Long weekend in Paris, a weekend long anticipated, a weekend long in coming, a weekend that will lift to a height from which the fall will be painful. The main event is Sunday evening, the venue is La Cigale, the occasion is the opportunity to say farewell to a lifelong companion, Kris Kristofferson. In 1971 I was living in John Hoskin's studio in Siddington, a really great billet, a record player was acquired on what we called the 'never never', and from Woolworth's record counter in Cirencester the newly released Janis Joplin album, Pearl, was purchased. Janis was a goner by a few months when this album was released and it felt a very special purchase, it was, Cry Baby, Mercedes Benz, Get it while you can, Me and Bobby McGee, Hoskin's cavernous studio rocked. When the dust settled the sleeve notes got read, the standout track on the album was Me and Bobby McGee and it had been penned by Kris Kristofferson. Never a country and western fan, he was unknown to me, but Bobby McGee was more than enough to wet an appetite. I suspect Woolworth's, bless them, might well have yielded up the 'Silver Tongued Devil and I', anyway it arrived, as did a soundtrack for a life.
My daughters were sung to sleep with the Kristofferson canon, they knew 'every song that driver knew', Kris was absorbed. Flash forward 25 years or so and my eldest daughter working on the Times convinces the features editor that what she needs is a profile piece on Kristofferson, who is on an English tour, she also convinces Kristofferson's people that what Kris needs is a profile piece in the Times. A photographer and assistant are required,a sister has a Brownie and an assistant sister to hold the case, sorted. The interview, that night in Brum is part of our family folklore.
I had the entire weekend to contain my excitement and keep my cool, and as Paris was in the grips of a 30 plus heatwave cool was definitely required. Travelling up on the train I had watched two young women enjoying their baby, swapping, rocking, playing, cuddling, it was a delight. At Montparnasse the taxis were slow and the heat was intense so it was a no brainer to let the young mothers take the first cab that rocked up, wondering, as only the aged do, why you would bring a baby into a city that was cooking. Saturday morning answered that query, emerging from the Metro at Rambuteau the wall of sound stopped you in your tracks as did the crush of the crowds, a parade, well no, it's Paris Gay Pride, amazing morning, I hoped the young mothers were having a ball.
Didn't make it to the Pompideau, the boulevards were just too entertaining, but it's hard to escape art in Paris, later that day walking along the Rue de la Fontaine au Roi towards Belleville I came upon a large graffiti site which was being worked by half a dozen young artists, producing huge complex images with such confidence, skill and talent, brilliant.
Sunday had to be dealt with, you can only Google lyrics for so long and the reviews from Glastonbury were really mixed, but give me strength, that would hardly be Kristofferson's demographic, but a good day for Johnny Depp. The city certainly hadn't cooled off so a gentle trip to the Louvre could be distracting. Not really up for it, made a survey of wonderful Dutch hands, Seghers, Jordaens, Hals, Bloemaert , nothing doing.
So down to the sculpture yard, it's like an ancient forum with it's massive stonework and colossal stairways, wonderful space but where is Ridley Scott? You can feel very exposed and inconsequential surrounded by all this stark monumentality, best inside. Fine things to see, and lots of maquettes and plasterwork. A wonderful head by Francois Rude of the mathematician Gaspard Monge, showing the traces of it's casting. That's the joy in here that unlike out on the terrace where it's all wonderful polished bronze and marble inside you can easily see the sculptors hand, his trace, it's not been polished away. The pin holes in the plaster are clearly evident where the wax was taken, the plaster is burned where it was melted away. But concentration wavers, too much anticipation, move on to laze on a terrace and let the world pass by, small supper, couple of ales and then finally, finally, taxi time. Up through Pigalle and there's the assembling throng, no mistake here this is a country crowd and thank God just one or two or four of us under 80. La Cigale is a compact theatre with a great ambience, settled into promising seats. The seat on my left was taken by a 'Dude', Mexican pants, smog waistcoat, gamblers hat with plumes and facial hair that would frighten a bear, I felt distinctly under dressed. Some conversation ensued but I struggled, Texan had never been on my syllabus, but now the rasping Dude had arrived, my expectations moved into overdrive. An expectant whisper and a spot went on, and there he was, a wave of welcome washed around the theatre, for a man in black and his guitar, and we were off. Shipwrecked in the 80's, the Dude and I whooped, we whooped for the next two hours. Sunday Morning Coming Down, Loving Her Was Easier, Help Me Make It Through the Night, The Pilgrim, every song you wanted to hear, every lyric you'd ever learned, every lonely time you ever hummed a tune. He was brilliant, still strong, it was so poignant, and then suddenly and inexplicably it was over, and one felt ripped and felt something beyond this performance was over. The sad cases hung around the stage door for the final farewell, waved the gleaming black tour bus 'bon voyage' as it purred away, next stop Barcelona. Walking from the theatre, still buzzing, but with a strange sense of loss I bumped into the Dude, ' Must buy you a drink sometime', 'Sweet, man', says the Dude, 'lets do that'. Life is brilliantly and instantly reaffirmed. ''The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude, takin' 'er easy for all us sinners'' The Stranger.
AGED AND AWKWARD