‘A salon, a studio, a brothel’: inside Serge Gainsbourg’s Paris residence

‘A salon, a studio, a brothel’: inside Serge Gainsbourg’s Paris residence

Exterior Serge Gainsbourg’s former residence on a slender road in Paris’s costliest arrondissement, followers are lined up like pilgrims at a shrine, their wrists ink-stamped with the define of their idol’s profile, now his posthumous trademark.

They’re the fortunate ones. Lengthy earlier than the home – shut up for greater than three a long time for the reason that singer-songwriter died – was opened to the general public 11 days in the past, the 30-minute tour slots had offered out till subsequent yr.

There may be an environment of hushed reverence because the “guidelines” of the home are defined: no photographs, no movies, no leaning on the glass obstacles.

We’re additionally given headsets and suggested to comply with the directions of Charlotte Gainsbourg, 52, daughter of Serge and the British actor Jane Birkin, who died in July. Charlotte’s breathy and emotional narrative, punctuated with blissful and never so blissful recollections, accompanies our tour.

Artefacts within the ‘organized mess’ in the home embrace {a photograph} of Brigitte Bardot, a former lover of Gainsbourg’s. {Photograph}: Pierre Terrasson

The principle entrance, a black door, opens into a protracted lounge with white marble ground tiles and black diamond insets. The partitions are coated in black felt. The Steinway piano is open, the ashtray subsequent to the Gitanes and lighter is filled with butts. A big black and white {photograph} of a topless Brigitte Bardot, certainly one of Gainsbourg’s early lovers, stands out from the eclectic litter of artefacts and furnishings. Within the tiny kitchen, the bottles of wine lined up on a shelf are empty. Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and Angostura bitters sit neatly organized on cabinets in an alcove.

On this “very organized mess”, as Charlotte calls it, of objects – furnishings, photographs, album covers, a group of police badges – it’s as if Gainsbourg has simply popped out for one more packet of cigarettes. The window and skylight blinds are closed, giving the place a tenebrous air. The home is like the person: darkish, brooding, chaotic and a little bit tough across the edges.

No 5 bis rue de Verneuil, with its graffitied and sticker-covered exterior partitions, sits uncomfortably among the many bourgeois neighbouring homes and flats within the one-way road. Gainsbourg purchased the two-storey property in 1969 and lived there with Birkin till 1980, when she left him, after which till his loss of life in 1991. He as soon as mentioned of it: “I don’t know if it’s a studio, a museum, a salon or a brothel.”

For 32 years, Gainsbourg followers have flocked right here to go away their mark on the partitions and hoped for a peek inside. Charlotte first steered she may let individuals in a decade in the past, however the concept by no means noticed the sunshine of day till now.

Angled photograph at ground level of a corridor in the house with posters and other art lined up on the wall along the floor, and the walls and ceiling covered in black textile
A hall inside the home lined with black felt. {Photograph}: Pierre Terrasson

Gainsbourg is a French hero, adored not simply as a singer-songwriter, however as a composer, poet, painter and thinker. In the direction of the top of his life, prematurely ended at 62 by alcohol and several other packets of filterless Gitanes a day, he risked destroying this legacy and being remembered as an more and more unhappy, scruffy and dissolute roué. In the present day, he’s both cherished as a genius – he had 12 gold information, 5 double golds and 6 platinum – or despised as a crude, drunken provocateur and misogynist.

François Mitterrand known as him “our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire” for the poetry of his compositions, however there was nothing poetic a couple of dishevelled Gainsbourg telling the French singer Catherine Ringer she was a “slut” and a “whore” reside on a chatshow in 1986. The identical yr, he drunkenly pawed Whitney Houston, once more on reside TV, and introduced in English: “I wish to fuck her.”

His most well-known music, the heavy-breathing and suggestive Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus, made with Birkin, offered greater than 1m copies, reached No 1 within the UK charts and was banned in a number of international locations. He courted additional controversy by recording a music known as Lemon Incest with Charlotte when she was solely 12 or 13. (“The love we’ll by no means make collectively/Is probably the most lovely, the rarest, probably the most disconcerting/The purest, the headiest”.)

Via the headphones, Charlotte recounts, in a voice two notches up from a whisper, how the daddy she remembers was not often with out a briefcase filled with 500-franc notes – certainly one of which he burned on TV, sparking extra outrage – music scores and cigarettes.

Photo of Gainsbourg and Birmkin ion the beach at Cannes, he is looking off camera, smiling, while she leans on his shoulder, smiling, looking directly into the lens
Gainsbourg with Jane Birkin on the Cannes movie competition in 1974. {Photograph}: Jean Jacques Levy/AP

She tells how Gainsbourg at all times ate with the identical fork – “he nicked it from Maxims [restaurant] … he additionally had a plate from Maxims” – and owned varied ashtrays liberated from Parisian resorts; how she “would by no means have dared” play her father’s Steinway; how her mom was allotted a room for all her mess; and the way her father most well-liked the bidet to the tub.

“He was very clear however he didn’t wash his complete physique … baths weren’t his factor. He would wash his ft and the remaining within the bidet,” she says.

Within the bed room, additionally lined in black, there’s a tube of Smarties, a lollipop and chewing gum subsequent to a low mattress coated in a black mink counterpane with a baroque mermaid bench at its foot.

There’s a pause. Then Charlotte recounts how she, her half-sister Kate Barry (Birkin’s daughter with the movie composer John Barry) and the mannequin Bambou (Gainsbourg’s final associate) discovered the singer useless on this mattress on 2 March 1991. “We discovered him on his facet of the mattress, the far proper, one leg was protruding, so I think about he died in his sleep of a coronary heart assault. We lay down beside him. And time stopped,” she says.

Shot from the street of the perimeter wall of the property, painted white but covered in graffiti and stickers
The graffitied exterior wall of the home. {Photograph}: Alexis Raimbault

Reverse the home, one other property kinds a Gainsbourg museum, tracing his household historical past and his path to fame. There may be additionally a store promoting books and knick-knacks marked with the trademark profile, and a cafe-bar known as the Gainsbarre, after the hard-drinking, aggressive and vulgar alter ego he adopted late in his profession.

Within the queue exterior No 5 bis, Ornella Barbé, 27, who was not born when Gainsbourg died, is ready to get in. “I really like Gainsbourg’s music, and his poetry impressed me enormously once I was youthful.” she says. “I’m right here to pay tribute to him. It’s unimaginable that we will enter this temple the place so many issues occurred.”

Charlotte has described the home as a “gateway” to understanding her father’s legacy. In a latest interview, she mentioned: “I hope [the house] will shock individuals and that they are going to really feel the magic. I don’t really feel like I’m placing individuals in a voyeuristic place.”

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