“Bob Dylan refused to go back onstage unless I came to see him immediately,”Françoise Hardy recalled in a recent interview. On the evening of May 24, 1966, Dylan’s 25th birthday, he was playing his first concert in Paris and wanted nothing more than to see the then-22-year-old French singer, whom he had dedicated a song to but never met.
“I went and he agreed to go back onstage,” she said. A few months earlier, while in London, Hardy had turned the heads of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Brian Jones. Singing in French, English, Italian and German, the shy beauty and talented French songwriter cast a spell on many of her contemporaries — and over France for nearly 60 years.
Hardy’s memoir, “The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles,” is being published in English this month, and in the United States, her new album, “Personne d’Autre” (“Nobody Else”), has just been released. It is her 28th and the first after six years of silence during which Hardy fell gravely ill. She learned she had lymphatic cancer in 2014; her health declined; and in 2016, she was placed in a coma from which doctors thought she would never wake up.
Against all odds, Hardy has returned and recovered her sensually adolescent voice, and her taste for writing. Her airy, timeless and elegant album is perhaps a literal “au revoir,” as in “see you again soon,” to life and loved ones.
Hardy is well versed in singing about partings and beginnings. In 1968, at age 24, she rose to the top of French and British pop charts with “It Hurts to Say Goodbye,” written by Serge Gainsbourg. Ever since, she has been a French national treasure, known as much for her long androgynous silhouette, austere elegance and melancholic songs as for her wit and forthright intelligence.
In her memoir, Hardy examines what it meant to shoot to fame at 17 and what it feels like having been an icon in France for nearly six decades. The literary critic Bernard Pivot called the book “a brave confession both painful and invigorating.”
Born in 1944 in Paris, Hardy was the daughter of a beautiful young working-class woman and her much older and wealthy lover, a married man who never lived with his secret family, and came out as gay in his later years.
Hardy grew up fast. At 16, she received a guitar as a reward for good marks at school and started writing songs. A year later, after a few auditions, and music lessons, the record label Vogue offered her a contract. The whirlwind of the swinging ‘60s, which she lived through in Paris and London, did the rest.