KING OF PROVOCATION
Born Lucien Ginsburg on 2nd April 1928 with his twin sister Liliane, he is a shy and self-conscious child. Soon, he began practicing classic piano, then jazz, like his father. His parent emigrated from Ukraine during the Russian revolution and went to Paris. World War II began when Ginsbourg was 11 years old, and he spent his early teens in Paris during the German occupation. A 1942 law required Jews to wear yellow stars with the word “Jew” written on them, an experience that hurt and scarred him. “It was like you were a bull, branded with a red-hot iron,” he said. Soon, an 8 p.m. curfew for Jews made it impossible for Joseph Ginsburg to work in nightclubs, so he sneaked away illegally to Limoges in southern France, where he found work with an orchestra and quietly sent money home. A year and a half later the rest of the family, using false identification, traveled to Limoges to join him. Limoges was not directly occupied by Germany but controlled by the French government based in Vichy, so it was slightly less dangerous for Jews, though not safe.
When Paris was liberated in 1944, the family returned home. he studied very shortly at Condorcet before being expelled. Artist in his soul, he entered Les Beaux Arts, prestigious art school in Paris, to become a painter. He was inspired by everything he saw but never satisfied with his work. Two years later he also enrolled in a music school while continuing his art studies. He started dating Elisabeth Levitsky, a part-time model, and she began supporting him financially.
While Ginsbourg spent a year in the military (military service was obligatory for all the French men), he developed a drinking habit that stuck with him the rest of his life. In 1951 he and Levitsky married. Performing in nightclubs to earn money, Ginsbourg attracted a lot of female attention, and his womanizing caused Elizabeth to divorce him in 1957. He began performing at Milord L’Arsouille nightclub and met two people who became crucial for his career : Michèle Arnaud, a popular singer and Boris Vian a famous novelist and composer of humorous songs. Meanwhile, he decided to change his name Lucien for Serge because he thought it was a loser name and that Serge was better for the Russian sonorities and Ginsburg became Gainsbourg to match the British famous painter Gainsborough.
His talent spread and he signed to the Philips record label, which he will never leave. In 1958, he recorded Du chant à la une! album which was very cynical, especially toward women. He did not sell that much but Boris Vian wrote a dithyrambic article about his songs and Gainsbourg won the grand prize of L’Académie Charles Cros, a songwriting award. “Le Poinçonneur des Lilas” (The Ticket-Puncher), became one of the most famous of his songs with “Les Amour Perdues” (The Lost Loves) sang by famous French singer Juliette Gréco. His 1961 album, L’Étonnant Serge Gainsbourg (The Astonishing Serge Gainsbourg), made his literary influences clear; one song, “La Chanson De Prévert,” paid tribute to the French poet Jacques Prévert. Gainsbourg recorded a few songs mocking yé-yé fans and defied the trends by recording the experimental Gainsbourg Percussions , influenced by African and Caribbean percussion styles.
Later, determined to write a hit song, he began writing for 16-year-old yé-yé star France Gall, including the hit “Les Sucettes” (Lollipops) and “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” (Wax Doll, Singing Doll), which won the Eurovision song contest in 1965. Soon, Gainsbourg’s songs were more popular than ever among female French singers, and he spent the next two years focusing on his songwriting, for women particularly.
Gainsbourg married his second wife, Béatrice, (Françoise-Antoinette Pancrazzi) in early 1964. They soon had a daughter, Natacha. The marriage was doomed from the start, because she was extremely possessive, jealous of his singer friends and his fans, who were in majority women. They divorced two years later, then reunited temporarily in 1967 and had another child, Paul, born in 1968.
Serge left Beatrice and fell in love with one of France’s most beautiful and most famous actresses, Brigitte Bardot. The problem was that she was already married so they lived their passion more or less discreetly. The most famous moment of their relationship is when she asked him to write the most beautiful love song in the world. “Je t’aime… moi non plus” (I love you… me neither) is created but not released because Bardot asked Gainsbourg not to, to respect her husband. So he didn’t. But plenty of others were, like “Comic Strip”, “Bonnie and Clyde” or “Harley Davidson” in a particular style, well written and embellished by sound effects.
The thing is that Gainsbourg was not a conventional beauty. In fact he was seen as ugly and called himself “l’Homme à la tête de chou” (the man with the cabbage head i.e with Dumbo ears as the expression goes in English) and even wrote a song about it. Besides, he was with the most beautiful women. Bardot returned to her husband and Gainsbourg found a 22-year-old British girl: Jane Birkin. They met while acting in Slogan, he seduced her by taking her out in Paris in every place he knew. Later, he made her sing “Je t’aime… moi non plus”, her childish voice and the sensual melody made The Vatican call the song obscene and the BBC banned it, but it hit the top of the British single charts anyway, Gainsbourg’s only hit outside France. It sold 6 million copies worldwide.
Birkin and Gainsbourg became an iconic couple in England and in France. They stayed together more than a decade and had a daughter: Charlotte. Serge wrote the Histoire de Melody Nelson (The Story of Melody Nelson), this album was judged as a masterpiece because a very emotional and sensitive story of an old man falling in love with a 15-year-old girl. In 1973, Gainsbourg had a heart attack which slowed him a bit but he enjoyed the “Je t’aime… Moi non plus scandal” and wrote Rock around the bunker, an album about Hitler, yellow stars and Nazi in an American rock style. He wanted to shock by the themes he wrote about and of course he succeeded. In 1978, Gainsbourg wrote a reggae album Aux Armes Et Caetera in Jamaica with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. The remake of the French National Anthem “La Marseillaise” was really badly received by the audience. It was even worse than the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen”. His concerts were threatened by bomb attacks from the extreme right. Le Figaro (French journal) said that his French nationality should be revoked. During one of his concerts, paratroopers were present and threatened to stop the show if necessary: Gainsbourg sang his remix of the National Anthem along with a rude hand gesture.
His life turned tragic, so did his image. From Gainsbourg to Gainsbarre, he left his proud figure for a drunk, rude and devastated one. Birkin left him and he began drinking outrageously. They remained friends and he continued writing songs for her albums. Later, Gainsbarre started a new relationship with Caroline Von Paulus, known as Bambou and had a son, Lucien in 1986.
He began writing about his alter-ego, describing him as a drunk and leading him into darkness. His songs were stained by too much alcohol and Gitanes. He also wrote about THE taboo : “Lemon Incest”, sung with his daughter Charlotte, is about them lying in a bed. Charlotte For Ever is a movie he wrote for her to pay tribute to her young talent of actress. He endured heart problems and a liver operation before dying on March 2, 1991, of a heart attack at his apartment in Paris. The whole country mourned and French president François Mitterand said that “through his love for the language and his musical genius, he lifted the song to the level of an art”
Gainsbourg was burried at Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. His notoriety is still growing and his fans keep visiting his grave and house in Paris.
Gainsbourg, vie héroique (2010), ELMOSNINO Eric
Gainsbourg burning 500 Francs to protest against high taxes: