Juliette Gréco: letter to Madame

Singer Juliette Gréco died on Wednesday. We are republishing a portrait published in 2015.

Madam, if I allow myself to write to you, it is because I hope you will forgive me for this audacity. I also hope that you are doing better since that gloomy November afternoon, when the dead leaves were gathered with a shovel. You were in little shape then. I will remember your kindness – “It’s a bad attitude to despise the press” – during the almost two hours that you received me in your house in Oise, which you have owned for sixty years, but where “You fuck yourself” in a village without shops. This is why you plan to come back to live in a house in Paris, a city that you left twenty-five years ago.

I activated the bronze hand that serves as a doorbell on the front door. After a few seconds, the glasses stuck in your jet black hair, you slid your sweet face into the cold and invited me in. “Shall I settle into that one?” I said pointing to one of the two sofas in your living room. “You have better!” you replied, brandishing a falsely vindictive right index finger. Provocative (per game), you found it useful to specify: “I have a bad temper, I am intransigent.”

In the fireplace, logs warmed us and tried to do the same with your heart that you had big that day. You told me you were sad. The fault of a malicious visitor who, you say, stole a painting by Serge Gainsbourg dating from the early 1960s and replaced it with a copy. It was the last one he had painted and he had given it to you when he saw you, as usual at your address.

Gainsbourg, as you called him, with whom you spent a – wise – night in 1962, locking champagne while listening to music. Then you started dancing “Like a moth”, but without undressing. However, “Serge was handsome, with magnificent eyes and hands”. You like to say: “There are people who have nothing behind their eyes.” Besides, blindness is your anxiety, the augury of no longer seeing you “Fuck off”.

The next day, Gainsbourg came back to you. He had arrived with a sheet of paper, had sat down at the piano to sing you a song he had written and composed before dawn when he returned home. Javanese, Madam, you inspired her Javanese ! Pretty kid, your beauty had stunned him. Still, you make sure you never liked your body bark. “I don’t look at myself, I’m not in love with myself, I find myself ugly, you say. I might be my worst customer, j I am terribly demanding of me. I prefer to love others. ” The others, you cherish them, without wanting to make special efforts, “If not to be polite”. “I would hate to be rude and hurt others.” Fame ? You don’t care: “I live the life, the lives that have been offered to me. And I had plenty. ”

This existence, I listened to you humbly tell it to me, confide in me your wonders, the encounters that have marked your rich journey. Artistic as in love. Vian, Prévert, Ferré, Béart, Brassens, Trenet and even Sartre, etc. All of them have written songs for you. Your repertoire has between 500 and 600, you don’t know exactly how many, because you don’t know “Not count”. None have your preference, because “Each was a choice”. You have never written texts yourself and do not play any instrument. “I play with myself, you say, because I am an instrument in my own right. “ Olivia Ruiz, Benjamin Biolay, Miossec – “I love” -, Abd al-Malik – “He says I’m a rocker” -, Christine and The Queens – “She’s amazing, that one” – and Etienne Daho – “His talent and his proud humility touch me” – are the current actors of the French music scene who have your favors. Just like, in another genre, François Hollande, because you have “Always interested in politics”. In 2012, you voted for the socialist with “A lot of enthusiasm” and you have “Difficulty in thinking badly about it”. You say : “I am not defeatist and, as he is intelligent, all hopes are allowed.”

Madam, I delighted in the story of your meeting in 1949 with Miles Davis in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, then in your love story. You were 22 years old and have “Immediately succumbed” with the charm of the American jazzman. “I hadn’t seen he was black. I had only seen her beauty, and he had not seen that I was white. Fortunately, because he was a racist. And he was flirtatious as a girl. “ For fear that you would suffer from racism by moving to the United States with him, he refused to propose to you in marriage. One day Sartre asked him why he wasn’t marrying you. Miles Davis replied that it was because he loved you. “Anyway, I would have refused to marry him!” assert yourself, admitting that you continued to love yourself in your own way until her last breath. You were married three times thereafter. The first, with actor Philippe Lemaire, “To acquire freedom”. Your only daughter will be born from this union. Here you are now “grandma”. In 1966, Michel Piccoli also put the ring on your finger, before you left him in 1977. “I was very happy in love, but I always left before it got bad.” Bravery ? “Not really. It is better to preserve friendship. I have remained friends with all my guys. ” For twenty-seven years, you have been married to Gérard Jouannest, who composed some thirty songs for Brel and has been accompanying you on the piano on stage since 1968. Because, with you, there have always been afterwards.

Things seemed badly off from the start. As a child, do you remember that your mom didn’t love you, that she never loved you, that she “Almost everything refused”, that she hit you one day when you were “The fruit of rape” from her husband. Your father, then. “For her, I was just a bad memory. On the other hand, she loved my sister. ” So you fought. “The child is tenacious. He is still in me. And this child tells me that I have done a good job. ” You were raised in convents and escaped deportation in 1943, unlike your mother and sister. And if you hadn’t been a singer, you would have been “In helping others”, “To give everything [votre] love potential ”. I can easily believe you. Lately you have “worked a lot” to revise the texts of the titles that you will sing until April 2016, before leaving: “At a certain age, you have to know when to stop, out of courtesy and politeness.” If you say so, Madam… Yours truly.

1927 Birth. [1945 Discover Saint-Germain-des-Prés. 1948 Beginnings as a singer. 1949 Debut in the cinema. December 18 La Cigale in Paris. December 19 Champs-Elysées Theater. 17 avril 2016 End of tour at the Casino de Paris.

Philippe Brochen