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Serge Gainsbourg and women: a story too complicated to be summarized in a 'tweet'


Singer Lio has brought the singer back to the present 30 years after his death by calling him the French Weinstein. But what was Gainsbourg's behavior really like with women? We explore it through the women who accompanied it

The first reaction is inevitable: the hare had taken a long time to jump.

In times of moral doctrines and historical revisionism, it was surprising to see how the immense prestige of Serge Gainsbourg (Paris, 1928-1991) seemed to act as an umbrella that waterproofed him against any conflict and kept his figure immaculate without being splashed on by any of the many, many uncomfortable controversies that were the pure essence of his career and character.

But this parapet could not be eternal.

The spark that can open the box of thunder has just jumped.

It was in a radio interview granted a couple of weeks ago by Lio, a Belgian singer who in the eighties took over from the ye-yé girls acting as lolita and leaving behind a large group of worshipers and a couple of singles from planetary reach.

At one point in the long conversation, Lio starts talking about Gainsbourg, about his character as a



, about the idolatry he aroused among the French punk community and, here comes the cool thing, about how he deceived France Gall with the lyrics of

Les sucettes

, which allows him to settle his speech by pointing at the musician with his finger: “I remember Gainsbourg as a stalker.

Someone who did not behave well with women and was in a way a Weinstein of the song.

"The Pope has been my best publicist", declared Gainsbourg after seeing how L

'Osservatore Romano

, the official organ of the Vatican, had tried to veto

Je t'aime ... moi non plus

and had only managed to shoot the sales of the single into the stratosphere

The accusation is certainly harsh and difficult to answer: equating someone with the nemesis of the #MeToo era invariably leads to a dead end.

It is surprising that it comes from Lio because she hardly had a relationship with Gainsbourg.

Their paths only crossed once, when in the early eighties the record industry still indulged in luxuries like sending singer Alain Chamfort to Los Angeles to record

Amour année zéro


Gainsbourg, composer of the album, traveled with him to conclude in the studio some lyrics that, always lazy, he ended up leaving until the last moment, relying on the adrenaline rush of lack of time.

And if the journey started tense because both musicians had already had an encounter in previous collaborations, the discomfort is triggered when upon arriving at Gainsbourg airport he runs into Lio, a Chamfort partner and for whom he does not have much sympathy, who has signed up for the adventure without anyone telling you.

The unexpected appearance is far from being welcome and will end up acting as an incentive so that when arriving in Los Angeles the atmosphere can be cut with a knife.

The air is so cloudy that one fine day, after the umpteenth discussion in the studio, Gainsbourg decides to leave without saying goodbye.

This would be revealed by Lio herself many years later in her memoir

Pop model

, where she also tells of the atmosphere of shouting and telephone insults that followed the escape, something that, on the other hand, did not bother her enough to stop record a song from the Gainsbourg pen,

Baby Lou

, a sure bet with which it would achieve notable success on the sales charts.

Serge Gainsbourg and Catherine Deneuve at a party organized by Cartier in Paris in 1980. Getty Images

Please serve this episode as context and not as defense of Lio's accusations.

Serious enough that they have not been slow to jump into the newspapers around the world, where the sound of "the French Weinstein" has spread like wildfire.

But the doubt remains, of course: What is real in these accusations?

Is it true that Gainsbourg harassed the many women who marked his career?

On what is this complaint based?

Reviewing the long census of


conquests -


Bardot, Jane Birkin, Anna Karina or the recently deceased Juliette Gréco - we do not find one who does not speak enthralled about her relationship with the singer and who, once concluded, did not prolong it with a solid friendship.

Her words are so mimetic that they end up forming a monolithic discourse: exquisite education, concern for their well-being, how loved and respected they felt by her side.

Add identical phrases exhibited again and again by women reluctant to establish any kind of carnal treatment, such as Catherine Deneuve or Marianne Faithfull, or by others - the least - who did not go beyond the realm of friendship such as Régine or Françoise Hardy, who in their memoirs

The Despair of the Apes ... and other trifles

does not dedicate a single adjective that is not superlative.

Jane Birkin, who came free of scares after experiencing Swinging London in the first person, understood perfectly the game of mirrors in which Gainsbourg was embarked and never saw any problem with the songs of high erotic octane and confusing message that Serge composed for a astonishing speed.

The recordings are counted by dozens and today none would pass the filter of political correctness

And it is, of course, Jane Birkin, who lived with Gainsbourg for ten feverish years that ended when she realized that the uncontrolled consumption of alcohol had stopped being a reason for fun to become a serious problem and decided to start another life with the director Jacques Doillon .

Birkin not only decided to continue visiting Gainsbourg on a daily basis, but also counted on her in all her musical projects, she made her godfather to her daughter Lou, now also a singer, and continues to proudly display the repertoire that her partner left her

Does this mean that Gainsbourg's dealings with women were a one-way street?

No, obviously, and therein lies the complexity of the character.

And we reach a point where it is convenient to spin fine because accelerated impressions can play some trick in the form of a lapidary conclusion.

In Lio's diffuse accusations, there is a proper name, that of France Gall, the first stone of a black legend that the interested party promoted for decades.

Let's go back more than half a century, when Gainsbourg concluded a song titled

Les sucettes

["The lollipops"].

A theme about a girl who enjoys licking lollipops and who reaches the peak of her joy when she notices how the melted candy slides down her throat, a visual metaphor with a not particularly fine line that, to complete the play, was intended for France Gall, a naive girl with a childish appearance who at nineteen was the only one who did not understand what the matter was about.

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, with their daughter Charlotte (who poses with him) and Kate (who Jane had in a previous marriage and poses with her), in Saint Tropez.

Getty Images

The fact that Gainsbourg did not bother to explain to the singer the double meaning of the lyrics is the flank from which a multitude of attacks have been arriving.

It was not an elegant move, of course, but Gainsbourg always considered that the revelation did not correspond to him, but to the singer's manager, who was none other than her father, Robert Gall.

Gall cannot be blamed naivety about the mechanisms of the business as he had several pharaonic successes composed for Édith Piaf or Charles Aznavour and was determined to get his daughter out of the commercial hole to which he seemed doomed.

After looking at the sales figures, he did not seem to care so much about the alleged disgrace of the girl's honor, since a few months later he arranged with Maurice Biraud one of the most bizarre duos in pop history,

La petite

["The little girl "], in which the fifty-year-old Biraud sang that of“ The little girl has grown up.

She is already a woman, although she is only a girl ", while Gall intoned with his childish voice a shameful one:" And to think that yesterday they were about to surprise you while you hugged me and I let myself do ... ".

But the stone was thrown and Gainsbourg did not hesitate to cultivate this image of a cruel and ruthless man towards women: it increased the aura around him and fostered a fascinating character for an audience that had suddenly stopped turning their back on him.

Eternally shy, he also did not hesitate to use this mask as a breastplate when Brigitte Bardot abandoned him for the actor Stephen Boyd and was plunged into a nebula of suicidal tendencies when he saw that lack of self-esteem to which he had been doomed explode again in his head. physical, let's say, unorthodox: we talk about a man who had abandoned his last tour after being insulted for his ugliness night after night by the public, we talk about a man who when in adolescence had tried to delve into the mysteries of sex the chosen prostitute He rejected it on the grounds that it disgusted him, something that could open up some Freudian ramifications through which we are not going to slide.

The eighties are terrible years to behold for any Gainsbourg fan.

The television networks understood that having a person out of their minds in

prime time

was a guarantee of audience and did not hesitate to feed the monster

It was at the peak of this image's cultivation that Gainsbourg met Jane Birkin.

He would reserve the best of his life to her for the next decade: access to fame, the birth of his daughter Charlotte, the most exquisite compositions and entry into the world of music with the planetary success of

Je t'aime… moi non plus


Birkin, who came free of scares after experiencing Swinging London in the first person, understood perfectly the game of mirrors in which Gainsbourg was embarked and never saw any problem with the songs of high erotic octane and confusing message that Serge composed at a speed staggering.

The recordings are counted by dozens and none would pass the filter of political correctness today.

The scandal was for them nothing more than a game and an element to make their work work: "The Pope has been my best publicist", declared Gainsbourg after seeing how L

'Osservatore Romano

, the official organ of the Vatican, had tried to veto

Je t'aime… moi non plus

and had only managed to shoot the sales of the single into the stratosphere.

But with the entry of the eighties the figure of Gainsbourg becomes cloudy and it is difficult to make any assessment without paying attention to the singer's own personal destruction.

Composer of respect condemned to a second rank of popularity, the massive success appears when in 1979 he decides to record his first




Unexpectedly, Serge seemed to pick up the


of the moment and became the idol of a rebellious youth that had always observed him reluctantly.

But success, it is already known, always carries a poisoned gift: absorbed by the pride of the eternal loser suddenly placed in the front line of fire, Gainsbourg was not able to digest the blow of Birkin's abandonment.

His pairing with Bambou, a Vietnamese-born model with a fondness for heroin, did not help focus the shot.

Alone, devoured by alcohol and disease, he had a decade ahead that can only be read as a slow and voluntary suicide.

These are terrible years to contemplate for any admirer of the singer and for anyone with the slightest faith in human dignity.

An intimate drama that Gainsbourg decided to offer to the entire country in an unlimited media showcase.

The television networks immediately understood that having a person out of their minds in

prime time

was always a guarantee of audience and they did not hesitate to feed the monster.

Imbued with a destroy spirit and cheered by a young audience who saw how a figure comparable to Iggy Pop and Lou Reed emerged in France, the uncomfortable scenes did begin here with episodes of abuse that he did not hesitate to extend to everyone around him, he was a woman, he was a man, he was himself.

Serge Gainsbourg and Bambou at Cannes in 1983. Getty Images

In reality it was nothing new, but one more episode in a life of gambling on the edge, where it was difficult to find a job that did not play with some social taboo, be it homosexuality, relationships with minors, patriotic feelings or eschatology: Gainsbourg, a Jew who had worn the infamous yellow star during World War II, had given the Israeli army a fighting hymn for the Six Day War while conceiving

Rock around the bunker

, a record that joked with Nazi imagery.

It was only a matter of continuing to commercialize the character in the hyper-commodified society of the eighties, selling a public image exploited to the extreme by means willing to devour everything.

A risky game for a person who had been robbed of the lucidity of yesteryear by alcohol.

In the middle of this magma there will be flashes that touched the sublime, like that

Lemon incest

in which he played the wrong with his daughter Charlotte, still a teenager.

But most definitely did not advance down this path.

And here we could open a long string of public appearances in which many women experienced humiliating scenes by a man lost in a grotesque spectacle broadcast live 24 hours a day.

We talked about the program in which he called the singer of Les Rita Mitsouko a “whore” when she explained that in the past she had made pornographic films, about the broadcast in which she snapped at the artist Caroline Grimm who had a mouth like a felatriz in less kind terms than these, from the parody that transformed the children's song

Papa mille-pattes

[Papa centipede] into

Papa mille putes

[strike the translation].

We are talking, in short, of the famous night in which on a family variety show he went to Whitney Houston to say, completely drunk, “I want to fuck you” ("I want to fuck you").

It is impossible to deny the gender offense in any of these nonsense, but it should be read with caution: the confrontations with their male companions did not end in a more dignified way.

Devoured by his own character, it's hard to see in all these episodes anything short of the desperate tantrum of a defeated man.

By then, the attentive reader of the

summa gainsbourguiana

had already understood that excess was nothing more than a mask to hide an extreme shyness and to be able to speak of intimate elements that he could not find another way to express.

In permissive post-'68 France, Gainsbourg had begun work on an album about



who unambiguously sought scandal in well-thought-out society.

He will never conclude it, because Kubrick, jealous at the idea that something could overshadow his film, will veto it strictly.

But Gainsbourg ended up taking up the idea in 1971 with a radically different meaning.

The story had become that of a mature, decadent man with self-destructive tendencies who clung to a casual romance with a young girl, barely a teenager, to breathe through her one last breath of youth, perhaps life.

No one was lost on who the real protagonists were given the stupor created by the eighteen years of difference that separated Serge and Jane.

Histoire de Melody Nelson

was Gainsbourg's undisputed masterpiece and his definitive great love song to a Birkin omnipresent throughout the album.

Cargo culte

, the grand tour de force


with which he concluded, was his only viable way out by betting on the death of the young woman to get the dandy to achieve the purest love, a love that could no longer suffer the wear and tear of time and that would remain fixed immutable in his memory.

It is there where Serge would leave his most desperate love verses, those in which he confessed that without her he would "have nothing to lose or a god to believe in."

It is there that a person overwhelmed by complex feelings, with a thousand elusive facets, manifested with extreme transparency, who is impossible to judge so many years later with a predetermined template that reduces ethical parameters to their most minimal expression.

Felipe Cabrerizo is the author of the biography 'Gainsbourg.

Elefantes Rosas', edited by Libros Prohibidos.

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Source: elparis

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