The French icon and singer Francoise Hardy made her breakthrough in 1963, a time when she became a leading figure of a musical movement known as the yé–yé. Hardy made her name singing a song of sadness. Her melancholy melodies left her at the forefront of a movement which demanded romanticism and effortless style. She embodied everything the 1960s desired, she was slender, had long hair, offered intelligence and prowess in her field while still possessing a streak of wildness which left as a front-running star of the rock and roll scene both here and over the channel.
Although not her main passion, her style would go on to influence many other icons such as Jane Birkin, Carla Bruni and more. While singing in multiple languages, Hardy was described as “France’s most exportable female singing star” and would go on to forge a formidable career, performing live at some of the biggest stages, appearing numerous cinematic pictures and catching the attention of the onlooking world—including a certain singer-songwriter going by the name of Bob Dylan.
While Dylan would often publicly state his admiration for Hardy’s work, he quickly became infatuated by her presence after witnessing the moment she performed live on TV. A back and forth between the two ensued, with Dylan writing numerous love letters to the French singer: “I realise that in the early ’60s, Bob Dylan maybe really had a romantic fixation on me – as only young people can have,” she once commented but refusing to detail any of the correspondence. “Oh, no, no. Never could I do that,” she said when asked about the letters. “I can say that the two drafts are very moving, but I cannot reveal what they say. Also, I don’t understand everything of what he has written. I do think, from the poem he wrote, which I did not take too seriously at the time, and now these letters, that I had quite a place in his mind at that time and even in his heart. I think maybe I was very serious for him. And, it moves me very much.”
While the details of Dylan’s letters to Hardy remain unknown, the French singer is mentioned in a poem “some other kinds of songs” by Dylan, an ode which appears on the back cover of his album Another Side of Bob Dylan released in 1964 and cementing his passion for her: “For Françoise Hardy, at the Seine’s edge, a giant shadow of Notre Dame,” it reads.
However, it was two years after the release of Another Side of Bob Dylan that Hardy and Dylan came in contact and formed a new level of their relationship. In Paris, in 1966, after Dylan performed at the Olympia theatre, Hardy visited Dylan’s hotel suite with a number of friends. “It was truly a shock to see him,” she says. Dylan led Hardy to his bedroom so he could play her his latest album, Blonde on Blonde, in a blatant move to swoon his muse. It was there that his song ‘Just Like a Woman’ became a number that linked the pair. Despite his attempts to romantically impress Hardy, she later confessed: “I was too busy listening intently to the songs, which sounded like something entirely different to anything I had heard before. Plus, I was so impressed and petrified to meet him. Maybe if he had sung the songs to me, I would have got it.”
Later, reflecting on the songs that mean to most to her, Hardy said: “Dylan has composed and recorded a lot of marvellous songs, but this one is really moving,” Hardy told Pitchfork. “When he played his songs for me [in a hotel room in 1966] he seemed very shy, and I was very shy too, so we didn’t say anything to each other. At the time, my English was worse than it is today, so I didn’t really understand the words for ‘Just Like a Woman’. I only understood, ‘You make love just like a woman/Then you ache just like a woman/But you break just like a little girl’, which was moving to me, very sentimental.”
Discussing her relationship with Dylan, Hardy added: “He was impressed with me, but not by the singer; by the girl, I think. He had a kind of romantic fixation on a photo of me, but I didn’t take it too seriously at that time. Recently, I got two drafts of letters written by him for me, and I finally realised that he was very serious about this fixation when he was very young. It moved me deeply when I read those letters.”