posted on April 02, 2008 08:16
Lucien Ginsburg (right) was born in Paris on 2 April 1928, eighty years ago today.
In 1944 he changed his name - to Lucien Guimbard. The rest of his family also adopted the temporary new surname: at the time they were hiding from occupying Nazi forces who wished to send them to a concentration camp with other Jewish families. Before fleeing Paris with his family, young Lucien wore the yellow star, which he would later cynically call his 'sheriff's star'.
It's not clear when exactly Lucien Ginsburg changed his name for the second time. We only know that by the end of the 1950s he was playing in Paris piano bars as Serge Gainsbourg. The first name is that of an everyday Frenchman; the Frenchified English surname evokes aristocratic British sang-froid. Throughout his career he would try to embody both aspects.
As Serge Gainsbourg (left) he made some of pop's greatest music. His golden age was the period bookended by 1967's 'Bonnie And Clyde' and 1971's 'Histoire De Melody Nelson', still two hugely influential albums. He enjoyed a creative (West) Indian summer in 1979 with a reggae album that included his version of 'La Marseillaise'.
Unfortunately, outside France he is only remembered for one throwaway duet he made with his partner - and it's her contribution that made the song (in)famous.
One last time he changed his name. In the 1980s, his years of terminal decline, he became Gainsbarre - a name to put to his increasingly boorish behaviour and ugly appearance. This was the period of his drunken TV appearances: chatting up Whitney Houston and insulting French singer Catherine Ringer.
Lucien Ginsburg, Lucien Guimbard, Serge Gainsbourg and Gainsbarre died on 2 March 1991. They are buried in the Cimitière Montparnasse, Paris, in a tomb (right) covered with used metro tickets in honour of his first big hit, 'Le Poinçonnneur des Lilas' - a song about being the ticket-puncher at Lilas metro station. (Just opposite is the grave of Samuel Beckett, where fans often leave bananas as a reference to 'Krapp's Last Tape'.)
His daughter Charlotte plans to make a Serge museum of his long-time Paris home on Rue de Verneuil, near the Boulevard Saint-Germain.
As 2 April 2008 happens to be the day that Bertie announced his departure, here's Serge Gainsbourg singing 'Je Suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M'En Vais' - in English, 'I've Come To Tell You I'm Going':