A little over two years ago, I was visiting a friend in Lille, a Dutch-flavoured French city near the Belgian border. In the mood for some fine Flemish cooking (yes, there is such a thing), we wound our way down tiny countryside roads to a restaurant that couldn't have been more European: wrought-iron furniture on the patio! Wood & mortar structure! Implements & spoils of the harvest hung cadaverous from the ceiling! Dozens of exquisite ales whose delicate bouquets & subtle flavours swamp together after the fifth pint! Marvelous. I ate my own weight in dairy & meat that night.
Anyway, because this was a building of antiquarian peasant construction, the toilets were out and around the side. (Reassuring that Rule No. 1 has always been "don't shit where you eat.") Circling back towards the front entrance, a young couple passed me on their way out and almost gave themselves whiplash doing a double-take. Slowing their walk to a foot-dragging limp, they began whispering with beehive-loud sibilance, all the while staring back at me. I did my best to ignore them, until the man blurted out Tourettishly, "Kreestov Wil-ahm!"
"Excuse me?" I had no idea what had just been shouted at me. Was this some strange Ch'ti invitation to fisticuffs? "Kreestov Wil-ahm?" he repeated, more hesitantly. The women chimed in: "Aren't you Christophe Willem?"
Ah, a name! Mistaken identity. "No, sorry." They looked unnervingly skeptical. "You're really not Christophe Willem? C'mon, we promise we won't make a fuss. You're him, right?"
Dangerous territory: I looked like someone worth making a fuss over. What kind of fuss? Would I suddenly be set upon by the local S.W.A.T. team, like that unpleasant incident in Seattle? Was I about to get paparazzo'd and then accused of using my likeness to curry undeserved favour? Who the fuck do they think I am?
Keep in mind this entire exchange was taking place in French, adding a veneer of semantic surreality. "Look, I'm just come Canadian guy visiting friends. I don't know who you think I am." The couple deflated, apparently convinced by the nasal vowels of my affected Quebecois accent. "Oh... well, he's this French singer - god, you look just like him! You haven't heard his music?" They broke into an awkward disco stomp, as though arrhythmic caucasian hip-swiveling would make everything clear.
C'est comme ça, qu'est-ce que je peux, c'est comme ça...I was unmoved.
Back inside, I was still slightly baffled by what had just happened. Taking my seat across from my friends, I waited for a moment's pause in the conversation to ask them: who is Christophe Willem? Their faces blanked as they flicked through their cranial card catalogue. Suddenly the penny dropped, they gasped and pointed at me like a bodysnatcher gone red-alert.
"Putain, c'est étrange!" Evidently, I did very much look like this Christophe Willem chap, a young performer who had won the 2006 French version of Pop Idol and had since become one of the country's biggest stars. Well done indeed.
But I wanted proof that the resemblance was strong enough to turn heads in a random restaurant parking lot. Back at my friend's apartment, we fired up YouTube and searched for the hit single that had been sung at me (yes, at, not "to") by the dancing duo. Ah, there it was - entitled "Double Je", or "Double I" appropriately enough. Let's have a look...
Fucking hell, it's me! Okay, my glasses are round-framed and I don't half-ass the facial hair whenever I stop shaving, but otherwise... The abominable posture, the Pete Townsend beak, the limp-greasy mop of hair, even the ratty-ass military-green hoodie. I am he and he is me and goo goo ga-fucking-joob.
But the son-of-a-bitch sings in a stratospheric falsetto that would make the Bee Gees sound like baritones. Atop shit disco! Goddamn, this was even worse than all those times drunk salarymen in Tokyo pubs called me "Harry Potter." Couldn't I get mistaken for someone cool? Please?
Yes I can. Now that my hair is greying and I've sloughed off any youthful gloss, I'm compared almost exclusively to my favourite Beatle. (George fans, mad respect; everyone else, get stuffed!) Quite nice to be told you resemble one of the great musical revolutionaries of the 20th century - at least far better than resembling either a cotton-candy French twerp or a fictional teenage wizard.
Shortly thereafter, l'affaire Willem inspired one of my better songs of 2008, "Dinner With My Doppleganger". Yes, I realize it's misspelled. Yes, I should proofread my tracklistings before the record goes to press. So be it. Although Willem really only provoked the title; the song itself is more a meditation about my hypothetical "evil twin," whose yin is my yang and whose vice is my virtue, and the disappointment that we'd be more or less indistinguishable from each other. Not that you'd necessarily glean all that from the lyrics. If, however, you can guess the two songs of which this track is a conscious hybrid, congrats, you get a free copy of my latest album. And a cookie.