THE ONLY YEH YEH GIRL By Peter Nolan Smith

The teenagers of the 50s worshipped Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Buddy Holly as dead gods, but my generation’s focus was dedicated to the living and the stars of the 1960s were transported by TV and radio to my family house south of Boston.

Bob Dylan’s BLOWING IN THE WIND knocked Elvis off his throne and the Beatles enthralled girls with I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND and young boys worshipped movie actresses as wingless angels fallen onto the silver screens of movie theaters.

Julie Christie won our hearts in DARLING in 1965 and a year later my older brother chose fur-bikinied Raquel Welch as his muse after her debut in 1,000,000 BC. The seductive virtues of various starlets were debated by the boys in my high school. I held my sand, because I was searching for a goddess to call my own.

One cold January night I lay in bed and my hand slipped on the radio dial. The antenna caught a signal from Quebec transmitting a wavering female singing ‘La maison ou j’ai grandi’.

I cursed myself for not paying more attention in French class and looked over to my brother’s bed. He was asleep on his side. I turned up the volume and rode the magic radio waves to the last fading notes of the guitar. The Montreal DJ announced with breathless admiration, “C’etait une autre tube par Francoise Hardy.”

I hadn’t understand a word, but realized that Francoise Hardy couldn’t be anything other than beautiful.

I remained glued to the distant station and the DJ rewarded my devotion with LE PREMIER BONHEUR DU JOUR, QUI PEUT DIRE, and L’AMITIE, after which he said, “Bonne anniversaire, Francoise.”

Somehow my brain translated those words into ‘happy birthday, Francoise’.

I was a fifteen year-old high school student living on the South Shore. The DJ said Francoise was twenty-three and lived in Paris, three thousand miles away across the Atlantic.

“Turn off that Frog crap.” my older brother muttered from his pillows.

“Okay.” I shut the radio and went to sleep confused by conflicting images of Francoise Hardy.

I saw her as a blonde. I fantasized about her as a redhead. I woke early to a dream of her as a brunette.

I dressed and wandered down to the kitchen.

“You’re awfully quiet,” my father said at the stove, as he cooked pancakes for my younger sisters and brothers.

“Thinking about changing my language from German to French.”

“I thought you liked German.” My father had studied French at college.

“I did.” I spoke it with a Boston accent much to the chagrin of Bruder Karl. My best grade had been a D+ and I had no feeling for Marlene Dietrich.

“Any reason for the change?”

“Maybe I’ll have more use for French.”

“Like for when you’re ordering French Fries.” My older brother joked, as he sat at the table. My younger brothers and sisters laughed along with my father.

“Tres droll.”

I didn’t mention my restless night to my car pool friends, as we drove to high school on 128. My daydreams of Francoise Hardy consumed the morning math and biology classes. I had a study hall for the third period and went the library to search through the record collection.

Brother Jerome, the librarian, was in his office. A freshman sat on his lap. I wandered over to the record trays and flipped through the LPs without finding a single French record. A few music stores in downtown Boston sold foreign music and I planned on heading to Washington Street after school.

“I’m not going home today?” I told my car pool.

“Where you going?” My best friend, Chuckie Manzi, wanted to join me.

“To see the dentist.” It was a good deterrent.

“You’re on your own.” No one liked the sound of the drill.

My friends dropped me at the Forest Hills T station and I got off at Washington Street. None of the big department stores had any French 45s or LPs. On the way to the Park Street Station I chanced upon a record store across from Commons. The bearded owner looked like a beatnik. I was dressed as a mod.

“Can I help you?” The walls were stacked with thousands of records according to genres.

“Do you have any Francoise Hardy?”

“How do you know about Francoise Hardy?” The older man was mystified by my request.

“I heard her on a Canadian station.”

“Must have been a strong signal.” He went to the French section and pulled out a plastic-wrapped LP.

“Francoise Hardy dropped out of the Sorbonne to record OH OH CHERI with Johnny Halliday. He’s the French Elvis. She became one of the biggest stars of Ye-Ye music and her hit TOUS LES GARCONS ET LES FILLES made the charts in the UK. I think it was 1964. This LP came out in 1962.”

He handed me the album.

I held the cover in both hands.

The name had a face and that face belonged to an angel. A cinnamon strands of hair streamed across feline eyes. An ivory hand held an umbrella with a detached interest. Francoise was a woman made for a rainy afternoon.

“Can I hear a little?”

“Sure.” The old man slipped the LP onto a Garrard 401 turntable. “This is LE TEMPS D’AMOUR.”

A patter of drums opened the song. A twangy guitar and solid bass joined on the next bar. The singer wasted no time getting to the lyrics. They must have been about love. 2:27 passed in a second.

“What you think?”

“I’ll take it.” Her pose sold youthful innocence. I gave him $5. “Is this the only one you have?”

“Of that LP, yes, but I can get some of her other records, if you’d like.”

I nodded my answer and promised to return on the weekend.

“My name’s Osberg.” He handed me a business card. “Call to find out when to come in.”

“Thanks.” I left his shop and caught the T to Ashmont.

That evening after finishing dinner and my homework, I went down to the basement and put the LP on my father’s record player. My brother had a better one in our bedroom, but I wasn’t sharing Francoise Hardy with someone in love with a woman in a fake fur bikini, even if Frunk was my older brother.

One play of her record and I became her biggest fan south of the USA-Canada border.

I listened to the Quebec stations in secrecy.

At school I hid my secret. My friends regarded our northern neighbors as Canucks and I didn’t want to risk their attacking Francoise. I bought several LPs from Mr. Osberg and he introduced me to the other Ye-Ye girls; Frances Gall, Sylvie Vartan, and Jacqueline Ta’eb as well as the Sultans from Quebec and Serge Gainsbourg.

None of them were Francoise Hardy.

I dreamed about flying to Paris.

An airline ticket cost hundreds of dollars.

I settled for listening to her music with my eyers closed.

In 1968 Francoise Hardy released COMMENT TE DIRE ADIEU written by Serge Gainsbourg. Mr. Osburg said that he was the wicked man in France and played his hit with Jane Birkin JE T’AIME MOI NON PLUS.

Sex dripped off the record. Mr. Osburg was right about this Gainsbourg man. He was as ugly as sin. I had to save Francoise and as soon as I arrived home, I asked my father, if we could vacation in France.

“They’re having troubles there.” My father was very conservative. He tolerated the length of my hair, but thought I looked like a girl. “Students in the streets. Worse than the hippies. We’re going to the Cape.”

Our family rented three motel rooms in Harwichport. The pool overlooked the small harbor. The beach boasted the warmest water on Cape Cod and the sea registered 65 Fahrenheit by the 4th of July.

Every morning I read the Boston Globe. The newspaper covered the War in Vietnam with little mention of the Paris student riots, but I was certain that Francoise Hardy wasn’t the type of girl to get mixed up in trouble on the Left Bank. Not unless she fell into the hands of the evil Serge Gainsbourg and I plotted a trip to France. A rumor was whispered across Boston about a jet plane leaving Boston every morning for Paris.

Its cargo of Maine lobsters was traded for eclairs, creme brulees, and pomme tartes.

Two weeks before the start of school I emptied my bank account and took the T to Logan Airport. None of the terminals listed the ‘lobster’ flight and I spent the greater part of Saturday hunting for the mythic plane to Paris.

“Ha.” A Boston cop laughed upon hearing my query. “Once a week some kid comes up looking for the ‘lobster’ plane. There ain’t none. Some bullshit story someone invented for who knows why, but the weird thing is that all these kids want to meet the same girl. Francoise Hardy. You ever heard of her?”

“No.” These others’ feelings for Francoise Hardy could never rival my love.

“Me too. Must be some kind of film star. Like Brigitte Bardot.”

I fought back an explanation, not needing any more converts to the faith, and returned home in defeat.

That summer America was deep mourning after the murder of RFK in LA.

MRS. ROBINSON replaced Archie Bell and the Drells’ TIGHTEN UP as # 1, while Simon and Garfinkel sang about an older woman from the movie THE GRADUATE. Francoise Hardy was eight years older than me. I changed the words from Mrs. Robinson to Francoise Hardy. I never sang it in front of my girlfriend. Kyla was the same age as me.

COMMENT TE DIRE ADIEU was not a hit and the radio station in Quebec played less and less of her songs.

Kyla and I went steady. I liked to think that Francoise would have approved of my selection, but I was stupid and left Kyla for no good reason in 1969.

That year Francoise released Francoise Hardy en Anglais. Like the Catholic Mass in English her songs lost their magic in the translation.

My travels in the late-60s and 70s were confined to hitchhiking across America. None of the drivers played TOUS LES GARCONS ET LES FILLES, but I defended French music to hundreds of hippies, rednecks, and disco fanatics by saying, “You’ve never heard Francoise Hardy.”

In 1973 she appeared in the film SAVE THE TIGER. The director failed to break the 29 year-old singer to America. She remained a creature of France.

The Atlantic Ocean separated America from the Old World. My opportunity to cross the waters came in 1982, when I was hired to work as a doorman at the Bains-Douches, a popular Paris nightclub. At first I was unfamiliar with the French pop stars, but over the course of the next year I met Johnny Halliday, Yves Montand, Catherine Denevue, Yves St. Laurent, Coluche, countless Vogue models, arms dealers, and other lightbulbs of the night, but never Francoise Hardy and I asked the owner about her absence.

“She doesn’t go out at night. Her husband, Jacques Dutronc, is very jealous.”

“Of what?” Dutronc was a rock star for the French. Nobody in the USA knew his name, but ET MOI ET MOI ET MOI was a great song. I had it on tape. “Other men?”

My boss warned that her husband was capable of almost anything against any man seeking intimacy with his wife. “He is very much in love with her.”

“Who wouldn’t be?”

My boss shrugged with mutual understanding, He was a Francoise Hardy fan too.

The nightlife was a small world in Paris and I didn’t mention Francoise’s name again. People had big mouths.

Jacques Dutronc visited the club on several occasions. A thick cigar hung out of his mouth. I hated the smell. He never came with Francoise. The rumor was that she was terribly shy after having been the Ye-Ye Girl for so many years. I made her husband wait to get in more than once.

Jacques complained to my boss, who laughed behind the singer’s back.

My job was to make French stars feel like getting into the Bains-Douches was a privilege, however my friends were granted an easy entry, especially Suzi Wyss, the mistress of a Getty Oil heir. On my days off I smoked opium at her oriental pad in the 13th arrondisement. The Swiss courtesan was superb cook and traveled through many cliques. One night she invited me to a dinner, but said, “Don?t tell anyone, but Francoise Hardy will be coming.”

“I thought she didn’t go out.” This was a miracle.

“She doesn’t, but she loves my cooking and I am always discreet. So not a word.”

“Silence will be my vow” I wanted Francoise to myself. “Will her husband be there?”

“Not for dinner, but he might come for dessert. He has a thing for my Swiss chocolate torte.”

Suzi’s piece de resistance was a culinary delight and I prepared like a nameless suitor for this rendezvous with Francoise Hardy.

I bought a white shirt from Agnes B and a gray suit from the a tailor in the Sentier. No tie was better than pretending to be a business man and I purchased Cuban heels from the flea market. They dated back to the time of her greatest success. I cut my hair short and didn’t bathe for two days to emulate French men, who avoided bathing in fear of losing their masculinity.

That evening I showed up on time with a bouquet of roses. Suzi loved flowers. We smoked hash. Opium was for after the dinner. The door bell rang at 9.

Francoise arrived at the apartment with a young gay man. We opened a bottle of wine. She wasn’t a drinker, but was amused by my stories of New York nightclubs awash with beautiful women and crooked cops.

“It would make a good movie.”

“Only if you played the lead.” I envisioned us on the podium of the Academy Awards receiving Oscars.

“I’m too old to play that role.”

“You’re never too old to be a star.”

Suzi lit another joint. We smoked it before dinner.

I was falling in love again.

In fact I had never stopped loving Francoise.

She spoke about her music and picked up a guitar from the corner. The Ye-Ye girl sang two new tunes. I was in paradise and was about to tell her about hearing her music on a little radio twenty years ago.

A knock on the door trashed my moment.

The guest was Jacques Dutronc.

Francoise’s face said that she loved him and no one else.

Any man would have been a fool to not love her the same.

“I know you.” He pointed his cigar. “Bains-Douches. Doorman.”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“A writer too.” Suzi was on my side.

“Pouoff” Dutronc had witnessed thousands of writers attempt to seduce his wife. “Women only love directors and producers. They prefer chauffeurs before a writer.”

Francoise laughed at her husband’s joke. Suzi thought it funny too. I might have joined them, if the riposte hadn’t struck deep. We rejoined to the living room, where Jacques Dutronc picked up the guitar.

“Francoise and I did a song in 1978. BROULLIARD DANS LA RUE CORVISART.”

He put down his cigar and sang the song’s opening lines. Francoise accompanied him on the chorus. I applauded their duet as well as their shared love. I didn’t stand a chance, for the odds were stacked higher against me than the records in Mr. Osburg’s music store.

An hour later the famed couple left with the gay friend.

Francoise didn’t even said good-bye.

Jacques winked to me. I wouldn’t make him wait at the door any more.

“Poor Boy.” Suzi patted my cheek. “Every man loves her.”

“Yes, I suppose we do.”

“And I know how to make you forget, if only for a few minutes.” Suzi handed me a pipe. Opium was a good doctor for a broken heart.

The three of us met several more times at Suzi’s apartment.

The same routine as always, dinner, wine, and a joint or two.

Jacques came late and they departed ensemble.

I imagined myself being him, but I didn’t like cigars and my French was even worse than my German. Francoise loved Jacques and that was good enough for me, because all men at one time in their lives need a goddess to teach them about love.

Even if they were another man’s woman.

To Hear Francoise Hardy’s LE PREMIERE BONHEUR DU JOUR please go to the following URL

4 Comments

  1. mike rich
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    French pop in the sixties was superb,and Francoise Hardy was one of the best female vocalists of that time.

  2. Posted April 1, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAwjmpxXEh4

  3. Dick Hollander
    Posted April 22, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Great story. Thanks.

  4. Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    and mostly true

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