As tout le monde knows, the French are great at cuisine, couture and all things haute. When it comes to rock and roll, unfortunately, Gallic attempts have been more of a hoot, but now the oxymoronic days of French rock may be fini. Hoping, perhaps, to make the world forget Johnny (“the French Elvis”) Hallyday and Jean-Jacques (“France’s Springsteen”) Goldman, and also to encourage an industry that generates $150 million in tax revenues each year, the French have created—sacrebleu!—an official government post for rock and roll affairs.
Appointed Chargé de Mission pour le Rock et les Variétés in 1989, Bruno Lion is a stylish 27-year-old whose $1,000 leather jackets and stone-washed jeans now enliven an august Palais Royal office. As adviser to Minister of Culture Jack Lang, Lion holds a subcabinet position with a $2,631.50 monthly salary and access to the ministry’s $7.5 million budget. “We don’t work with rock the way we work with dance or opera,” Lion says. “We don’t make direct grants. We help people who want to open a music hall, start a record company or organize concerts. We never make decisions regarding what songs groups should sing. If we did, it would become official music, like Soviet rock. We’ve no interest in denaturing rock.”
The son of former National Budget Director Robert Lion, the young Lion, who holds Sorbonne degrees in law, political science and public policy, gave up his own musical ambitions—he plays saxophone and electric bass—to manage groups and promote concerts, and in 1986 he set up a computer network to help other would-be rockpreneurs. He admits that playing music “isn’t what I’m considered best at doing,” but the rock ministry hasn’t brought him universal respect either. His girlfriend, an art historian, “is not really interested in rock music at all,” he says. And he hates it when friends call him by his nom de headline, Monsieur Rock. “I’ll only take that once before I’ll tell them, ‘Not funny,’ ” says Lion-the-somewhat-thin-skinned.
Though he enjoys the job and allows that the pay is “not bad for someone my age,” Lion says that, for him, the burden of responsibility has taken some of the joy out of music. “Now it’s my work,” he says. “It used to be my hobby.”