Jean-Michel Jarre: ‘The audience and the stage, it’s like a love story’

The musician, 73, on playing in front of 2 million people, being friends with Princess Diana and Mick Jagger, and his French Resistance hero mother

My parents split up when I was five and I had a difficult relationship with my dad – I hardly saw him. I think it’s better to have conflict with an existing father, at least then you have somebody to rebel against. Experiencing the black hole of absence is difficult to cope with.

My mum was an extraordinary, courageous woman – a leading figure in the French Resistance. Lyon has just named a street after her; I visited with my children to celebrate. It’s strange to know that people are going to meet and love each other on a street named after your mother.

I was an only child and we didn’t have a lot of money. We lived in a very small apartment in a Paris suburb. I knew I had to help my mum, so I started making paintings. But I was too young to have any kind of credibility, so I invented an elder brother and sold them as his at a flea market. I was not at all obsessed by the fact I should have any success in music. That came step by step.

My grandfather played the oboe, but he was also an engineer and an inventor. He designed one of the first mixing desks for radio stations, and the first portable turntable, with batteries inside – the ancestor of the iPod. For my 10th birthday, he gave me a secondhand tape recorder. I recorded all these sounds and played them backwards and thought that aliens were talking to me.

Everything changed when I released Oxgyène: financially, economically, my everyday life. Suddenly you have new friends who are not real friends, and you have to be very careful not to lose your real friends.

Playing in front of more than 2 million people is strange. It was Bastille Day, 14 July 1990, in Paris. I looked from the stage and thought, “All these people, they’ve come for somebody else…” The audience and the stage, it’s like a love story. It clicks and it works, or it doesn’t.

Oxygène happened at the same time I met the mother of my kids, Charlotte Rampling. She’s unique in her field. She has a special way as an artist; it’s similar to the way I make music. We do it differently. And the fact we’re slightly separate from the system is a kind of protection – we never fell into the trap of becoming caricatures of successful people.

I was quite close to Princess Diana. I performed in Moscow on the night of her funeral. I played a song I knew she loved, Souvenir of China, and dedicated it to her, and suddenly this crazy Russian crowd fell totally silent and started to light lighters. That was the magic of Diana.

I love Mick Jagger. We’ve been friends for a long time. I love the idea that the Stones could play forever, and that they still have fun on stage. As long as my body can carry on, I don’t see why I should stop. Performing is like a drug. I am addicted to music and performing.

I hope I’m remembered as a musician who tried his best to share – to share emotions, to write the soundtrack of people’s inner lives.

Jean-Michel Jarre’s new live album, Welcome to the Other Side, is out now


Nick McGrath

The GuardianTramp

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