Saturday, 9 December 2017

A nation in mourning

Jean D'Ormesson in his Académie Française uniform
In Tuesday evening’s news the first 10 minutes were dedicated to Jean D'Ormesson, a member of the Académie Française, a philosopher, former head of Le Figaro and a prolific author, who passed away at the age of 94. President Macron called him "a prince in the world of literature".

As we watched that item on the news, we were impressed that an intellectual giant should get the first 10 minutes, summing up for us the French love of literature and philosophy and how that is engrained into their education system and hence the national character.

But the French also have a love of the performing arts, musicians and actors are held in great respect as well. None more so than Johnny Hallyday who is a national institution.

Rather prophetically we wondered how many minutes the rock star would get when he passes away and the next evening we found out.

Johnny Hallyday on stage
Johnny Hallyday is the biggest rock star France has ever had, was a legend in his own lifetime. Whilst he never made it outside the French speaking world, he was obviously well respected enough in the world-wide business to get the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Peter Frampton to play on his albums.

Even though (or maybe because) he had a “Bad Boy” image, he was loved by everyone. Generation after generation of kids had Johnny as their idol and in an ever changing world where kids grow up rebelling against their parents’ old-fashioned tastes and almost automatically dislike their parents’ idols, that is quite an amazing feet. He managed to change with the times and grow his audience. Helped in no small part by his charismatic performances both on and off the stage, he fell and he picked himself up many times, he failed and he came back and all the time he never stopped working. President Macron summed up Johnny very nicely "There was something of Johnny in all French people….. Across generations, he carved himself into the lives of French people”. He was both an ordinary and an extraordinary man.

The man himself in his iconic leather jacket
So when he passed away, the evening news was not only dedicated entirely to him, but it was extended to last more than an hour. There were no other items. After the “news” there was a two hour documentary on his life and music and that was followed by one of his most recent concerts. That is how big this man was in the French psyche.

So France is a country in mourning. It lost two of its greatest human treasures almost on the same day.

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