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Biography


Serge Gainsbourg


Question: "If you were leaving for a desert island and you could only take one record..." Answer: "Gainsbourg, the complete works, naturally." Reason: because in Gainsbourg there's everything, poetry, humour, provocation, hopelessness, love, sex, alcohol... Gainsbourg is you, me, everybody, Gainsbourg is ugly and beautiful, Gainsbourg is also jazz, the java (inane), reggae, rock, funk...from Le Poinçonneur des Lilas to Love on the beat . So, for that desert island, Gainsbourg definitely - or nothing at all. 



Lucien Ginzburg and his twin sister Lilianne were born in Paris on April 2 1928. Their parents, Joseph Ginzburg and Olia Bessman, had fled Russia after the Revolution and settled in Paris in 1919, where Olia had already given birth to a daughter called Jacqueline in 1926.

Joseph, an Ashkenazi Jew, was a painter and musician who had a classical pianist background. Shortly after his arrival in the French capital, he began working as a jazz musician in the fashionable bars and nightclubs of the day. His son, Lucien, was introduced to the piano at an early age and, following in his father’s footsteps, young Lucien soon taught himself to play classical music then moved on to jazz, discovering the works of the American pianist and composer George Gershwin.

A future Picasso


During World War Two the Ginzburg family fled from Paris to take refuge near Limoges. They returned to Paris at the end of the war and in 1945 Lucien enrolled at the "Lycée Condorcet", from which he was expelled shortly afterwards. Lucien, who had shown a gift for painting and drawing from an early age, went on to gain a place at the "Ecole des Beaux Arts". Here, totally enthralled by the world of art, Lucien studied hard, seeking to create the masterpiece which would confirm him as the next Goya or Picasso. Yet, young Lucien was eternally dissatisfied with the work he produced. Indeed, he would harbour a great complex about his painting ability for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, Lucien had to earn a living and, benefiting from his father’s reputation on the local cabaret circuit, he soon found work as a pianist in several Paris bars. It was at this period that he first discovered the world of jazz.

In 1947 Lucien fell in love with Elisabeth Levitsky, the daughter of Russian aristocrats. After their marriage, on November 3 1951, Lucien went back to work as an art teacher and spent his spare time directing the local choir.

By 1954 Lucien had started to try his hand at songwriting. He contacted the SACEM (the French copyright association which protects songwriters and composers) to register 6 works, but, unfortunately, only 2 of these have survived in recordings : "Défense d’afficher" (sung by Pia Colombo in 1959) and "Les amours perdues" (which Gainsbourg gave to Juliette Gréco in 1961). Working under the pseudonym Julien Grix, Lucien went on to write more material for performers at the famous transvestite cabaret "Chez Madame Arthur". Between 1954 and 1957, he continued to work as a pianist, performing during the summer in a club in Le Touquet. 

Although he had not been born with classic good looks, Lucien was an incorrigible womaniser. This would eventually cause problems with his wife, Elisabeth, and the couple finally got divorced in 1957.

1958 proved to be an important year as far as Lucien’s career was concerned, for he decided to change his name to Serge Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg was chosen as a kind of personal tribute to the English painter Gainsborough, and Serge was a direct reference to his Russian origins.

A future Gainsbourg


1958 proved to be momentous not just because of this name change, but because this was the year that Lucien chose to destroy all his artwork and renounce painting for ever. In becoming Serge Gainsbourg, Lucien definitively turned his back on painting and chose to seek fame and fortune in the music world. His father found him a job as a pianist/guitarist at the "Milord l’arsouille" cabaret where he accompanied the singer Michèle Arnaud during her act. It was while working in this cabaret that Serge would meet the famous singer/songwriter, author and jazz trumpet-player Boris Vian. Gainsbourg, who shared Vian’s humourous cynicism and playful sense of derision, was inspired to write his own songs and soon got his courage up to start performing them in public.

Even in the very early days of his career, Gainsbourg’s style made its mark. Members of the audience either hated him or adored him, but the young singer certainly left no-one indifferent. Denis Bourgeois, who was at that time working for the artistic director Jacques Canetti was one of the first to spot Gainsbourg’s talent and invited the young singer to record a demo tape. A few days later Serge Gainsbourg signed to Philips (a label to which he remained loyal throughout his long career).

Working with Boris Vian’s personal arranger, Alain Goraguer, Gainsbourg recorded his début album, "Du chant à la une!", a few months later. Despite the fact that it was slammed by more than one critic, the album went on to win the prestigious "Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles-Cros" in 1959, largely thanks to the song "Le poinçonneur des Lilas" (which became one of the all-time classics of French chanson). Yet Serge did not prove such a great hit with the media and, shortly after the release of his first album, he became the subject of several rather vitriolic attacks in the French press. Shortly before his death, Gainsbourg's old friend Boris Vian would come to his defence, writing an article for "Le Canard enchaîné" (a satirical newspaper) praising the young singer’s talent.

Gainsbourg, who shrugged off the hostility directed at him, was nevertheless acknowledged as an important and innovative songwriter. His second album proved to be something of a flop, but he continued to write new material for other singers such as Juliette Gréco who invited him to help her renew her repertoire.

1959 proved a fateful year for Gainsbourg who had recently launched a film career. For it was during the shooting of Michel Boisrond’s film "Voulez-vous danser avec moi?" that the young actor met 60’s sex symbol Brigitte Bardot. Gainsbourg’s film career, which was full of ups and downs, never really got off the ground. But his links with the film world remained strong throughout his life. In 1959 Gainsbourg would write the first of many film soundtracks, composing the score for Jacques Doniol-Valcroze’s "L’eau à la bouche".

A Future star


On his third album, "L’étonnant Serge Gainsbourg", recorded in 1961, Gainsbourg’s gave full rein to his passion for literature. "La chanson de Maglia" paid tribute to Victor Hugo, while "La Chanson de Prévert" was inspired by the famous poet Jacques Prévert. This song proved a great success and several artists including Mouloudji and the Québecois singer Pauline Julien immediately demanded to record their own versions. Gainsbourg was much in vogue by now and later that year he would be invited to perform at the prestigious Olympia music hall in Paris, first as Jacques Brel’s guest then Juliette Gréco’s. Gainsbourg would then go on to appear in concert in Belgium and Switzerland.

While continuing his songwriting career and penning material for an ever-widening circle of artists, Gainsbourg was also busy in the recording studio himself, putting out an album a year on average. He went to London in 1963 to record a 4-track single featuring "La javanaise" (a song once again covered by Juliette Gréco which went on to become another Gainsbourg classic). The pioneering Gainsbourg continued to travel to London over the next ten years, claiming that English studio technicians could produce a sharper, more modern sound than their French counterparts.

In 1963 Gainsbourg returned to the "Olympia", this time round as the headlining act. He was accompanied by two jazz musicians, double bass player Michel Gaudry and Gypsy guitarist Elek Bacsik, who joined him on his fourth album, "Gainsbourg Confidentiel". (This album, released in 1964, was the first of Gainsbourg’s albums recorded in the new 30cm format).

On January 7 1964 Gainsbourg married his second wife, Françoise-Antoinette Pancrazzi, better known to friends as Béatrice. The couple’s first child, a daughter called Natacha, was born later that year on August 8.

At the end of 1964 Gainsbourg recorded a new album, "Gainsbourg Percussions". Moving away from the jazz ambience of "Gainsbourg Confidentiel", this new album was greatly influenced by Afro-Caribbean rhythms which were extremely popular on the French music scene in the 60’s. Gainsbourg adapted these to his own distinctive sound, forging a new style which was much in evidence on the two hit singles, "Couleur Café" and "New York USA" (a song directly inspired by a traditional South African chant). 

Ex-future showman


In the early 60’s the "Yéyé" movement (inspired by the new rock’n’roll heading in from across the Atlantic) hit the French music scene and traditional French chanson began to fall out of favour. Although Gainsbourg’s music did not really fall into this category, many teenagers at the time failed to identify with his work, judging it too intellectual. But Gainsbourg, always in the musical vanguard, soon proved that he could move with the times. Through the intermediary of Denis Bourgeois, who had discovered him in 1958, Gainsbourg was introduced to the up-and-coming16-year-old star France Gall. He began to write material for the young singer who scored an immediate hit with his song "Les Sucettes". Gainsbourg regained his popularity almost overnight and teenagers rediscovered the relevance of a songwriter they had all too readily written off. France Gall would go on to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1965 with another Gainsbourg classic "Poupée de cire, poupée de son".

By now actresses and singers were queuing up to get the rights to Gainsbourg songs - French singer Régine soared to the top of the charts with "Les p’tits papiers", as did Dalida, Valérie Lagrange and French actress Mireille Darc. Gainsbourg also wrote material for English singing stars Marianne Faithfull and Petula Clark (La gadoue"). He even crossed paths with Brigitte Bardot again, writing a 4-track single for the glamourous film star.

In February 1965 the legendary French singer Barbara invited Gainsbourg to perform a series of concerts with her. However, faced with an extremely hostile audience on the first few nights, Gainsbourg decided to pull out of the rest of the tour. He would not appear on stage again until 1979.

In 1966 director Pierre Koralnik contacted Gainsbourg to work on a completely new project. Eager for new experiences, Serge set to work composing the music and lyrics for "Anna", a musical which, when it was broadcast in January 1967, went down in history as one of the very first colour programmes shown on French television. The Danish-born actress Anna Karina played the lead in the musical and also scored a hit with the theme song "Sous le soleil exactement".

In February 1966, having recently got divorced from his second wife, Béatrice, Gainsbourg went to live at the "Cité internationale des arts" (a vast residence in Paris housing writers, artists and sculptors from all over the world). Despite the fact that he was by now an established star on the French music scene, Gainsbourg lived in a small student’s room at the "Cité" for the next two years. At the end of 1967 he would get back together with his ex-wife Béatrice and in the spring of the following year the couple’s second child, Paul, was born. (Gainsbourg would never really get to know his son however).

"Je t'aime moi non plus" Act I


During the summer of 67 Gainsbourg and Michel Simon co-starred in the film "Ce sacré grand père" and the pair went on to record a single "L’herbe tendre", taken from the film soundtrack. Gainsbourg would go on to make a number of movies and TV films in the 60’s and 70’s, but none of these proved to be very memorable. The highlight of this particular acting period was, without a doubt, his role alongside Jean Gabin in Georges Lautner’s 1968 film "Le Pacha". Gainsbourg would also write the theme music for "Le Pacha", and the theme song "Requiem pour un con" would soon prove to be another major hit.

In the autumn of 68 Gainsbourg met Brigitte Bardot again, during rehearsals for a television programme being made about her life. The pair fell passionately in love and would prove absolutely inseparable over the following months. Gainsbourg wrote a number of songs for his new love - "Harley Davidson", "Comic strip" and the famous duet "Bonnie and Clyde". Bardot, then at the very height of her fame, immortalised these songs, posing astride a motorbike or dressing as a gangster’s moll, when the songs were broadcast as part of the "Show Bardot" on January 1 1968.

Gainsbourg also wrote the notorious "Je t’aime moi non plus" for Bardot and the couple actually recorded the song as a duet (complete with heavy panting and fake orgasm sound effects). Bardot, who was married to millionaire Gunther Sachs at the time, begged Gainsbourg not to release the song as a single, however, and he respected her wishes. The song was not included on either of the albums featuring Gainsbourg/Bardot duets ("Bonnie and Clyde" and "Initials BB") and would not be released as a single until 1986.

Meanwhile Gainsbourg continued to write material for other singers, composing two songs for the young singer Françoise Hardy (another rising star of the French "Yé yé" movement) in 1968. Hardy would score a major hit with her double A-sided single featuring "L’anamour" and the famous "Comment te dire adieu".

In 1968 Gainsbourg went on to meet a young English actress by the name of Jane Birkin and this encounter would dramatically alter the course of his career and his personal life. After meeting 22-year-old Birkin on the set of Pierre Grimblat’s film "Slogan" Gainsbourg fell in love again.

"Je t'aime" Act II


In November of that year Jane went into a London studio to record four of Gainsbourg’s songs - "L’anamour", "69 année érotique", "Jane B" and, most importantly, a new version of the notorious "Je t’aime moi non plus". Scandal broke out once again at the lyrics of the song, but this time Gainsbourg forged ahead and released the single. "Je t'aime moi non plus" rocketed to the top of the charts shortly after its release and Gainsbourg and Birkin became a legendary couple overnight. However, several countries decided to ban the song from their airwaves and Gainsbourg would eventually decide to take it off the album he went on to record with Jane.

By the end of the 60’s Gainsbourg had not only become a living legend on the French music scene, he was also proving to be France’s fastest-selling musical export. Gainsbourg's albums and the songs he wrote for other French singers sold like hotcakes in Europe and America.

In the late 60's Jane and Serge moved into the mansion which Gainsbourg had just bought on the rue de Verneuil in Paris’s chic 6th arrondissement. Then in the spring of 69 the couple flew to Nepal to begin filming André Cayatte’s film "Les chemins de Katmandou", for which Gainsbourg wrote the soundtrack.

When Jane entered his life, Serge began to compose less material for other female singers and also stopped writing for himself. Gainsbourg preferred to devote more of his time to preserving the new-found stability of his personal life and followed Jane whenever her film career took her.

In 1971 Gainsbourg went on to write "Melody Nelson", an album based entirely around Jane, which was arranged by Jean-Claude Vannier. The album proved immensely popular with the general public and the critics were equally enthusiastic, hailing it as a "masterpiece".

Gainsbourg’s father, Joseph Ginzburg, died on April 22 1971. He had followed his son’s career attentively right up until the end of his life, and understood the great importance of his work. Three months after his death, Jane gave birth to a baby daughter, Charlotte, in London (on July 21 1971).  

Towards the end of 1971 Gainsbourg began writing a cabaret review for the famous French singer/dancer Zizi Jeanmaire, which she performed at the Casino de Paris. He also continued his own singing career, releasing a new single, "La décadanse", which soon provoked the habitual Gainsbourg scandal. After having hailed the album "Melody Nelson" as a masterpiece, the press slated Gainsbourg’s new work, criticising it in the harshest terms and claiming it was "in very poor taste".

The heart


In 1972 Gainsbourg went on to compose his first song for French star Jacques Dutronc. He also found time to write new material for Régine and France Gall. The following year Gainsbourg went on to write more songs for Françoise Hardy, but he devoted most of 1973 to working on his own album "Vu de l’extérieur" and Jane Birkin’s début album, "Di Doo Dah". In May work came to a grinding halt when Gainsbourg suffered a heart attack.

By now Gainsbourg’s public image was becoming more and more provocative by the day. When the singer was invited onto TV shows he appeared scruffy and badly shaven, and he would habitually drink and chain-smoke through interviews. Although Gainsbourg continued his songwriting career, sales of his own began to fall considerably at this point. Yet Gainsbourg remained one of the most important figures on the French music scene, and in the 70’s and 80’s Gainsbourg’s rebellious stance and non-conformist attitudes began to win him a cult following among the teenagers who had hitherto ignored him.

In 1975 Gainsbourg was to cause a national outcry once again. In the spring he released "Rock around the Bunker", a controversial album touching on Nazi history. The singles "Nazi Rock" and "SS in Uruguay", which dealt with highly sensitive issues, were largely ignored by radio stations and the album failed to receive any significant airplay. Gainsbourg’s faithful fans remained loyal, however, denying that the album was pure provocation. 

New Wave


After the release of Jane Birkin’s album "Lolita Go Home", Serge and Jane flew to the South of France in September to begin shooting the film "Je t’aime moi non plus" (dedicated to Serge’s old friend Boris Vian). Gainsbourg’s directorial début proved to be just as anti-conventional as his music. "Je t’aime moi non plus", starring Jane Birkin and the young American actor Joe Dalessandro (Gérard Depardieu also made a brief appearance as an extra), recounted the tumultuous love affair between a man and an androgynous young girl.

When the film came out in March 1976 (together with an album of the soundtrack) many critics tore it to pieces, yet some of their more astute colleagues noted American underground influences and praised Jane Birkin’s performance. The famous French director François Truffaut would also defend Gainsbourg's film in a famous radio interview. ("Je t’aime moi non plus", certainly Gainsbourg’s finest film as far as his directing work goes, has gone on to become something of a cult classic with cinema-goers).

Gainsbourg, whose record sales had dropped even lower by this point, moved on to making television adverts. His "Soap the Stars Use" ad featuring French actress Marlène Jobert, and, of course, Jane Birkin, would later be hailed as a classic of the genre.

Gainsbourg spent 1976 recording a new album, "L’homme à la tête de chou", which was released in January of the following year. The critics were as enthusiastic about this new work as they had been about "Melody Nelson". In a decade dominated by punk and disco, Gainsbourg chose to ignore music fashion altogether, but at times he would fuse new musical trends with his own distinctive style. (The song "Marylou reggae" for example made innovative use of reggae rhythms, which were largely undiscovered in France at that time). Gainsbourg continued to compose film music during 1976 (although this time his work was mainly for erotic films such as "Goodbye Emmanuelle" and "Madame Claude").  

In 1976 Gainsbourg also met Alain Chamfort and wrote the music and lyrics for the album "Rock’n’Rose", which helped the young French singer shake off his "Boy Trendy" image and make his mark on the music scene as a serious artist.

1978 saw the release of a new Jane Birkin album, "Ex fan des sixties". Gainsbourg was also asked to write the music for the film "Les Bronzés". The single "Sea Sex and Sun", taken from the soundtrack of this hit film would go on to become an absolute smash hit in the summer of 78.

The Marseillaise, etc.


Gainsbourg was still passionate about his recent discovery of reggae rhythms and in 1979 the French singer began working with a number of top Jamaican musicians. Robbie Shakespeare and Sticky Thompson, two star members of Peter Tosh's rhythm section, and several of Bob Marley's backing singers (including his wife Rita) collaborated on Gainsbourg’s new album, which was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica. This album, which took less than a week to record, was released in April 1979.

Gainsbourg's new album proved to be both critically and commercially successful. Indeed, it sold over 300,000 copies in the space of a few months and produced two hit singles, a new reggae version of "La javanaise" and "Aux armes et caetera". The latter, a controversial reworking of the French national anthem ("La Marseillaise") provoked a storm of protest from patriots and French soldiers. However, the protest did not stop "Aux armes et caetera" from shooting to the top of the charts and receiving maximum airplay on French radio stations for several months.

In 1978 Gainsbourg had started writing material for the French rock group Bijou. Three members of the popular rock group would eventually persuade Gainsbourg to begin performing live again and at the end of December 1979 the singer made a triumphant comeback at the famous Paris nightclub Le Palace. Gainsbourg's ten concerts at Le Palace met with an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from the public.

Encouraged by this success, Gainsbourg embarked upon an extensive French tour, the most memorable night of which was a concert in Strasbourg. Gainsbourg was heckled by a parachute regiment who attempted to boo the singer off the stage when he launched into his new reggae version of "La Marseillaise". Never for a moment losing his cool, Gainsbourg dropped the reggae beat and sang a classic version of the French national anthem. (The singer always claimed he had never intended to shock or offend anybody with his reggae adaptation and he was deeply hurt by the vitriolic attacks which followed the release of "Aux armes et caetera").

In the spring of 1980 Gainsbourg ventured into new artistic territory, publishing his first novel "Evguénie Sokolov".

Gainsbarre


Later that year Gainsbourg would suffer a painful separation from his long-term partner Jane Birkin. Gainsbourg had been drinking more and more heavily prior to this separation and his outrageously excessive behaviour appeared to have finally got the better of his lover. It was at this point that a new character, "Gainsbarre" (a rather sad character struggling against alcoholism and depression) began to appear in Gainsbourg's songs and take over his personal life.

Later that year, after writing an album for Jacques Dutronc ("Guerre et pets"), Gainsbourg composed the soundtrack for Claude Berri's film "Je vous aime", in which he starred alongside Catherine Deneuve. Gainsbourg went on to write "Dieu est un fumeur de havanes" for Deneuve and the pair went on to record the song as a duet. Encouraged by the success of their collaboration, Gainsbourg went on to compose an entire album for Deneuve, entitled "Souviens-toi de m'oublier".

The young French singer Alain Bashung had long been one of Gainsbourg's greatest fans and in 1981 Bashung was over the moon when Gainsbourg wrote an album, "Play blessures", for him. In November of the same year Gainsbourg released his own new album "Mauvaises nouvelles des étoiles". This album, recorded in the Bahamas, with Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, continued Gainsbourg's exploration of reggae rhythms. 1981 also witnessed the start of a new era in Gainsbourg’s personal life, when he met and fell in love with the young Eurasian singer Bambou.

The following year Gainsbourg was busy writing material for Julien Clerc and the Québecois singer Diane Dufresne. He also began work on a film script which he hoped to shoot with Patrick Dewaere, but the project collapsed when the actor committed suicide in July. Gainsbourg then teamed up with another French actor, Francis Huster, and set off to shoot a new film, "Equateur" in the tropical jungle of Gabon. The shoot was beset with all kinds of problems and when Gainsbourg finally finished making the film and showed it at Cannes in May 1983, it met with a dismal reception from audiences. When it hit French cinema screens in August, "Equateur" was slated by the critics and went on to prove a commercial flop.

Overcoming his depression at this cinematic failure, Gainsbourg busied himself writing an album for French actress Isabelle Adjani and a new album for his former lover Jane Birkin ("Baby alone in Babylone"). He finished writing the two albums in a matter of weeks but both went on to become huge hits, going gold soon after their release. Many critics consider that "Baby alone in Babylone" contained the most beautiful songs Gainsbourg ever wrote for Birkin.

Gainsbourg also continued to shoot numerous adverts throughout the 80's (many of which are still shown on French TV today).

Funky Serge


By the mid-80's Gainsbourg had left reggae behind and discovered a radically different sound, funk. In April 1984 the singer flew out to New York to make an album with an American producer and a group of studio musicians who specialised in the New York funk sound. After a week's intensive work in the studio, Gainsbourg put the finishing touches to the new album "Love on the Beat". (This album would turn out to be the best-selling album of his entire career). Fans went wild for Gainsbourg's new sound and "Love on the Beat" soon rocketed to the top of the album charts. The single "Lemon Incest", which Gainsbourg recorded with his young daughter Charlotte, provoked a new storm of controversy.

On March 16 1985 Serge's mother, Olia, passed away.

In 1985 Gainsbourg began to perform live again. When the singer appeared at the "Casino de Paris" in September, with his new group of American musicians his show brought the house down and he received a standing ovation. By the end of the 80's Gainsbourg's controversial lyrics and openly provocative appearances (which included burning a 500 franc note in the middle of a live TV show) had made him more notorious than ever.

On January 5 1986 Gainsbourg's new girlfriend Bambou gave birth to a son named Lucien.

Later that same year the French director Bertrand Blier would ask Gainsbourg to write the soundtrack for his film "Tenue de soirée". Gainsbourg would then go on to begin work on "Charlotte Forever", a film and album which he wrote for his daughter Charlotte.

In 1987, apart from writing a new album for Jane Birkin, entitled "Lost Songs", Gainsbourg recorded a new album himself. Recorded in America like the previous album, "You're Under Arrest" included an interesting rap version of Edith Piaf's classic "Mon légionnaire".

The liver


In March 1988 Gainsbourg began performing live again, playing seven dates at "Le Zénith" in Paris. The singer's shows were as spectacular as ever, but the charismatic on-stage performer hid a fragile 60-year-old whose health was rapidly declining. Gainsbourg had been close to a heart attack several times and his morale appeared to be at an all-time low.

Gainsbourg, still struggling with alcoholism and depression, went on to write an album for Bambou. But "Made in China" proved to be an absolute flop, both critically and commercially.

In April 1989 Gainsbourg was rushed to hospital for an operation on his liver. His doctors insisted that he gave up drinking immediately, telling him it was a matter of life or death.

In September that year a special Gainsbourg retrospective compilation was released, in the form of a boxed 9 CD set, which featured a selection of greatest hits from the singer's 30-year career.

Later that same year Gainsbourg turned back to his writing career, penning the script for his fourth film. "Stan the Flasher", the story of a history teacher who falls desperately in love with one of his young pupils. The film, starring director Claude Berri, came out in March 1990 and proved a great success, attracting audiences of 60,000. "Stan the Flasher" was also well received by the critics.

In 1990 Gainsbourg wrote an album for the young up-and-coming star Vanessa Paradis, who soared to the top of European charts with her single "Joe le taxi". Then as a kind of final adieu, Gainsbourg wrote a last album for Jane Birkin, entitled "Amours des feintes". The cover, which showed a rather melancholy-looking Birkin, was drawn by Gainsbourg himself. (The singer appeared to be thinking of returning to his painting career at this point).

In the last months of his life Gainsbourg became something of a recluse, rarely leaving his Parisian home, where the walls were becoming increasingly covered with graffiti by adoring fans.

The heart, continued…to the end.


On March 2 1991 Bambou discovered Gainsbourg lying dead in his bedroom. The singer had suffered another heart attack, which this time proved fatal.

Gainsbourg's death was the occasion of a great public outpouring of grief, fans congregating outside the singer's home to pay their last respects. Magazines and newspapers would also carry headline tributes to the singer they had so often criticised. Gainsbourg's funeral, held in Montparnasse cemetery, attracted a huge crowd of mourners, many of whom wept openly as Catherine Deneuve read the lyrics of a Gainsbourg classic, "Fuir le bonheur de peur qu'il ne se sauve". A few weeks after Gainsbourg’s death, Jane Birkin appeared at the "Casino de Paris" to perform a series of concerts which had been arranged before her former lover’s death.

Much maligned in his lifetime, Gainsbourg was finally admired after his death, when the full significance of his career as a singer and prolific songwriter could finally be judged. Fans and critics began to realise that Gainsbourg's provocative, cynical exterior had hidden a rather shy, modest man who possessed a desperate lucidity. Gainsbourg’s legend continued to live on, however, in the hundreds of songs which he left behind him. These songs have been covered by a host of modern artists (including Jimmy Sommerville, FFF, Pulp and Donna Summer). Gainsbourg's songs such as "La chanson de Prévert", have even been studied in French schools as part of the national curriculum. 

In September 1994 Jane Birkin paid a special tribute to her former lover, performing a concert of Gainsbourg songs at the Savoy Theatre in London. More recently, a boxed set of 3 CDs, featuring a retrospective collection of Gainsbourg classics, was released in the United States in March 1997 to unanimous acclaim in the press.

Really unable to free herself from her mentor’s influence, Jane Birkin released another compilation of Gainsbourg’s hits in October 2002. Entitled "Arabesque", the album was completely rearranged with Arabic effects. To promote the album Birkin gave a series of concerts.

On March, 8th 2003, the city of Clermont-Ferrand paid a tribute to the French artist inaugurating the Rue Serge-Gainsbourg—the first in France to bear his name. Later that same year, Gainsbourg's two reggae albums, "Aux armes etc." and "Mauvaises nouvelles des étoiles", were remixed to give them the authentic Jamaican sound they were intended to have. This move had been decided against at the time of their release so as not to disconcert the French public - who, at that time, were not yet familiar with productions from Kingston! The original master tapes of the albums yielded a few surprises, including variations on several songs and one unfinished track. Dub versions of both albums were also released.

In March 2006, the music world commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of Gainsbourg's death with a series of re-releases and tribute albums. Highlights included the compilation "Gainsbourg fait chanter Régine" and the four-CD boxed set "Mister Melody" featuring Gainsbourg classics and lesser-known songs recorded by other singers. Fans were also treated to the full, unabridged version of Gainsbourg live at Le Palace. "Gainsbourg… et caetera" (the re-release of the original album "Live au Palace 1979") featured new extracts of the star's legendary reggae concert. But the most original release on this occasion had to be "Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited", a tribute compilation on which a majority of Anglo-Saxon stars – such as Portishead, Franz Ferdinand, Tricky and the legendary 60s icon Marianne Faithfull -  performed English adaptations of the late great Monsieur Gainsbourg's work.

Serge Gainsbourg was once again in the media spotlight in early 2010, with the release of a movie centred on his life, "Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)", directed by screenwriter and cartoonist Joann Sfar. The role of Serge Gainsbourg was played by the young actor Eric Elmosnino. More than a straightforward biopic, the film was rather a subjective portrait of the artist.

January 2010


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