I attended Françoise Hardy’s Book Launch for her autobiography The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles at The Soho Grand. Ms. Hardy was not present but the evening drew a Euro-centric crowd drinking cocktails while the D.J., who looked like a young Françoise Hardy circa 1965, spun French pop music. Copies of Hardy’s book were courteously fanned out on the tables.
Françoise Hardy is a French Singer-Songwriter best known for having started the “yé-yé” movement in pop music (the French answer to the Beatles’ English “yeah! yeah!” style) with her first hit, “Tous les garcons et les filles”. Mick Jagger said in an interview with French teen magazine Mademoiselle Age Tendre that Hardy was his ideal woman. David Bowie was a fan, and Bob Dylan dedicated a poem to her on the sleeve of his 1964 album, Another Side of Bob Dylan.
In her book she writes that she was born the “natural child” of her 23-year-old mother and a married man. Hardy grew up shy and introverted. Her song lyrics would later reflect her inner thoughtfulness, much the same way that the Existentialist philosophy is based on reflections of humanity in an unfathomable universe. Fans of Ms. Hardy will be delighted with the extent to which she reveals the circumstances around her recordings and what she was expressing at the time. As someone who had not been familiar with her, these insights will facilitate my understanding of her albums.
After studying a year at the Sorbonne, Hardy answered an audition ad. Her career skyrocketed, and the world opened up to her. Willowy and telegenic, she branched out into modeling and acting as well. Introspective, Hardy brought an existentialism to her music. Her inner-directedness emerges in both her song lyrics and throughout the book. Her music mirrored her personal life. She notes that she was continually finding herself in relationships with laissez-faire lovers and striving too hard to make things work.
Despite being confused and discontented by these relationships, she’d still empathize with her men, who she likened to her favorite tree, The Despair of Monkeys, aka the Monkey Puzzle. The tree has a slender trunk supporting long, delicate branches that curve every which way, posing a climbing puzzle supposedly challenging even to monkeys.
“. . .and I do not know whether I am attracted to it because I am almost a member of its family or because it reminds me of men who have caused me despair. They, too, discourage people from getting too close by making themselves inaccessible or by casting thorns. Fragile as they were, how could they have done otherwise?”