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Country music’s ‘missing outlaw’ resurfaces in France

A US country musician whose music has been said to have the same authentic quality as "early Dylan" disappeared for 40 years before resurfacing in rural France to create the first albums of his work.

Country music's 'missing outlaw' resurfaces in France
Country music's "missing outlaw" Daniel Antopolsky. Photo: AFP
Unless you were doing drugs with the legendary American country singer Townes Van Zandt in the early
1970s you are unlikely to have encountered the gentle genius of Daniel Antopolsky.
   
The singer-songwriter, who has been dubbed the “missing man of country music's Outlaw Era”, disappeared off the radar for four decades before resurfacing in rural France where he has pulled together years of songs into his first-ever albums.
   
And he has released three in the last three years.
   
The title song of the first, “Sweet Lovin' Music”, was written in a hotel room in Dallas in 1972 with Van Zandt as he finished the country classic, “Pancho and Lefty”, which went on to be covered by Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Steve Earle.
 
Photo: AFP   
 
Sitting with his guitar surrounded by chickens on his small organic farm near Bordeaux, Antopolsky remembers the day well.
   
“There was a big Christian gathering in the city so we stopped at a hotel and each of us worked on our songs,” he told AFP.
   
He sang “Sweet Lovin' Music” to Van Zandt, and his friend said, “It's a beautiful song. It would make a great title track for an album.”
   
Nearly half a century later that album was finally recorded in Nashville by the Grammy-winning producer Gary Gold, who called Antopolsky “a jewel in the rough… a missing piece of our musical culture”.
 
At 69, Antopolsky has no great plans to go back on the road especially since he admits to “being afraid of singing in front of people”.
 
Saving Townes Van Zandt
 
He put his dreams on hold after Van Zandt — a troubled genius whose addictions would later catch up with him — overdosed on heroin in front of him in Houston in 1972.
 
The pair, who had been on the road touring together for several months, had been drinking and taking drugs and Antopolsky, then 24, panicked — afraid that his friend was dying and that he would end up in jail.
   
But he managed to revive Van Zandt and get him to hospital where doctors saved him.
   
That was the last time they saw each other. Antopolsky returned to Georgia and Van Zandt died in 1997 when his heart finally gave out after years of substance abuse.
 
Photo: AFP   
 
“My fear of needles saved me” from a similar fate, Antopolsky told AFP.
   
He fondly recalls their time together, setting off on a madcap road trip to see Van Zandt's horse in Colorado after they met in a coffee shop in Georgia.
   
They took in Nashville, Atlanta and Texas as they zigzagged across the country, playing to anyone who would listen. “Townes was a troubadour, funny and handsome,” said his old friend, who was born in Augusta to a Jewish family that ran a hardware store.
   
His mother, who would die when he was 10, fell ill after his birth and he was brought up by Franny, a black woman who introduced him to the blues and gospel.
 
Antopolsky wrote his first song while still in high school — when he also lost his Polish-born father.
 
Authentic as 'early Dylan'
 
Shaken by the brush with death with Van Zandt, he set out on his own spiritual journey on the hippy trail through Iran, Pakistan and India to Myanmar and beyond.
 
Returning to the States, he met a young French medical student, Sylvia, and moved with her to southwest France's wine country where they set up an organic farm. She worked as an obstetrician while he did up the old farmhouse.
   
He continued to write songs at night on his guitar and banjo after their twin girls had gone to sleep.
 
   
Speaking to Rolling Stone magazine, Gold said Antopolsky's ballads have the same authentic quality as “early Dylan stuff”.
   
“I'm just a songwriter who's written a lot of songs (486) over a long period of time who had the benefit of not succeeding,” he insists dryly.
   
“If I'd had success, I don't think I'd have all these songs. I wouldn't have the same perspective.”
   
Unlike his old friend Van Zandt's sad poetic ballads, Antopolsky's are more upbeat, hopeful and humorous in the case of the one about his hens.
   
Despite a documentary about his rediscovery, “The Sheriff of Mars”, and an invitation to play at the prestigious South by Southwest festival in Austin, Antopolsky isn't about hitch up and start touring again.
   
He is quite happy to stay on his farm, playing the odd concert and observing the seasons and deer, wild boar and birds that visit his 12 hectares.
   
“You should be happy with what you have,” said the man with the laughing eyes.
 
By AFP's Alexandra LESIEUR

MUSIC

8 of French duo Daft Punk’s most memorable moments

One of the era's defining dancefloor acts hung up their helmets on Monday, as French electronic music stars Daft Punk announced their retirement in a typically enigmatic fashion with a video showing one of them exploding in a desert.

8 of French duo Daft Punk's most memorable moments
Photo: AFP

From Da Funk in 1995 to Get Lucky in 2013, Daft Punk became the torch-bearers for French house music across the globe, winning six Grammy awards and pioneering the monumental sound-and-light shows that came to characterise the electronic dance movement (EDM) of recent years.

They did so while almost never revealing their faces — the ubiquitous helmets became another much-copied trope of EDM stars, but also afforded Thomas Bangalter, 46, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 47, a freedom from the fame that quickly encircled them.

“We have daily lives that are a lot more normal than the lives of artists who have the same level of fame as us, but who might be attached to being physically recognised,” Bangalter said in a rare authorised documentary by the BBC in 2015.

Here are some of the highlights of their career – although for our money nothing will beat the French army band’s performance of a Daft Punk medley at the Bastille Day celebrations in 2017, in front of president Emmanuel Macron and a plainly bemused Donald Trump.

1. “Daft punky thrash”

Bangalter and Homem-Christo met at school in Paris before an inauspicious start in music with the rock band Darlin’, which also featured a future member of the French indie band Phoenix.

One review in the British music press dismissed the band as “daft punky thrash” — which struck a chord with them.

Reemerging as an electronic outfit, they met with instant success.

This interview from 1995 is one of the few images of their faces:

2. Their signature look in “Around the World”

Early singles “Da Funk” and “Around the World” became club fixtures, and led to massive sales for their debut album “Homework” in 1997.

It was in the video for “Around the World” that they first donned the helmets that would become their signature look. It mirrored the tight control they exercised over every part of their career, which included ownership of their master recordings.

3. “One More Time”

They followed up with the even more successful “Discovery” in 2001, which spawned the hits “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.

There were some distinctively left-field choices in the years that followed, including producing the 2003 film “Interstella 5555” by Japanese anime master Leiji Matsumoto, which featured music from “Discovery”.

4. Human After All

While their next album in 2005, a more sombre “Human After All”, received mixed reviews, these were quickly forgotten amid the euphoria of their live shows over the next two years.

This included a headline appearance at US festival Coachella in 2006, performed inside a giant LED pyramid. EDM fans still speak about it with an almost religious reverence.

5. Tron soundtrack

In 2010, they released a soundtrack to the Disney reboot of Tron, which picked up a Grammy nomination.

6. “Random Access Memories”

But no one predicted the massive success of their last album, 2013’s “Random Access Memories”, for which they gave up their usual makeshift home rig for a full commercial studio– and used entirely live instruments.

The resulting work dominated album-of-the-year lists and helped lift their total worldwide sales to 12 million. It won four Grammies the following year including record of the year for “Get Lucky”, the millions-selling lead single featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers.

Their appearance at the Grammy Awards show was their last public appearance for three years.

7. “I Feel It Coming”

They showed up one more time for the Grammy ceremony in 2017, alongside The Weeknd, after collaborating on the Canadian artist’s most recent album.

Despite the Twittersphere erupting in excitement last month amid rumours they would rejoin The Weeknd for the Super Bowl half-time show, that did not in the end materialise. 

8. “Epilogue”

The video titled “Epilogue” announcing their split used footage from their cult 2006 film “Electroma” in which one of the robots sets the auto-destruct of the other.

A cutaway then reads “1993-2021” with two robot hands making a circle around a sunset.

Their publicist, Kathryn Frazier, confirmed the news to AFP by email, without giving a reason for the split.

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