It is Saturday when I am writing this.
What I am writing to you today, is not at all what I had planned to write. But something happened, well two things actually, that changed me. So here is what came out.
Today, I sat for 3 solid hours mesmerized, often tearful, watching the televised funeral of Johnny Hallyday. He isn’t well known in the states despite having a home in LA where he spent considerable time; a passion for Harley’s, and the major influence of American music incorporated into his own. He was referred to as the French Elvis. He still embraced the glitzy stage style Elvis personified, shiny suits and heavy jewelry, even up to his last concert in July 2017. Like Elvis he lived on the razor’s edge, chasing his dreams, pushing his passion for American rock and blues into France. This was unheard of, still he dared be told what was or could be done. Balancing between shyness and rebel, his love for life, for the blues, for music, changed the way Europe musicians viewed possibility, effecting not only music, but the very lives of those he touched, much the way Elvis did in the US.
Like Elvis, he came from very humble beginnings and a painful, challenging childhood. But, he rose above it all, armed only with passion.
I barely knew him. When I first arrived in Paris, I wasn’t very familiar with his music. One of his biggest hits, “Quelque de chose de Tennessee” even struck me as phony. My egoistical opinion wondering who this Frenchman was singing about TN. To be honest when the television ads for his concert came on with this obviously aged rocker screaming like an AC/DC ad, my thoughts were not favorable. It is interesting how much we don’t learn when we close our minds, isn’t it?
Luckily, mine was opened by what I witnessed.
Over and over for three solid days, the announcers repeated the same phrase, “he was happiest when he was on stage. He loved his fans.” It must have been this love he felt and exuded that brought 1,000,000 people out in sub-freezing temps and spitting rain the night before, (camping out for a good spot to see him one last time).
His funeral evoked the same sense of loss that Princess Diana’s did.
Watching the people lining the route of his funeral procession, ages 8 to 80, most in tears, many holding candles, signs or flowers, drew me in. When I read that 1500 policemen, some not even scheduled for duty, and 1000 Harley riders displaying flags from all over the world, many US, came from all corners of the world, I was touched.
And then, when I heard the eulogies delivered not only by stars like Marion Cotillard, but the many, stories of his humility, modesty and steadfast loyalty to everyone from taxi drivers to want to be song writers, how he listened to their dreams, fostered many, encouraged thousands more, I was moved.
The current president of France, two former presidents and three prime ministers, not to mention stars, musicians and minor celebrities in attendance. Why? How was this man, from simple beginnings able to move millions of people? Easy. He cared. He tried. He loved. He pursued his passions despite insurmountable odds.
Which is the bravest, most noble thing any of us can do in this life.
The second event I mentioned was far more personal. It is much more difficult for me to elaborate on. I lost a friend, a close friend, far too young, leaving an 11 year old daughter, a grieving, confused husband, and those of us that loved her. She was brilliant, an attorney; creative, a jewelry maker; outspoken, an advocate for the poor and oppressed; daring and beautiful.
She may not have a funeral procession of a million. She never saw her influence on the masses. She will never see her daughter grow up, go to college or marry. She won’t be there to protect her, advise her, defend her; her, or the countless others she fought for in the past.
But her voice, her heart, her courage, like Johnny Hallyday’s will be felt for years to come.
And so I ask you again, “What are you going to do with this one wild and precious life?”