Alain Kan has disappeared. Without news of him for several days, his relatives turn pale from hour to hour, start to fear the worst. It must be said that their friend, their brother, their lover, has spent the last ten years in a washing machine: that of drugs, bitterness towards the record industry and the years that inevitably pass. A cocktail which, each time it is unstable, each time it is corrupted, becomes explosive. So not having heard from Alain never bodes well.
We must therefore follow the route that led to the mystery. On April 14, 1990, Alain Kan rushed into the Paris metro at Châtelet station. He is accompanied by his then friend, Hubert, who is content to drop him off and does not get on the train. He then has to wait for three stations to reach his apartment located near the Gare de Lyon. It will never get there. Lost in the tumult of the capital and his life, he will not reappear and will be officially declared dead ten years later, as required by law.
For his entourage, here is an end that is not one. Like the missing at sea, the missing in the cities are never truly dead. And even if the craziest theories are scaffolded to pretend to explain the inexplicable, to lift the veil on this evaporation, the life of Alain Kan seems nevertheless to have stopped on this precise date. How? This is the real mystery.
By dint of trying to understand, the existence of Alain Kan becomes a kind of myth, the story of forty-six years winding through French music, from the carefree era of “Salut les buddies” through a glam rock parenthesis, then by a frantic, destructive punk period, which came too late in his life for him to really recover.
Meet the greats
Born in 1944 in the XVIIIe arrondissement of Paris, Alain Kan was drawn to music from an early age. He practices in front of the eyes of his little sister, Véronique, who will accompany him until the end of his known life. After learning professional singing with Tosca Marmor, a great Austrian pianist, he launched into singing when he was hired by Pathé and released his first 45 rpm in 1964. There are two songs there: “Si l’amour” and “When you come back”.
In France, his great inspirations are called Gilbert Bécaud and Claude Nougaro. But before reaching the fame of his models, Alain Kan had to leave to do his military service in 1967. When he survived, he somewhat lost his place in the heart of variety and his mass, “Salut les buddies », which had nevertheless encouraged him despite his lack of real success. So he changes his life. A first time.
Alain Kan began to frequent Parisian clubs and cabarets, in particular those of Pigalle. He has never really hidden his homosexuality, so he finds in night owls an acceptance, an obvious attraction. At the Contrescarpe, he befriends the singer Christophe. The latter flashes on Alain Kan’s sister, Véronique. Through the ties of blood and marriage, Alain Kan sees the doors of a world where Nico, Barbara, Andy Warhol, Serge Gainsbourg, Mick Jagger meet…
It was at the Alcazar, a leading middle-of-the-night cabaret, that he flourished by interpreting, between shows, the role of Amédée Jr. An androgynous character who lisps, a wobbly singer with a pronounced sense of spectacle. He even manages to return to the small papers of capricious record companies with a few remarkable 45s, in a pop and rock style, supported by the great arranger Jean-Claude Vannier.
Censorship and little lies
If his sense of provocation is a hit at the Alcazar, he is not really to the taste of the chaste radios. Alain Kan wrote several songs for the model and now singer Dani, notably “Mon p’tit photographe”, which was released in 1970, the double meaning of the lyrics of which should not be underlined: “He takes me in all positions/On my knees, standing, sitting, on the ground/He’s a champion in photography/He takes me whole days/He tells me ‘don’t move darling’/The little bird go outside.”
The single made its way to music halls and nightclubs. But tired of France’s belly and the lack of regard given to his art, Alain Kan left to recharge his batteries for a few days in London. He attends a Lou Reed concert and discovers David Bowie, in front of whom he literally falls in admiration. Back in France, he even claims to have had an affair with the star singer. The anecdote is beautiful, but nevertheless very little believable.
Whatever the truth, Alain Kan is reinventing himself once again by embracing the glam rock movement, which offers his taste for androgyny and frills a salutary field of expression. In 1974 he released the single star or nothingtaking up the image of the Bowien Ziggy Stardust in a low-cost version.
Two years later, he recorded an album with a brilliant name, Fortunately in France we do not take drugs, also censored, booger sent to the face of freshly Giscardian France, and even plays at the Olympia in the first part of the English group Status Quo. He takes several titles of his idol David Bowie by translating them into French. Reflex, or rather unwelcome vestige of his yéyé period.
If listening to this part of his career is sometimes difficult, it in no way detracts from the singer’s audacity. But in 1977, Alain Kan takes a new slap, or rather a mandal that will upset his existence: punk.
A dinner with Hitler
Exit boas and waders. Here comes the reign of stoned in organized gang. Alain Kan sends his glam rock image waltzing and founds the group Gazoline, modeled on the Sex Pistols, sometimes of dubious musical quality. He is almost ten years older than the other members of the group, including Fred Chichin, who will found Les Rita Mitsouko with Catherine Ringer in 1979.
Perhaps Alain Kan seeks to compensate for his advanced age by pushing the concept of decadence further, by raising it to the rank of art. Gazoline quickly became an ephemeral spearhead of punk in France, in favor of the explicit, which became cult in its genre thanks to the album Sally. There are crazy songs like “Guess who’s coming to dinner?”, in which Alain Kan dreams of cutting the end of the fat with Hitler, and other jokes.
His Parisian apartment becomes a meeting place for celestial tramps, a court of miracles strewn with anything, orgies, gargantuan highs rhythmic to the grips of speed, amphetamines, mantrax, dipertrol, and also heroin . In his evenings which are in fact days, Alain Kan sits as a benevolent and proud host. But the recognition of the youngest dries up quickly – it’s a great classic. While punk and Gazoline wither away, the singer with a thousand faces finds himself lonely with a few dope companions and no longer lets go of drugs. Landing on the moon is often easier than returning to earth.
“I was born by chance”
Alain Kan then becomes Alain Z. Kan, a tribute to the name of his biological father, Zisa. In 1979 he released what might well be his greatest album, What Ever Happened To Alain Z. Kan, not suspecting that this question would be on the lips of his dearest friends eleven years later. He sums up his entire journey there: rock, theatricality, drugs, and poetic and hallucinatory texts. But he fails to sow his demons.
Constantly reminded of his status as a junkie, of his associations, he was quickly let go by the record companies, once again. He has no more money, no more labels, no more passes… He wanders the streets of Paris in search of doses and comfort, often finding the latter with his sister Véronique and her husband, Christophe. . The singer invites him to participate in the writing of his album Not seen not caughtthe last major misdeed before the dislocation.
For ten years, Alain Kan never stopped fighting his addictions by regularly going to Cluses, near Annecy, to decompress and find a less destructive environment. It is his manager and friend, Christian Lacroix (nothing to do with the famous couturier), who welcomes him to his home for days, weeks on end. He even manages to record a final album in 1986, night perfume, supported by big names in French rock. But nothing helps. He also tries to sell his autobiographical novel to all-Paris publishers, in vain.
Unveiled years later, it reads: “I was born by chance. Really, no one was expecting me. My mother ejected me too soon from her womb, hence my umbilical anguish. My loneliness was born, the same day as me. I remember my first scar, my first disenchantment, my first scream. My father flies away. I was abandoned, first with an old nurse in a remote countryside, then in a boarding house. Even in remote corners, children have a mother. I was the only one separated from her. I have never been given anything but emptiness and reproaches. It is to you, my mother, that I owe this childhood, to the scratching caresses. Christian Lacroix still manages to organize a few concerts for him in small provincial venues. But this is indeed a swan song.
An uncontrollable couple
At the end of the 1980s, he met Hubert, his last companion. Their relationship is electric, punctuated by taking drugs and sincere love. Those around Alain have very little taste for Hubert’s rantings, capable of freaking out at any moment, more unstable than uranium, more dented than Alain himself. They are two out of control.
For a year, the singer in free fall will live with Véronique and Christophe. But the latter fires him, no longer supporting Hubert’s comings. Véronique begs Alain to come back, feeling the danger dawning, feeling her brother slipping through her fingers little by little. He rejects the offer, returns to the Gare de Lyon apartment and tries to put together a few musical projects, a hypothetical tour, writes songs… For the musicians around him, Alain is certainly damaged, broke, but determined to ‘get out.
At the beginning of April 1990, he met musician and rock critic Patrick Eudeline, then, a few days later, his great friend Marie-France, singer and former reviewer at the Alcazar. They take each other in their arms, say a few words to each other, then separate. Finally, probably on April 13, he falls on Daniel Darc, ex-Taxi Girl, who could well be the last close friend to have seen him, if we exclude Hubert. The next day, he rushes into the metro and never comes out again.
A start with a bang (and in silence)
No body, no credit card imprint (he had none left), no presence noted in the hospitals of Paris. Alain Kan has vanished. The police do not really investigate, not having any convincing elements, except for the fluctuating testimony of Hubert. However, this is quickly dismissed.
Idle, Véronique relies on a clairvoyant who explains to her that her brother probably threw himself into the Seine. It’s possible, but in Paris, at the beginning of the evening, someone would certainly have seen him do it. So, we imagine a settling of accounts with a disgruntled dealer, an assassination, an overdose… The more time passes, the more theories accumulate, sending him to happier days in Switzerland, Brazil, Geneva. Big jokes.
The most probable thesis is that Alain Kan threw himself into the Seine, as the seer said. For a long time, many of his friends did not believe in the suicide thesis, out of conviction or denial. However, in 2021, Véronique admitted to the microphone of France Culture that at the time of the first research, a caregiver working in a Parisian hospital had told her that Alain was about to be admitted to the establishment because of the discovery of his HIV status. A shock which, perhaps, would have sent the singer back to the darkest recesses of his voluble soul. A coup de grace, a start with a bang.