posted on August 10, 2009 19:00
Dateline early 2005, and the CLUAS gaffer has summoned your then Dublin-based correspondent to an urgent editorial meeting:
CLUAS gaffer: I have a hunch that the French indie scene is about to take over the world. As an Irish music webzine, we obviously need someone there to cover it. This would involve arduous hours of swanning around Paris with moody, hyper-intellectual French actresses who take their clothes off for art. As every other CLUAS writer is currently locked inside Whelan's, it'll have to be you.
Your correspondent: For the sake of music, I will make that sacrifice [*deep sigh, hand to the brow*]. And fair play to Art!
And so we landed Seine-side and settled into Chateau French Letter, official residence of the CLUAS Foreign Correspondent (Paris). As it happens, Chateau French Letter is near 5 rue de Verneuil, which was the home of none other than Serge Gainsbourg, perhaps France's only true great pop star. Gainsbourg lived there with his legendary partner, Jane Birkin, and their daughter Charlotte, herself known to make a fine record. The house has stood empty since Gainsbourg's death in 1991, but Charlotte lives nearby with her husband and children.
You can see what attracted Gainsbourg to the house and location. The street-side is a large wall with a double entrance, ensuring some privacy. And it's just round the corner from Saint Germain, where even today the wealthy and successful of Paris like to go clubbing.
Two bits of trivia: (1) Anecdotal evidence has it that despite his unkempt personal appearance Gainsbourg liked to keep his home scrupulously tidy and well-ordered; (2) the cover photo for his album 'L'Homme A La Tête De Choux' was taken in the courtyard of his home, featuring a statue of that name that once stood there.
As you'd imagine, the house on rue de Verneuil has become a place of pilgrimage for Gainsbourg fans. The outside wall (right) is covered in graffiti and there are tourists taking photos outside it on most days. However, there isn't a plaque or any official indication that a major figure of modern French culture once lived there.
But that may change. It's apparently the intention of his family to convert the house into a museum dedicated to the life and works of Serge Gainsbourg, with the high cost being a major stumbling block. To this end an exhibition on Gainsbourg last autumn at the Cité de la Musique in Paris helped to put the singer's legacy back into the spotlight - both Birkin and Charlotte Gainsbourg were prominent supporters of the show.
And the focus on Gainsbourg will continue next year with the release of a biopic on the man. The film has already garnered some tragic pre-release attention: Lucy Gordon, the English actress who plays Jane Birkin, killed herself on 20 May of this year, just days after the first private screening of the final cut.
There are two other must-see locations on the Serge tour of Paris - the metro station at Lilas that inspired his first hit, 'Le Poinçonneur Des Lilas', and his family plot at the cemetery in Montparnasse where visitors leave metro tickets from Lilas. (Across from Serge's resting place is the black slab of Samuel Beckett's grave, where fans leave bananas as a reference to 'Krapp's Last Tape'.)
So, in memory of our erstwhile neighbour, here's the fantastic 'Initials BB' and one of those days when Serge looked untouchably cool: