The 1960s were a time of idols for the youth of America. TV, radio, and movies brought stars to our eyes, ears, and souls,even to my 3-red light suburb south of Boston. Teenage boys and girls worshiped pantheons of tragic dead; Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jayne Mansfield, Buddy Holly, and scores of other talents posthumously recognized for their absent greatness. They only came alive in our fantasies and our fervent devotion focused on the living. Rock stars were gods.The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones was a prince. Movie actresses proved wingless angels walked the Earth. Julie Christie won our hearts in DARLING. We fought over our favorites. My older brother was in love with Raquel Welch. My choice was more eclectic.
Faye Dunaway was an easy option. Every male desired the blonde star of BONNIE AND CLYDE. I wanted my own star to adore. Someone to love from afar without interference from other suitors and I discovered my choice by accident. My hand slipped on the radio dial and the antenna found a station from Montreal playing LE PREMIER BONHEUR DU JOUR. The breathy vocals had to belong to a fallen ingenue. I knew what 'ingenue' meant thanks to having taken French two years at Our Lady of the Foothills. The disc jockey spoke her name after the guitar coda faded from the speaker.
The year was 1968.
I had never heard her name and neither had any of my friends. She was mine and I searched the record stores of Boston for her records. The album cover stole my heart. Feline eyes framed a young witchy face. Her pose sold innocence. I became her biggest fan this side of the USA-Canada border. Her poster graced the space over my bed. LE PREMIER BONHEUR DU JOUR had been released in 1963. She was known as the 'Yeh-Yeh-Yeh' girl. There were others; Frances Gall, Sylvie Vartan, and Jacqueline Taïeb. None of them were Francoise Hardy and I asked my father, if we could go on vacation to France.
"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. 65 by the 4th of July.
It was not St. Tropez and I plotted my escape to France. A rumor ran 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 my connection to Francoise Hardy.
"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. It had been a fool's mission. Paris was in a state of revolt. Students were calling for the overthrow of the government. Charles DeGaulle had fled the capitol. She released Comment te dire adieu? that summer. It was not a hit and the radio station in Quebec played less and less of her songs. I fell in love with a cheerleader from the local high school. Francoise would have approved of my selection. Janet Stetson was a great girl. 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 remained a creature of France. A country distant from America until I was hired to work as a doorman at 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."
I knew his name. He was a rock star to the French. "Et moi, et moi, et moi" was a great song. I had it on tape.
"A boyfriend is a man's best enemy. A husband his best victim."
"Not Jacques." My boss warned that her husband was capable of almost anything against any man and his wife. "He is very much in love with her."
"Who wouldn't be?"
My boss shrugged with mutual understanding. He was a fan too.
Her husband entered the club on many occasions. Always with a big cigar in his mouth. I made him 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. All my friends were granted that gift from the start, especially Suzie Wyss, the mistress of a Getty Oil heir. I smoked opium at her oriental pad in the 13th arrondisement. A little cocaine. A superb cook and a good laugh. She knew everyone and one night she invited me to a dinner.
April 1984. 21 years after the release of LES PREMIERES BONHEURS DU JOUR. It was about time.
"Don't tell anyone, but Francoise Hardy will be coming."
"Not a word." 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. A white shirt from Agnes B. A suit for Cerruti. No tie. Cuban heels from the flea market. They dated back to the time of her greatest success. I cut my hair short. No bath. French men never washed too much. The water ruined their masculinity. I showed up on time with a bouquet of roses. Susi 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. A movie. She laughed at my jokes. Susi lit a 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. A guitar in hand. She sang two new tunes. I was in paradise.
A knock on the door threw my Eden into the trash.
It was Jacques Dutronc.
She loved him.
She would love no one else.
And he was 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 to. I might have joined them if its aim wasn't in my direction.
I was cast out of their celestial heaven and an hour later the couple left with the gay friend more in love than ever before. I had lost her forever. we met several more times at Susi's apartment. The same routine as always. A laugh. A joint. Wine. Dinner. A song or two. Jacques came late and they depart ensemble.
It wasn't much, but each time lives in my head with a greater strength than any of the times I saw the Rolling Stones.
A goddess is always a goddess even when she's another man's woman.
Especially Francoise Hardy.
For a listen to LES TEMPS DU AMOUR click on the following VDO.