Self-taught, Johnny, Saint-Tropez… Eddy Mitchell writes the primer of his life for JDD

11:00 on 4 August 2022

A: Self taught

I couldn’t do anything else. I left school when I was 13 and a half. Back then, it was enough to have a school certificate to be able to enter working life. I passed this exam which allowed me to drop out of school which was seriously annoying. Because let’s face it, I wasn’t particularly attracted to our beautiful national education. So I was self-taught, with shortcomings of course. Especially in language. Being self-taught also brings great things. You can be carried by the wind, towards the universes that attract you, without needing anyone to guide you. That’s what happened to me with literature.

Being self-taught also brings great things

I also had a self-taught father who read a lot. If in my household we didn’t have the means to buy books, we were lucky to have a cousin in the family who worked at Gallimard: once a week the father went to the publisher and came back with a rucksack of unsold books with manufacturing defects (which one page printed upside down). It was therefore a mishmash not possible accessible, ranging from André Gide to Peter Cheyney. I remember the jackets from the latter’s thriller: one showed a guy with a cigarette holder and in the smoke a pin-up. That was not the case in Gide. My choice was made. Self taught, it’s not that bad. It’s not a fault, it’s just that we don’t really listen to others, except when there’s something interesting to learn or a topic that grabs our attention. The autodidact that I am feels a great distrust of the intellectuals, the officials, the army… It is also a kind of unconsciousness.

F: Family

My father did not have a very synchronous schedule with the rest of the family circle. He got up at 4 a.m. to go to work in the RATP workshops to repair and maintain the buses. At home around 14.00 he sometimes swallowed the evening meal that my mother had made. To replace the meal he had eaten, he prepared poached eggs and garlic toast. Then he picked me up from school and went to the cinema. Goodbye homework and notebooks, and to us the new Gary Cooper (or Eddie Constantine, if I hadn’t seen him in the morning at the first session in California). He was also a joke. When he didn’t wait for me at the exit, I went home alone. As soon as he heard the sound of the keys in the lock, he hid in our closet and jumped on me disguised as a pirate. A long duel of slide rules and laughter then began between us. Sometimes the Corsair gave way to the Boxer (a sport my father played for a while) and despite the gloves I could take a good unfortunate donut.

Oh, if I had rubbed shoulders with the white angel on the big screen there, he would have been proud of his offspring!

His sense of humor often comes to mind. phrases like “with a good Espingouin wine [Espagnol, en argot]you clean your tiles, with a bad one you scratch them », “my pipe and my wife, I declare, are jewels that I love. But my pipe first”or even after a good meal, “for me women who smoke and fart in silk” remain unforgettable. He was not into music at all, unlike my mother he preferred American adventure films or popular French films and above all literature and wrestling. Oh, if I had rubbed shoulders with the white angel on the big screen there, he would have been proud of his offspring! (Badly) fortunately, this ringmaster never attempted a film career.

J: Johnny

I was lucky to have a friend with whom I shared 59 years of friendship. I imagine that this kind of relationship is quite rare, regardless of the profession practiced or the background of each individual. This tape goes back to our tender youth towards the end of the 1950s, and yet it got off to a bad start. Invited to a surprise party near the Place de la Trinité where everyone is asked to bring their records, I bring a few carefully sorted precious 45s. Gene Vincent, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard are therefore part of the party. A few hours later, when I decide to return, I will restore the famous vinyls. And there, nothing more, no matter how much I look for them everywhere, they remain untraceable. Very upset, I run down the stairs of the building, thinking that I might see my thief running. Arriving downstairs, I see a fanatic arguing with the porter. He hands her my records and says: “Can you keep them for me?” I’ll pick them up tomorrow. » Immediately I throw myself over my belongings and slap the robber (well deserved). Despite his disbelief, he has pretty good taste. So I start a conversation with this shy and apparently embarrassed young man, named Jean-Philippe Smet. He apologizes profusely and goes on to say that he is also a rock and roll fan, which is far from common these days. This passion will bring together these two children aged 15 and 16. Later he becomes Johnny Hallyday, and me, a few months later, Eddy Mitchell. Close to home, godfather to my daughter Pamela, and I to his, Laura (with Dominique Besnehard), I have always considered Johnny a member of my family and I think of him often.

S: Saint Tropez

The first time I discovered this charming village, I was 17 years old. I quickly fell in love with the place and the surrounding nature. I often went back there afterwards, to Eddie Barclay’s or for family holidays, and I always thought that one day I would come and live here. But time passed and I couldn’t find the time or money to find the right home for me. Friends, Georges and Yvette Bain (former owners of the famous Café des Arts), told me one day about a house for sale near their home. I go there and immediately fall in love with the incredible view from the terrace over the entire Bay of Saint-Tropez. I would rather have gone inside before I bought it because it wasn’t the repair work that was missing.

I love the locals and the life I live there. Synonymous with relaxation, therefore vacation, but also peace for work (the ideal place to write in peace), the house also allows me to cook for the family, walk around (out of season) as I want, have lunch at a beach or enjoy a boat trip. This sweetness of life due to the climate has rubbed off on my family and all my friends there (who I see most of the time in Paris). Far from the Parisian stress, but also from the crazy nights in Saint-Tropez, it is my little corner of paradise.

Y: Yes

In the early 1960s, French rock bands were heavily influenced by their idols and often reproduced their songs in broken English after American records. By definition, this language facilitates the relationship between words and music. And above all, with her, you don’t have to tell important things. So, instead of “oh, baby”, “rock, rock”, “I want you”, punctuated by “yeah, yeah”. Since few of these singers speak or understand the language, it results in Rocktatiger mode again, which means nothing. We called this new language yogurt, for more details listen Shit in France by Jacques Dutronc, he gives important details.

For me, impossible to practice this art, I am above all French in spite of my assumed name, and can only express myself in our dialect. I will add that contrary to what some say, we can swing our beautiful language and the French cultural exception is far from dead (no offense to Jean-Marie Messier, former golden boy of sad fame). Criticism is of course easy. But I will not spare myself. Because I also tried to sing in English. The practice was then common in the sixties. Each singer tried his current hits in other languages. These titles were not marketed on French soil, but in the areas likely to be interested. These oddities have for the most part – rightly – remained in drawers, and those released into the bins have not always found the desired audience. By listening we understand why. I also dared to put my voice in Italian, even achieving a mini-success with it Alice and No for you (That means ” I only love you “), who had gone. Suffice to say, I don’t understand a word of what I’m saying. It’s all about phonetics here. The worst happens in Spanish too Si no fueras tu mi hermano (“If You Were Not My Brother” with us), where I tried to tell the same story as in French, with an identical tone, and there it is serious… besides, this version always causes hilarity in some members of my family, because you say.

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