David Bowie's French fans welcome Paris street plan

French influences - with the words of Jacques Brel and the theatrics of Marcel Marceau - run deep in the life and lyrics of The Man Who Fell to Earth

29 January 2020
By Connexion journalist

David Bowie’s French fans have welcomed news that he will have a street in Paris named after him.

Founder of fan site Bowie France, which has more than 4,500 followers, Isabelle Durand said: “We were surprised to hear about the street name. The mayor must be a fan.

“But it is a fine tribute – and Bowie loved France. Sometimes he would come incognito on holiday. Some of his first concerts were in Paris.

“In 1965 he played at the Golf Drouot club. He recorded Pin Ups and Low at Château d’Hérouville, near Paris.

“He was with Iggy Pop who fell in love with an Asian girl, which inspired China Girl.”

The street which will bear his name is currently being developed near Gare d’Austerlitz.

With just one street to his name, Bowie is a long way behind singer-songwriter Georges Brassens... with 919. Not even Bowie’s birthplace, Brixton, has a road named after him, though there is a famous mural of the star, on the side of a department store, painted shortly after his death.

Paris Mairie is due to approve the road name this month after the 13th arrondissement maire, Jérôme Coumet came up with the idea.

He told Le Parisien newspaper that “David Bowie had no particular links with the 13th, but we are having to find names for many new streets in our area, and I like the idea we can include one which pays tribute to this pop-rock icon.” The road will be part of a new development under construction near Austerlitz station.

Château d’Hérouville, 30kms from Paris was the first-ever residential studio. Elton John and Pink Floyd also recorded albums there.

It is now being restored as a working studio, and Isabelle Durand hopes one day the studio where Bowie sang will be open to the public: “It would be great to see where he worked, and there is even his graffiti on the walls.”

While the US, UK and Germany would top the lists of the countries that influenced Bowie, and were influenced by him, France and French culture has also played a role in his sound and vision.

We could start with his name-dropping of the French novelist and playwright Jean Genet, known for his subjects of homosexuality and ambivalent personalities, and who gave his name to the single The Jean Genie, but the influences run deeper.

Bowie studied avant garde theatre and mime in the UK under Lindsay Kemp, who in turn studied with Marcel Marceau.

He had spoken about the latter’s influence on his stage show, but it also affected his image.

Among his many different faces, Bowie adopted the image of the French dramatic persona and sad clown Pierrot, for his album Scary Monsters and its accompanying singles.

Here’s a slightly creepy video of Bowie doing mime as a teenager.

In terms of his music, Bowie was a big fan of Jacques Brel, translating his songs into English, like this version of Amsterdam.

The feeling was not reciprocated as Brel refused to meet him while Bowie was visiting Paris in 1973, on account of his much discussed sexuality.

As the French journalist Jérôme Soligny claimed, Brel’s response was: “How could a queer like that believe that I would want to see him.”

But his most poignant cover, especially today, is this version of Brel’s La Mort, re-worked into English and sung at his last gig as Ziggy Stardust in 1973.

Despite his ever-changing music and personas, Bowie was an easily recognisable face around the world, famous enough to sell bottled water to the French.

If you want a video to put a sad smile on your face, take a look at this advert he did for Vittel, which capture many of his faces over the years to the tune of Never Get Old.

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