When France makes news across the planet, the focus of attention invariably revolves around Nicolas Sarkozy. This is understandable because the guy makes good copy. In fact, since taking office in 2007, the President’s personal life has dominated the front pages almost as much as his position on the international stage. The hogging of the headlines did change however, when two quite different dramas escaped from the country the week before Christmas. First up was the disturbing report on how 2,000 passengers found themselves trapped under the English Channel, thanks to Eurostar sending train after faltering train into a blocked tunnel. The subsequent furore on this front has yet to die down. Then within hours of that sorry little tale, came an unexpected announcement concerning the health and deficiency of ‘French rocker’ Johnny Hallyday.
The term ‘French rocker’ is America’s way of describing the former Jean-Philippe Smet, a man whose calling since 1959 has been to wave the flag for RĂ©publicain rock & roll. Now aged 66 and looking for all the world like Josef Fritzl with his moustache, Johnny Hallyday is still big potatoes in the mother country. This might equate to petite pois everywhere else, but he is most definitely grande pomme on home turf. The story that warranted such bold captioning was based on a sacroiliac operation that allegedly went wrong. This resulted in the misfortunate Monsieur requiring corrective surgery at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Hollywood. The media circus that followed was bizarre to say the least. Rather than reporting on any health progress, the CNN and Fox News teams who’d been sent there were more interested in covering the Canal Plus TV reporters from France whose objective was to cover the patient whose name was unknown in the States.
The madhouse got underway with Hallyday looking ashen and withdrawn in a wheelchair on arrival at LAX airport. Word came through that President Sarkozy had sent a get-well-soon message, so it was clear things were looking serious. When doctors at the medical centre administered an induced coma, you could almost hear the heavy hearts beating in harmony from Calais to Cannes. The nation then gasped at the news that their favourite son was going to take legal action against Dr Stephane Delajoux, the surgeon who’d performed the original surgery back in November. To add insult to injury, Dr. Delajoux was mugged by two hooded men outside of his home back in France. The surgeon’s lawyers duly issued a statement saying there was absolutely no negligence during the operation. The hurting singer retaliated by submitting a letter to French judges in which he claimed that he’d come ‘close to death’.
I once had the pleasure of meeting Johnny Hallyday, by way of a TV show back in the 80s on which Shakin’ Stevens was the featured guest. After the show, and with little expense spared, we were wined and dined at an extremely chic restaurant in the Champs-Ă‰lysĂ©es, the kind of which had seemingly been fitted with Dom PĂ©rignon on tap. As with their champagne the French have always loved effervescent rock n roll, right from the time when Gene Vincent, Vince Taylor, Dick Rivers and Eddy Mitchell were helping Johnny establish the ‘black-leather movement’. There was just one downer. Whereas Gene hailed from the USA and Vince had grown up there, Johnny, Dick and Eddy found themselves hampered by their Gallic grammar when it came to sounding authentic on record. Johnny, though, has always had a healthy share of rock & roll attitude even if he’s never been blessed with the right-shaped larynx. So if there is still work to be done in his role as the ‘Parisian Presley’, then may we wish the man well. Vive Le Rock n Roll Johnny Hallyday, and bon rĂ©tablissement.