A great loss …

Farewell Jane Birkin, singer and actress dead at the age of 76 in Paris.

To those of us initiates in our distant Bohemian days, she was born British, in Chelsea no less, and moved to France in the 1960s and wholly adopted the country as her own. She was the daughter of an English actress who inspired Noel Coward. She stayed briefly married to John Barry, the composer who wrote the music scores for eleven James Bond films, and then fell for the inimitable Serge Gainsbourg, who was 20 years her senior. She lived with him for 12 years, edging out BB,  Brigitte Bardot. 

Thus came  “Je t’aime,”  the erotic mega hit song banned at first by the BBC and others because of its heavy breathing suggesting orgasm. One Italian broadcaster who defied the ban and played the song was excommunicated by the Vatican. 

After “I love you” the song goes on:  “Je vais and je viens, entre tes reins,” literally “I go and I come between your loins,”  implying a back-turning manoevre during intercourse. Later Gainsbourg made a feature film about two gay men who meet Jane, portraying a boyish young woman. It starred Joe Dallesandro who was openly gay in those roaring early years in Paris.

Reviewers said that that much more sexually explicit film, which flopped at the box office, no pun intended, looks at the sexual and emotional stresses of a gay man who falls in love with a boyish girl.

In another show Gainsburg depicted Nazi Gestapo officers as drag queens.

Gainsbourg was a piece of work alright, an enigma, not just your ordinary mec. Pungent Gauloises cigarettes found their way to his hospital bedside during recovery from his first heart attack and he vowed to keep smoking and drinking more heavily than before.   

When a second massive seizure finally caught up with him adoration spilled into the streets and brought France to a virtual standstill.  At his funeral in 1991 French President Francois Mitterand called him  “‘our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire … he elevated song to the level of art.”

The guardians of French culture, the Academie Francaise, weren’t well pleased with that.

Gainsbourg is still revered in popular legend for his portfolio as a raunchy film-maker, musician, composer, artist, author and poet. 

A friend of mine lived down the street from Jane Birkin beside the river Seine in Paris. She was delightful and not only pleasing to the eye. In their local butcher’s shop the young apprentice behind the counter nearly chopped his fingers off when cutting up Jane’s meat orders so mesmerised was he.

The Academie Francaise has had its day now. It tried to get younger people to join to keep up its influence but to little avail.

(Incidentallty, second row, second from the right in the picture is the late Valery Giscard D’Estaing, Mitterand’s predecessor. He  misguidedly helped finance the pomp and golden glitter of dictator Jean Bedel Bokassa’s installation as Emperor of the Central Africa Empire in 1976. France provided an escort of soldiers and a military band for the parades.)  

Traditionally, the Academie Francaise defended French, the language of treaties and diplomacy, from incursions by the English and the Americans. But ‘le weekend,’  and  ‘le drug store’ crept in.

Today we have ‘le burn out,’  ‘les superprofits des petroliers’ and supercool binge watching of films and TV.

“J’ai binge watche’ un film vintage qui e’tait supercool.”

In political affairs we also have ‘le boomerang.’ For instance, that’s what happens if you mess with opponents like  Monsieur Putin. They fly right back into your face.

Why this preoccupation with France all of a sudden? I lived there once. I learnt how to eat well and drink well. It was an excellent gig until my Last Tango in Paris. (https://www.playground.angus-shaw.com/last-tango-in-paris/)

Last Tango in Paris

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