Elliott Murphy

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today Sergeant Murphy Taught The French To Play ... Part One

Elliott Murphy
Photo: Sue Rynski

My Many Hometowns...

I moved to Paris 20 years ago next month. Can't believe it myself. I've lived here longer than anyplace else in my life, a third of my life and longer then New York City or Long Island. And I've received more mail addressed to me at rue Beauregard then at any other mailbox that has had my name affixed to it. So now I'm trying to think of all the addresses I've had in my life where I stayed longer then a month before my memory starts fading. I've already forgotten most of the shows I've played. (But luckily Oliver remembers them all!)

I guess it all started at 99 Stratford Ave., Garden City, Long Island, New York. Well, it really started at Mercy Hospital in Rockville Center, Long Island but Stratford Avenue was my home for the first eleven years of my life. Ninety-nine is a great number full of promise and adventure and the 50's were prosperous and exciting days for my family, my father's Aquashow was running six nights a week with a full house except when it rained and Duke Ellington filled the skies of Flushing Meadows with his amazing indigo harmonies. I remember sitting in those amphitheatre seats with my mother watching the fireworks. Still love fireworks and the way they send me back in time to revisit my childhood awe and wonder. My dad was a depression-era kid from Brooklyn and he made it from poverty to prosperity solely by the force of his wits. Always advised me to have a real profession – doctor or lawyer or such – but I didn't listen. I just wanted the fireworks and I guess rock ‘n roll is pretty close to that. My dad loved cars, was a great mechanic (he would take apart and rebuild my bicycles when he couldn't sleep) and loved bathing in the glory of the New York celebrity life he was living at that time.

Around the time of John F. Kennedy's inauguration we moved to a grand house on 111 10th Street, Garden City, Long Island. From 99 to 111 – wonder what that means – and my Dad opened a restaurant nearby called The Sky Club. There was a political club attached to the restaurant and Robert F. Kennedy and Nelson Rockefeller came to speak. My father was a Republican, believed in the self-made man but I never saw him look so sad as when we (like all of America) watched John F. Kennedy's funeral on black and white TV. I don't believe in conspiracy theories but it just seemed the world went crazy for a while from that terrible day onward. The country lost the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King and my family lost my father, my cousin and my uncle in quick succession. We hung on in the big house for a few years after my father's death and my formidable mother did a gallant job of trying to keep the restaurant afloat but it was too much for her with three teenage kids and the wolf constantly at the door. The Christmas after my father died there was no money for presents for all of us so my mom bought the family a color TV. I've been addicted to television ever since.

So then the magic numbers stopped for a while and my mother moved us into a small but nice house at 72 Bayberry Ave. in the less posh part of Garden City. My sister Michelle came home from college and became a Pam Am stewardess which would dramatically affect my own future; my brother Matthew fell in love with the girl across the street and eventually learned to play the bass; and, I just kept banging away on the guitar, forming bands with high hopes such as The Rapscallions, King James Version, Stud (yes!) and Bang Zoom which were all relegated to the dustbin of rock ‘n roll history sooner then we had imagined.

In the late 60's my own On The Road period began with a brief sojourn in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands where I played at the same club The Mamas and Papas had been the house band a few years before. I did a year and a half at Nassau Community College to beat the draft and studied literature – mostly The Great Gatsby and had two effervescent professors who changed my life. Thought about becoming an actor and did a monologue from Albee's Zoo Story which got me the only A in the class but the guitar was my jealous mistress and I never strayed far. Finally, thanks to my sister's Pan Am connection I got a cheap flight to Europe and my life changed abruptly. Playing on the streets of Rome, passing the hat, a bit part in a Felllini film and a love for Europe that never really went away, I can say now, for here I am today.

But that all took a while. In brief: came back to the US via San Francisco, wrote more songs and played open mic nights on Fisherman's Wharf. Got sick, came back east, recovered and hooked back up with my brother Matthew on a mission to get a record contract. And we pounded the streets of Manhattan until that dream finally came true. But even a dream come true become reality and that's where the problems began for me.

Too Much Too Soon was the name of my friends The New York Dolls album who were recording at the Record Plant in New York at the same time as me. But it was my story too. My first album Aquashow came out with a very modest promotional push from the record label but the media reaction was overwhelming. And overwhelmed I was. All of a sudden I was everybody but myself. Got married, moved around a few times in Manhattan until we found a nice pre-war two bedroom, 15 floors up on East 72nd Street. The smaller bedroom was my music room and I sat at my Wurlitzer electric piano and wrote "Diamonds By The Yard" while staring at the nightlights of Manhattan. Columbia Records brought two famous London Rock critics up to interview me, thought it would add the personal touch if they visited me at home. They saw my place with Robert Altman posters on the wall and told me punks don't live like this while they devoured my booze. I threw them out. I developed bad habits that took years to admit to and conquer a day at a time. I climbed (or was pushed) up the rock ‘n roll mountain and fell (or jumped) off the other side.

Matthew and I had lived at the Drake Hotel, New York City while recording Aquashow and I stayed for 3 months at the Beverly Hills Hotel while making Lost Generation and even longer at London's posh Montcalm hotel during Just A Story From America. I still feel most at home in a room with a number on the door.

But by the end of the 70's it all came crashing down, the whole damn facade and I found myself sleeping on a cot in my mother's apartment on East 80th Street. But I still had my old Stratocaster and could still coax a few songs out of it. Looking back, it wasn't so bad – my Mom has always been my biggest fan – and I kept at my music, toured Europe time to time and got real. Then through the aid of a Southern Belle with a heart of gold I got my own place on 26 Gramercy Park South and once ran into Jody Foster in the vestibule of the building during Ronald Reagan's assassination attempt by a deranged fan of hers. I was playing weekly gigs at Tramps, a nearby Blues joint and watering hole and was marking time. The past is the only thing that lasts if you move too fast. Who said that and why didn't I listen?

Milwaukee figures in there as well and straightening out for good and another brief but magical marriage but all this moving around is making me dizzy. Suffice it to say that somewhere along the line a friend of mine asked me the hardest question in the world “What do you want to do?” and I was lucid enough to respond “Move to Paris!” and before I knew it there I was on rue de Faubourg Saint Antoine near Bastille, writing songs for 12 and thinking for the first time in my life I'm finally where I want to be. I felt like anything was possible. And it was.

I re-found Françoise, the love of my life, and we started to build a home at 26 rue Beauregard (same number as my Gramercy Park address!) on the 5th floor with no elevator 300-year-old building with a panoramic view for this American in Paris. Our son Gaspard was born a year later. From his window you can see Sacre Coeur and from my small terrace I can see the lights of the Eiffel Tower. It's not the mansion on the hill I was dreaming about while trying to get a record contract with my brother Matthew all those years ago but destiny knows best. I'm about as happy as I get here. In fact, I should be happier for a man as blessed as me and I'm working on it every day

I am now, for all intents and purposes, a Parisian. What does that mean? It means that I have the right to walk around this magnificently beautiful city – an aesthetic delight, the number one tourist destination in all the world – and I can l complain like all the other Parisians about the traffic, or the Metro strikes or the price of electricity. But I think this is some kind of superstition like if we all admitted how wonderful this city is then it would be taken away from us. And France has been very good to me. People always ask me why I left America and I have to explain that I didn't leave America, in fact I still love it and miss it everyday, but I was on a journey both personal and professional and this is where the rock ‘n roll river let me off for a while. I'm not complaining.

Elliott Murphy - June 13, 2009

This photo was taken in the Town Hall of the 6th Arrondisement on the left bank of Paris where the exposition Elliott Murphy – Last of the Rock Stars was held last September where I was welcomed in the impressive bosom of none other then Marianne, the bare-breasted symbol of the French Revolution.

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