The first time I laid peepers on Serge Gainsbourg was while flipping through my collection of French '60s Vogues, and I was instantly taken by his jazzy, sleazy pin-striped style, perfectly accessorized by a cigarette that badly needed ashing, crooked nose, disheveled coif, and devilish gaze. Instantly smitten, I ran out and bought his brilliant CD Comic Strip, which has him playfully frolicking around with former paramour Brigitte Bardot, along with Jane Birkin (Serge's lover of 13 years, Charlotte's mum, actress, singer, and she of the infamous Hermés bag). It also features his controversial hit Je T'Aime . . . Moi Non Plus, which was banned by the Vatican for Birkin's sexy cooing at the end of the track, and which Casablanca Records founder, Neil Bogart later played for Italo-disco God, Giorgio Moroder, who then used it as inspiration for his Donna Summer smash, Love to Love You Baby.
It was very easy to fall in instant amour with Serge's entire musical repertoire (which consists of over 550 songs, and 30 albums), which covers just about every genre, from cabaret to African beat, from rock 'n roll to reggae . . . but my favorite of all is his darkest concept LP, Histoire de Melody Nelson, which features sinfully decadent tunes that defy categorization. French actress Isabelle Adjani (who Serge had written songs for in the '80s), perfectly describes Melody Nelson as "Musical literature". Jane B. is on the cover, dressed as the fictional freckle-faced red-headed teen-age ragamuffin, Melody, holding a monkey doll she'd had since childhood, and which she later buried with Serge, as he'd always loved it.
Gainsbourg's home on 5 bis Rue Verneuil, in Paris's 7th Arrondissement (in case you want to visit and add to the graffiti in homage to Serge that covers his front wall), is now owned by his actress/singer/fashion muse daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has left every item in the house untouched, since he passed on to Gitane-heaven from alcoholism in 1991. She has plans to turn the home into a public museum, which would have me Air France tickets faster than you can say "Bardot".
Marianne Faithfull had this to say about Serge: "He was a poet, a genius, and an egotist, the sort of person I have always got on with, and we became very good friends. Sex was one way of relating with Serge–probably his favorite way with a woman–but we had a philosophical affinity, a serious platonic friendship based on surrealism, poetry and Oscar Wilde. Serge was very interested in the spiritual content. He knew all about Rastafarianism; he knew about everything."
In Nov. of 2007, Lisa Robinson wrote a great story for Vanity Fair, about Serge's colorful legacy. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
"Her (Jane Birkin's) apartment, on the Rue Jacob, is a worldly display of exotic bohemianism. Paisley covered walls are adorned with hundreds of framed photos of Serge . . . stuffed rabbits wearing pearl necklaces are grouped on a table playing cards. There is a collection of majolica pottery, a huge flat screen TV, and everywhere you look, there are books–lining the shelves in her bedroom and study. And although originally designed by her and named for her, that Hermés Birkin bag is nowhere to be seen."
" He always paid his taxes early: he felt he was an immigrant–his parents were from Russia and as such he should behave correctly. He wanted shoes that felt like gloves, so I got him white Repetto ballet shoes, which he wore without socks. I bought him jewelry and encouraged him to keep 3 day stubble on his face. He sat in gilt chairs after fashion shows and picked out dresses for me–Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy . . ."—Jane Birkin
"Toward the end of this life, Gainsbourg created "Gainsbarre," a sort of outlandish, alter ego for himself that allowed him to say shocking things on television."—Francois Ravard (Serge's drinking partner, and film producer)
"Je T'Aime . . . Moi Non Plus"–which translates as "I love you, me neither"–came from a story told about Dali, who reportedly said "Picasso is Spanish–me too. Picasso is a painter–me too. Picasso is a Communist–me neither."—Nicolas and Jean-Benoit of Air
"After Serge and Jane made a movie in Yugoslavia, he bought a Rolls-Royce with cash because "it tickled him to think he was buying a Rolls with Communist money," she says. It was racing green, he had no driver's license (he said "You cannot drink and drive and I have chosen"). After using it to have someone drive up and down the Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, he put it in a garage, where he could occasionally visit it, sit inside, and have a smoke."—Jane Birkin
"Even if you play Serge's songs in the middle of Africa, where nobody understands the words, they'll be caught. It's like when Lillian Gish said she regretted there were no more silent movies that spoke to everybody."—Jeanne Moreau