The Electric Muses Who Changed Our World
Fabrice Gaignault: “They feared not death, but to die of boredom”.
I have always been fascinated by muses and their relationship to the artists they inspired and the importance they had on their work. For many years my favorite illustrated book on Paris was Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930,an evocation of the life of the famous model Kiki de Montparnasse and her generation in Paris, from her favorite haunts and the cramped artists’ studios where she modeled to her relationships with so many of the great artists of the period:Modigliani, Picasso, Satie, Matisse, Leger, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Miro to name but a few. Kiki was outrageous, charming, beautiful, talented, and the influence she had on her men, lovers, clients and friends is contained in this wonderful book in the form of many relevant texts and photographs of the period.
Cut a few decades later to Fabrice Gaignault’s excellent LesÉgéries Sixties ( Sixties Muses)/Editions Fayard which I have just read. The sixties are swinging and London’s Carnaby street meets the Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris. The girls work at the Catherine Harlé modeling agency: Nico, Anita Pallenberg, Amanda Lear, Anna Karina, Veruschka, Zouzou, Dani, Marianne Faithfull, Talitha Getty….. these free, insolent and carefree beauties cruise the days and party the nights on the Rive Gauche at Regine’s, New Jimmy’s and Chez Castel with Tina Aumont, Deborah Dixon, Jane Birkin and the other girls of the Paris of music and film.
It was the early 1960’s and the sexual revolution was upon them, a revolution in the way that men and women related to each other. It was a time to smoke, drink, do drugs and make love like men, uncaring, and uninhibited. They feared not death, but to die of boredom.
And then there were the men, their companions and lovers, their downfalls most of the times: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, David Bowie, Serge Gainsbourg, Dave Davies…“because musicians make better lovers” as my friend Susi Wyss has always said to me. And the movie directors, actors, artists and writers such as Philippe Garrel, Donald Cammell, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Christian Marquand, Frederic Pardo, Pascal Aubier, Jack Nicholson…
More than a gang of beauties these poetic women represented a state of mind, an allure, a spirit. They were not the groupies of today and their contribution to the lives and art of their men was notable, even if often ignored. In the early world of macho-driven rock’n roll their status was debatable and riddled with insecurities. Many survived and had successful careers away from the shadows of their famous men but a few were not so lucky, succumbing to drugs, alcohol and despair, fascinating in their desire to auto-destruct by pushing themselves to the limit and then bouncing back to break more hearts and subsequently make more art. They were the collateral damage of an era that never seemed to end.
Paul Morrissey, the American filmmaker and Andy Warhol’s friend, tells Fabrice Gaignault in ‘Les Égeries Sixties’: “Strangely enough all the women: Nico, Zouzou, Tina or Amanda, had a thing that most actresses did not posses. They fascinated because one could foresee that their destiny would look like that of a tightrope walker on a silk thread. They provoked death by their unbearable beauty and their insolence where there were never any plans of having a career».
Intrigued (and disappointed) by the lack of an english version of this sensational book The Luxonomist asks Fabrice Gaignault: What made you want to write about the muses of the sixties?
Fabrice Gaignault: The souvenir of my mother, of all this fabulous period when the women behaved like electric amazons, free, flamboyant and in mini-skirts.
TL: You have unique material in this book and startling interviews. A tv documentary should be made using all this research. Have you approached any production companies ? Did you film any of the interviews ?
FG: It is true that I have an ensemble of exceptional accounts in this book, and since, many of these unique characters have died. I think in particular of Tina Aumont, Frédéric Pardo, and many other muses and dandies of the sixties and seventies. When the book came out in 2006 I was approached by quite a few production companies with the idea of making a documentary but as is often the case things take for ever, specially in France where the Cafe de Flore is the great vortex of lost illusions.
I kept hours worth of tapes but I never wanted to back-up the purely literary research with filmed interviews. Plus I would have never been able to go back to all the people that I met, it would have been too time consuming. And on top of it and as I already mentioned, a few have since passed away. But there is a happy outcome from all this: a french production company just bought the rights to make a franco-british or american fictionalized tv series. Great news!
TL: Did it trouble you more to interview the beautiful women whose beauty is now long gone? Or to write an homage to the beautiful ones that died when their beauty was still there?
FG: The book is an homage to all these women and a rediscovery of this long-buried epoch which is re-lived through their accounts. Words have the power to make the past come to life again, make it so present, like a dance of time. Of course I felt sadness when I observed the ruined faces that resembled in nothing those faces that had shined so brightly in the past and driven crazy so many men.
Also these women appeared to be lonely to me, and in the case of some of them, as if lost in long monologues which had the virtue of being comforting to them. But what was will never be again. « Les Egéries Sixties » is a hymn to bruised Beauty, to the inexorable end to everything, but behind this requiem remains the most eternal, the indestructible singularity of the amazing beings who light up the long road towards the obscurity in all of us.
Thank you Fabrice, I am looking forward to the next life of “Égeries Sixties”.