If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of Johnny Hallyday. Wikipedia calls him “the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of”, and you know, they could say that about my Aunt Nellie and who would be the wiser - - but Richard was a big fan of him back when he (Richard) was living in Paris 25 years ago, so I’ll believe Richard when he says that Johnny was a big star in French and sort of around Europe. Here he is singing “Noir c’est noir” in 1966, the French version of “Black is black” by Los Bravos:
Here’s some more recent evidence, him singing that show-stopping Edith Piaf number, “Je ne regrette rien”, live in concert in 2000:
As you can see, he certainly looks a lot older these days - - but, as I said to Richard, he has the advantage of never really having been good looking. He was Sexy Ugly in the 60s, now he’s Sexy Ugly Ancient.
He announced in 2009 that he was retiring from the stage, but a la Cher, he decided that it was too great a disservice to his fans and came back for three farewell concerts this year: Los Angeles in April, Quebec City in July, and at the Beacon Theater on 10/8/12. Richard has a friend at the Beacon Hotel next door, and he was able to hook us up with free tickets. We had great seats, in the 8th row. The place was freakin’ littered with French people! The people-watching was a blast.
RICHARD: See that guy over there, the fat gay guy with the shoulder-length hair? He’s the Bruce Villanch of France.
ME: See that old lesbo over there, with the blonde hair? She’s the Liz Smith of France.
And on and on and on. A middle-aged gay couple was standing in the aisle at one point and the chattier of the two caught my eye and waved me over.
HIM: ‘Allo! You luke like you know ‘ow to take a peeck-ture weess an iPhone.
ME: Yes, I do! [takes picture]
HIM: Merci beaucoup! ‘Ow do you know Johnny?
ME: It’s Richard who knows Johnny.
HIM: Ah, Ree-shar! You know Johnny!
RICHARD: Yes, he’s the greatest!
HIM: Absolument! He is a beeg star, ze French Elvees Presley. He is ze keeng!
ME: Vive le roi!
HIM: Ha ha ha ha! Vive le roi!
The house lights went down. The crowd screamed. The band came out onstage. The crowd screamed some more. A video started playing on the screen behind the stage, a really cheesy Lara Croftian video of helicopters flying around a citadel and shooting at it, culminating in a big explosion, lots of pounding on the drums, and the entrance of Johnny. Total mayhem.
He was wearing a black leather sport coat with no shirt underneath and he was totally rockin’ a tight pair of black leather pants. He knew all the moves to show off those pants to their best advantage - - he did this:
Sometimes one after the other:
/ \ > > < < > >
It was impressive! He was a total pro. His overall aura was a mixture of Elvis and Tom Jones, with a strong dash of the old crone diva grandezza of Cher. And his carefully frosted hair made me think of Lainie Kazan. He was a mess of associations! I said to Richard, “If he’s the French Elvis Presley, Elvis should be glad he’s dead.”
His voice sounds great, powerful and artful and snarly, with that throbbing vibrato the French love. The band was hot: a fierce drummer, a bassist, a rhythm guitar player, a lead guitar player (he was totally sexy, curly mop of black hair, cute little beard, a teeny little guy, killer guitar player), a pianist, an organist (looked like a big-ass Hammond organ), a harmonica player (he did some American Idol-esque theatrics, drove the crowd wild and gave me a chronic recurring eyeroll), four brass players (two trumpets, a trombone, and a sax), and three Black female backup singers (shuffling from right to left in synch, wearing little black dresses, and hoisted beyond all imagining).
I think it was in the middle of the second song that Richard said, “I’m not gonna last more than an hour.” It was VERY loud. Not as loud as the Depeche Mode concert he went to with his brother Robert at the Beacon Theater about 30 years ago, but still very loud, too loud. And we didn’t know any of the songs. The one song we did know was “I who have nothing”, which I know from Shirley Bassey, but Richard says really belongs to her compatriot Tom Jones. Johnny sang it as a duet with the most senior and most hoisted of the backup singers. Richard said, “Like the headlights on a '32 Citroen!”
We lasted about an hour. A great time, but enough already. We went home and watched *The Big Bang Theory*.