On Monday Liberation newspaper dedicated literally half of its edition to the death of a singer who no-one outside of France has heard of. I do not exaggerate. Banished was all mention of the economic crisis or indeed of any other news-worthy event. The first 18 pages were given over to the death, plus three more at the back. So who on earth -- you may ask -- is this Alain Bashung character, whose demise can merit such exhaustive coverage in the house journal of the bien-pensant left? The answer is that he was one of the most-respected French singers of the last thirty years -- a man who, according to Le Monde, proved you can be "un rocker francais sans ridicule". Such claims are often made by the French of their own musicians -- musicians who nonetheless provoke either laughter or agonised grimaces when exposed abroad. But in the case of Bashung, I suspect his fans may be right. Everyone I speak to has a good word about him -- the comparison is regularly made with Serge Gainsbourg, who definitely had the gift -- and if you check him out on Daily Motion you can begin to see why. John Lennon said that French rock put him in mind of English wine -- ie a cultural contradiction in terms. But come to thnk of it, they're making some half-decent reds in the Home Counties nowadays. Anyway poor old Bashung died of lung cancer at 61. He'd been a die-hard smoker. Only a few days before he'd been on television to receive a record 11th award at the annual Victoires de la Musique ceremony.

Not exactly a household name, maybe, but when I say he was the man who set up the FNAC maybe you begin to grasp his significance. When I add that he was once Trotsky's bodyguard, you are further intrigued. And when I further note that at the age of 80 he was convicted of insider-dealing in a murky Mitterrandish political scandal, you get a full sense of his symbolic interest: from the revolutionary far-left to easeful plutocracy in the space of a lifetime. Now is not the place to quibble over rights and wrongs. Let us just celebrate an extraordinary story. Born in 1913, Theret excelled at sports and in the late 20s was providing muscle at left-wing demos. A member of the Socialist SFIO, he got to know some of the Trotskyite "entryists" and in 1934 was hired to be one of the great leader's minders at his villa in Barbizon southwest of Paris. "For us he was the Pope," Theret later said. Max Theret spent much of the 30s fighting in Spain, and in World War II had a job at the Paris telephone exchange where he spied for the Resistance. He was a keen photographer -- obits said he had a passion for what was known euphemistically as "photos de charme" -- and in 1951 he set up a first agency aimed at bringing together buyers and traders in cameras. He offered a regular market for the traders, and ensured handsome discounts for the buyers.


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