9 September 2010
TO MANY the composer Jean Michel Jarre is known for his smouldering back catalogue of women as much as his platinum-selling electro-pop.
"For me, the audiovisual combination works very well," he says, with no discernible sense of irony.
Now aged 62 and half-way through an 18-month monster world tour, which includes a night at Braehead Arena in Glasgow on 3 October, he is a man of strong opinions on both French and English women. He has, as he says, "known both sides": he was married to Rampling, one of Britain's sexiest cinematic exports, for 20 years until 1998.
He thinks that English girls ("women", he corrects himself) are more self-conscious, but on the other hand "they are far less knowing, and more romantic". This may all sound rather odd to his third wife, sex bomb actress Parillaud -- to whom he refers, rather alarmingly, twice, as his "cour-rant wife". This is a phrase I have heard used in jokes, never before in real life. He wants to make a distinction between his second wife, Rampling, and the third Mrs Jarre, but even so.
"There is," he continues, "that famous image of the French woman, sitting in her car, putting on her lipstick in the mirror." He acts out the scene for my benefit. He thinks that I will enjoy this chapter (he is right). "French women are..." Insouciant? I offer helpfully. "Arrogant," he says. "In my opinion, British women are more romantic than French ones."
I ask if he thinks the Brits have a romantic notion of the French as louche and liberal. "I think the garden of my neighbour is nicer," he says. I think he means "the grass is always greener". He adds: "First of all, it's ridiculous to make generalisations, but it's fun." He fans the flames: "I understand more when I travel why people believe that the French are arrogant."
We are currantly perched in the Met Bar in London, empty on a sunny afternoon. JMJ and his small entourage (serious, intense-looking young male assistant) have been staying at the hotel here.
Jarre's charm is rather winning, if practised. Or perhaps beyond the element of ageing rock star ridiculousness, he is, in fact, rather nice.
His parents both died this year; his father, Maurice, won Oscars for soundtracks to films inlcuing Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia but left a trail of abandoned ex-wives and children, starting with Jean Michel, aged five. They weren't reconciled when he died and he says poignantly, if melodramatically, that he "died twice, once when he left me and my mum, and once when he died". Jean Michel was devoted to his mother, who worked for the French Resistance, and he says that she managed "to take the place of my father, which is a very hard thing to do".
There is also the old adage that a man who adores his mother makes a good husband. Despite colourful episodes, his partners, cour-rant or otherwise, all claim to adore him. Bar, one presumes, Adjani, who chose to announce both their relationship and their "rupture" (French women don't just do break-ups) on the cover of the French magazine Voici. "My partners in my life were always the same way," he says of his inclination to stay out of the media. "I just had one occasion in my life when suddenly my private life was everywhere and that was an accident and beyond my control."
He's still best-known for his multimillion-selling album Oxygne, which, when I was about ten, was the soundtrack to our local fireworks. He was with Rampling then and even now the inky labrador eyes go rather melty talking about her. The superlatives come: despite their painful break-up their relationship is now "fantastic, it's great -- it's a miracle -- it's very nice. We are really very, very close. She's an extraordinary person."
The two were introduced at a dinner party at the Cannes film festival in 1976 and experienced a coup de foudre he describes as "chemical". After a lost weekend in the Lancaster Hotel, the pair swiftly extricated themselves from their marriages. He had, in fact, seen her films and sought her out, convinced that they were made for each other. How is that possible, I wonder? "You know," he says, "I think there is a difference between -- how can I put it? -- between knowing and recognising someone. It takes a whole lifetime to know someone but to recognise somebody as a soulmate takes an instant -- and that is exactly what happened."
He rejects the idea that this is highly romantic. "I don't think so -- I think it's chemical. Suddenly it's like cells -- the chemistry, and this chemistry is timeless in our case."
After 15 years, though, Rampling suffered from depression and the end of the marriage was by all accounts tortuous and messy, with her in Chelsea and Jarre frolicking in the pages of the French media with a civil servant half his age and neither willing to call it quits. I wonder, perhaps, if he sticks with relationships too long as a counterpoint to his father's example.
However, he has no truck with the idea that infidelity is another French speciality: "I think that in any language when you have a real relationship and there is love and respect between people, infidelity is always something difficult to accept -- whether you are Chinese, British, French. I think that is a universal concept ... or problem."
I suppose what I want to ask is if artistes, as he would term them, are more likely to follow where chemical reactions take them and behave appallingly, whatever the consequences, but somehow I can't bring myself to push him into a corner. It's hard to dislike a man who collects other people's children (he has two of his own and three stepchildren) and raises them as his own.
I can't quite gauge him, so finally trot out my favourite cod-psychologist trick and ask him what his three favourite animals are. "My favourite three animals? I would say dog, elephant and dragon. Dragon is nice because he is the king of the animals and he doesn't exist. Only on paper. He has a psychological problem and somehow I like animals with psychological problems," he says with a big laugh. He laughs a lot more when I say that according to mythology the first is how you want the world to see you, the second how they do see you and the third is what you really are. Towards the end of our ginger ale and cappuccino, he starts talking about my open face, positive energy...
Blimey. I imagine that those dark eyes, in their day, were really rather good at all this. It is faintly ridiculous. But with his reckless opinions and idealistic notions -- that we're interested in actors and painters and celebrities because people fantasise about the lives of artistes -- it's hard not to like him too.
A good guy, a dragon whose life isn't quite what it appears on paper and with the odd psychological problem. I reckon that's about right.
• Jean Michel Jarre plays the Braehead Arena, Glasgow on 3 October