Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Johnny Hallyday: One year on

We're exactly one year on since the death Johnny Hallyday, unquestionably the biggest figure in French music since the early 60s. 

He's often described to those unfamiliar with French music as 'The French Elvis' - unquestionably true - but that really only goes part of the way.

While, yes, he was the guy who invented rock 'n' roll (for the French audience anyway) he went on to effectively be the French Beatles, the French Stones, the French Rod Stewart and the French Bruce Springsteen. As Elvis was superceded by subsequent generations of performers, no one quite challenged Johnny the same way and he remained standing despite changing musical fashions.

It's quite incredible to look back on the footage from his Rester Vivant tour - his final solo tour - where he would come on stage by walking through a giant skull, which remained above the stage throughout the show. It's either staggeringly inappropriate or Johnny having a laugh at his own mortality. Quite probably both.

The live album documenting the tour would be the last album he worked on in his lifetime.

The Johnny Hallyday industry has continued in the past year, and he's remained firmly in the eye of the presse people. Johnny gave the French tabloids plenty to work with over the decades from teenage riots to relationship speculation, to often-ill informed rumours about his health in later years.

That's not stopped now, with tales of how his will has apparently driven family members apart. Maybe some of it is true, maybe none of it.

Tributes have been paid by friends and family, in word and in song, and while many have been genuine, others have been accused of attempting to cash in on Johnny's legacy.

Those arguments extended to his final album, which became more of a national French cultural event than any normal record release.

With one year passing, Johnny remains a part of the French landscape and has been somewhat rehabilitated. His status as national treasure is assured, no longer just the idol of elderly uncles and grans but one of the many cultural things that makes France distinct. The electric performances remembered, the hits celebrated. The sub-par material quietly forgotten.

There may be other recordings to emerge, there will be other tribute albums and artists will continues to perform his songs. There may be a stage show, a street named after him or a museum collecting his artefacts.

And the cast of characters will continue to amuse the tabloid press, with little regard for the actual feelings of those who lost a friend, father or partner.

There will be no more tours, no more genuinely new albums, and for his fans life won't be the same.

But while Johnny may have left the building, his presence will certainly remain in France for many years to come.

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