Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles" a Memoir by Françoise Hardy; Translated by Jon E. Graham (Feral House)

ISBN: 978-1-62731-060-4
Françoise Hardy, along with Serge Gainsbourg, France Gall, and of course her husband, Jacques Dutronc is one of the great architects of the French pop sound, sometimes known as Yé-Yé.   For an American, the French pop/rock world is almost like living in Superman's Bizarro, where everything is slightly different, or just a tad weird.  The French are very formal in the recording well, and there is also a deep respect for poetry, which comes through the lyrics.  Especially someone like a genius such as Gainsbourg.  "The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles" is a fascinating memoir, for one, we don't get that much of an insight into that world if we don't speak in French.  So, a book like this is essential to one who loves French 1960s pop music.  

Hardy's life is not unusual, but still a troubling family background.  Her mother was cold, and her sister was insane.  And her long-term relationship with Jacques Dutronc is both a head-scratcher and kind of awesome, in that they both respect their roles in the relationship - although it took Hardy a long time to accept certain aspects of her husband's mental and physical state.   In a cliché saying, it sounds so French!   In her manner, Hardy is very thorough on her stance in life, which is a mixture of sophistication and a believer of astrology, which she has written books on that subject matter, as well as a column in a publication.   I'm also delighted that she knew Stockhausen and appreciated his music and other modern experimental composers of that era, even at the height of her fame in the 1960s.  

Indeed an iconic beauty, but I'm not surprised of her unease with her physical appearance or her feelings of stage fright.  For me, the way she sings there is a hesitation like she wants to grant the listener an invitation into their lives.  Which I think is one of her big appeals as a singing artist and songwriter.   There's a hesitation in her manner that is very seductive.  Still, she was then, and I suspect still, a major player in French pop music world.  Reading the book, you come upon every significant French star - both on artists she worked or ran around with.   So the reader gets a nice snapshot of the scene at the time.  The French entertainment world was/is a small one, so I suspect it's difficult to avoid anyone of importance.  For example, even my beloved Louis Furey is mention here and there in the book, and he's obscure like a ghost in the English speaking world. 

If there is a weakness in the book, it may be within the English translation of Hardy's prose in French.  Reading the book, I feel like I'm reading a translation which usually means there is something wrong with the style of the translator.  Or it may be just Hardy's writing itself.  Still, if you are a fan of Hardy's music, this book is a must-read.  A few years ago I published Serge Gainsbourg's biography by Gilles Verlant, and this book is an excellent companion piece, due to the coverage of the French pop music world, which is a mystery to most French non-speaking people. 

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