Yan Friis is a Norwegian journalist who for years wrote for a magazine called Det Nye (the New). In the 70s and the 80s it was a magazine for people from the age of 16 to their mid 30s. In 1990 they changed the design and demographics totally and became a fashion magazine.
Today Friis is a well known radio personality in Norway, and he hosts a couple of shows with a another former journalist from Det Nye, Finn Bjelke.
A few years back Friis started to post photos of articles he wrote for Det Nye. I was made aware of this today, and since I knew he was the Norwegian journalist that was invited to come on the tour, I was hoping he had posted something about it. And he sure did. Boy did he. Not only did he post four photos from the article, he also added additional comments beneath the photos. Read at your own risk:
This was published on the 6th of July 1982. The concerts were held in October 1981. I was there for the whole tour. Everything I wrote in this review was correct, and to the point. I was sick to my stomach by the pathetic Jarre.
I don't know if it is to my advantage that I didn't know who is wife/partner, Charlotte Rampling was. It really annoyed her that I asked her what she did for a living, so much in fact that she refused to tell me which movies she had done.
The other that travelled with us thought I was joking, so I received no help from them. During a farewell dinner in Hong Kong, the last night before we went home, one of the others from the press tricked me and told me she had done Manhattan.
When I shook her hand to thank her for a wonderful evening, I leaned forward and whispered in her ear: “Manhattan, I knew it!” She exploded, pulled my hair and spat: “Stay away from me, silly man!” The correct Woody Allen movie was of course Stardust Memories. But her most famous movie was probably The Night Porter, a movie I to this day still haven't seen.
The concerts in China was one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life. But experiencing China in 1981 was fantastic, so I nonetheless owe Jarre my thanks. Without him I wouldn't have been able to see this country and meet this culture, before it was hit by the West. Jarre did the first bit of shovelling.
Here's the review I wrote of the album:
I've been looking forward to Jarre's China album. Not because I was expecting much from the music. That I know all too well after yawning through five concerts Peking and Shanghai. No, I've been excited about finding out how this French daddy's boy would handle his “historical” concert release. Would he chance showing all the embarrassing things that really took place, or would he mercifully hide it behind a smoke screen? Silly of me to ask. Of course he's giving us the candy colored version.
But to give Jarre credit: He doesn't exactly lie. The applause you can vaguely hear between the tunes is real enough. On the other hand: The amount of applause you hear was not something I heard at any of the five concerts I attended. Most of the time, people were completely quiet. Especially in Peking, where the only sound you'd hear were the sound of people walking towards the exits.
By the end of the concert, the room was already half empty. The Chinese just didn't like Jarre's music. So when you're listening to this album, you will get completely the wrong impression. If not a direct lie, it's at least mild rewriting of history.
If the word of mouth from my British colleagues is to believed, the concert film shown on British TV is even worse. So Jarre must have picked up a trick or two form China's own propaganda machinery. Or maybe he's just forgotten that he practically died on stage, many times, and actually believes he left China as a hero? Most likely he's just desperate. He wants to be patted on the back, like a defiant child in his sandbox.
I think we can conclude that Jarre's is so self absorbed beyond belief (just look at the cover on the inside of the album, it's not the brotherhood of cultural exchange that is the focus of the photo, it's Jarre that gets the limelight, pompous and triumphant). Yes, his ego is so gigantic that the explosion that would occur if anyone bursted his balloon would be heard all the way to Peking.
And I'm not exaggerating: When the tour was slaughtered by two of the English reporters travelling with us, Jarre fired his English press secretary. And his “charming” actress wife called one of the journalists and chewed her out. (Charlotte Rampling can do more things than show her boobs in her movies). In short: Jean-Michel Jarre is the poster boy for synthesizer music, and woe to the ones who dare not to kneel in front of his greatness.
I haven't written a single word about the music so far. Ok. Ok. That annoys me too. Mostly because this was the kind of trash music that was allowed to introduce Western popular culture to the Chinese. This empty nothingness. The sleeping supermarket monster. And all the horrible effects that were supposed to mesmerise and enchant the Chinese, lasers, lights and quadrophonic sound (thankfully you won't experience this while listening to the album). The pompous Jarre wanted to impress.
His denouncement of Chinese technology flew back in his face, though. The chinese technicians weren't very interested in Jarre's giant battery of effects. They were more fascinated by the western design of screwdrivers. Yes, this is true! While Jarre pointed at his lasers, the Chinese were crawling on the floor looking for screwdrivers!
Oh, that's right. I was going to write about the music. Do I have to? I'll settle for a few examples. Equinoxe IV is representative for the rest of the album. Simple synthesizer themes and a drummer so bad that he can't even keep the rhythm. Or Orient Express (with an intro from the landing in Shanghai, just before one of the worst landings I've ever experienced), a song that despite all the synthesizers bleeps and stereophonic grandia, is built around a pretty traditional rock'n'roll theme. Actually, it's not even that. It's just a rock'n'roll intro, that never changes or develops into anything memorable.
And that's what Jarre's music is like: It's building up to something that never happens, but this – something – never happens. So the music just falls out the backdoor, and then you forget about it. It's music that has said what it wanted to say after the first few bars. After that it's just constant repetition, camouflaged behind these stereophonic sounds that symbolises Cosmos. It's just do darn boring!
And it's sickening when you're exposed to the nagging theme from Magnetic Fields, a theme that reappears constantly on side 3 and 4 (it turned up even more often at the concerts, and journalists were soon stuck with the darn thing in our heads, so much that we cried while our brains went “pling pling blipp.”
Jarre defines him self pretty well in The Last Rumba. It was supposed to be some sort of highlight during the concerts, and was played towards the end. Jarre walked down from his electronic throne and placed himself behind an electric piano, heavily decorated with car lights and mirrors (they never got the damn things to work), put his head backwards in deep concentration and... then it ended up with an infantile wishy washy rumba. Catchy and sweet. The great artist at work!
Jarre likes to describe his music as rock. Listen to The Last Rumba, and you be the judge. I think even Children's Hour in the radio would have rejected him.
The albums opus has the title Fishing Junks at Sunset. It's performed by a chinese symphonic orchestra (the instrument selection is quite different from the ones used by western orchestras). The poor Chinese musicians make a touching attempt to get the composition to feel alive. Totally blind to the fact that they are lured into a blind alley, Jarre's “I'm a serious composer Tom foolery.
The orchestra's harps and strings try to make the music work, during its various sections. It's overloaded with sweetness and romantic feeling, but mostly incoherent and nagging. It's a mess of a composition, the kind of music you would hear in a mediocre movie. And it doesn't help that Jarre, from his electronic monastery, interrupts and and distracts with his space noises and other blip blop noises.
This is not East meets West. It's the East being smashed under bad taste from the West. I spoke to some young Chinese people outside the concert venue, and they felt the same way: - He's making fun of us!
Other things worth mentioning? The fact that Jarre is standing around creating noise with his overrated laser harp. The fact that you hear bits of announcements from Chinese radio broadcasts and snippets from other recordings. The fact that the ping pong sound effects, sandwiched between two tracks (and which was being played in quadrophonic sound at the concerts), puzzled the Chinese.
They just didn't get the fact that it was the sound of a ping pong ball because the the ball bounces one time too many, the entire track. Even such a minor detail was something that the self appointed French Marco Polo didn't manage to get right.
And as far as I can tell, Souvenir of China must have been recorded after he came home to France, because I can't remember it being played at any of the five concerts, just so you know that as well.
The China Concerts is the great zero to beat all zeros. The most expensive ego trip in the record industry. When other people go on holiday, they are content with showing their snapshots to the most immediate family. Jarre obviously didn't feel that was enough.
He went to China for a vacation, dragged 60 people with him, brought tons of luggage, turned the Chinese culture ministry upside down, filmed the whole ting and even managed to fool the Chinese into financing the whole thing.
And when he finally shows his snapshots, he does it in a show off kind of way. Not just for the family. Oh no! When Jarre has been on a holiday, the whole world should know.
And there you have our man in his China suit, looking into a mirror, while the rest of the world gets to look at retouched and manipulated photos. Ignore the damn fool. Let him get high on himself in peace. His next goal is a concert on the moon. I'm not going!
So that was Yan Friis' article from China, and review of the album. In a comment to the last photo of the article, he writes this on his Facebook page:
Jarre still hasn't reached the moon, but I had the pleasure of seeing Tor Milde (another Norwegian journalist, writer and Idol judge) pull the plug on Jarre's mega show for Swatch in Zermatt in 1992.
The laser played on the mountain. And suddenly it no longer did. The sound technicians came running, but they never understood that the two Norwegians, roaring with laughter, had anything to do with it.