What connects in our minds such completely different singers as Joe Dassin and Vladimir Vysotsky? Sometimes it seems that such connection is based on purely formal moments only, such as dates of birth and death. Indeed, both were born in 1938, and there was less than a month between the dates of their death…
The song of the famous bard Vadim Yegorov Autumn Requiem emphasizes exactly these formal moments. “You are forty-two – that black abyss, and there is no end in sight” – he sings “for the repose of the soul of Vysotsky and the blessed memory of Dassin.” They are equal and worthy of each other.
However, there are such words there: “They were so different, and they will be rewarded in different ways.” But this is not noticeable in the song – these are we who know that there was still a modest obituary in Pravda newspaper about Dassin’s death, and the editor of Vechernyaya Moskva (Evening Moscow) was kicked out of his job for publishing about Vysotsky’s funeral.
And yet, Vysotsky and Dassin have a deep and informal community. French musicologists have clearly noticed that the latter, like Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, and Georges Brassens, became not only a singer, but also a social phenomenon. Just like Vysotsky – it goes without saying.
This attitude towards Dassin, as to somebody more than just a pop singer, persisted four decades after his death. And in Ukraine, the attitude towards him simply cannot but be special – both of his grandfathers are our fellow countrymen, coming from different parts of the country.
His maternal grandfather, Dr. Louis Launer (at home his surname was pronounced with separated A and U instead of a single O), is a native of the Galician Buchach, the homeland of the Nobel Prize laureate Shmuel Agnon. And his second grandfather – the paternal one – Samuel Dassin, immigrated to the United States from Odessa.
There is a version that the singer even owes his surname to Odessa. They say, when registering immigrants, Dassin’s grandfather was asked to give his surname, he did not understand the English of the local official well and answered: “From Odessa”, and the latter entered the surname “Dassin” in his documents, because he heard it like that…
This was what Dassin himself told, but some people did not believe him, calling it a legend and arguing that other immigrants from the Russian Empire bore the Dassin’s name – why? What kind of proof did they expect to get – a video, or what? There is also no evidence that this is not true.
Joseph Ira Dassin was born in New York – which is quite spectacular for a French chansonnier! His father Jules was an actor. Then he became an assistant to the Great and Terrible Alfred Hitchcock himself, after which, of course, he opened up a straight road to directors and achieved popularity and fame.
When Joe was two years old, the family moved to Hollywood – his father signed a contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Joe grew up as a conscientious child: he took care of his sisters and willingly tried to earn money, although they were not short of a shilling. He bought a Britannica for himself with virtually the first money he earned.
But the times of McCarthyism began, and his father’s colleague Edward Dmitryk peached on him as a member of the Communist Party (yes, he was a part of it, but after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact came out quite spectacularly – but it didn’t help). He ended up in the “black lists” and out of collar. That was why he had to emigrate again – this time from America.
The family finds itself up in Paris, which has already sheltered many victims of McCarthyism. Joe studies at an elite Swiss college – money-wise everything was still quite normal in the family. After studying in Italy and Switzerland, he receives a bachelor’s degree in Grenoble, passing all exams with “good” marks.
BEING CLUELESS ON THE GOAL OF STUDIES
In 1955, his parents separated, and his father met with a new sympathy – the great Greek actress Melina Mercoury, in the future – a national hero, an opponent of the “Black Colonels”, and after their fall – a deputy of parliament and minister of culture in Greece.
Joe chose to leave home. With some fiddler’s money in his pocket, he boarded a steamer and returned to the United States. Since childhood, he dreamed of becoming a doctor and entered the Faculty of Medicine at Ann Arbor University. But after seeing laboratory experiments on animals, he eventually realized that this was not for him.
Having changed his specialty, he easily completed a Master’s degree program in ethnology and even lectured at his university. He settled with two French-speaking students, wishing to improve his French. Boy, it really did not hurt the future French chansonnier…
That was the time he became interested in singing, but not in fashionable rock and roll – he sang a duet of Brassens’ songs with one of his neighbors. Soon, he was paid $ 50 for an evening of singing at a cafe – and that were his first professional fees for the songs. But then he was not sure that the song would become a lifelong love for him.
Meanwhile, his father achieved considerable fame and received The Best Director’s prize in Cannes. While shooting the new movie The Law with Gina Lollobrigida, he asked his son to write songs for this film. They even came out as a separate disc, but did not have much success.
Joe continues to work as his father’s assistant and at one of the movie parties he meets the charming Maryse Massiéra. Two months later, they settle in the house of Joe’s mother and begin to discuss the engagement. It took a little over two years – men don’t like to get married.
Maryse played a huge role in his life: in particular, he himself said that he recorded his first disc in order to tickle her fancy. They were helped by her friend Catherine, the secretary of the CBS record company, and arranged the recording of the Joe’s floppy, which was made in one copy.
Maryse brought this disc to the CBS office, and the pros who listened to it thought that one copy of such a disc, perhaps, would not be enough. Dassin had no intention of becoming a singer and refused to even discuss the disc. But he was persuaded (who would have any doubt?), and 1000 copies were made.
The disc went almost unsold, but soon the second one was recorded, being also noticed by very few people. However, the third disc found its listeners, and songs from it sounded on the radio. As a result, 25,000 copies were sold, and even Dassin himself stopped saying that his songs were of no interest to anyone.
The new CBS director Jacques Souplet, who watched Dassin’s career start, was a tough pro and immediately realized that Dassin’s problem was not a lack of talent – this is not all that is needed for success. There is also a need in a producer – an intelligent assistant, a reasonable advisor, and an energetic guide.
He knew such a person, whose contract just ended. He released the first discs of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in France, worked with Charles Aznavour, and was the artistic director of Serge Gainsbourg and Johnny Holliday – so he would definitely suit Dassin, no doubt about it!
So that was him, Jacques Plée, whom his almost complete namesake – Jacques Souplet – introduced to Dassin on the New Year’s Eve of 1966. Their success was almost predetermined: Plée also loved jazz, studied law, and understood America and Americans. And so it happened: they became friends and remained friends for a lifetime.
Some of the lyrics for his first discs were written by two young and very bright men – Jean-Michel Rivat and Frank Thomas. They collaborated with Dassin for a long time and with a great success. Later they were joined by another talent – Claude Lemesle. Dassin began to build his own team.
THE ROUTE TO THE TOP
In early 1967, at the suggestion of Jacques Plée, Dassin performed on a yacht in Cannes during the presentation of the new music fair MIDEM. Dassin is the presenter of this event, and everyone takes notice of his confident performance in two languages at once. That’s it – now he’s a real star!
Soon after, with a guitar in his hands, he presents a song to his friends composed with them – you can listen to it too, if you want.
Plée immediately realizes that this is a hit. Joe has certain doubts, but they manage to convince him – even the contract specifies the possibility of recording one cowboy song.
To advertise the new disc, a tour is needed, but Joe is afraid of it – he got a real flop in Brussels a year ago. Then he was offered to perform in the first part before Salvatore Adamo himself, and these concerts were so successful that their organizer himself raised the Dassin’s fee.
It was at that time that massive student unrest began in France. Rebel students boo singers of the fashionable ye-ye style, but Dassin becomes their idol, and his song Siffler sur la colline sounds from everywhere – you can listen to it too.
Something familiar? You bet! It was exactly the song that the popular St. Petersburg band Singing Guitars sang, calling it The Cyclists’ Song – you can listen to it for comparison.
By the way, the song is not about bicycles or revolution – just about love. The variety art is a thing in itself…
LIFE OF A STAR
Meanwhile, Maryse Massiéra managed to get her way after a whirlwind evening when a drunk Joe fell asleep in a hotel: a feeling of guilt in the morning drove him to the mayor’s office of the 14th arrondissement, where they got married. For symmetry, he got drunk at the wedding as well, but soon realized that there was nothing to be done.
However, his marriage was trouble-free for a long time, and Maryse helped him a lot on the difficult career path of a star. But in public, he was a little embarrassed that he was married, and concealed it, presenting Maryse as the companion of the journalist Jacques Ourévitch accompanying him. Why was that?
His sister, Ricky, said: “The point was to make the discs sell better. The girls had to keep hope: Joe wanted them to cry from their unrequited love for their idol. It’s hard to imagine what a trauma Joe would have if everyone knew he was married.” Do you understand?
However, Joe generally preferred to keep his personal life in dark. He continually repeated that he did not want to arrange a moral striptease and that his audience expected songs from him, and not scandalous stories. Judging by the content of the journalists’ questions, he was wrong, but did not want to admit it.
He responded very harshly to any attempts to make him talk about his personal life. When the questions of annoying interviewers went beyond certain boundaries, he began to give them his only trademark answer: “My personal life is nobody’s business!”
SONGS, TOURS, EVENTS…
Time after time it turns out that Joe Dassin’s songs influence the world not only as beautiful music. After the release of the song Le petit pain au chocolat, French bakers thank him specifically for the fact that chocolate buns’ sales rocketed and gave them huge profits – this is already a business! If you want to listen to it, it’s here.
And he probably got the undoubted status of an international star after the song Les Champs-Elysees – you can listen to it too.
The song stormed not only into the French hit parade (Dassin already had such an experience), but also into the charts of other countries – for example, Germany.
A sensation in 1975 was the song of the then little-known Toto Cutugno, performed by the Albatros band – in the French translation it was called L’été indien – Indian Summer.
It had topped the French chart for eleven consecutive weeks and became the sales champion.
Such a famous performer was often invited to tour all over the world – up to Africa and Oceania. After touring Tahiti, Joe and Maryse stayed there, and they liked it so much that Joe bought eight hectares of Tahitian land with a kilometer strip of sandy beach.
In 1973, a misfortune comes to the Dassins – Maryse gives birth prematurely, and their son dies five days after he is born. This situation undermined their family relationship strongly. Joe got a severe depression, and as a result, the marriage between Joe and Maryse came to an end in 1977.
Shortly thereafter, while on tour in Rouen, Dassin went to a photo studio to give the film for printing. There he noticed a young girl, who was taking orders, and invited Christine Delvaux for a lunch. On January 14, 1978, they got married in the town of Cotignac in the south of France.
Later, information was leaked that they met back in 1971 on board an airplane flying from Geneva to Courchevel. Delvaux recalled later: “Joe was a poet, a romantic, and a make believer. Our love story seemed too banal to him. And he came up with another one for us, similar to a fairy tale or a woman’s novel. Prince Charming has fallen in love with a shepherdess!”
But this marriage did not bring him happiness. Delvaux kicked up a fuss with him with slamming doors, fits of jealousy, reproaches for a long absence, late returns from concerts, and letters and photos of idolatresses – he received about 4 thousand letters a week from the latter.
Even worse was the fact that Christine had been taking drugs and alcohol even during her first pregnancy, and it was only through the enormous efforts of doctors that she managed to save the life and health of the child. She managed to give birth to a second son, but Joe, tired of this, divorced her.
Dassin continues to work hard and to tour – this is also necessary in order to maintain his habitual standard of living. He, as always, behaves like a perfectionist – being thorough, attentive, and meticulous. Even friends sometimes call him “a brilliant bore.”
Among his numerous tours there was also a trip to the USSR – not to a concert for the public, but to the opening ceremony of the Cosmos hotel, where he performed with Alla Pugacheva. The performance was tremendously successful; he liked the reception, and the Melodiya record label released his disc soon.
Dassin’s working day usually lasted 12-15 hours a day. The volume of work and personal troubles gave bad vibrations for his health. He gets a stomach ulcer. His heart is also failing – once he tried to feign an illness so as not to be called up for military service, but it turned out that this was not necessary: he had heart problems back in his student years.
At a concert in Cannes, he suddenly interrupts the song and says: “Excuse me, I don’t feel well”. He is given an injection behind the curtain. Then he returns to the stage and brings the concert to the end, and behind the scenes, when the audience is still applauding, he loses consciousness with a myocardial infarction.
After the hospital, he decided to rest at his house in Tahiti. His mother, both sons, his new girlfriend Natalie, and Claude Lemesle fly there to support him. But he has another heart attack during the transfer in Los Angeles. He arrived to Tahiti being totally wasted.
He tries to put the problems aside and at least get some rest. He promises to himself and to his nearest and dearest that he will sing only until the age of 40 – and after that he will stop singing and begin to live. For himself, for his loved ones, and for children whom he loves very much. He turned 41 on November 5 – is it the time to relax?
On August 20, 1980, he came to lunch with friends at the Michelle and Elian restaurant in Papeete. He drank a glass of juice in the bar, sat down at the table, and began to tell how he played golf with his son … Then he swallowed a piece of fish, instantly lost consciousness and bent his head on his neighbor’s shoulder.
The doctor, who was among the visitors, immediately began to give him a heart massage, which lasted 15 minutes. Then he got up from his knees and said: “It’s over. Nothing else can be done. He is dead”. The sound of his song Indian Summer has just stopped in the hall…
He was buried at the Beth Olam Mausoleum Jewish site of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, where his grandparents had been buried some time ago. The singer’s grave is not available for public visits – he was not inclined to break out his personal affairs for the amusement of society.
Do we remember that he is also our fellow countryman? More often than not, we just don’t know that. But listen to his songs, the links for which are here, and you will be as surprised as I was – how familiar these melodies are to us! They are with us, which means that Dassin continues to live in our memory along with his songs.