Fri, Dec 03, 2004 - Page 13 News List

Serge Gainsbourg for your pleasure

The music and films of the flamboyant Frenchman will be lovingly exposed tonight at Nowhere. Bring your slippers

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER


France is a country that loves its cultural icons and national heroes, even when they're lecherous, foul-mouthed boors like Serge Gainsbourg -- or, especially when they're lecherous, foul-mouthed boors like Serge Gainsbourg.

The man who started out in the 1950s as an obscure bar pianist singing gritty tunes inspired by Boris Vian grew in stature throughout his life, never really fading from view and always interjecting into the public debate at key moments to deflate someone's ego or otherwise shock people with a dose of poignant, wry commentary ... or great music. And for this, Gainsbourg is revered in his country as something akin to a god.

So, for anyone in Taipei who wants to pay their respects or see what all the fuss is about, Nowhere cafe tonight will be hosting a special tribute to Gainsbourg's life and his music, TV and film work.

When asked "why Gainsbourg and why now," Alex Liu (劉子葦), who's behind the event, said: "Because he's just a very cool guy."

Indeed, Gainsbourg, even in his later years, embodied French coolness and the best part about him was that he didn't care, or made a convincing show of not caring. He had seen too much, having survived as a Jew in Vichy France, to be swept away by mania.

Gainsbourg started out by playing in the dingy bars of Pigalle until he landed a gig in 1959 at the legendary jazz club Milord Arsouille and caught the eye of Vian, whose songs he had emulated. Perhaps seeing himself in Gainsbourg, Vian raved about his shows and before long Gainsbourg was recording his first tracks and getting dismal reviews from major publications -- a sure sign of budding greatness.

He began to gain his due credit in the early 1960s when he wrote songs for France Gall and when he finally hooked up with Brigitte Bardot in 1967 and released one of his most famous songs, Bonnie and Clyde, the following year (sampled decades later by MC Solar). That same year he recorded his most famous song with Bardot, Je t'aime (moi non plus) (I Love You No More), but when she refused to have it released, fearing the scandal that she correctly predicted it would cause, Gainsbourg re-recorded the track with Jane Birkin.

When the song was released in 1969, several countries, including the Vatican, immediately banned its sale and a hero for the "Paris 68" generation was born in Gainsbourg.

Having set the tone for the coming decade with Je t'aime a moi non plus, Gainsbourg reveled in the annees erotiques (erotic years), feeding off the raw sexual energy of the collaboration with Birkin to make some of his best recordings and his first film in 1975 titled Je t'aime (moi non plus), which will be played at tonight's tribute party. By the end of the decade, Gainsbourg was experimenting with reggae and came out with one of his most beloved songs, Vieille Canaille (Old Hag), which was brilliant in its lyrical simplicity: "I'll be glad when you're dead, old hag" goes the opening verse.

Through the 1980s Gainsbourg shifted some of his attention to his daughter Charlotte -- now a well-known actress -- and caused scandal again with a duet sung with her titled Lemon Incest. The video to the song will also be played at tonight's show and even in these jaded times it's hard to watch without feeling a tad uncomfortable at the closeness of the father-daughter pair.

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