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

11:00 a.m., August 4, 2022

A: Self-taught

I couldn’t do otherwise. I left school at 13 and a half. At the time, it was enough to have a school certificate to be able to enter working life. I passed this exam, allowing me to drop out of school, which was seriously annoying me. Because, let’s face it, I was not particularly attracted by our beautiful national education. So I became self-taught, with, of course, shortcomings. Especially in languages. Being self-taught also brings great things. You can let yourself be carried by the wind, towards the universes that attract you, without the need for anyone to guide you. That’s what happened to me with literature.

Being self-taught also brings great things

I had a self-taught father, too, who read a lot. If, in my household, we did not have the means to buy books, we were however lucky to have in the family a cousin who worked at Gallimard: once a week, the father went to the publisher and came back with a backpack of unsold books with manufacturing defects (like a page printed upside down). It was therefore a mishmash not possible available, ranging from André Gide to Peter Cheyney. I remember the jackets of the thrillers of the latter: one showed a guy with a cigarette holder and, in the smoke, a pin-up. There was not that 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 is something interesting to learn or a subject that catches our attention. The autodidact that I am feels a great distrust of intellectuals, civil servants, the army… It is also a kind of unconsciousness.

F: Family

My father didn’t 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. Back home around 2 p.m., he sometimes devoured the evening dinner concocted by my mother. To replace the ingested meal, he prepared poached eggs and toasted bread with garlic. Then he picked me up at school and headed to the cinema. Farewell, 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 of California). He was also a prankster. When he wasn’t expecting 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 with slide rules and laughter then began between us. Sometimes the corsair gave way to the boxer (a sport that my father practiced for a while) and, despite the gloves, I could take a good unfortunate donut.

Ah, if I had rubbed shoulders with the White Angel on the big screen, there, he would have been proud of his offspring!

His humor often comes to mind. sentences 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 proclaim, are jewels that I am crazy about. But my pipe first”or even, at the end of a good meal, “to me women who smoke and fart in silk” remain unforgettable. He was not at all into music, unlike my mother, he preferred American adventure cinema, or popular French movies, and above all literature and wrestling. Ah, 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 ring champion never attempted a film career.

J: Johnny

I was lucky to have a friend with whom I shared fifty-nine years of friendship. I imagine that this kind of relationship is quite rare, regardless of the profession exercised or the background of each one. This bond goes back to our tender adolescence towards the end of the 1950s, and yet it got off to a bad start. Invited to a surprise party near Place de la Trinité, where everyone is asked to bring their records, I take with me 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 want to recover 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 maybe I saw my thief running. Arrived downstairs, I see a fanatic discussing with the concierge. He hands her my records, saying: “Could you keep them for me?” I’ll pick them up tomorrow. » Immediately, I throw myself on my possessions and strike a slap (well deserved) to the pilferer. Despite his act of disbelief, he has pretty good taste. So I start a conversation with this shy and apparently embarrassed young man, by the name of Jean-Philippe Smet. He profusely apologizes and goes on to say that he too is a rock and roll fan, which is far from common at this time. This passion will bring together these two kids aged 15 and 16. Later, he will become 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 as a member of my family, and I often think of him.

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 vacations, and I always thought that one day I would have to come and settle here. But time passed and I couldn’t find the time or the money to find the right home for me. Friends, Georges and Yvette Bain (former owners of the famous Café des Arts), one day told me 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 Gulf of Saint-Tropez. I would have done better to go inside before buying it, because it was not the repair work that was missing.

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

Y: Yeah

In the early 1960s, French rock bands were very influenced by their idols, and often reproduced their songs in broken English modeled on 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, place to “oh, baby”, “rock, rock”, “I want you”, punctuated by “yeah, yeah”. As few of these singers speak the language or understand it, it results in Rocktatiger fashionagain which means nothing. We called this new language yogurt, for more details, listen to the Shit in France of Jacques Dutronc, he gives important details.

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

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