I recently read the Feral House publication, The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles: A Memoir by the great French singer/songwriter Françoise Hardy and got the absolute pleasure of discovering how rich and dynamic her life has been. Rarely have I read a book where a woman musician has talked about the way she has managed her career (or how she has been managed) and made herself vulnerable in this way. She is honest about her own desires, strengths and interests and—most wonderfully—she talks at length about the actual music making process and her genuine opinions and needs in recording sessions and throughout her tenure as a musical artist. These strong discussions are a breath of fresh air in a world where women in the musical world are rarely heard from. What a book!
Hardy’s story itself is fascinating from beginning to end. Filled with heartbreak, joy, adventure and intimately fascinating details about family, love, spirituality and world change. Guest appearances from people like Johnny Hallyday, Serge Gainsbourg, Malcolm McLaren and (of course) husband Jacques Dutronc amongst many others. This book is a solid read about an amazing artist and figure that has produced incredible work.
I was lucky enough to be able to interview her by email about her memoir. Thanks so much to Françoise Hardy and Feral House for this.
Your passion for music and love for your work is clear in this book. You also have a keen respect for the musical engineers who recorded and produced your work. Do you think most of today’s musicians no longer possess that kind of dedication?
Musicians, from yesterday or today, of course, know the vital importance of a good sound engineer, even if young composers and producers have more skills in a recording session. Today I am worried by excessive production. There are so many new singers everywhere, every day. It’s the same thing with books and movies. Too much production kills the artistic elements. As you know, media looks for efficiency rather than for quality. They are only interested in the short term and don’t care enough for timeless melodies.
You mention working with modern figures like Iggy Pop and Damon Albarn and those these were quite positive experiences versus the commercialistic result of the McLaren project. Can you expand on why you connected with these two?
I like and admire Iggy Pop and Damon Albarn very much, and I think that Malcolm McLaren’s album Paris is really great. But, these three collaborations were not significant to our respective careers. For instance, tremendous musicians like Michel Berger and Gabriel Yared have been far, far more important to my work and me as we shared many more connections between their musical world and mine.
In your memoir, you discuss your studies on psychology in the 1980s. One of the only courses that you say was “worth the trouble” was the one you took on the Tarot with Alejandro Jodorowsky. Can you talk about why that was such an important course, what learning from him was like and how it assisted you at that point in your life?
Alejandro Jodorowsky has a fascinating and robust personality. His vision of the Tarot de Marseille is very personal, very original and exciting. But Tarot de Marseille is complex like astrology, like graphology, like every science, human or exact. To be able to understand its symbolism and to use it, for improving the understanding of who you are, who somebody else is, and how to help in this way, requires a whole life of meaningful investigation. I was lucky enough to meet in 1974 a French astrologer, Jean-Pierre Nicola, a genius who has re-invented astrology – thanks to his intelligent and scientific connections between astrological symbolism and the rhythms and cycles of the solar system which are partly conditioning us, whether we like it or not. But the information that can be given by astrology about our many conditionings is limited. So I went to Jodorowsky’s three-day course because I was curious.
I have also studied graphology for a long time and have attended numerous classes taught by clever professional graphologists over the course of many years, but at some point, I had to give up because it would have required me to dedicate the rest of my life to it to become an expert. But my studies began with astrology, so I continued with it.
Your connection to spiritualism, astrology and non-Western practices is very strong and you express these things beautifully in your memoir. Do you think this has had an effect on your music?
I don’t think so. For me, music is the expression of deep emotions, deep feelings, a sublimation of human pains. Human science is like any science, it appeals to discernment, thinking, understanding, intelligence… It is mental, not sentimental.
In your book you included a wonderful photograph of you and Salvador Dalí and later discussed the influence of Carlos Castaneda on your spiritual journeys. What is your perspective on the way these men used perception and surrealism to further their work?
I was not very interested in Surrealism as much as I was interested specifically in Dalí‘s painting and books. I was more interested, but not entirely convinced by, Theosophy and Eastern spiritual masters like Krishnamurti and Aurobindo. I have read some of Freud and Jung’s books, but it is The Primal Scream and other works by Arthur Janov that have stayed with me, and it is their ideas that have guided my own thinking. I can say as much of Carlos Casteneda.
When one is interested in spirituality, it is very important to also take interest in astrophysics and quantum physics. The astrophysicist Trịnh Xuân Thuận, whom I have been fortunate enough to know for thirty years, has a deep spirituality and his fascinating and popular books bear the mark of both his scientific and spiritual explorations. The book, L’infini Dans la Paume de la Main (The Quantum and the Lotus) by Trịnh Xuân Thuận and Matthieu Ricard (the right arm of the Dalai lama) is a dialogue between Thuận and Matthieu, where the Buddhist and scientific vision meet; it is both fascinating and fundamental.
The inspiration for Guy Peellaert’s ‘Pravda and Coca-Cola,’ 1968.
Your early music is still loved and appreciated, used in media works as recent as in Wes Anderson’s 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom and several popular TV shows. How do you feel about this?
My early music was terrible. My first songs were very naive and recorded in appalling conditions with awful musicians. It is only when I went to London to record with English musicians that I felt I could improve bit by bit. So I don’t feel happy when Wes Anderson uses one of my first childish songs.
On the other hand, I am quite pleased when Greg Gonzalez (Cigarettes After Sex/ http://www.cigarettesaftersex.com/) knows and appreciates some of my best songs, especially a magical small one called “Doigts” which I composed, wrote and recorded in 1972 with my deceased Brazilian friend Tuca. Greg is also familiar with my recent recordings of the last two decades—I am very proud of those songs and recordings.
Thank you for your work and your incredible book. It was a brilliant look into your life and career.
Thank you! My English is so limited that it has been impossible for me to check the English translation of my book. I hope it is OK, because I am a maniac about the quality of the writing and about truth and factuality. It has been a life-long concern and made me very unhappy to see all the distortions people (journalists or others) create out of what I write or what I say.
The picture below is of Françoise Hardy and her friend Brazilian singer Tuca (real name Valeniza Zagni da Silva). “Doigts,” the song that Françoise mentioned having recorded with Tuca, can be heard via the link just under below their photograph.
With Damon Albarn
With David Bowie
Françoise Hardy performs her million-selling debut hit “Tous les garçons et les filles” in this charming Scopitone video from 1963.