The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles: An interview with Françoise Hardy

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.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Ariel Schudson
09:29 am
‘Art is a means of feeling our way forwards’: Oskar Kokoschka’s letter to a prisoner of war

The artist, poet and playwright, Oskar Kokoschka sent the following letter to a young German prisoner of war, in 1946. In it he advised him to be warmed by love ‘the sight of our neighbor, other people, a foreign nation, another race,’ in which the ‘embrace of love will illumine the choice, form and shape of a new order of humanity.’ Kokoschka understood the young man’s trauma, having himself served as a Dragoon in the Imperial Austrian army, during the First World War, where he slithered in trenches through ‘bottomless mud,’ until he was seriously wounded and considered too mentally unstable to fight - the twisted logic of this was not lost on Kokoschka. Later, he was the focus of hatred and bigotry, when his art was deemed ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis. It forced Kokoschka to flee Austria for Prague, before then moving to Ullapool in Scotland, where he remained for the duration of the Second World War.

In this letter, Kokoschka expounds his belief in the importance of art and the artist that could show the ‘way up from subjection of blind obedience to human freedom.’

To a German Prisoner-of-War (Fritz Shahlecker)

[London,] 4 July 1946

A close friend showed me the drawings you made in the camp in England. He told me of your prospects of soon regaining your freedom and returning home to Tübingen. Like many of your fellow-Germans, you were abused in your early youth by a criminal demagogy and thrown into a war of aggression, during which the authority of human precepts was thoroughly and totally suspended, and which appears even now to threaten the future validity of those same precepts.

As an older man, I am in a position to make comparisons which shed light on the changes that have taken place in the moral sphere. That gives me a right to offer a younger man some advice that may come in useful when you are home again. After every great disappointment - in your case, when one has been the victim of a betrayal - one’s insight is clouded, because one is always overcome by weariness at the same time. The tendency to feel sorry for oneself is only a natural consequence of that weariness. You are honest in your drawings, but it seems to me that you tend towards the idealized view which comes from being in the center of a world that one is trying to rebuild. In your drawings you are trying to give shape to a new world with artistic expressive media available to you, after the reduction of your old world to ruins. You want it to be a human world, in contrast to the physical, materialistic world where naked force ruled, and in my view that is the hopeful and promising aspect of your experiment.

But the advice I would like to give you, however great your present need and poverty may be, is this: stop surrendering to a tendency to study yourself alone and to forget that a sentimental outlook is just as sure to lead to waste and failure as the entire order that is collapsing before our eyes today. That order sprang from individual egoism, and was helped to ripen by nationalistic narrowmindedness. Humanism was believed dispensable. This materialistic attitude found its complete embodiment in Fascism. Bear in mind that your personal need and poverty, both physical and spiritual, are nevertheless infinitesimal compared to the need and poverty of the children abandoned to savagery in today’s world. If your heart turns in hope to the work of rebuilding, because you are young and want to do good, you must help to make a better world for these children. You saw for yourself that what was achieved by the sword came to nothing in the end, therefore take up your pencil in the hope of doing better. You do not succeed in expressing anything about the pain throbbing in mankind today, because you are not yet able to give shape to genuine emotions. It will be like that for as long as you idealize yourself as a man of sorrows, instead of looking for the redeemer in every innocent child. The child can truly be the redeemer, if we can genuinely believe in the possibility of a better world. Sentimentality does not help us to discover new worlds, it makes us cling to the past in fascination. The new world can only be given shape if we love our neighbor. If we are warmed by love, the sight of our neighbor, other people, a foreign nation, another race, will enable us to shape a new image of the world, in the contemplation of which the isolation of the individual and his nameless torment in a ruined world will give way to the splendor in which the embrace of love will illumine the choice, form and shape of a new order of humanity. All art, that of the great epochs as well as that of primitive cultures, that of colored races as well as our own folk art, is rooted in this soil, in which the moral man has vanquished dust, decay and force. Man overthrows the dictates of physical laws and the dominion of blind elements, and by that means fights his way up from subjection of blind obedience to human freedom.

Art is a means of feeling our way forwards in the moral sphere, and it is neither a luxury of the rich nor the rigid formalism that comes out of the theories of the academies. The modern art of the present time also tends towards arid formalism. Art is like grass sprouting from the frozen earth at the end of winter, like growing corn, and like the spiritual bread in which the human inheritance is passed on to future generations.

In hope that you will find the inner strength to practice the spiritual office of an artist in the future, I leave you with my best wishes,

Yours, Oskar Kokoschka

‘Oskar Kokoschka Letters 1905-1976’ is published by Thames and Hudson.

Posted by Paul Gallagher
08:46 pm
Peace Pilgrim: 25,000 Miles on Foot for Peace!
10:24 pm


Recently came across a book of collected interviews with Peace Pilgrim. Born Mildred Norman in 1908, Peace Pilgrim began to walk across the United States in 1953, with only one set of clothes, no money, would not accept money, and would only eat what food people gave her. She continued her pilgrimage for 28 years, until her death in 1981. Her pilgrimage, of course, was for world peace.

Now that is some sheer fuck-you audacity. That’s what we call a, cough, “inspiring example of how much one person can do with their life by making it an inspiring example.”

You can find lots of her writing here. It’s concise and very direct.


Posted by Jason Louv
10:24 pm