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Music / Serge Gainsbourg

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"Je t'aime, je t'aime
Oh oui je t'aime!
Moi non plus
Oh mon amour"
— "Je t'aime... moi non plus"

Serge Gainsbourg (born Lucien Ginsburg, 2 April 1928 – 2 March 1991) was a French Singer-Songwriter, pianist, writer, actor, and film director.

He experimented with many genres of music, from Chanson and jazz to pop music, electro and reggae. He was a controversial character, who wrote many erotic and polemical songs and until his death had a scandalous reputation, but was also considered as a poet and a genius, the last of the tradition of the Poètes Maudits (doomed poets) and adapted many famous poems in songs.

Had somewhat of a Broken Base during his lifetime, particularly during The '80s, but since his death he is pretty much universally celebrated.

He fathered two daughters, Charlotte (from his most famous love affair, with Jane Birkin, who was also his most prominent muse) and Natacha, and two sons, Lucien and Paul.

See also Gainsbourg, the 2010 biopic about him.

Serge Gainsbourg and his work provide examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: In The '80s, when he was nicknamed "Gainsbarre". He made a lot of public appearances where he was visibly drunk.
  • Anatomically Impossible Sex: In "Je t'aime... Moi Non Plus", there's this lyric that goes "I come and go, between your kidneys". That... just doesn't happen, unless you're impaling the poor woman.
    • That's a case of Lost in Translation; the French reins literally means kidneys, but can also be used in the general sense of "loins", and all of a sudden, the anatomy makes sense.
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: "SS in Uruguay" is a first-person song about a former Nazi now living in Uruguay.
  • Black Comedy: Many of his songs have a rather grim sense of humor.
  • Becoming the Mask: With his alter-ego Gainsbarre.
  • But Now I Must Go: "Je Suis Venue Te Dire Que Je m'en Vais" - literally "I came to tell you I'm going".
  • Chanson: He is still seen as a chansonnier, despite his music being closer to rock 'n' roll and pop.
  • Cool Car: The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost from Histoire de Melody Nelson. He himself later bought a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: His past as a young Jewish boy during the Nazi occupation. Possibly parodied/satirized in the album Rock Around The Bunker.
  • Dramatic Irony: He liked to tell the story of how he fought to be the first in line to receive the yellow star, thinking it was a sheriff star.
  • Dirty Old Man: When he became "Gainsbarre" in the 1980s.
  • Expy: Histoire de Melody Nelson is a Concept Album which is heavily based around Lolita.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: France Gall apparently had no idea that the Gainsbourg-penned "Les Sucettes" was one big double entendre about oral sex.
  • Grammar Correction Gag: "En Relisant Ta Lettre" has Gainsbourg reading a love letter. His only reactions are corrections of various spelling mistakes.
  • invokedHe Also Did: He composed some film soundtracks such as La Horse.
  • Ikea Erotica: "I come and go, between your kidneys"note  in Je t'aime... Moi Non Plus. It's French slang for "loins" and thus explains the apparent error.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: "Je t'aime... Moi Non Plus" ("I Love You... Me Neither")
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: It happens in some songs in the album Vu De L'Extérieur.
  • Incredibly Long Note: "Cargo culte," the last song of Melody Nelson, ends with a choir chord edited to stretch out for over a minute. It seems to stretch to infinity.
  • Intercourse with You: Many. For example, "Je t'aime... Moi Non Plus".
  • Kavorka Man: Despite being notoriously ugly and an alcoholic and having a Perma-Stubble in latter years, he had relationships with some of the most beautiful women of his time, including Brigitte Bardot and his long-term partner actress and model Jane Birkin. He even wrote a song about this: "Des Laids Des Laids".
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Les Sambassadeurs" is a loud, wild song, which ends with what sounds like a large crowd of people screaming in panic, while gunshots resonate over them.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Caused a stir among French military veterans when he released a reggae version of the French national anthem called "Aux Armes" ("To Arms"), with as only repeated phrase "Aux Armes Et Caetera" ("To Arms And So-on!")''.
  • Outlaw Couple: "Bonnie and Clyde" (with Brigitte Bardot).
  • Parental Incest: "Lemon Incest" makes ambiguous reference to this. Furthermore, the song is a duet with his daughter, Charlotte, who was twelve years old at the time. In the music video, they're laying on a bed, Serge is shirtless and Charlotte only wears a shirt and panties. In an interview in 2010 Charlotte defended her decision to record the track, though acknowledging it was a "provocation".
  • Pun-Based Title: He adored this trope:
    • "69 Année Érotique"
    • "La Décadanse" (pun on decadence and dance)
    • "Les Sucettes" (French for lollys, but also slang for fellatio)
  • Refuge in Audacity: The album Rock Around The Bunker (particularly the opening song "Nazi Rock"). "Lemon Incest" was also made with this intention. "Aux Armes Et Caetera", a reggae arrangement of the French national anthem, infuriated French nationalists and military veterans and "Je t'aime... Moi Non Plus" prudish listeners. Apart from that he caused many scandals by appearing drunk on TV and insulting other guests. A classic example was when he turned up drunk to a chat show and candidly remarked to fellow guest Whitney Houston just how much he would like to fuck her. In exactly those words.
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: In the song "Comic Strip" typical comic strip onomatopeia are imitated: Clip! Crap! Bang! Vlop! Zip! Shebam! Pow! Blop! Wizz!
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Je Suis Te Dire Que Je m'en Vais" has a shout-out to poet Paul Verlaine: "Comm' dit si bien Verlaine au vent mauvais" (''As Verlaine mentioned so well in the bad wind").
    • "Le Chanson de Prévert" is a reference to Jacques Prévert.
    • "Docteur Jekyll et Monsieur Hyde" references Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
    • "Bonnie & Clyde" was recorded after Gainsbourg saw Bonnie and Clyde. The lyrics are heavily inspired by The Trail's End, a poem written by the real Bonnie.
    • "Evguenie Sokolov" is named after a novel written by Gainsbourg.
  • Smoking Is Cool:
    • It's hard to find a picture of him where he isn't smoking.
    • The song "Dieu Fumeur de Havanes" even has God smoking havana cigars.
  • Spoken Word in Music: A lot, in the Histoire de Melody Nelson album.
  • Suicide as Comedy: "Le Poinçonneur des Lilas" sings about a ticket collector on the Paris Metro who cuts holes in tickets for first and second class, then eventually gets fed up with this tedious profession and decides to buy a gun to make the "final hole", so that they can put him in his own "big hole in the ground".
  • Toilet Humour: "Evguenie Sokolov" consists in a reggae-sounding instrumental, punctuated by various fart sounds. The title comes from a novel written by Gainsbourg himself. It's the story of an artist who paints his farts.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: a man who looks as if he smoked sixty Gauloises a day managed to be married to Jane Birkin. And serially got off with others.
  • Written Sound Effect: "Comic Strip" uses onomatopeia in the refrain.