The official ‘raison d’etre’ for the Stade de France is that it was built, in the northwestern rundown suburbs of Paris (as opposed to the Southwest rundown suburbs, or the Northern rundown suburbs) for the purposes of holding the World Cup the year that France was hosting the event.
The reality is, it was actually built with visions of hosting multiple nights of Johnny Hallyday and Celine Dion concerts. Now, most people worldwide know of Celine Dion, renowned chanteuse, hailing from Quebec, who learned English only after she became a star in the US, and, after marrying her producer, old enough to be her great-grandfather, with whom she has produced 2 babies, while maintaining her 47kg figure. But Johnny who?
Johnny Hallyday, who was born during the German occupation, was the son of a Belgian father and french mother, so, technically, he’s not FRENCH French, but don’t tell that to the millions of rabid fans who hang on his every note.
To be fair, Hallyday is credited with giving Jimi Hendrix and the experience their first gig by hiring them as opening act at one of his concerts back in 1966, and has had Mick Jones and other prominent British rock musicians produce and appear on many of his dozens of platinum albums. His fan club has over 100 million members worldwide (well..they’re mostly French-speaking members…) and appeared once on the Ed Sullivan show when the show was taped at the Moulin Rouge, a famous Paris tourist club (Connie Francis was in the same show).
He just isn’t well known in the states, even though he’s known in the francophone world as the French Elvis Presley.
He announced his retirement in 1997, and has been on a farewell tour since, with the exception of a hiatus during a bout with colon cancer in 2009, where he ultimately underwent surgery in L.A. after an allegedly botched surgery in a Paris hospital. L.A., by the way, is his second home, his principal one being in Switzerland since 1997, to escape the obscene French tax system.
Knowing all that about Johnny Hallyday, I can now confide my own personal Johnny Hallyday experience. It was at a concert at the Stade de France a year or so after it was built. JH had sold out 6 nights worth of concerts, as only he could do, and only in Paris, and a friend invited me to one, of which he had pretty good seats.
We arrived at the Stade a couple of hours early, which was a good thing, because between the throngs of fans, throngs of riot police, and throngs of Uzi-wielding CRS (national) police, we were presented with the ultimate obstacle course between the metro stop and the stadium entrance.
An hour and twenty five minutes later, we’d found our seats, near the center aisle, which was widened so that Johnny could roar through on his Harley and zoom up the ramp to the stage while the fans would go rabid at his bravery and fitness.
In early September, sunset in Paris occurs around 8:30pm, so the skies were still somewhat light when, at 9pm sharp, the fireworks began, and the music started to dramatically roll, and from the back of the stadium, came roaring JH himself, at breakneck speed, towards the ramp that would carry him and his machine to the stage, where he could bathe in the adulation of tens of thousands of screaming fans, many of whom were middle-aged French women, some of whom had dragged their husbands along to see ‘Le Rocker’.
The show was spectacular, in a way that only the French can do, and the music was uninspiring, as only French rock can be. Still, it was an experience, albeit a smoke-filled one, as the stade allowed smoking (not that it would have made any difference).
It took a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes to leave the stadium after JH’s second, and final encore, and another 2 hours to get space on a metro car to bring us back to the city proper.
Although Johnny has been on his retirement tour for something like 13 years, his latest health problem in the fall may have actually brought the career of France’s only rocker to an end, a half century after its noisy beginning.