Falling in Love With Françoise Hardy. Again
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Loved by wannabes, would-be suitors and worshippers of cool, the singer was almost beyond our reach. Then her memoir hit.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Françoise Hardy, the French singer, says it so succinctly in her just-released autobiography, The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles, that we’ll simply repeat it here. “At a time when a positive attitude passes for the key to success, I have to say that the opposite state of mind has worked just fine for me.”
And there, in one fell swoop, what you see when you see just about any photograph of Hardy staring back at you, through you, really: So what?
“Hardy, Astrud Gilberto, Nico and Marianne Faithfull all occupied very similar real estate,” says French vocalist extraordinaire Sasha Andrès. “Hardy not only had the goods but avoided a lot of the pitfalls that come from having the goods.” Such pitfalls including shifting styles, drug use or really bad relationship choices. Although Hardy makes clear that her first and most major art obsession had to do with music and musical art, looking how she looked it’s obvious that acting and modeling wouldn’t have been too far (and, as history has shown, were not) beyond her reach.
“Success” was never about hanging around with Michel Houellebecq, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Brigitte Bardot or Serge Gainsbourg.
But more than that, her otherness, or let’s call it focus, made the fundamental interest in her an unrequited one. And when you hear Hardy, whether it’s from her fashioned-out yé-yé phase — a light and semi-frothy Euro style of ’60s music, heavily reliant on bubble-gum pop stylings — or her more accomplished and just lyrically tormented stuff, it’s pretty clear that Hardy is not trying to be Hardy. She just is.
“For us French, we kind of get tired of the dramatic, romantic thing,” says musician Philippe Petit. “But without love, where would arts and culture be anyway?”
Following Hardy through her hardscrabble early life, from her birth in Vichy, France, in 1944, to her uncertain strivings at doing something/anything musical, hers is both the best kind of success story and a memoir of said success. Best because “success” was never about hanging around with Michel Houellebecq, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Brigitte Bardot or Serge Gainsbourg. It was about what was suggested when she references the words of the Omnia pastor toward her memoir’s end: “Whatever you say, whatever you do, whatever you wish to pass on, you must be that thing.”
“I met both Jane Birkin and Charlotte [Gainsbourg], but I became a lifelong fan of Françoise Hardy,” says actress/artist/musician, Warhol Factory habitué and mother of Beck, Bibbe Hansen. “We found one of her Scopitone tunes exceptionally special. We fell in love with her. She was irresistible.”
Kind of like The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles, which, like the woman herself, is absent ham-handed sentimentality — a curse of this kind of endeavor — and exudes, beyond all else, uncontrived cool.