French legend Bruel returns to New York for inspiration

New York (AFP) - Patrick Bruel has long been a face of French popular culture and one of his country's most successful musicians.

But he says his career wouldn't have happened without New York, where he arrived as a young man in 1979.

"I think I built everything in my career because of this two-year trip in New York," said the singer and actor, who is now 55.

"It was the cultural crossroads of the world and this energy -- in terms of the music, dance, movies and the arts -- was just fantastic."

Bruel is returning to New York for a concert on November 1 at the historic Beacon Theatre, part of a six-city tour that is his first of the United States in seven years.

Bruel described his 2007 show at the 3,000-capacity Beacon Theatre as having one of the greatest atmospheres in his career.

He said that his return to the Beacon -- after a year and a half on the road that included two dates at Lille's Grand Stade stadium and a show at London's Royal Albert Hall -- would be the "last cherry" on the cake of a "beautiful tour."

"New York for me is very emotional and very important," he told AFP in a telephone interview.

Bruel was 20 years old when he arrived in New York, a city that has long attracted many French people, and said he was startled by the cultural innovation.

"In 1979, New York was 15 years in advance of everywhere," he said. "For me, there was this feeling that you are somewhere and everything is possible."

One of Bruel's discoveries was hip hop, which was born in the Bronx in the late 1970s.

France now has a vibrant hip hop scene, but Bruel recalled that he produced what is considered the first French rap song: "Chacun fait (c'qui lui plait)" by the duo Chagrin d'amour, in 1982.

- Preserving French identity -

Bruel returned to New York to record part of 1989's "Alors Regarde," a more introspective pop album that, with some three million copies sold, is the fourth best-selling album ever in France.

"It was not totally done in New York, but all of the energy of this album was from New York," he said.

Bruel, a major figure in French film, also started as an actor in New York.

He recently played in Sophie Lellouche's "Paris-Manhattan" in which Woody Allen -- a quintessential New Yorker who enjoys a wide French following -- appears as himself.

"I would have loved to have been in a Woody Allen movie, to tell you the truth," Bruel said.

Bruel, 55, attributed his seven-year absence to personal demands as he raises two young children.

He said that he hoped to draw a greater American audience, although he acknowledged that fans at his US shows were likely to be French expatriates.

The singer said that more Americans may know him for his side career -- as a champion poker player.

Despite the wide inspiration he draws from New York, Bruel has also found success in France by covering singers from the 1930s such as Maurice Chevalier and Charles Trenet.

Bruel said that he planned to perform some the covers in New York, describing the 1930s as a golden age in shaping France's musical identity.

"Singing Maurice Chevalier in New York will mean something for me," he said.