According to rock musician Elliott Murphy, the French know how to throw a party. And it just so happens the last one he attended was in his honor.
On October 1, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë—whom Mr. Murphy describes as “quite a flamboyant, well-known figure himself”—awarded the East End part-timer with the
Medaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris
at the Hotel de Ville in recognition of his career as a music artist and author. Former recipients of the medal have also included Jane Fonda, Johnny Depp and Gianni Versace.
“Hotel de Ville, which is the equivalent of City Hall, is a huge, baroque building from the 19th century,” Mr. Murphy explained during a telephone interview last week from his home in Paris. “Actually, it burned down completely in 1870, when they had one of their many revolutions, and built it back brick for brick. When you see it, it’s like the White House. It’s a really impressive building. It’s a labyrinth. You need someone to lead you around.”
When Mr. Murphy found his room, among the building’s hundreds, the 63-year-old musician was awestruck. He mingled with countless friends, family, fans and government officials in the ornate, gilded ballroom with high ceilings and long white tables spread with champagne, glasses and hors d’oeuvres before taking the stage.
“I gave a speech in French, and after 22 years here, I do speak French, but I really worked on this speech so it would be well understood,” he said. “I ended by quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald—my favorite writer, my literary hero. He says, ‘There are no second acts in American lives,’ but I found my second act here in Paris. And a new life, and I’m grateful for that. Then my band was here—three other musicians—and we played six songs. I think that was the first time anyone’s ever played rock and roll in the Hotel de Ville.”
A Long Island native, Mr. Murphy grew up in Garden City and summered on the East End, where he often visits and plays an annual show at The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, sometimes staying with his sister, Michelle Murphy Strada, and her family in the hamlet and sometimes in Water Mill with his brother, Matthew—a tradition he began in 1977. He’s missed only a few years, he said.
“I may have played the Talkhouse longer than anyone,” he laughed.
Show business wasn’t a huge leap for Mr. Murphy, judging from the musician’s upbringing. His father, Elliott Murphy Sr., is best known for “Aquashow,” a multi-faceted act that was staged in an outdoor theater through the 1950s on the site of the 1939 New York World’s Fair and featured diving clowns, ballet swimmers, jugglers, comedians and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
“That kind of life was put into my blood at a very early age,” Mr. Murphy said. “And the most important lesson I learned from my father: If it rained, nobody came to the show. So there’s a big dose of luck in this business and I learned to respect that.”
At age 12, Mr. Murphy first picked up a guitar after giving up on trumpet.
“You couldn’t sing, unless you’re Louis Armstrong,” he said. “And I guess I wanted to sing. My parents put me into guitar lessons, and one of the reasons they did that, I was a hyperactive kid and not paying attention in school. And, believe me, once I picked up that guitar, I never picked up another book in school. Right away, I knew.”
But four years later, tragedy struck—one that hasn’t left Mr. Murphy to this day.
“One song I play almost every concert is ‘On Elvis Presley’s Birthday.’ That’s a song about a day I spent with my father driving around Long Island and on the radio, they said it was Elvis’s birthday,” Mr. Murphy said. “My father died when I was 16 and that is a memory that has always stayed etched in my consciousness, that day we drove around. That song is the closest to my heart, of all the songs I perform.”
While songwriting, the musician draws from his own life and aspirations, as well as the suburban experience, white middle-class blues and even literature—a personal fascination, he said. Putting his words down on paper was the cement for his career, which he discovered during a trip to Europe in 1971. He was 22.
“I started playing on the streets, writing songs, and that trip kind of changed my life, got my creative juices flowing,” he said. “I thought, ‘I could make this my life.’ I realized it didn’t matter, really, what I was singing, so I might as well start writing. I came back to New York, got a record deal and started making albums.”