Serge Gainsbourg

It is exactly four years to the day that I arrived in Paris. One of the very first things I did during my first winter in Paris was read the Serge Gainbourg biography A Fistful of Gitanes by Sylvie Simmons about France’s most loved Singer, composer, poet, writer, actor and director. I loved the book and even more the enigmatic Serge Gainsbourg and his colourful life, wonderful music and loves. Even today when I ask young Parisians what they think about Serge they always answer ‘tres cool’. Any guy that that can claim the gorgeous Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin as their girlfriends has to be doing something right and he has inspired a legion of photographers including the elegant french photographer Jean Loup Sieff. Tomorrow I am heading out of town to catch the exhibition titled Gainsbourg 2008 at the Cite de la Musique. Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991) was an artist who, throughout his life, used images, and his own in particular, in all their forms, creating an aesthetic world which broke down the walls between “major” and “minor” arts.
An excerpt from A Fistful of Gitanes by Sylvie Simmons.
When Serge Gainsbourg died in his bedroom on March 2 1991, a month short of his 63rd birthday, France went into mourning. Brigitte Bardot, who had been his lover, gave a eulogy; President Mitterrand, who wasn’t, gave him one too. He was “our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire”, said the head of state. “He elevated song to the level of art.” Flags were flown at half-mast – a less fitting symbol for the priapic pop genius than the bottles of whisky and Pastis and packets of Gitanes cigarettes left as tributes by the crowds who descended, à la Princess Di, on the police barricades erected around his home on the Rue de Vernueil.
“Ask anyone in Paris,” said Nicolas Godin of the French band Air, “and they can remember what they were doing when they heard Gainsbourg had died. It was such a shock. Because he was always there, part of our culture. He was always on the television doing something crazy. He was a poet. He was a punk. And he wanted to fuck Whitney Houston.”
The man who looked like an elegant turtle cross-bred with a particularly louche, chain-smoking wolf was also a singer, a songwriter, a cutting-edge soundtrack composer, a Eurovision Song Contest winner, novelist, photographer, actor, artist, drunk, director, screenwriter, populist, provocateur, sentimentalist, clown, lover, intellectual, and the man who single-handedly liberated French pop. In spite of – or because of – a singular dedication to cigarettes, alcohol, sensuality and provocation (his infamous “I want to fuck you” offer to fellow-guest Houston on a French family TV show combined all four), his musical output over more than three decades was staggering.
It encompassed a variety of reinventions that made David Bowie look stereotyped – classical, chanson, jazz, girl-group pop, rock, reggae, disco and funk. He displayed a profound knowledge of, and respect for, tradition, while simultaneously giving it two fingers, then used all these disparate things to make something unique.
His lyrics were mind-boggling exercises in Franglais, triple entendres and rhythmic, onomatopoeic word-percussion. Literature, sexual obsession, farting, incest, philosophy, grammar, cabbages, Nazi death camps and the Torrey Canyon disaster were all considered perfectly reasonable subject matter for his songs, which were whistled in the street and printed in poetry books that were studied in universities. And yet on this side of the Channel, Gainsbourg is really known for just one song: his 1969 number one hit with Jane Birkin, Je T’Aime . . . Moi Non Plus.

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16 Responses to Serge Gainsbourg

  1. Franco says:

    my fave. is pic number 6!
    he does look like a turtle-worlf,
    great choice.

  2. A Thousand Clapping Hands says:

    When I got my first computer (only a year ago!) one of my first e-mails was from my brother who connected me to youtube to watch clips of Serge Gainsbourg. Can you imagine my screaming delight at discovering such ‘coolness’ with the click of a button! Fabulous post! And more books to read!!!

  3. molly says:

    such a fascinating man…i always love pictures of him and jane birkin

    let me know if you enjoyed the glenn goins :)

  4. essenceanddesire says:

    Carla, enjoys a great deal in Paris, at this time has to be even more wonderful. Wonderful as always your post.

  5. hello gorgeous says:

    Gorgeous post and blog! I will have to pass you on to my budding photog daughter.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  6. The Socialite says:

    Wow. I have yet to go to Paris! One day though, I too will venture into the amazing dolce vita! Great pics!

  7. TEXTSTYLES says:

    gainsbourg was badass.
    très cool indeed

    he just epitomizes the laissez-faire attitude and french cool

    je l’adore, mais trop!

    enjoy your blog too

  8. Primrose says:

    Oooh, lovely post and images. I remember reading an interview with Jane Birkin when she said that Serge’s affair with Brigitte Bardot was so important to him because he thought of himself as ugly and here he was with BB. She really impressed me with her love for Serge and her empathy for her husband. I think he has such a beautiful face filled with character. I love the photo of him in the tuxedo! Thanks for the book mention, another one I’ll have to chase up.

  9. Song of Style says:

    wow amazing.
    thank u for the picutures and the short biography!

  10. dapper kid says:

    He is cool beyond words! And yet another book I think I shall have to invest in, his life sounds more than interesting!

  11. stacy says:

    THe photos are fantastic. My husband LOVES Gainsbourg.

  12. words and photo booth moments says:

    I just discovered the pictures by Hippolyte Romain on your blog, they’re amazing! Are those images the ones that are in Paris Tango? His work is so alive, it’s really great stuff. Thanks for introducing me.. I just realized isn’t tonight your book party? how exciting, dommage I can’t make it..well la prochaine.. please enjoy!! xx c

  13. penelope says:

    Such a colorful person! Loved your biographies!

    Serge is def one of the few photographers who would venture in front of the fish eye and be captured on film; and I’m glad he did! He’s so expressive!

    Def the French epitome of coolness!

  14. michelle says:

    wow I’m totally loving the photos :)

  15. Joanna Goddard says:

    LOVE THESE!!!!!!!!

  16. {this is glamorous} says:

    Just wanted to say that I loved reading about how things have changed for you {for the better!} over the past 8 years, and it’s such a lovely and poignant idea to give away the things that helped you get where you are today.

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