Thursday, May 28, 2009
It is with regret.......
....that I announce the news that French singing legend Jean-Philippe Smet (otherwise known as Jonneee Alleeday) has decided to hang up his guitar.Tomorrow he starts his farewell tour, called Route 66, a reference to the eponymous US route and, sadly, his age. He fears that if he carries on he 'will become pathetic'. Here's a bit of news, Mr Hallyday......
Those of you outside France and possibly Belgium and bit of Switzerland could be forgiven for going... who?
So here's bit of catch up. Johnny Hallyday is a legend in France. For what, I'm not quite sure. Maybe just for being a legend, for being the Cliff Richard of the French music scene, or maybe even the Madonna as he is busily adopting the whole of Vietnam while Madonna makes her way through Malawi, or perhaps for the revolving door that is the title Mme Hallyday, previous incumbents having been Sylvie Vartan, herself famous for not being known anywhere outside France, followed by Babeth Etienne, Nathalie Baye then Adeline Blondiau.
This is he with the current version, Laeticia Boudou who has held the title for the past 12 years. Clearly she married him in primary school. Now what do you suppose she sees in him?
You have to feel sorry for the French. While other nations, many of whom the French consider culturally inferior, regularly produce international quality stars, the French since the heady days of the 1930s and with a small blip in the 50s for the likes of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel (who was actually Belgian) have singularly failed to do so. Even Plastic Bertrand (remember him?) was Belgian. Things may be looking up a little with the arrival on the scene of Justice and Daft Punk, both of whom have had a bit of success across La Manche.
But back to M. Hallyday. Back in the late 50s a young Elvis Presley appeared on the scene to bring rock n' roll to the masses. A few years later, a young Jean-Philippe Smet, calling himself Johnny Hallyday, appeared on the French scene, swinging his hips and making the right noises. And 49 years later, that's exactly where he remains. A couple of years ago, the BBC did a documentary to introduce us Brits to the lovely Johnny. That says it all really. After nearly 50 years on the music scene, he remained vitually unknown outside France.
Perhaps unwisely, Johnny tried, a few years back, to become Belgian. Perhaps it was so he could at least feature in that well-known parlour game 'Name 10 Famous Belgians' (errr......... Jacques Brel? Hercule Poirot? Plastic Bertrand? Jaywalker?) . He claimed it was to rediscover his Belgian roots and exorcise the demons left after his Belgian father abandoned him (is it any wonder? Even Johnny's millions haven't flushed out the illusive M. Smet senior). Closer inspection revealed, however, that it was more likely a ruse to escape the crippling wealth tax bought in by Francois Mitterand.
Sadly, his claim to Belgian-ness were refuted by the Belgian government who don't recognise illegitimate offspring such as he!. How sad is that? To be turned down by Belgium. Still, had he become Belgian, he would have had to renounce his only claim to fame, that of being the leading French rocker and then maybe the BBC wouldn't have made the documentary
Never mind, the tax haven that is Switzerland beckoned and there he remains, leathery to the last, like an iguana squinting in the sun.
Recently I had the dubious pleasure of sitting in our local cafe while a French friend regaled to me in tiny, minute really, details of his most prized possession. He boxed set of the complete works of Johnny Hallyday. All indexed and kept in chronological order. I'm just hoping that my slightly glazed expression wasn't too noticeable. His lasting appeal to the French mystifies me but then so does much about the French to be honest.
A few years back, a friend who is a tour manager for some real legends - U2, Rolling Stones - was personally asked by Johnny to manage his upcoming tour. Said friend felt that having a Johnny tour on his CV would actually be damaging to his career and so declined, citing much needed weeding in his garden.
But, never fear, all you Johnny-rockers out there. It's au revoir, not goodbye. He's planning to concentrate on his acting career now. No doubt if the BBC ever decides to to remake Steptoe and Son, there will be a part for him as Steptoe Senior.