Her fur bikini was a treasure trove for young boy’s imagination, but she was knocked off the throne by Faye Dunaway thanks to the her sexy gun moll performance in BONNIE AND CLYDE.

I was smitten by the blonde’s withering looks, but I resisted temptation and searched for a goddess to love from afar without any interference from other suitors. The boys in my high school fought over their favorites, encouraged by fan magazines and TV shows extolling the ever-changing kaleidoscopic pantheon of starlets competing for fame. I stayed out of the fray, but was increasingly frustrated by my failure to discover my own private star, until my hand slipped on the radio dial one night.

The antenna caught a signal from the north. The wavering voice transmitted a wounded fragility and I cursed myself for not paying attention in French classes. The girl was singing about ‘amor’. I looked over to my brother’s bed. He was asleep on his side. I turned up the volume and road the magic of the radio waves to the last fading notes of the guitar. The DJ announced with breathless admiration, “C’etait "EN VOUS AIMANT BIEN" par Francoise Hardy.”

Nothing the Montreal disc jockey said translated into English, except the last two words.

Francoise Hardy.

It was April 1968. I was sixteen. My girlfriend was a cheerleader at the town high school. Up to this moment I had been happy to be a sophomore in a suburb south of Boston. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot in Memphis, but Kyla and I had gone past second base and for the next two hours I remained glued to the station. The DJ rewarded my patience with LE PREMIER BONHEUR DU JOUR, QUI PEUT DIRE, and L’AMITIE.

The DJ called her an ‘ingenue’. I knew that word meant thanks to having taken French two years at Our Lady of the Foothills.

I turned off the radio after midnight and woke early in the morning. My mind was filled with competing images of her face. I didn’t mention my find to my friends in the car pool, as we drove on 128 to school. My daydreams excluded my teachers’ lessons on math and science. I took my study hall in the library lost in the fog of trying to put the face to her name. I gazed in a daze over to the record collection in the music section. The LPs assembled by the brothers excluded any popular music.

Brother Jerome, the librarian, was in his office. A freshman was sitting on his lap. I wandered over to the record trays and flipped through the LPs without finding a single record worth hearing. The brothers had terrible taste in music.

The school day lasted forever.

At the final bell I told my friends that I was heading into Boston. They dropped me at the Forest Hills T station. My best friend, Chuckie Manzi, wanted to join me. I said no.

“Are you meeting a girl?” He was going out with Kyla’s girlfriend.

“Sort of.” I guessed that Francoise Hardy lived in France. The odds of her being in Boston were zero and I wasn’t counting of finding her records either.

“Sort of is better than no. Good luck and I’ll say nothing.”

“Thanks.” Chuckie was good at keeping secrets. He was my best friend.

I got off the T at Washington Street and hit the record shops. I was at the point of giving up, when I entered a music store opposite the Commons. The owner was an old man with a beard. The forty year-old looked like a beatnik. I was dressed as a mod.

“Can I help you?” The store was filled with records. The floor was thick with dust. The walls were covered by LPs. The stacks were arranged by genres. I was about to leave, when I spotted that one section was devoted to French music.

“Do you have any Francoise Hardy?”

“How do you know about Francoise Hardy?” The old man was mystified by my request and I explained about having heard her on a radio station from Montreal. He stood up and went to the French section.
“Francoise Hardy dropped out of the Sorbonne to record OH OH CHERI with Johnny Halliday. He’s the French Elvis. She became one of the biggest stars of Ye-Ye music and her hit TOUS LES GARCONS ET LES FILLES even made the charts in the UK. I think it was 1964. Here’s that LP. It came out in 1962.”

He handed me the album. I held the cover in both hands. The name had a face and the face belonged to an angel. A cinnamon strands of hair streamed across feline eyes. An ivory hand held an umbrella with a detached interest. This was a woman made for a rainy afternoon.

“Can I hear a little?”

“Sure.” The old man retrieved the album and slipped the LP onto a Garrard 401 turntable. “This is LE TEMPS D’AMOUR.”

He placed the stylus on the vinyl. A patter of drums opened the song. A twangy guitar and solid bass joined on the next bar. The singer wasted no time getting to the lyrics. They must have been about love. 2:27 passed in a second.

“What you think?”

“I’ll take it.” Her pose sold youthful innocence. I gave him $5. “Is that the only one you have?”

“Of that LP, yes, but I can get some of her other records, if you’d like.”

I nodded my answer and promised to return on the weekend.

That evening after finishing dinner and my homework, I went down to the basement and put the LP on my father’s record player. My brother had a better one in our bedroom, but I wasn’t sharing Francoise Hardy with someone in love with a woman in a fake fur bikini, even if he was my older brother.

One play of her record and I became her biggest fan south of the USA-Canada border. I listened to the Quebec stations in secrecy. My friends thought of them as Canucks. I didn’t want to risk their attacking Francoise. I bought several LPs from Mr. Osberg and he introduced me to the other Ye-Ye girls; Frances Gall, Sylvie Vartan, and Jacqueline Taïeb.

None of them were Francoise Hardy.

I read up about France. They were having riots in Paris. The students were in revolt. Francoise Hardy had released COMMENT TE DIRE ADIEU written by Serge Gainsbourg. Mr. Osburg said that he was the wicked man in France and played his hit with Jane Birkin JE T’AIME...MOI NON PLUS. Sex dripped off the record. Mr. Osburg was right. I had to save Francoise and as soon as I arrived home, I asked my father, if we could vacation in France.

“They’re having troubles there.” My father was very conservative. He tolerated the length of my hair, but thought I looked like a girl. “Students in the streets. Worse than the hippies. We’re going to the Cape.”Our family rented three motel rooms in Harwichport. The pool overlooked the small harbor. The beach boasted the warmest water on Cape Cod. The sea was 65 Fahrenheit by the 4th of July.

St. Tropez seemed to be safe from the riots sweeping across the Left Bank of Paris. Francoise Hardy wasn’t the type of girl to get mixed up in trouble. Not unless she fell into the hands of the evil Serge Gainsbourg and I plotted my escape to France. A rumor was whispered across Boston about a jet plane leaving Boston every morning for Paris.

Its cargo of Maine lobsters would be traded for eclairs, creme brulees, and pomme tartes. The round-trip ticket cost $100. A week’s salary for most people. I had that much in my bank and two weeks before my 16th birthday took the T to Logan Airport. None of the terminals listed the ‘lobster’ flight and I spent the greater part of Saturday hunting for the mythic plane to Paris.

“Ha.” A Boston cop laughed upon hearing my query. “Once a week some kid comes up looking for the ‘lobster’ plane. There ain’t none. Some bullshit story someone invented for who knows why, but the weird thing is that all these kids want to meet the same girl. Francoise Hardy. You ever heard of her?”

“No.” Whatever these ‘others’ felt from Francoise Hardy could never rival my love.“Me too. Must be some kind of film star. Like Brigitte Bardot.”

I fought back an explanation, not needing any more converts to the faith, and returned home in defeat.The trip to Paris had been a fool’s mission and the summer deepened in America with the murder of RFK in LA. MRS. ROBINSON replaced Archie Bell and the Drells' TIGHTEN UP as # 1. Simon and Garfinkel were singing about an older woman from the movie THE GRADUATE. Francoise Hardy was eight years older than me. I changed the words from Mrs. Robinson to Francoise Hardy. I never sang it in front of my girlfriend. She was the same age as me.

COMMENT TE DIRE ADIEU was not a hit and the radio station in Quebec played less and less of her songs. Kyla and I became more serious. We were going steady. I liked to think that Francoise would have approved of my selection, but I was stupid and left her for no good reason in 1969.

The year Francoise released Françoise Hardy en Anglais. Like the Catholic Mass in English her songs lost their magic in my language.

My travels in the late-60s and 70s were confined to hitchhiking across America. No of the drivers ever played “Tous les garçons et les filles”.

In 1973 she appeared in the film SAVE THE TIGER. The director failed to break the 29 year-old singer to America. She was a creature of France. A country distant from America until I was hired to work as a doorman at the Bains-Douches, which was the most popular nightclub in Paris in 1982.

I met Johnny Halliday, Yves Montand, Catherine Denevue, Yves St. Laurent, Coluche, countless Vogue models, arms dealers, and other lightbulbs of the night, but never Francoise Hardy and I asked the owner about her absence.

“She never goes out at night. Her husband is tres jealous. Jacques Dutronc.”

Dutronc was a rock star for the French. Nobody in the USA knew his name, but ET MOI ET MOI ET MOI was a great song. I had it on tape.

“A boyfriend is a man’s best enemy.”

“Not Jacques Dutronc.” My boss warned that her husband was capable of almost anything against any man seeking intimacy with his wife. “He is very much in love with her.”

“Who wouldn’t be?”

My boss shrugged with mutual understanding, He was a fan of Francoise Hardy too. Paris was a small city. I didn't mention Francoise's name again. People in the nightclub had big mouths and I knew that a husband was a lover’s best victim. All I needed was a chance.

Jacques Dutronc visited the club on several occasions. A big cigar hung out of his mouth. I hated the smell. He never came with Francoise. The rumor was that she was terribly shy after having been the Ye-Ye Girl for so many years. I made her husband wait more than once. Jacques complained to my boss. He laughed behind the singer’s back. My job was to make French stars feel like getting into the Bains-Douches was a privilege. I was only too happy to be of service.

All my friends were granted that gift from the start, especially Suzi Wyss, the mistress of a Getty Oil heir. I smoked opium at her oriental pad in the 13th arrondisement. The Swiss courtesan was superb cook and a good laugh. She knew everyone and one night she invited me to a dinner.

“Don’t tell anyone, but Francoise Hardy will be coming.”

“I thought she didn’t go out.” This was a miracle.

“She doesn’t, but she loves my cooking and I am always discreet. So not a word.”

“Silence is be my vow” I wanted her to myself. “Will her husband be there?”

“Not for dinner, but for dessert. He loves my chocolate cake.”

Suzi’s piece de resistance was a culinary delight, but I planned like a general for this rendezvous with Francoise Hardy. I bought a white shirt from Agnes B and a gray suit for Cerruti. No tie was better than pretending to be a business man and I wore Cuban heels from the flea market. They dated back to the time of her greatest success. I cut my hair short and didn’t bathe for two days.

French men never washed too much. The water ruined their masculinity. I showed up on time with a bouquet of roses. Suzi loved flowers. We smoked hash. Opium was for after the dinner. The door bell rang at 9.

Francoise arrived at the apartment with a young gay man. We opened a bottle of wine. She wasn’t a drinker, but was amused by my stories of New York nightclubs awash with beautiful women and crooked cops.

“It would make a good movie.”

“Only if you played the star.” I envisioned us on the podium of the Academy Awards receiving Oscars.

"I'm too old to play that role."

"You're never too old to be a star."

Suzi lit another joint. We smoked it before dinner.

I was falling in love again. In fact I realized that I had never stopped loving her. She spoke about her music and picked up a guitar from the corner. The Ye-Ye girl sang two new tunes. I was in paradise and I was ready to tell her about hearing her music on a little radio twenty years ago.

A knock on the door chucked my Eden into the trash.

It was Jacques Dutronc. The singer of MINI MINI MINI.

One look at her face said that she loved him and no one else.

And he felt the same.

Any man would have been a fool to not love her.

“I know you.” He pointed his cigar at me. “Bains-Douches. Doorman.”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“A writer too.” Suzi was on my side.

“Pouoff.” Dutronc had seen thousands of writers attempt to seduce his wife. “Women only love directors and producers. They prefer chauffeurs before a writer.”

Francoise laughed at her husband’s joke. Suzi did too. I might have joined them, if the aim of the riposte wasn’t aimed in my direction. Francoise ignored me for the rest of the evening, but Jacques Dutronc picked up the guitar. "Francoise and I did a song in 1978. BROULLIARD DANS LA RUE CORVISART." He put down his cigar and strummed a few chords. He sang the opening lines and Francoise accompanied him throughout the song. I applauded their duet, but also the love they held for each other. I didn't stand a chance. The odds were stacked heavier against me than the records in Mr. Osburg's music store.

An hour later the couple left with the gay friend. Francoise didn't even said good-bye. Jacques winked to me. I wouldn't make him wait at the door any more. The three of us met several more times at Suzi’s apartment. The same routine as always. A laugh. A joint. Wine. Dinner. A song or two. Jacques came late and they departed ensemble.Each time lives in my head with a greater strength than any of the times I saw the Rolling Stones. They still are the Greatest Rock Band in the World, but a goddess is always a goddess even when she’s another man’s woman and all men at one time in their lives need a goddess to make them feel good.

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