Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Disco Death: The Sad Story of Patrick Hernandez*

As album titles go, Born to Be Alive was an unfortunate choice for Patrick Hernandez’s first—and last—LP. I was young at the time this French don of the dance floor bestowed upon us his monumental contribution to the disco songbook, and humanity, in 1979, but old enough to recall the cottage industry of jokes that formed in its wake. Stop me if you’ve heard these: “There are only three guarantees in life: death, taxes and no second hit song from Patrick Hernandez”; or “Born to Be Alive … Alive to Die a Spectacularly Anonymous Death.”

But back when the fresh-faced Frenchman, inexplicably sporting a cane and a well-coiffed head of lush pubic hair, busted out Born to Be Alive at the international boogie-down, he probably thought he was on to something big. Because he kind of was, if only for a fart. The title track of the album (pictured above) was a “Solid Gold”-approved worldwide smash hit, one which dominated the discothèques from Paris, France, to Paris, Texas (many of America’s great discos were located there), one which earned Hernandez piles of cash, mountains of cocaine, and the envy of aspiring singer Sammy Davis Junior-Junior. But, predictably, within weeks all that Hernandez had achieved was torn asunder when he was unable to deliver a second hit. The remaining five tracks on Born to Be Alive were in fact dead on arrival, stillborn on the dance floor.

Fearing he had hustled his last hustle, Hernandez scraped his dignity off the puddled men’s room floor of Studio 54, steadied his gait with his trusty cane, laced up his lucky dancing shoes (a pair of bejeweled blue Keds), and set about completing his years-in-the-making masterpiece, the triple-LP, Born to Mime, a disco tribute to a fellow Frenchman, the famous mime Marcel Marceau. But when Hernandez debuted some of album’s songs on a popular French variety show in advance of the album’s official release, the audience neither danced nor laughed; rather, audience members mimed obscenities at their former hero. Hernandez, a true pro, just kept right on singing, dancing and miming, tears visibly streaking his facial makeup. The big, fat execs at Hernandez’s label ended up killing Born to Mime, releasing Hernandez from his 24-album deal, with Hernandez reportedly accepting a payout of bus fare to his mom’s house in Nice, a pair of satin short-shorts and silver polish for his cane's knob.

Copies of Hernandez’s lone record, meanwhile, added the final insult. Realizing their shelf lives were up, they voluntarily threw themselves onto the bonfires of the great anti-disco rallies of 1979 and 1980, their toxic ash raining down on revelers like manna from heaven. As a result, precious few copies of Born to Be Alive are known to exist throughout the world. While you’re likely to find a hundred or so Pat Hernandez records listed on eBay, most of them have been languishing on the auction site for months. True Patrick Hernandez fans know they’re fakes. An El Salvadoran pressing? Please. (The album pictured above is an authentic copy, in near-mint condition, too. This writer will not divulge where he managed to locate a copy, but it wasn’t the city dump.)

In 1980, Hernandez’s career was found dead in the basement of an abandoned discotheque in Madrid. Photos of the scene showed a corpse lying face down in a pool of something brown and yucky, its bare, dimpled ass pointing skyward, shining fluorescent-white like an inverted disco ball that ceased to spin. An autopsy revealed Hernandez’s career had consumed a fatal cocktail of Chablis, edible underwear, Quaaludes, hairspray, Vaseline, laxatives and career suicide. (In a strange twist, just weeks after Hernandez’s career was entombed at a toxic waste dump, emerging comedian Gallagher was seen using what looked to be Hernandez’s trademark cane to slaughter unsuspecting watermelons before adoring audiences. Asked about the cane at a press conference, a visibly annoyed Gallagher dodged the question by caning a dozen watermelons with the very cane in question, splattering the room and his inquisitors in a sticky-sweet goo of watermelon guts. Everyone in the room applauded their new hero, and the media never broached the subject again. Soon after, Gallagher switched to a sledgehammer—and the rest is infamy.)

As for Patrick Hernandez the person, he gave up music shortly after the death of his career. He now teaches impromptu, though unsanctioned, Zumba classes on ferry runs between Mallorca and mainland Spain. If you pay him a couple bucks, he’ll even draw a caricature for you—though it’s usually a crudely sketched drawing of his album cover. He still walks with a cane, though it doesn’t appear he has any discernible injury beyond a shattered ego. And his mane is still lush with pubes. It’s just a lot grayer now, not as vibrant as it was in 1979, when Hernandez and his career were very much alive.

*This is a work of fiction.

5 comments:

Ed Hancox said...

Joe, this is the funniest thing I've read in a long time. And I feel honored now for having seen the album in the flesh, er, vinyl.

Jake Smackey said...

Yikes! Such bashing of a non-superstar. I think Patrick was cute and he really tried to do another album, he just didn't have anyone to write his stuff. Oh well...Long Live Born to Be Alive. It burns in our cranium and will live past alumnimum foil. Your story is funny, even though Patrick is not. And he's still cute with his gray hair. Such is life:)

Jake Smackey said...

Yes, I'm a girl, otherwise I wouldn't say cute. sheesh!

john tall said...

Bunk!
The true life story of Patrick Hernandez can be found in Queensland, Australia...
Check out page 30 of the Maroochy High Reunion Book...
http://issuu.com/johntall/docs/maroochyreunion

jim hanbury said...

He paved the way for Madanna