This post has nothing to do with anything that’s happening these days, or even with anything that’s on my mind, but I was recently telling my American students about Serge Gainsbourg, none of whom had heard of him. Before their time and he was never well-known in the US anyway. But he was huge in France, one of its major musical artists from the late ’50s to his premature death in ’91, and who wrote and composed all his music. And he was an outrageous personality. I told the class that I’d do a blog post with my favorite Gainsbourg songs—just about everyone’s favorites, in fact—, so voilà, here they are via YouTube (in chronological order).
Le poinçonneur des Lilas (1958). On a day in the life of the ticket-puncher (poinçonneur) at the Porte des Lilas metro station.
New York U.S.A. (1964). Gainsbourg, the little Frenchy, goes to New York City and marvels at how tall the buildings are. Amusing. And tongue-in-cheek.
Bonnie and Clyde (1968). With Brigitte Bardot. They had a brief romantic involvement. Gainsbourg had numerous (brief) romantic involvements.
Initials B.B. (1968). Gainsbourg’s ode to Brigitte Bardot. Great song.
Je t’aime…moi non plus (1969). With Jane Birkin (his longest romantic involvement, and from which came his one child, Charlotte Gainsbourg, a well-known actress since her teen years). Probably his most famous and beloved song. It caused a scandal at the time.
Élisa (1969). Gainsbourg singing his love for a woman (typically) younger than he.
Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais (1973). Inspired by his near death experience following his first heart attack (he had five), after which he increased his (already heavy) consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
Dieu fumeur de havanes (1980). With Catherine Deneuve. God smokes Havana cigars. Or Gitanes (Gainsbourg’s brand, brun and unfiltered). The disappearance from public places (cafés, restaurants, offices, everywhere) of the unique, pungent aroma of dark tobacco Gitanes and Gauloises smoke is one of the many changes in France of the past three decades (no smoking laws, changing tastes in tobacco).
On the occasion of the biopic’s release in the US last year, Salon.com asked several US musicians to share their favorite Gainsbourg songs. The choices are somewhat different from mine.