[En 2003, à l’occasion de la sortie d’un album sur lequel elle chantait Manset, Gainsbourg, Miossec ou Biolay, Juliette Gréco se confiait à Libération. Nous republions cette interview alors que la chanteuse est morte ce mercredi.]
Juliette Gréco receives in a hotel suite in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. Retired in the Oise with the composer Gérard Jouannest, at the age of 76, when her complete twenty CD was released, between concerts in Germany or Japan, she has just recorded songs by Manset, Gainsbourg and Miossec. An album in the form of an imperative creed: Love each other or else disappear.
Why a new album?
At first, I thought to myself, “I’m going to dig in my treasure chest and pick up old songs that didn’t have the careers they should have.” Then I thought it would be nice to still find a few young people who I like …
In the same way that Brel, Ferré, Béart and Bashung presented their first songs to you?
People are no longer the same, and neither are the working conditions. We used to go slowly. We made a goat’s path, with lots of stones, but fragrant. Now it’s the highway. We all went to small boxes, the hard way. Me, it did not last, I left for my first trip in 1950, to Rio …
Were you already known there?
For some bizarre reasons, the first night there was a riot, but not at all for my talent. We told these people that existentialists sang naked. They found themselves in front of a woman dressed from head to toe, strangely made up, it surprised them. From eight days, I stayed three months.
You quickly represented that abroad …
It moves me, but it also makes things difficult: I spend my life trying to justify it. There is no existentialist physique, just as there is no Nietzschean hairstyle or Hegelian makeup … Simply, I represented in the post-war period what the youth of Paris had decided that I was: an image that suited him. I was rather strange, dressed in black, with big hair. It was absolutely not fashionable, people were often outraged by my physique. They threw stones at me on the Champs-Elysées like a leper. I was the object of scandal on two legs. My way of life was scandalous: I did what I wanted, I didn’t talk to anyone. I was seen dancing with Merleau-Ponty. What is this thing? Who is this girl ?
“This girl”, where is she from?
Of me. I did not have money. My mother had been sent, without my knowing it, to camp in Ravensbrück. I found myself alone with a father divorced from my mother since I was 3, I had seen him twice … So I had to get to work and get dressed I was walking around already barefoot … I lived in a boarding house; only boys, theater people and an archangel named Gérard Philipe. He was walking up the stairs as if he had wings. I started working as a switchboard operator in a glass box. One day, the boss said: “You are going to do some secretarial work.” The secretariat turned out to have a wandering hand, he received mine in the face. It was not easy to find a job with my strange physique.
“Do you love one another, if not disappear”, is that Biblical?
It’s Gérard Manset: “Love each other, if not disappear, without making noise, without making waves.” But I could have written it. When I listened to it, I remained screwed on my sofa. I couldn’t move anymore. I was like, “This man knows the child that I was. It’s me, absolutely. ” Staying in childhood is part of my character.
Where did the Bible come from?
I have always found the Bible to be very useful. I have a little onion paper bible. When things are not going well, I open, there is an answer to everything. It calms. Yet I am not a believer. I have been. At 9 years old, like a goose, I wanted to enter the convent. The chapel was an exquisite place, it smelled nice and no one was talking. There was a tremendous silence. I found this quality of silence sometimes in theaters where all of a sudden we are one. It is a powerful, fusional feeling, a moment of meeting that I wish everyone.
Don’t people seem dead when you mention it? They are…
… the. I don’t go to funerals, ever. I cannot consider someone dead when they are sung or read. What is annoying, however, is what happens to me with Boris Vian … I have problems with Boris because I would like to call him. But I can not. And that is called death. There, we realize anyway.
Childhood becomes so important as you get older?
The place has been taken for a long time. It’s a very stubborn thing. But it is not increasing. What changes is the look on others, more tolerance, more patience. But the violence remains intact. Even at my age, tired as I am, I sometimes hold back so as not to put my fist in someone’s face.
Who’s that punch?
In general, it is political. These are racist positions and attitudes that I find aberrant, the lack of memory, the lack of respect due to all those who have been imprisoned, tortured. It’s all despicable, the contempt with which we have treated all these people: humiliation. What I remember the most from the prison, from my arrest, is the humiliation.
Where does the humiliation start?
By the word. The blows, it’s not really humiliating, it’s annoying, especially when they are four times stronger than you and they put in several … But the word is humiliating.
There is a regression, for sure; a return to the pre-May 68: the look we have on women, religion, a little worrying work-family-homeland side.
What period did you feel most comfortable with your time?
Probably the election of Mitterrand. I had immense confidence, and here it is …
I don’t blame anyone but I’m looking for the left: where is it hiding? I am looking for the left I dream of.
What is commitment for a singer?
It sounds like an operetta. I’m allergic to a lot of things, like Telethon. Everything takes on so many media proportions. Compassion, yes, pity, no. I hurt other people’s blood.
On your new album, are you lighter?
I have always loved this expression: “to brown the pill”. To say terrible things, the packaging is very important. If we yell “I hate you!”, We don’t hear. But if you look someone in the eye: “You are hateful and I’m going to beat you up”, something is happening. I shouted a lot when I was young, wild beast romances, I hate Sundays, but ultimately I think sweetness is more efficient. When people insulted me in a room, I sang more and more softly and they calmed down.
We have the impression that a ritual accompanies you, when you sing …
I don’t know how to sing to please: when I learn my songs, I ingest them, I eat them. If I sing, I sing bullshit, Tino Rossi, whatever. But one of my songs, I can’t. I need something else, a ceremonial. First, I arrive at the theater very early. I need to sniff everywhere, to know where I belong, and if I am there. Then, in my dressing room, I put my things away. I place the pencils straight, I make a place that I invest in. And I cultivate my terror. I water it a little, while waiting for time to pass …
Until you come on the scene …
At that moment, there is a meeting. It is a very important, sacred moment. And it varies a lot. I can sing the Song of the Old Lovers very differently depending on what happened during the day, or J’arrive, my song about death. There are days when I insult him, and others, rarer, when I die a little, when I am devastated. I don’t get used to it.
Rather on the side of revolt than of fatality …
It’s a word I don’t like, “fatality”. My sister always says I’m brave. What I find beautiful but I do not have that impression. More of a dog character.
Did you work on this “integral”?
Not at all, I hate it. What I have done is done. The recorded records, I can’t do anything with them. I can hardly listen to them again. I get into terrible anger.
And the new Serge Gainsbourg, “A little less than earlier”, where does it come from?
From my memory. It came back to me like that. I said at Polydor: “Send someone to the cellar, on the shelves there is something magical.” There must be others, but with their moves, they’ve messed up the gangs and the memories. They must have thrown things away. A move is like a fire.