About Gainsbourg, “Je t’aime, moi non plus” and being French in the USA
When my friend Nadine Greenwood told me that she had tickets for the 2010 Joann Sfar film about Gainsbourg, she got me excited. (Gainsbourg: Vie héroïque, to be released in the USA August, 2011.) I discovered Gainsbourg’s music around the age of 18 and was immediately drawn to his unique melodies and sensual world. And when I saw the actress playing Brigitte Bardot with her long legs and gold cascading hair walking gracefully in a dark hallway, then knocking impatiently on Gainsbourg’s door, I fully understood why the famous song, “Je t’aime, moi non plus,” left such a deep emotional imprint on my soul. Who hasn’t made love listening to this song? If you haven’t yet, why don’t you? It is one of the best sensual experiences in a lifetime.
Gainsbourg’s electrifying personality and songs, infused with deep feelings and emotions, thick layers of cigarette smoke and personal memories, left no one indifferent. What he had to offer to the public was himself, and his fans loved him because he was truthful, authentic and free, and his art had this quality of propelling people into experiencing realms of creative and emotional realities hidden inside themselves.
Was he a maverick or did he see everything as having the potential to be transformed, manipulated, made into an art form? He dared singing La Marseillaise to reggae music, and he made such an incredible song — a fusion of cultures — replacing the symbol of the French state with a symbol of diversity and life without borders and limitations. He had something that few know how to use — a child-like freedom of thinking and imagining, of being who we are at the core, of finding an authentic voice despite adversity.
Leaving the cinema with Nadine, I was speechless and shaken by Gainsbourg’s presence. Minutes of silence were needed in order to take in the explosion of creativity we had just witnessed. At Gamine restaurant, at Union Street in San Francisco, I ordered moules louisette, and Nadine, mergez and ratatouille. Two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc — cheers to Gainsbourg’s art, to Gainsbarre as everybody called him, to sensuality!
“He awakes something in us,” Nadine said. “I want to dance, to make love, even to be self-destructive. He makes you want to live in the present without thinking about the future health consequences. He makes you want to forget about our bodies and he gives you permission to live as an emotional being without self-imposing limitations.”
“Do you think that Gainsbourg would like the film?” she asked me.
“He would be inspired by it and would make more art because art is what he knew how to do well. He was so authentic and so sensual,” I said laughing.
“Vachement,” (incredibly) added Nadine. “He wasn’t scared to show who he was. But he was drunk all the time. Who was he? His life was a fiction. His massive talent brought him acceptance. Everybody consumed his art. And he proved that it wasn’t all about beauty and physique. If you can express what you have inside, beauty pours out, and people are attracted to you. When you open your mind and your heart, and you are not scared to express your emotions, you resonate with people, because you inspire them to be like you.”
“Do you think that the French are more fatalistic, that they live more in the present and don’t care what they would look like when they reach 80?,” I asked her.
“We can’t be accepted living like this in the USA. Growing old is accepted with more grace in France. But it comes down to making a choice. Gainsbourg missed an opportunity to be inspired, create, and reach a creative frenzy without drinking and smoking. If only he had tried meditating,” she said.
“I can’t imagine Gainsbourg meditating! Creating music was his meditation, as well as living life to the fullest, embracing change and fate.”
“If he ever reached an old age, he could have been a monk,” she continued.
“But can a monk tap into his unlimited creative potential? Isn’t a monk living in a self-imposed controlled state — call it a harmony or a balance?” I added. “Gainsbourg couldn’t stop creating, expressing his emotions and feelings. He couldn’t stop himself from vices either. He probably didn’t see smoking and drinking as vices.”
“Maybe he was scared of himself? Maybe he was scared to face his appearance! The alcohol and the cigarettes helped him to be daring, to explore and to accept himself,” Nadine said.
“Tu as essayé la ratatouille? Elle est délicieuse," (Did you try the ratatouille, it is wonderful), she asked me. “C’est un beau petit resto. " (It’s a wonderful little restaurant).
“Did you notice,” said Nadine, “the moment in the film when he was with Jane Burkin in the bath tub? We could feel what was going on in their hearts. They were feeling the moment.”
“He was living his songs, and then he was writing them, the emotions from the experience still fresh and alive.” I told her. “Did you see in the film, the comic character, Gainsbourg’s double? It was a Sfar touch (Joann Sfar is a famous comic writer). It was too much at times, but how else to show this shadow that prevented him from finding a balance and at the same time letting him be so intensely creative?”
“Yes, that is all I could have taken” said Nadine also.
“Creators do that. They have to choose between being faithful to the character and making art.”
Being French in the USA
We were sipping our wine and looking at the noise and at people enjoying themselves at Gamine when we continued our conversation.
“How long did it take you to become accustomed to America?”
“Three years,” Nadine said. “It is so much more relaxed here. People don’t judge you. There are fewer limitations; you can reinvent yourself, become who you are. America gives you a second chance. In France, there are too many rules — people want to see you in a certain way. It is poetic living in France, but not adventurous. Here, life is about action. In France, it is about contemplation. The French have a poetic heart and the French living here manage to cultivate both — action and poetry.”
“I feel like America gave me a chance,” she added. “I know that I can become successful here. France didn’t make me feel this way.”
“I think that France gives this impression to everybody. And all immigrants feel the same way as you. It must be the elitism, the traditions, the lack of openness and too much judging.”
“Here you can choose who your friends are. You build your world as an active agent of life. You create your world,” Nadine said.
“Successful people always create their world, as Gainsbourg did.”
“At the same time, I realized living in America how beautiful France is,” Nadine continued. “People would stop me and tell how much they love my accent. I am really proud to be French, prouder here than in France. When I was watching the movie, I felt sad. I said to myself, “Maybe I missed something by coming here. I work all the time. I don’t have time to explore my creative and poetic side. Maybe the next chapter of my life would be to go back to France.”
“Why do you think that you can’t find your creative side here? You are probably scared to capture your potential. It is already inside you.”
“Artists are not known to make money,” she said. “And I am scared to lose my freedom if I stop thinking about my career. I work hard to protect my freedom.”
“What about setting aside one day a week for creativity?” I asked her.
“Do you remember what Gainsbourg said in the movie?” She said instinctively. “I need to sing, to create, I need top get it out. Otherwise it is too much inside me.” “When I dance,” she continued, “it is like removing layers from my body.”
“Les chansons de Gainsbourg, ça touche! (Gainsbourg’s songs are touching)!”
“It is because they are sensual, and because it reminds us of another time, our childhood, our past,” Nadine said.
“Do you remember when he was laying down with his white dog on the black sheets?” Nadine added. “They looked alike — two wild beasts.”
- Nadine Greenwood is a real estate agent at Sotheby’s, Sausalito, CA 94965
- (415) 203-7050
- Gamine French Bistrot
- 2223 Union Street, San Francisco
- (415) 771-7771
- Visit website!