PARIS, France - I thought the "Fete de la Musique," a celebration of music all over Paris on June 21, would just be a festive evening. The Fete, which started in France in 1982, has since spread to dozens of countries.
I didn't expect a live illustration of the challenge Nicolas Sarkozy, the ballsy new president, faces as he vows to make American-style reforms and shake up a country ruled by the spirit of the civil servant "fonctionnaires," their sacred 35-hour work week, and, especially, the centuries-old French resistance to...everything.
This example came in the person of the aging (54) but charismatic frontman of a garage band called "The Bad Men of Paris" and the hour-long nightmare that ensued when I tried to find out his name.
American friends want to believe that France is a Shangri-La of quaint boulangeries, chic women, warm croissants and hot Frenchmen.
It's also a country where people are proudly averse to making money or promoting themselves, and scorn ambition. Where Americans are pitied for our workaholism. Where the first response to a question, no matter how advantageous the outcome could be for all parties, is often "non."
Which brings me to Daniel Vasoni, a total unknown who I think should have been the biggest star in France -- not Johnny Hallyday.
My friends and I started out at the Trocadero in the balmy early evening, ambling past street musicians, Baroque quartets and accordionists, passing underneath the Eiffel Tower. Then we headed for the Bastille where the streets are packed and the music wilder.
In front of a restaurant called Le Polichinelle, I fell in love with the lead singer of a band playing mostly '60s rock covers. He wore black, had sunglasses on, and looked like a slightly dorky French wanna-be rock star.
He was jumping around like Jagger, doing splits and rolling around on the ground with the mike.
But he had such a good voice and showmanship, I was mesmerized. So were the crowds, who were ignoring a younger hip hop group and other rock bands nearby.
My friend Andi went into the restaurant to find out his name. She emerged 10 minutes later, looking dazed. She said the people with the band acted suspicious but finally told her the singer's name was "Gilles."
At a break, I went up to the bass player. He was strangely diffident. He finally said the singer's name was "Denis."
Was it "Gilles" or "Denis"? Now we were on a mission. Andi returned to the restaurant while I stayed out front.
After another 10 minutes, she was back. She said that three guys associated with the band refused to divulge the name of the singer because they didn't want the "publicity" and besides, the group was about to sign with Sony.
Right. And I'm about to record a duet with Sheryl Crow.
Anyway, toward the end of the set, the guy who'd said he was the group's manager came outside.
I told him I was a journalist and just wanted to know the singer's name and if he had a website. He shook his head. There was no website. He's been managing the group for years, he said. He was sure we were talent scouts. In fact, he said, if we muscled in on his territory, he'd sue us.
More begging and attempts at reasoning -- skills one develops in France -- finally convinced him I was not to be feared.
I often remember the words of my American friend Philip, who moved to Paris eight years ago. "This is not a confident culture," he says. "The arrogance covers that up."
More than an hour after the mission began, the manager brought me over to the singer, who was just ending his set. He looked astonished that I was asking his name.
"Daniel!" he said. At least he was friendly.
"Great," I said. "And what is your last name?"
Though the audience was calling for an encore, he stopped everything and with a grand flourish got a pen and paper and wrote out his name: Daniel Vasoni.
Not surprisingly, I found he and the band do have a website.
I only hope they can forgive us for the publicity.