There is an American who has been topping all the musical charts in France since 1969… Meet the most French, or, rather the most Frenchified, of all Americans: Joe Dassin. He is 30 and all his songs became hits in no time, from "Les Dalton" to "Siffler sur la colline", passing by "Les Champs-Elysees" (his biggest success by now) and "La Bande a Bonnot". His success looks more like a family tradition, Joe himself being the son of the famous film-maker Jules Dassin and the stepson of splendid Melina Mercouri. But, as Joe Dassin has made the decision once and for all, his private life is kept well hidden from any indecent looks. Married? Not married? Impossible to know. This is an absolute black-out, and skillfully organized to boot. Now Joe is ready to reveal us his motives as well as why he who was born in the USA loves France so much and why he flatly refuses to engage himself in any political activities, including the "protest songs".
- Joe Dassin, how and why do you hide your private life?
- To answer your first question I'd like to make it clear that if you really want to be left alone, they mostly let you have it. I've never experienced any serious confrontation with any journalist. They are not to reproach but for some minor mistakes, not even worth to be remembered. I've never had anyone to blame and I truly hope it will continue this way.
- But you should admit that a big star excites a lot curiosity and is followed, if not hounded, by the women's magazines…
- I believe the stars who are - as you put it - hounded, have at some special moment provoked those magazines (don't let me be misunderstood, I have nothing against this kind of media). I consider perfectly normal that if you ask a favor of somebody, you'll soon be asked back. Personally, I have never advertised my private life.
Now, if you still want to know why I refuse to speak about my private life, I'll give you one more reason that is equally easy to grasp. My profession is an awfully interfering thing which doesn't leave much time for privacy. So, let's keep the very minimum we're left with… As soon as my performance is over, I promptly try to turn back to my old self in total calmness.
Besides, I don't think the stars' intimate life deserves that much attention. Out of the stage they seem to lose all their charisma. As a spectator I couldn't judge objectively a singer who is known for beating his wife, for instance. You see, for me the major advantage of Greta Garbo was the mystery that surrounded her personality. To cut a long story short, every performer has to be judged only for the work he's doing, and nothing else.
- But in your case such attitude is said to have some other hidden motives… To begin with the fear, if you were married and if it suddenly leaked out, of losing a fair part of your feminine audience. What do you say?
- Let's call a spade a spade! I'm sure a marriage could do no good to a popular singer! Only look at Adamo! Even Hallyday gave himself away during two years, though in his case it was not so serious for he married another star. So, in conclusion, I'd prefer it if there were two separate lives, one public and the other private, and let us never mix them up.
Nevertheless, to sacrifice love for the work is as well out of the question. I care about both and, thus, consider myself a man who lives a nicely equilibrated life. This may be the main reason why I'm not of much interest for the women's magazines. My existence is far too normal to hit the headlines.
- Even if your private life is so closed, your family life, on the contrary, has always been subject to a good deal of discussions in the media. Do you form a true clan with your father, Jules Dassin, his wife, Melina Mercouri and your sisters?
- Do you want me to explain why I love my parents and sisters? You must be kidding! On the contrary, from the professional standpoint we are not a "clan", as we don't impose on each other systematically. Even if I employed my sister Julie to participate in one of my tours, I did it just because I needed a female singer in the first part and I really admire what she's doing in the matter. If I didn't love her work, I would have never taken her. The same with my father: should he need a guy of my age and appearance for one of his movies, he'll give me a convenient role. But he will never write a role specially for me just because I happen to be his son.
- Melina Mercouri is well known for her political ideas and her passionate speeches. What do you think about those performers who use their fame to make political propaganda?
- Of course, I cannot speak about Melina, for she is one in a thousand who is truly sincere in her actions. As for me, I just don't mess with politics. A singer doesn't look to me like a person competent enough to start a revolution. The most important accomplishment of the democratic society is equality of its citizens. Hence, I don't understand why, for the merest reason that I perform in Olympia, I could be considered more influential than a grocer next door. Like him, I'm satisfied with expressing my preferences during the elections. And if I really had any political message to the world, ok, I'd quit singing and I would get engaged in active politics. It seems to be the case of Jane Fonda who acts very little at the moment.
As for the so-called protest song, I am very careful about it, especially about its cult status. A music hall performance has to be some kind of escape, an occasion to make your way to the magical world where you can forget your workaday routine. Not a political meeting, sure enough. And remember, I don't criticize anybody, I just express my personal opinion, nothing more…
- You've become a big star in almost no time, so, have you ever given up to a temptation, as it really worked so well, to put on airs?
- No. Never, because I have succeeded quite late, after having changed a number of jobs of all kinds. Besides, thanks to my father, I know this domain for a long time and I've seen many a star falling just as fast as they went to the top. Now I'm thirty, everything's going smoothly but I still have my doubts… No one can guarantee the whole thing against downfall. Under such conditions it just wouldn't be very wise to put on any airs… On the other hand, I'm not the one to play false modesty. Yes, I'm proud, but not conceited, and I take pride in doing my job well. In fact I worked hard during these six years, though it doesn't mean I have no more progress to make. Quite the contrary. Ok, sometimes I just can't be serious, I never take myself seriously, but I'm dead serious about my job.
- Speaking about money, does it mean anything in your success?
- I'd like to answer your question by quoting Mae West who said: "I was rich. I was poor… Being rich is definitely better." Of course, money means as much as it lets us be free. I know, for example, that if I wanted I would pay myself a trip to Senegal where I could indulge in my favorite pastime - fishing for blue marlin. Just as well I could buy myself nice suits. But I have modest material needs. Neither yachts nor palaces haunt my dreams. I have a car and consider it more than enough. I have an apartment which is comfortable but not luxurious. I collect neither art nor rare furniture. My only true indulgence is to invite a few additional musicians when a certain song requires it. When it comes down to pay my professional bills, call me anybody you wish but a skinflint!
Finally, I must admit I'm no businessman either. I leave money matters to the specialists.
- Why, being American, you prefer to make your career in France?
- Because when I came to France for the first time, it was a blow. And a good one! From that time on, though my passport is still American, I consider myself a hundred percent French at heart. By the way, this is one of the main topics of interminable discussions I have with my father, who is, on the contrary, very American.
- What strikes you most about French?
- They have an excellent knowledge of life. They are able to go into raptures over a good meal, a fine vine… and a pretty woman. They take their time to live. And in the USA there is such tension, such atmosphere of aggression and violence that one just cannot take advantage of anything. People hate each other… Now, my work lets me see the nice side of man's soul. In a sense, performers are the privileged few. When the public comes to the concert hall to see a performer, people become so childlike because they come looking for a dream. Even the meanest specimens find themselves
having fun while listening to a singer. And that is what it's all about!
Besides, I must tell you, so that you can understand my dislike towards violence and hate, that I became a singer for love.
- How is it?
- Nothing's easier! I recorded my first disk in order to impress my sweetheart, though at the time I was nothing more than just another amateur and sang - for my own pleasure - some American folk.
From the professional point of view that disk was a total disaster but it favored our romance. And, as I've always been pretty determined, I decided not to stop half-way. I have been working night and day… That's the way one may become a singer for love. And this is also the way to love France because the girl was French… And don't you ask me any more questions about this story - I keep my mouth shut!…
Interview by J.C. MAZERAN
Translated from French by RedStone Kate, 2002