6 November 2020

Pascal Boniface: Léo Ferré, toujours vivant (2016)

And so we see the back of the hirsute Léo Ferré (at the PSU celebration on 30 May 1973). Many books have been written about Ferré, and this is by a writer who has also been a fan of Ferré for many years. It may not add anything to previous knowledge of the singer, but it certainly serves as an introduction to the man.

Boniface gives the main biographical facts about Ferré: his birth in Monaco in 1916 to a loving mother and a very strict father who wanted his son to be a dentist; his schooling in Italy with friars who permanently erased any sympathy he would ever have for religion; his initial lack of success with the female sex, initially leading him to use prostitutes; his three marriages: the first brief one to Odette, who was no encouragement to his work, and in the early years he lacked professional success; his second marriage to Madeleine, who helped him in his success for many years but became an alcoholic and destroyed his 'ménagerie'; his final marriage to his much younger employee Marie-Christine, who carried the torch for him many years after his death in 1993.

Ferré bought the tiny Gueslin peninsula, to which he brought the very young female chimpanzee Pépée which outgrew the island. Extending space, he then bought the Château de Pechrigal in Le Lot, then the end of the world in France. It became a hell perhaps in proportion as the chimpanzees, a goat, a pig, numerous cats, etc, were added.

Ferré's musical life grew from not being recognised, to success, a leader of the 1968 revolution, criticisms for being what some considered an 'anar à la Rolls' (for which read 'champagne socialist', although he never had a Rolls-Royce), to being accepted in the canon of 'chanteurs à textes'. Many of his songs he wrote himself, although (another delight) he gave music to such writers as Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Villon, Aragon, fostered a knowledge of Rutebeuf, and so on.

Most of all, Ferré is seen here as an anarchist and an advocate of free love: someone who loudly proclaims 'NO!' to all religions, all politics, all educational systems. all judicial systems, in  fact all systems because they imprison people, enchain them, indoctrinate them, torture them, force them into believing that their maniacal and brain dead ideas are the only systems we can pursue. More than ever, we need to listen to Léo Ferré's words. Ni dieu ni maître.

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