A nation mourns. France's only rock star defects to the USA

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For a nation already wallowing in a crisis of confidence and identity, no news could have been more exquisitely crushing.

Jean-Phillipe Smet wishes to be an American citizen.

Jean-Phillipe Who? Mr Smet is better known as Johnny Hallyday, Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, France's only contribution to the history of rock 'n' roll, a cultural icon to his countrymen (if no one else) for the past 38 years.

In an interview in yesterday's USA Today newspaper, Mr Hallyday, 53 going on 18, casually let it slip that he wanted to be an American. Nothing unusual about that, you might say. Mr Hallyday has been a wannabe American ever since he saw Elvis Presley on television in 1958. But, no, it is far worse than that. Johnny wants to become an American citizen. He is producing his first American record later this year, in English. He wants, finally, to make it in the land of his spiritual fore-fathers (Elvis, Buddy, Chuck etc).

Why, oh why, Johnny? "French people," he explained, "are very rude." Well, yes, everyone knows that. But what else? He wants to sing in front of American audiences. "It's my American dream," he said.

Mr Hallyday, who still has his shoulder-length blonde hair, already spends half the year in Miami on a 145ft yacht. He met his third wife, Laeticia, 21, in her father's nightclub in the American city two years ago.

Did he not already perform in Las Vegas in November? Was that not an American audience? Not exactly. Nearly 8,000 French people paid $1,460 (pounds 880) to fly out and see him.

Then pourquoi, oh pourquoi is he abandoning such loyal fans? In France, he is a star - THE star - a man who caused teen riots when the Beatles were still in school, the performer of such classic numbers as "Joue pas de rock and roll pour moi", the main-stay of movies such as "D'ou viens tu, Johnny?"

"French movies are boring," he told the American newspaper. "I love American movies, because everything is in your face."

On the face of it, nothing could be more calculated to distress the French, already convinced (quite unreasonably) that their culture and nationhood are being drowned by globalism and Anglo-saxon culture.

But how French, in any case, is a man called Johnny, who performs Le Rock? Hardly at all, actually. He was born in Brussels in 1943. Johnny Hallyday is, in fact, a Belgian.