Lupercalia & Yé-Yé at La Luz de Jesus

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What does the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia have to do with French Yé-Yé Pop from the ’60s? Not very much, except that both are being celebrated by Feral House at La Luz de Jesus gallery on Saturday, February 15.

Lupercalia, celebrated on February 13-15, was intended to chase away evil spirits and spread health and fertility. Yé-Yé (“yeah yeah!”) on the other hand is a style of French pop music from the ’60s that mostly featured pretty female singers, such as Francoise Hardy and actress Bridget Bardot. (I suppose that could also help spread fertility…)

Feral House Publishing has released a new anthology entitled Yé-Yé Girls of ’60s French Pop by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe that breaks down the scene by the mega-stars (France Gall, Francoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan, Chantal Goya) and the lesser-known singers (Katty Line, Cléo), the English singers that were stars in France (Jane Birkin, Petula Clark), the girl bands (Les Parisiennes, Les Gams), as well as the revivalists and psych/folk singers. It’s the kind of book that goes hand in hand with lots of Youtube digging! The short foreword is written by Belgian singer Lio, who helped revive Yé-Yé in the ’80s. (April March led another revival in the US in the ’90s, and the genre got another surge of interest recently thanks to the inclusion of Gillian Hills’s “Zou Bisou Bisou” in a Mad Men episode.)

Saturday’s event at La Luz de Jesus will feature Yé-Yé music from DJ Kitten Sparkles (Don Bolles!) and talks on Lupercalia from authors Maja D’Aoust and Adam Parfrey.

Setting the background of an era where women were still very much entrenched in a sexist world, and parents were horrified by such innocuous things as long hair on men, the book Yé-Yé Girls chronicles a music scene in which very young women were launched into stardom with songs written mostly by older men, and often with suggestive lyrics (probably most famously, “Les Sucettes” , written by Serge Gainsbourg for 16-year-old France Gall). Gainsbourg, who was one of the main songwriters for Yé-Yé, actually mocked the girls in public before he became rich writing songs for them, and then inexplicably dated some of the most gorgeous ones (How? Why?). He may have been a talented songwriter, but he was also known for borrowing melodies from classical music for his songs. The Yé-Yé singers also recorded many French covers of English and American hits.

The book explains how Yé-Yé exploded with the help of the radio show and magazine Salut Les Copains, and the lure of imported rock n’ roll from America and England. Young girls in small towns were excited to read interviews of these singers close in age with them, as well as international stars, and copy their styles and fashion. Despite the May 1968 near-revolution in France, most of the Yé-Yé singers were apolitical, which led to critics denouncing them as shallow and silly. They were often “square” about drugs and partying rock n’ roll style (“timid and sulky” Francoise Hardy – whose chapter I enjoyed the most – described joints offered to her by Anita Pallenberg and Brian Jones as “strange cigarettes”). For various reasons, they often had short-lived acting careers, even though some of them were apparently quite talented, such as Sylvie Vartan.

Deluxe’s tone throughout is humorous and respectful, but he is not afraid to cast his opinions; in a mention of Tommy Brown, he writes, “who’d form the substandard band Foreigner, later on,” which made me laugh. While reporting that France Gall was nearly cast in a live-action Alice in Wonderland, he declares, “One can only imagine now how perfect she would have been for the part — much more than Miss What’s-her-name in Tim Burton’s recent adaptation.” (Okay, that movie was not great, but I take objection to any digs at the talented Mia Wasikowska!)

In addition to lots of song lyrics and album cover art, the book includes interviews with a handful of artists and excerpts from a young girl’s fan diary. While the writing seems awkwardly translated here and there, over all Yé-Yé Girls is excellent as both a coffee table book to flip through and an informative, detailed look into a beloved genre. Be sure to check it out at La Luz de Jesus on Saturday!

Simone Snaith

About Simone Snaith

Simone Snaith is a writer and musician, living in a tiny studio with a feisty cat. She is a fan of Doctor Who, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Bat for Lashes, Wolf Parade, Kate Bush, Tumblr, Netflix, vampires, ghosts, evolution, time travel, gin, espresso, and making long lists.
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One Response to Lupercalia & Yé-Yé at La Luz de Jesus

  1. John P. Reidy says:

    I once went to the Winter Solstice party, thrown a couple of years ago at the same place, presumably by the same people. And, gosh, it was swell. Anybody who got this invitation e-mailed to them wouldn’t have if they weren’t weird enough in the first place. So, if you’ve never been to a party at the Wacko/La Luz de Jesus establishment, then you owe it to yourself to attend this one.

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