I often talk about the future. For once I’m going to talk about the past. 30 years before our time. Wow. 1987 was an interesting year for me. I started doing fanzines. Wore glasses for the first time and switched to reading comics in English!
I never made any mysteries that I love soul, funk, R&B and hip hop music. It’s often in your teenage years that you find the sound that suits you best. Technically is was 1986 for me when I traveled to the US for the first time and that the virus (or the symbiote if you prefer comics references) hit me. I was already a Prince fan and Purple Rain knocked me out (figuratively) in 1984, but it’s only in 1987 that I started collecting every piece of music he did and expanded my horizon to other artists gravitating around him. Alexander O’Neal’s Hearsay was one of my favorite records that year. It’s a timeless blend of funky beats and soulful ballads. Prince kept himself pretty busy that year too with Sign o’ the Times and the Black Album (the first bootleg record I ever bought). Prince’s concert in Paris that year was one of his best ever.
Enter: Jody and Teddy
Among those artists more or less associated with “his royal badness” was My biggest teenage crush, Jody Watley. When her first solo album came out that year, I recognized the voice of Shalamar, but she was a completely different person. Produced by longtime Prince friend Andre Cymone, the record was an incredible mix of pop, soul and funk. Most of the tracks remain fresh to this day, especially Looking for a New Love and –my favorite– Still a Thrill, famously rumored to have been penned with Prince and taken by Cymone when the two friends parted ways. Still a Thrill isn’t the only Princesque track on that album. Do it to the beat reminds me of Sexy Dancer and Some Kind of Lover could’ve be sung by one of Prince’s protégées. I was hooked by the music, the voice and the unique beauty of Jody Watley. But being the shy kid I was, I never told anyone.
Musically, another discovery made me fall in love with R&B music: Teddy Riley’s burgeoning New Jack Swing, which bursted on the scene with Keith Sweat’s debut single, I want Her. At the time the kind of music I loved wasn’t playing on the radio in France. You had to turn to vinyl import retailers to get them and they were very expensive. I chose another strategy: I decided to trust the charts. Remember that the internet didn’t exist back then. When I came back from Los Angeles a summer before, I had bought copies of Billboard magazine. It became my bible for new tunes. But how could I find Billboard in France? A friend of mine suggested I looked for it at Brentano’s, an anglo-american bookstore in Paris, near the Opera. I went and the of guy responsible for the magazine section told me to come back on Thursdays. He was very surprised at first that a 17 year old boy had an interest in a professional magazine which, imported, cost 40 francs (about 6€/$8, seems nothing now but it was super fancy over two decades ago). Brentano’s received 5 copies every week. I had to call every Tuesday at noon to secure my copy to retrieve on Thursdays and even like that, I wasn’t sure to get it. BIllboard was a terrific tool for a lover of American music. I got to understand a lot about this industry. And I started looking behind the credits on records, developing a strong knowledge of producers and writers up to the point I was able to spot a sound after a few notes. Besides Prince, my favorite producers became Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (who also came from Minneapolis). I’ve collected nearly everything they’ve produced since then. And they did a lot! But that wasn’t my only passion.
Comics “en anglais svp”
I always loved the sound of English. Especially American English. I always joke that I’ve been ‘sold’ to the Americans a long time ago. Again, my 1986 trip to Los Angeles helped me cross the language barrier and start reading comics in english. Before, I was only reading the French translated ones. But the comics I brought back convinced me to switch. Not to save money, original US comics have always been historically more expensive than their translated counterparts. But then Marvel publisher Lug was censoring comics, switching series from a title to another all the time and had a very personal definition of respecting the source material. My best buddy in Senior High School, Wilfried took me to Album Comics in Paris. At the time, it was a small super crowded comic shop located in the heart of the 5th Arrondissement, rue Dante. But I was like in a candy store. The first comic I bought there? The Excalibur Special Edition one shot. I was an avid X-Men fan back then, and I always a Captain Britain fan since I read his adventures in an old Marvel Team-Up with Spider-Man (drawn by John Byrne if I remember well). Written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Alan Davis, Excalibur was a fantastic One-Shot. Very emotional. It had a huge impact on me. As a comic fan, and a future writer. My pockets being what they were (not super deep), I could only buy a limited amount of titles. I was following Uncanny X-Men, Spider-Man and Punisher. I loved Portacio’s art on Frank Castle. It felt very different. Same when Jim Lee emerged on Punisher War Journal. Something was happening before my eyes. And I was glad that a few months later, both Lee and Portacio became X-Men artists. Spider-Man was also a favorite of mine. I bought Spider-Man Annual#21 just based on the fact that two Romitas were drawing it. The Romitas made me love Spider-Man more than any other character.
But that is a topic for another post…
To be continued.