Lizzy Mercier Descloux

Lizzy Mercier Descloux

Lizzy Mercier Descloux died in obscurity in April 2004, 20 years after what was ostensibly her musical heyday. A Lyon-born art school dropout and devotee of Rimbaud and Godard, she was every bit the romantic French archetype, as well as an innovator and witness to numerous pivotal moments in musical and cultural history.

She saw Patti Smith and Television at CBGBs and Basquiat at the Kitchen. She recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau while Grace Jones made Nightclubbing next door. She collaborated with Soweto musicians in apartheid-era South Africa years before Graceland. She persuaded Chet Baker to play trumpet on her penultimate album, which turned out to be one of his final recordings. She became a genre defying artist and pioneer of worldbeat and avant garde rock, and supreme minimalist of the no wave genre in her own right. Though expert archivists Light in the Attic reissued her discography, she has mostly remained a footnote to other people’s careers.

In his 2013 autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, Descloux’s former lover Richard Hell invokes her memory with grim fetishization: “She was an intellectual sex-kitten chanteuse adventuress little girl.” Stories abound of various collaborators pushing her in this direction and that while she griped about being worked so hard, yet she freely made five albums and one EP, followed her whims across the globe, and never conveyed anything less than a steely sense of autonomy, engagement, and intent in the many interviews she did during that period.

When examining Descloux’s unique voice, her strong and ever-shifting image, and her considerable achievements, one question becomes immediate: How could such a person possibly have been forgotten by history?

For one night in Paris, on July 8, 2004, Patti Smith elevated Descloux to her rightful stature as a French musical institution. Smith’s name was above the door at the venue Le Bataclan in the 11th arrondissement, but her stage backdrop bore Descloux’s name and the dates of her life: “1956–2004.” During the concert, Smith dedicated “Easter” to her old friend, who had died a few months before, after being diagnosed with cancer the previous year.

Read more about Lizzy Mercier Descloux in this comprehensive article on Pitchfork: