Serge Gainsbourg/FAQ

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The Gainsbarre FAQ (Gainsbourg for beginners)

This is a short FAQ on some of the most asked questions about Serge Gainsbourg. Always incomplete, of course.

How popular is Serge Gainsbourg in France?

In France Serge Gainsbourg is thought of as a musical, lyrical and literary genius. The best songwriter the country ever had. For more than 30 years he composed successful songs and created a very personal style, both provoking and very tender at the same time. They are still on the playlists of all major radio stations and all his LPs have been reedited on CD. And people are still buying them. His death in 1991 was a national day of sorrow and thousands and thousands went to his funeral, including president Mitterand. Asked for an equivalent people name singers / poets like Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen etc but this is all nonsense, of course. Serge was unique. Listen to him and agree. Still Gainsbarre remains to be some kind of an underground character in the rest of the world (especially in the non-French speaking parts...)

What books about Serge Gainsbourg do exist?

Most of what you need to know about Serge is included in these books:

  • Gainsbourg by Gilles Verlant. - Biography in French
  • Dernières nouvelles des étoiles. - All lyrics in one book

For more information see the Serge Gainsbourg bibliography

What personal habits did Serge Gainsbourg have?

  • He used to smoke filterless Gitanes (made by Seita) and even sung about it ("Dieu feumeur des havanes").
  • He used to drink Pastis.

Are there any statistics about Gainsbourgs sales or chart positions?

Unfortunatley I couldn't find any such thing until now.

However, some of his most famous songs were "Le poinçonneur des lilas" (1958), "Poupée de cire, poupée de son" (1965, by France Gall), "Harley Davidson" (1968, by Brigitte Bardot), the all-time favorite "Je t'aime... Moi non plus" (1969, with Jane Birkin), "Dieu fumeur des havanes" (1980, with Catherine Deneuve), "Love on the beat" (1984) and "Lemon Incest" (1984, with Charlotte Gainsbourg).

In Great Britain "Je t'aime... moi non plus" went to number 1 and stayed in the charts for 31 weeks. Jimmy Sommervilles version of "Comment de dire..." was a top 20 hit.

In the USA "Je t'aime... moi non plus" got up to number 69 (no joke).

Except for "Je t'aime... moi non plus", Serge Gainsbourg is quite unknown outside of France.

Where in France can I buy Serge Gainsbourg records?

The FNAC stores offer many of his CDs which are still selling very good in France. All the chain shops have stuff, and most small shops too. For CDs and LPs that are out of print you will have to search in 2nd hand stores. Best location, of course, is Paris. The location of the best known shops are:

  • FNAC
  • Virgin
  • Gibert Joseph
  • Extrapole

You can find his vinyl records in some small shops (e. g. in the areas of "Les Halles" or "St Michel"). They are sometimes very expensive (depending on the rarity): between FF 50 and FF 1'000 for a single and between FF 150 and FF 2'000 for an LP. You can find recent releases of old LPs that will be cheaper. But Gainsbourg made 25 LP's (without the lives, OST, and dozens of records he wrote for french actresses or singers). In fact hundreds of Gainsbourg LPs exist. Some of them are quite impossible to find.

If you want to find old records the best way in France is to go to the "Conventions": some week-ends, all the people who have rare records to sell. To find the dates and places go to perso.wanadoo.fr/conventions-de-disques. There's a French magazine for record collectors called Juke box magazine. Collectors also may have a look at www.respublica.fr/abccollectors.

Where to go in Paris if you're a fan of Serge Gaoinsbourg?

You should visit:

  • Serge Gainsbourg's house at 5 bis, rue de Verneuil, 7e arrondissement, Paris (some pictures taken by Emmanuel F. can be found at http://gainsbarre.noiretblanc.org/, some by Sylvain Burgert at http://www.multimania.com/slybu/ )
  • The cemetery of Montparnasse, where Serge was buried (he's in the same tomb as his parents "Olga and Joseph Ginzburg")
  • The places where he played his concerts: Le Zénith, Le Casino de Paris, Le Palace (it's closed now)
  • record shops
  • book shops to search for Evguénie Sokolov (the original has a black cover), Bambou et les poupées (photos of Bambou) and about 50 different books about him (have a look at some of the in FNAC)

Where can I find a copy of the movie Anna (1967)?

Anna was a TV special featuring Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Brierly and Serge Gainsbourg. The movie is not available on video or DVD but some fans have recorded it from TV. The songs in the program include "Roller girl", "Sous le soleil exactement" and others which were released on an EP and also on a soundtrack LP which has been released on CD twice. There is no song in the movie called "Anna".

The soundtrack has been released in Japan in CD and LP format. The CD has a 5 booklets with pics, written in Japanese.

Anna Karina was one of Godard's favourite muses (or starlets) in the sixties, in films such as Une femme est une femme and Vivre sa vie. In fact, she even married him...

What Serge Gainsbourg tribute albums do exist?

  • Mick Harvey (usually playing with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) recorded two albums with songs by Serge Gainsbourg: Intoxicated man (1995) and Pink elephant (). The songs are all very well translated into English and musically lean very much towards the original. These are probably the most recommendable tribute albums for people who don't understand French but want to know what Gainsbourg sung about (even if all translations of course can compare to the wit of the original language). The albums also feature Anita Lane and Nick Cave.
  • A collection by John Zorn.
  • April March recordings.
  • The Baby Birkin collection produced by ex-Pulp Russell Senior. Interesting arrangements.
  • A Japanese collection (sung in Japanese).
  • Blonde Red Head released their version of "Slogan" (featuring the drummer of Sonic Youth)

What is the story behind the names "Gainsbarre" and "Gainsborough"?

"Hippie in Finland" wrote: "Well, from what I know and have heard, the Gainsbarre name he invented due to his drinking, 'barre' meaning a bar or something. I guess Gainsborough is kinda taken from the English borough's, since he only mentions that in the songs where he's talking about England and travelling there. This is only a wild guess from myself though. :o) Cool names anyway, there's no-one like Serge!"

Where can I get posters of Serge Gainsbourg?

No sources found until now.

What about the Whitney Houston incident?

It was shown on a documentary about Gainsbourg broadcasted on Channel 4 in England. Basically it covers his whole career - with lots of great footage from French TV, etc.

Transcript (before "she's a genius" and after "whaaat did you say"!!!)

Serge (to Host) - "She's a genius..."
Host (to Houston) - "Er... he says you are a genius..."
Houston - "Oh, thank you!"
Host - "...c'est genial"
Houston - "Thank you very much!"
Serge - "Oooooohhhh!"
Host - "He says you are great... très jolie..."
Houston (laughs) - "Thank..."
Serge (to Host) - "NAAAHHH! You are not Reagan, I am not... Gorbachev, so... don't try, eh? I said I want to fuck her."
Houston (gasps)
Host (to Houston) - "Oui... er.. alors... je vous traduis... no... no... no... no... he says you are great! He says you are très jolie!"
Houston - "Whhhaaattt?"
Host (to Houston)- "No... no... no no... no no... see... see..."
Houston (shocked) - "What did he say?