Another Prodigy in the Gainsbourg Dynasty

The Gainsbourg dynasty resembles Israel's musical clan, the Banai family as just when they seem to hist a musical dead end, another prodigy appears.

Niv Hadas
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Niv Hadas

The cigarette in hand may be a Gauloise, and not Noblesse. Otherwise, the Gainsbourg dynasty resembles Israel's musical clan, the Banai family. When it seems the family is about to dead end musically, another prodigy appears.

Serge Gainsbourg pictured with Jane Birkin in London, 1977.Credit: AP

Next Wednesday, patrons of the arts here will meet the latest in the Gainsbourg line, Lucien, also known as Lulu, the youngest son of Serge Gainsbourg and his last partner, Bambou, will appear at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center with local guests for a tribute to his late father. Harel Skaat, Michael Greilsammer and Daniel Levy will take part. It will be an opportunity to see a new shoot in the Gainsbourg family tree.

Serge Gainsbourg was long considered a hero only in his native France, where he was a movie star, poet, a famed musician and composer of pop tunes influenced by affairs with celebrities such as Brigitte Bardot. Gainsbourg experimented with reggae, Latin and African rhythms, acoustic instruments and jazz. Stretching the boundaries of commercial music, he used unconventional melodies, sadomasochistic lyrics and singing that featured whispers and regular speech.

In the United States, where musical taste was influenced largely by British artists, Gainsbourg was perceived mostly as a curiosity, as an incorrigible playboy who slept with most of Paris, who sexually harassed Whitney Houston in a television broadcast and who filmed himself and his third wife, British actress Jane Birkin, making love to the accompaniment of his hit "Je t' non plus." Serge Gainsbourg died in 1991. Only in the last decade, has his large, rich repertoire received the acclaim it deserves. He won followers among hip hop and electronic artists, served as muse to Mike Patton in the Lovage project and won recognition both for the music he composed and for his innovative work as a producer and as a researcher of musical sounds. His image, in a three-piece suit and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, became no less of an icon than photos of Bob Dylan in sun glasses.

Jane Birkin, a model and actress, painted London red during the Swinging Sixties and met Gainsbourg while auditioning for the French film "Slogan." Not fluent in French, the beautiful Birkin nonetheless landed the part. Birkin and Serge appeared side by side, mixing film and music in their married life; their films and songs combined fantasy and reality. She appeared nude on the cover of the album "Histoire de Melody Nelson" and sang background vocals; in the film "If Don Juan Had Been a Woman," she kissed another Gainsbourg lover, Bardot. Birkin was not just a celebrity wife but an outstanding actress and singer in her own right. She continued to perform after her marriage to Gainsbourg collapsed. Over the past two decades, Birkin has been an inspiration to a new generation of artists, including Damon Albarn from Blur, with whom she recorded the duet "To the End," and Neil Hannon from Divine Comedy.

Lulu Gainsbourg in Los Angeles, April 2009.Credit: Getty Images

Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's daughter Charlotte is an amalgam of her parents' talents. She started her musical career with "Lemon Incest," a suggestive duet with her father, laden with hints about incest. In her 30s, she's a fascinating cultural figure. Like her parents, Charlotte herself sparks as much interest as her creative output. Her long, long legs, become an object of obsession for Gael Garcia Bernal in Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep." She appeared in Lars Von Trier's film "Antichrist." At the start of the year, she released with Beck, one of her father's most devoted admirers, an album that features a dialogue with her past and a desperate wrestling with the fear of death. "IRM," a title that stems from an MRI exam Charlotte had as a result of excruciating headaches, is a compelling work; it erases the negligible impression of her previous album, the bland "5:15," and even invites comparison to her father's adventurous compositions.

Lou Doillon, daughter of Birken and French director Jacques Doillon, is, like her mother, a consummate star. With unpretentious charm, she sings, but is loathe to call herself a singer; she appears in films, but does not present herself as an actress; and she is the subject of fashion photographs and yet is not exactly regarded as a model. Lou, 28, does not take life too seriously. At age 11, she had tattoos and a pierced tongue. After giving birth to her son, Marlowe Jack Tiger Mitchell, she left the father, Thomas-John Mitchell, to relax a little in New York. Here and there, she releases songs and appears in French films, but mostly she focuses on what she does best - having a good time.

Lucien Gainsbourg was not yet a year old, when his father wrote the song "Lulu" for his mother. He began taking piano lessons after his father died when Lucien was just 5-years-old. He ended up studying at the Berklee College of Music. Even more than his sister Charlotte, Lucien lives and performs in his father's shadow, mainly at tribute events such as the one scheduled in Tel Aviv next week. He openly proclaims his intention to follow in the footsteps of Serge Gainsbourg.



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