Awakened from my o’er-long Bloggers Slumber by the sound of … wall-to-wall Johnny

De l’idole yé-yé à l’icône nationale (Le Monde) (From yeah-yeah* idol to national icon)

Every radio station played his songs on a loop. Magazines and newspapers produced endless ‘Johnny’ supplements. All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia … or almost anywhere. I felt as bewildered at the national outpouring of alleged grief as when – twenty years ago – the UK had fallen apart following the death of The People’s Princess.

*[les années yé-yé (The Swinging Sixties). Wikipedia pontifically advises that the années yé-yé ‘began stricto sensu in autumn 1961 with the Twist and ended in spring 1966’. The word yé-yé is a Frenchifying of the ‘Yeah, Yeah’ of our own much loved mopheads. Still, I thought there actually had to be a third Yeah to make it authentic.]

Who needs heroes? We need heroes

President Macron has long bemoaned the absence of heroes and (political) heroism. He’s identified what he sees as a serious need for the country to have its heroes. The baddies have all too many (anti-)heroes. But what’s out there for the good guys?

‘Johnny’s a sort of hero’ mused ‘a person close to the President’ (reported Le Parisien). The Elysée avidly grasped the challenge as the nation clamoured for a national tribute to Johnny. Purple prose sprouted everywhere: Michelle (69 years old) told Le Monde she’d left her house at 4am the night Johnny’s death was announced to travel to his house. ‘The main thing’, said Michelle, her eyes reddened, ‘is that Johnny should know I’m here. His death is as important to me as the deaths of de Gaulle and Mitterand … I hope he’ll be buried in the Pantheon [ie next to Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Zola, Curie etc]. He deserves it. He’s an Eiffel Tower.’

Actually, this is as close to the Tower as he’s got so far:

The man who ‘conquered four generations of the French’ (page 2 of Le Monde’s 8 page supplement) needed something special for his send-off. But how should the death of France’s super hero be marked? [No seeming Elyséenne anxiety as to whether ‘Hero’ Hallyday’s Swiss/US reduced-taxpaying residencies – nor his 6-year delayed payment, in 2017, of €9 million he owed the French tax authorities for a somewhat-less-than-legal tax structure – would cause any cloud-sullying issues.]

Jean et Johnny: a comparison

Writer Jean d’Ormesson died a day before Johnny. Author of 40+ books, he was a much-loved TV pundit, philosopher, Academician, journalist for (and editorial director of) right-wing Le Figaro and self-styled ‘man of the right – a Gaullist but a European Gaullist – with lots of leftist ideas about equality and progress’ [French philosophers can be complicated]. D’Ormesson got a national/Presidential tribute on Friday at Les Invalides. D’Ormesson had demanded ‘no sword and no cross’. But, in accord with his wishes, the President placed a writing pencil on the national flag draped across the coffin … while BFM TV told us d’Ormesson had used 4.5 pencils writing each of his books.

What then to do for Johnny? The President and Mme Hallyday dreamt up the hommage populaire (people’s tribute). A cortège would progress the length of the Champs Elysées and end with a ceremony at the imposing Church of the Madeleine.

When Victor Hugo died, two million showed up. In 1963, half a million followed Piaf’s cortege [Religious Note: Piaf went directly cemeterywards … the Catholic Church wanted no trace of That Sinful Little Sparrow inside any of their Houses of Prayer.]

How many then out on the streets for Johnny that sunlit Parisian Saturday?

In descending order, I give you:

  • The Guardian sourced ‘the police’ for their hyperbolic headline ‘A million take to Paris streets for Johnny Hallyday’s funeral’ [NB the police issued no official figures]
  • Le Journal de Dimanche settled for ‘nearly a million’
  • Le Parisien quoted ‘sources’ as the basis of their ‘more than half a million’
  • The BBC reported ‘huge crowds’ in their ‘hundreds of thousands’, while
  • Le Monde was the soberest (and accuratest?) with its ‘several tens of thousands’. 

Funereal Highlights

  • anywhere between 700 – 1000 Harley-Davidsons (you buys your paper and you makes your choice) processing behind Johnny’s coffin (rocking and rolling?) down The Greatest Avenue in the World
  • Emmanuel Macron delivering his eulogy outside the Madeleine Church, on its freezing steps – his speech was intended to have been delivered inside, until advisers got twitchy about laïcité (state secularism) … most especially on 9/9 the Very Anniversary Day of the 1905 Law definitively separating State and Church
  • during the funeral service Johnny’s band members played several of his hits on acoustic guitars – an early one was an upbeat rock ‘n roll number (très yé-yé). Led by a number of rockers installed in the rear pews, the congregation quickly got with the beat and clapped along as in a Revivalist Meeting. Suddenly, the TV director realised he had gold elsewhere. A quick cut gave us a shot of All The Great And The Good seated in a line. President Macron and Mme M. happy-clapping in perfect time and Mme Sarkozy too. But, oh dear. Both ex-Presidents Sarko and Hollande perhaps found the clapping over-complicated, or maybe not the sort of thing one does in Church. Both po-facedly kept each hand well apart from the other.
  • re-playings of Hallyday’s song Quelque chose de Tennessee. At least, the last few days has allowed me to understand that Tennessee had nothing at all to do with the Deep South, but was a reference to Tennessee Williams. Then I learnt that when Johnny played at a public meeting to support Chirac’s candidacy for the Presidency, he dedicated his ‘Tennessee’ song to Chirac, saying ‘We’ve all got something of Jacques Chirac in us’. (Really?) And then Macron went on in the same vein – saying that we all had something of Johnny Hallyday in us. (Really?) It sure is a Great Big Melting Pot.

  • BFMTV and Le Parisien reported that Mme Le Pen had wonderfully been declared persona non grata at the Madeleine Church by Hallyday’s family [political note: she’d been invited to d’Ormesson’s ceremony the day before when M. Protocol did the invites]. Interesting that Le Pen was so sure she’d get an invite she stuck it in her Public Diary. FN Treasurer, Saint-Just (still anxiously awaiting the outcome of FN phoney employment allegations) angrily tweeted that of 11 million who’d voted Le Pen in the Presidential Election some 10 million would be fans of Johnny … and that he, Saint-Just, was therefore ‘sad’ Le Pen had not been invited. The FN also pointed out Johnny hadn’t been shy about playing in Frèjus, with its FN Mayor Rachline
  • whether it was several tens of thousands, or north of a million, on Paris’s streets on Saturday, I don’t think I saw one single person of colour anywhere any time
  • for me, by far the most moving moments were actor Jean Reno reading a lovely Prévert poem ‘Song of the Snails on Their Way to a Funeral’. Reno – godfather to the older of Hallyday’s two adopted children – had been asked by them to read this

Breaching copyright (apologies), here it is (one day I’d love to attempt a translation – never done anything remotely poetic before … but for impatient non-francophones here’s a rather charming translation to be going on with)

‘Chanson des Escargots Qui Vont à L’Enterrement’

A l’enterrement d’une feuille morte
Deux escargots s’en vont
Ils ont la coquille noire
Du crêpe autour des cornes
Ils s’en vont dans le soir
Un très beau soir d’automne
Hélas quand ils arrivent
C’est déjà le printemps
Les feuilles qui étaient mortes
Sont toutes réssucitées
Et les deux escargots
Sont très désappointés
Mais voila le soleil
Le soleil qui leur dit
Prenez prenez la peine
La peine de vous asseoir
Prenez un verre de bière
Si le coeur vous en dit
Prenez si ça vous plaît
L’autocar pour Paris
Il partira ce soir
Vous verrez du pays
Mais ne prenez pas le deuil
C’est moi qui vous le dit
Ça noircit le blanc de l’oeil
Et puis ça enlaidit
Les histoires de cercueils
C’est triste et pas joli
Reprenez vous couleurs
Les couleurs de la vie
Alors toutes les bêtes
Les arbres et les plantes
Se mettent a chanter
A chanter a tue-tête
La vrai chanson vivante
La chanson de l’été
Et tout le monde de boire
Tout le monde de trinquer
C’est un très joli soir
Un joli soir d’été
Et les deux escargots
S’en retournent chez eux
Ils s’en vont très émus
Ils s’en vont très heureux
Comme ils ont beaucoup bu
Ils titubent un petit peu
Mais la haut dans le ciel
La lune veille sur eux.

Jacques Prévert
Out on the streets

This has been graffiti’d on a telephone box opposite chez nous. Depressing. Nutters everywhere.


Correction made on 11th December

Apologies. Smart-arse me. Misspelt ‘Hallyday’ every time. Should have stuck to ‘Johnny’.



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