DATE: 7/16/2012 | BY CORY REYNOLDS
This week TamTam Books launches Gilles Verlant's authoritative new biography of the legendary French pop star, Serge Gainsbourg. Scroll down for an excerpt from Verlant's chapter on Gainsbourg's passionate but short-lived love affair with screen legend, Brigitte Bardot, or see launch event details on our blog.
EXCERPT: From the chapter Zip! Shebam! Pow! Blop! Wizz!
by Gilles Verlant
Brigitte is still married to Gunther Sachs, but he's getting on her nerves. He dreams of making a movie with her and recruits Gérard Brach to write the script. But Bardot hates the project. To avoid doing it, she signs on for Shalako, which is supposed to start shooting in Andalusia come January, with Sean Connery. In May, 1967, Gunther forces her to present his film Batouk at Cannes. It is a documentary he had produced about the animals of Kenya. Rumors of divorce are rampant… On July 13, their first wedding anniversary ends in a huge fight. During the summer, Brigitte shoots a short piece with Alain Delon, part of the film Histoires extraordinaires, based on the book by Edgar Allan Poe and directed by Louis Malle, and it is then that she cheats on her husband with one of the assistants, a story she tells in her autobiography.
Another one of her lovers from this time, who wishes to remain anonymous, recounts the following: "Gunther Sachs was a despicable character, a total bore, with no moral standards or any warmth - a reactionary teuton, odiously arrogant and nasty, who would indulge himself by screaming at gas station attendants ofr waiters when he wasn't served promptly enough. Take away his money and he was nothing. For him, marrying Bardot was a question of social status. He really put one over on her."
Now it's impossible to understand what will follow – namely the mad passion that will unite Bardot and Gainsbourg for no more than a few weeks but which will have serious repercussions for the both of them – without taking into consideration the reckless Don Juanism of this woman, who at the age of 33 is at the height of her beauty. Our anonymous contributor continues: "She dealt with her conquests like a praying mantis: Serge, like me and like all the others, was zombified by Bardot. That woman had a supreme talent for grinding men into rubble. Serge was a totally atypical lover for her. He had the authenticity of a real artist, he hated money, and he led his life with a sort of heedless existentialist ethic. He was the exact opposite of the clean-cut types she had been with. I am convinced that Serge fascinated her much more than her other lovers. He brought her into a world of intelligence and talent, which no one had ever exposed her to before. Little did it matter that he had a face like a gargoyle from Nôtre-Dame. What's more, he brought a whole new world to her, served up on a silver platter, which is just what she needed at the time. Thanks to Serge she was hip again."
It all begins on October 6, 1967, with an innocent little breakfast to discuss the Sacha Show and the special broadcast of January 1. She tells Serge about certain scenes already filmed back at the end of summer – "La Madrague" at her place in Saint-Tropez, and then "Le soleil" on the beach at Pampelonne. The scene with flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata is finished by director François Reichenbach on the night of Bardot's birthday, during a party on September 28. Gunther is absent and makes due with sending a telegram... Then in London, she films Le diable est anglais, a stupid little piece by Bourgeois and Rivière in which she wears a charming little uniform that brings to mind those worn by the Beatles on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's. In the television studios in Boulogne, the remaining sequences are given to another director, Eddy Matalon. Things go poorly and the star is perturbed. She is annoyed by the incompetence of the people around her and complains about having to fend for herself, without costume or makeup people:
"I was just about to chuck it all in when I got a call from Serge Gainsbourg. He said very little and spoke very softly. He wanted to meet with me alone and have me listen to two songs he had written for me. Did I have a piano? Yes.
He came to my place at Paul-Doumer.
I felt just as intimidated as he did."
Serge plays "Harley Davidson" for her on the piano. Brigitte has no particular interest in motorcycles and expresses doubt. Serge responds with a "bitter and sad smile" that this doesn't mean she can't do it in her own style.
"I didn't dare sing in front of him. There was something in the way he looked at me that made me freeze up. A sort of timid insolence, like he was waiting, with a hint of superior humility. He was full of strange contradictions, a scornful glare in an otherwise sad face, a cold humor betrayed by a warmth in his eyes."
Shy, she tries to sing, but without much conviction. So Serge then asks if she has any champagne. They pop open a bottle of Moët et Chandon just to break the ice. Rehearsals start the next day and continue until they record "Harley Davidson" and "Contact" in October, 1967, at studio Hoche with Michel Colombier at the helm and an assistant engineer named William Flageollet. The result is a 45 that is released on December 10. The night of the recording, Brigitte, as she recounts in her autobiography, invites Gloria, her "Chilean Amazon," who is accompanied by husband Gérard Klein. After the session, the four go out to eat together, and Brigitte furtively grasps Serge's hand under the table.
"I had a visceral need to be loved, desired, to belong body and soul to a man I loved, admired and respected.
"The moment my hand touched his was a shock for the both of us, an interminable and endless melding, an uncontrollable and uninterrupted electrocution, a desire to crumble and melt, a magical and rare alchemy […] His eyes met mine and his gaze never left me. We were all alone in the world! Alone in the world! Alone in the world! "
Gloria and her husband discreetly retire and leave the new lovers alone.
"From that very minute, which lasted centuries and still lasts today, I never left Serge, and he never left me."
This little champagne-fueled dinner in a Montmartre restaurant marks the beginning of a torrid love affair that is chronicled in astonishing and meticulous fashion by Joseph as he writes his letters to Liliane. On October 30, he gets it straight from his son's lips that Brigitte is in love with him.
Joseph Ginsburg: "Serge worked his charm while they were rehearsing a song for Show Bardot. It's no secret in the showbiz world. Thus are the ravages (or blessings, depending on one's point of view) of Slavic charm. He told us: 'I've lost all my hang-ups about being ugly. Women look at me differently.'"
William Flageollet: "Bardot was the ultimate star. When she entered a room everybody was under her spell. Even though she wasn't a real singer, we recorded quickly, and she had no problem getting it right, which was not the case with Dalida or Mireille Mathieu, whose sessions were endless. I remember that for us, the technicians, when we worked with Bardot, well, it was a bath every day, our Sunday best, and our finest suits and ties. If the session started at eight, we didn't come five minutes early, like usual, but rather a half-hour early. That first night we looked around at each other and broke out in laughter."
Eddy Matalon: "We had imagined a song set in a stylized garage, with a big Harley. It all seems so tame today! I am surprised at how legendary it became. My only explanation is this: from 1967-68, the whole poster thing really took off, and the image showing Bardot straddling her bike was one of the first to be reproduced like that…"
The chains, the red and white oil drums, and a superb chrome machine… And Bardot, black leather miniskirt, shiny, high-heeled boots that climb up to her thighs, the dark eyes, that blonde mane of hair: one can't help but visualize this amazing and fantastical image when you hear her sing…:
I don't need a thing at all
When my Harley calls
Nothing means a thing at all
When my Harley calls
Hot leather on my jeans
I feel the vibration of my machine
Gun the motor one more time
The pleasure's so divine
Gainsbourg: "I worked according to the desiderata of the directors and Brigitte. For example, when I learned we could shoot at an exposition of kinetic art and that Brigitte would be dressed by Paco Rabanne, I wrote 'Contact,' a futurist piece…"
Help me out of my flight suit, if you please
It's covered all over with space debris
On November 1, 1967, Serge sings "Comic Strip" with Brigitte on the Sacha Show. He is also an extra in the background while Distel and Bardot – who were lovers in 1958, don't forget – wearing flowery shirts and necklaces, perform "La bise aix hippies," an amusingly silly little sketch.
Sacha Distel: "I spoke with Serge, so I knew that Bardot was the dream of a lifetime for him. During the taping of that episode of the Sacha Show, I could see onstage that there was clearly something between them."
Serge and B.B. go out all the time. One night he takes her to Raspoutine, on Rue Bassano. Emotion is running high: the gypsy band plays romantic serenades and accompanies the couple all the way to his green convertible, an English Morgan, which "smelled of leather and rosewood […] my toy, my passion, my whim," as Bardot reports. They drive to her place at 71, Avenue Paul-Doumer:
"I was really dolled-up for him.
We didn't try to hide it. On the contrary, we flaunted our passion. Régine knew about it. We spent a few nights dancing at her cabaret, holding each other close. […] We left there, inebriated by our own selves, by champagne, Russian music – we were lost in the same vertigo, drunk on the same harmonies, the same love – we were mad for one another."
Régine: "They came to eat at my place several times because they needed to avoid being seen in public. I remember having a real good time and Brigitte seemed very relaxed, laughing all the while. She was really in full bloom, and I think she really admired him, and he was quite flattered because he considered himself so ugly. He was astonished that this woman who epitomized beauty was so enamored of him. I had always told him he was beautiful because of his talent, and that women who put importance on looks were idiots…"
Joseph Ginsburg: "Lucien exulted… 'The most beautiful woman in the world wants me at her sides!' And right he was! But then he continued: 'But beware the wrath of Gunther Sachs,' and 'I don't want to walk into a trap.' Subtext: 'If I fall in love, I'm screwed…' That's just how he was. I was dumbfounded."
Serge is burning the candle at both ends: he films during the day and composes at night. After La Pacha, he appears in Vivre la nuit with Marcel Camus, the director of Black Orpheus. He plays a small-time reporter with a big heart who looks on helplessly as his friends (Jacques Perrin and Catherine Jourdan) tear each other apart…
It's at this moment that Brigitte is invited by Gunther Sachs to come and celebrate her 33rd birthday at his place on Avenue Foch. "I spoke to Serge, who advised me to go," says Bardot. "After all, I was his wife. But I didn't go. I was really the illicit wife of Serge, and I adore the illicit." She nevertheless sees Gunther out of a sense of "obligation" and a terrible fight breaks out. He reproaches her violently for her tryst with "that horrible fellow, that clownish Quasimodo" with whom she flaunts herself just to "make him look ridiculous." She comes back at him and says that she's "the most cheated on woman in the world" and that she has every right to take revenge:
"Serge was the worried sort, always fretting about losing me. Each time I came back to him he thought it was a miracle. It seemed impossible, in his eyes, that I'd chosen him, and our reunions were as passionate as those that take place after an interminable separation, even if I was gone only for a few hours. He bought me a wedding ring at Cartier which he slipped onto the ring finger of my left hand after I had taken off the red, white and blue rings Gunther had given me.
I have a very personal divorce ritual."
Serge is totally overwhelmed on the work front. Two studios are reserved for him at Barclay, on Avenue Hoche. In one he records with Bardot; in the other, he works with Mireille Mathieu on the song "Desesperado" – a piece still unreleased, at least by her. It winds up in the hands of Dario Moreno a few months later:
The stars are like explosions in the sky
That just before he dies
A desperado casts
Up to the heavens vast
One might wonder what drives Gainsbourg to accept or reject writing for certain artists. All his choices seem to be made according to esthetic concerns, dominated by willful misappropriation and by an apparently torturous refusal to compromise. Among those whose requests he refuses include Johnny Hallyday and Sheila, as well as Stone, Jeanne Moreau, and Sylvie Vartan. But that doesn't stop him from writing for Dalida or Mireille Mathieu. In Les Lettres françaises (1969), he attempts to explain it:
"I know the limits of my modesty. When Piaf was selling 500,000 records and I was flat broke, I refused to write for her. I refused Montand because I didn't agree with him ideologically. I refused Hallyday, and others who sell tons of records. Compromise is O.K., but my condition is that it be a bit tongue in cheek. I don't want to just fall into the mainstream".
In all truth, with the exception of certain cases where he isn't in the position to refuse (pressure from his recording company, a service owed a publisher, etc.), it's impossible not to notice a certain spite that seems to whisper: "If they're stupid enough to ask me for songs, then they're going to get what they pay for." The exception seems to be Dominique Walter, whom he sees again in 1967. For one thing, Serge is fascinated by this lad with a destiny completely the opposite of his (born in opulence, handsome mug, never experienced misery or emotional problems, neither with women nor with his career as a singer, which he practices as a dilettante). There's also a moral debt with respect to his mother, Michèle Arnaud, his first interpreter, who is more powerful than ever at television stations (she's very close to the Prime Minister Georges Pompidou) and has always been faithful to a fault. Yet we can't help detect a sort of perversity on the part of Serge. The songs he gives to Walter are unusually aggressive, which is the exact opposite of Dominique's image of a charming songster. After "Les petits boudins," he has Walter sing "Johnsyne and Kossigone," a spoonerism on the names of the heads of states of the U.S. and Russia, Johnson and Kosygin.
Johnsynne and Kossigone
Two cuties both well-known
But not a thing to say
A bachelor I will stay
Kossigone I don't care
And Johnson's just hot air
The producers of Manon 70, a film starring Catherine Deneuve and Sami Frey, had commissioned music from Serge, but he's simply beat and wants to be left alone. All this work is coming at a bad time…
Michel Colombier: "It was at the apex of his romance with Bardot. We were supposed to meet at my place at nine o'clock Monday morning. We had very little time to write the different themes. I wait, but he doesn't show. He ends up calling me at noon to tell me: 'Listen, I'm going to be a little late…' He's still not there at five, so I call and tell him I'm going to proceed without him seeing as how we had to be in the studio in just three days. I think he finally showed up the night before the recording session. He told me that he couldn't pull himself away from Brigitte and gave me this great line: 'Every time I put my shirt back on she rips it right off!'"
Serge really loves "Manon," and goes so far as to include it in his concert at the Zenith in 1988. Jane will also do a lovely version at the Casino de Paris in May, 1991:
I'm sure you don't have a clue Manon
How much I despise
All that you are
One evening, Serge and Brigitte head out to the King Club, where they are spotted by Jacques Chancel, at that time the gossip columnist for Paris-Jour, who's dining with Françoise Sagan. The next day he writes that Serge and Bardot "spend all their evenings together." On Wednesday, November 22, Serge calls him to complain. Chancel discourteously and hastily tries to explain his intentions:
Serge: "You've embarked on a campaign that's a real pain for me. Now I'm going to have all the weekly rags hounding me…"
Chancel: "You should be flattered…."
Serge: Don't you understand that I'm the anonymous type? I live on the fringe, and now all of the sudden I'm portrayed as some kind of playboy. I'm no Casanova […] I've found this great love, which is nobody's business, but it's not like I'm her future husband. B.B. is happy. B.B. is working. B.B. is having a grand time. We're happy together and there's no law against friendly relationships."
Back to the Bardot Show: amidst a décor of floating balloons painted with psychedelic letters representing phylacteries, Tito Topin directs B.B. as she rips through a backdrop and insolently moves forward, covered from head to toe in a white one-piece jumpsuit, a little comic-strip style superhero cape hanging from her shoulders, and – one more spicy detail – a black wig making her look like the photographic negative of Barbarella. It's "Comic Strip" of course. The producers find out that the Americans are buying the program and they record two versions, so we have Bardot going "zip-shebam-blop-whiz" in both French and English…
It's Serge's talent that made the show a success.
"He's was in charge of all the visuals. Among other things, he chose my wardrobe, the things that suited me best, or sometimes he'd just have me half-naked. He directed me and advised me. At the recording session for the song, 'Oh! Qu'il est Vilain,' which out of jealousy was written by Jean-Max Rivière against the wishes of Serge, he still handled the difficulty of the situation and adeptly directed the recording session, even though the song was a flop."
For the final apotheosis, after the sketch created around the song "Bubble Gum," we have the superb imagery of "Bonnie and Clyde." The fugitive gangster couple, brought to life on film by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, will become popular in France only a couple of months later. On November 10, 1967, Serge, in the style of Jack Warner, had screened the film and took the time to pay close attention to Dunaway's monologue:
You've heard the story of Jesse James
And how he lived and died
If you're still in need
Of something to read
Here's the story of Bonnie and Clyde
Gainsbourg: "I have dinner with Bardot and I intentionally get plastered. She calls the next day and asks why I did that. I'm all silent, as if to imply: 'I was overwhelmed by your beauty.' So she tells me: 'Write me the most beautiful love song you can imagine.'" That night he writes "Bonnie And Clyde" and "Je t'aime moi non plus"…
The story goes Clyde had a doll so pretty
A lovely little thing whose name was Bonnie
The two of them create the gang of Barrow
Their names – Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow
Imagine an abandoned warehouse, Bardot in a long skirt whose slits give way to garters, short wig, beret covering her ear, eyes as dark as ever, finger on the trigger of her machine gun. And Gainsbourg, alias "Ladykiller" – her name for him – shirtsleeves rolled up, tie a mess, ready to draw his Colt from the holster:
Serge: "One of them is going to find us sometime
To hell with it for Bonnie's love is all mine"
Bardot: "What do I care if those bastards snuff me
I would die for Clyde and in a heartbeat
Serge and B.B. are also being hunted. The paparazzi are hounding them. They're camped out in front of her place on Avenue Paul-Doumer and also in front of La Cité des Arts, as the establishment's director tells us:
Simone Bruno: "It caused a lot of gossip because it was really out of the ordinary as far our daily routine at La Cité was concerned. One day I ran into Brigitte Bardot in the hall. She had come with an exquisite dog, and in fact I had noticed nothing but the dog and my secretaries broke out laughing when I told them we were being visited by an Afghan with beautiful long hair. They asked me: "'Didn't you notice who was holding the leash?'" I hadn't looked at the owner! That being said, we had a night watchman who was feeding details about Serge's visitors to France-Dimanche. The poor guy got the boot – he had violated the discretion of the establishment."
In Catherine Rihoit's biography of Bardot, published in the eighties, Serge recalls their paranoia.
Serge: "People had a kind of hatred for her. I saw her accosted in the streets: 'You're disgusting!' What did that poor girl ever do? She never hurt anybody. She lived her life, she chose her men… When we would walk around together on the streets, she had a sort of sixth sense – she could sniff out photographers. She could smell them, literally. She'd say: 'I know there's one around.' I never saw anything, but she was always right, like an animal that could smell its hunter…"
In the meantime, the producers of Shalako sends Brigitte the script for the film, which starts shooting in the coming weeks. Madame Olga, her agent, doesn't look kindly upon her relationship with Gainsbourg and struggles to make Brigitte face the facts and accept her duties. Isn't she the one who wanted to shoot this western in order to distance herself from the cinematic ambitions of hubby Gunther? But she doesn't read the script and she pokes fun at the American producers rounded up by "Mama Olga" who try and convince her of how lucky she is to be able to work with Sean Connery and a director as famous as Edward Dmytryk.
As the days pass, Brigitte comes to the brutal realization that her marriage to Gunther Sachs, with whom she is temporarily out of touch, is nothing but a "sham," a "show-business spectacle":
"Serge spent the nights composing marvels on my old Pleyel Piano. One morning, he played me his gift of love: 'Je t'aime moi non plus.'"
Claude Dejacques: "The recording of 'Je t'aime moi non plus' took place at Barclay studios. The arrangement was by Michel Colombier, and the only people there were Denis Bourgeois, the sound engineer, Serge, Brigitte, and me. It took two hours tops. There was an extraordinary atmosphere of love that permeated the studio. They were truly in love – it wasn't just some stupid flirtation, but real love."
Brigitte: I love you, I love you
Oh God I love you
Serge: Not me
Brigitte: Oh my love
Serge: Like a wave not yet breaking
I come, I come and I glide
William Flageollet: "On the first session the voices didn't record well. We had changed reels, the musicians were playing their asses off, everything was in place but nothing was happening. There was no emotion – neither from Serge nor from Brigitte. So the next day we took up where we'd left off and the recording got underway with, let's say… emphatic body language. In short, Bardot had loosened Serge up. The two of them were standing very close together and not a single movement was censored by modesty… a very hot session. They were very cuddly and we just dimmed the lights…
Brigitte: "When we recorded 'Je t'aime moi non plus' it was late at night, at the Barclay studios. We each had a mic. We were maybe three feet away, holding hands. I was a little ashamed about imitating the lovemaking between Serge and me, sighing with desire like I was coming, all in front of the engineers. But after all, I was simply interpreting a situation, as if it were a film I was shooting. Then Serge comforted me with a wink, a smile, a kiss.
It was great, beautiful, pure. It was us."
In his book Piégée, la chanson…?, Claude Dejacques lets his lyricism run free and describes this historic session:
"It's about 10 o'clock and I'm waiting to put down the vocal tracks. No reporters or photographers. They bolt out of a black taxi, crazy in love, just like in the song, and make their way down the hallway to the studio. Things are going swimmingly and as soon as they hear the playback music that they're to sing over they plunge into the heart of the fantasy that is devouring them, clothed only in the music and lyrics, drunk with each other and so honest that the take becomes much more than a simple duo by singers in front of a microphone: they are leaving their mark for eternity. First thing the next day I'm in the mixing booth. This time, I can see that Brigitte is really holding her own and I know that this is going to be something big. We make promotional copies (which were later saved), but towards 10 o'clock we get hit with a cease and desist order. Brigitte's lawyer had blocked the release."
This probably doesn't all happen as quickly as Dejacques recounts. At least a weekend goes by between the recording session and this drama, enough time for France-Dimanche to publish a petty little piece by François Marin that appears on December 12, and which describes the song as "4 minutes and 35 seconds of amorous panting" before going on to tell how the session had been recorded behind closed doors:
"Even Gunther Sachs, Brigitte's husband, was not permitted to enter the studio. I called him to get his side. His maid told me: 'Mr. Sachs has left on a trip. I don't know where he is or when he will return.'"
Gunther is, in fact, in Switzerland. Once advised, he hops on the first plane to take charge of the matter.
Claude Dejacques: "Gunther just blew his top. He demanded that she choose between him and Serge. It's at that moment she decided to send the telegram blocking the release of 'Je t'aime moi non plus.'"
The indiscretion immediately causes Bardot to panic, as she points out in Initiales B.B.:
"Madame Olga had warned me that if the record came out, Gunther would leave me and the result would be an international scandal which would forever tarnish my image. This whole thing had left Olga beside herself, and she scolded me vehemently for my bad behavior, my lack of discretion and morality, my dissolute and undisciplined life! In short, she gave me a working over that no amount of tears could abate! I had gotten what I deserved!"
Olga demands that she write to Philips immediately and make them halt the release of the record:
Gainsbourg, apprised of the situation which was now assuming unheard of proportions, accepted at the last minute, and with his usual elegance, to remove "Je t'aime moi non plus" from the album, which was scheduled for release in just a few days.
That morning, he receives a letter that he would later display among other souvenirs at Rue de Verneuil. It is perched atop a lectern: on letterhead that reads Brigitte Sachs Bardot, we can make out the words of the manuscript – "Serge, I implore you to halt the release of 'Je t'aime'…"
"Her husband forgot about the relationship, but he couldn't accept that song," surmises William Flageollet, the engineer who reminds us that the record is actually played one time during an afternoon news broadcast on Europe No.1: "The reporters ignored the interdiction, saying 'It's just this once that you'll hear this censured piece!' Who gave it to them? Gainsbourg? Dejacques?"
Claude Dejacques: "The masters had to be seized. I had arranged to put them to the side, but the officials who grabbed them only took one copy!"
As all this unfolds, hot on the heels of the France-Dimanche story, the scandal rags realize that they have hit pay dirt with this story, and Bardot will suffer the consequence for a good 15 years. Paris-Presse l'Intransigeant affirms: "Gainsbourg frightened about his duo with Bardot." The writing is a classic example of the genre:
"I have just listened to a most scandalous record. So scabrous that I must hesitate each time I put pen to paper in order not to make you red with shame when I convey what I have heard. […]
Believe me when I say that the lyrics to this song will in no way quiet the rumors we have been hearing about Serge and Brigitte. The song begins, quite innocently, with some very pretty organ music that is almost liturgical.
Then, B.B. sings: 'I love you, I love you my love'…
'Not me' answers the composer, straight-faced.
Nothing shocking so far. But wait for the rest […] B.B. sings:
'You come and you glide, thrusting inside. Oh! My love, you're a wave.'"
Later, things become almost surreal in this paragraph printed in bold, capital letters:
"FROM TIME TO TIME BRIGITTE LETS OUT LITTLE MOANS OF PLEASURE AND SIGHS OF COMFORT. FRANKLY, IT IS LIKE LISTENING TO TWO LOVERS IN THE THROWS OF COPULATION."
On December 20, the very same Paris-Presse publishes stolen photos of Bardot and Serge doing their Christmas shopping. In reality, they had been taken before the scandal broke. Bardot, "kidnapped" by Gunther, spends a week in Gstaad. He takes this opportunity to try and seduce her anew. He even suggests that she take an apartment right next to his at 32, Avenue Foch. But he is oblivious to the fact that Bardot and Serge still dream of living together. Upon her return, Serge has Brigitte visit the little house that his father has found on Rue de Verneuil, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, swearing to her, as Bardot tells it, "that he will build his love the palace from A Thousand and One Nights."
Joseph Ginsburg: "Two weeks earlier I'd called and told him: 'If you want to see this nice little house, you better go do it soon. – Give me the address!' The two of them went there and he told me that he liked the house and that he'd go back and see it during the day. When he went back the next day at 11:00, with Brigitte, there were interested parties on site, but as soon as the agent saw the two of them arrive he exclaimed: 'It's sold! It's sold!' The second visit sealed the deal and Lucien concluded the business. The house – street-level and second story – is at 5 bis, Rue de Verneuil, the same street where Gréco lives."
On December 24, Serge is interviewed by phone on France-Inter. The reporter mentions how the single was shelved at the last minute and asks Serge for an explanation…:
Serge: "There was a scandalous article printed in some rag and there is no reason to make a scandal out of this song because it's too beautiful. It's an erotic piece that would have been restricted to those under the age of 18. But the music is very pure… For the first time in my life I write a love song, and what happens? They take it the wrong way…Bardot interpreted the text wonderfully. I'm delighted to have worked with her. I had her sing in a real dramatic style and it's a good song."
Reporter: "Are you having a nice Christmas?"
Serge: "Yeah, alone…"
The January 1 television show is an "immense success" as Brigitte puts it:
"I watched it at Avenue Foch, where Gunther had invited some friends over. Everyone raved – I was beautiful, I sang well, even Gunther was proud. It was only when Serge came onscreen that things turned sour. Everyone criticized him, said how ugly he was!
I had tears in my eyes! […]
Where was he?
He must be sulking somewhere, depressed, in his little dorm room all alone with nothing but his piano for company."
The next day she has to take off to Almería to make Shalako. Gunther, feeling stung, decides to go with her. She no longer wants to do the film and calls her agent in a fit of tears to say that she doesn't want to leave. Madame Olga flies into a rage and tells her that she's reckless:
"I saw Serge again at Paul-Doumer while I was packing. Madame Renée, my housekeeper, in strictest confidence, had orders not to open the door for anyone. Serge filled my suitcase with little words of love scribbled over sheets of music, every which way. […]
At the last moment, I pierced the skin of my right index finger and wrote 'I love you' with my blood.
He did the same and wrote 'not me.'
Then we melted into each others' tears, hands, mouths, breath."
When the door closes behind him, the separation is for good, but that's still ignored today. Brigitte offers this analysis in retrospect:
"It's because this love was shattered that it was so intense. We had escaped the everyday, the grind, the scenes – all that destroys even the wildest passion over the course of time. With Serge I have nothing but sublime memories of beauty, love, humor, folly."
Over the years Serge often amuses himself and pretends to be some sort of conspirator, playing dumfounded reporters the test pressing of "Je t'aime moi non plus" with Bardot, which remains unreleased until 1986. Of course, the pressing is all scratched up and worn out, but it still exudes the formidable sensuality that the public at large would discover when Bardot finally permitted it to be released, with the profits going to her foundation for the protection of animals.
Claude Dejacques: "In spite of my immense affection for Brigitte, I was always convinced that she had really blown it by stopping the release of 'Je t'aime moi non plus.' Her version was twice as powerful as Jane's, and the record could have been the peak of her career. At the international level the success would have been enormous…"
Jane Birkin: "When I met Serge it wasn't hard to see that Bardot had occupied an important place in his heart. With her voice and her beauty, she seemed to him to be the ideal woman. I met her later on and it is impossible not to be moved by her sensitivity and her total disregard for ambition. Bardot is someone that I personally adored, even though Serge was smitten with her… I would have found it abnormal if he were not!"
In 1985, when the author of these lines was writing a first book on Serge, Bardot was asked to comment. But it was necessary to wait for the publication of her memoirs for her to finally speak on the subject of this amazing love affair. In 1985, she spoke but a few words:
"Gainsbourg is both the best and the worst, the yin and the yang, the white and the black.
The boy who was probably the Russo Jewish little prince, dreaming while he read Andersen, Perrault, and Grimm, has become, in the face of the tragic reality of life, a Quasimodo, touching or repugnant depending on how the spirit moves him. Deep inside this fragile being, both timid and aggressive, there lies the soul of a frustrated poet of tenderness, truth, and integrity.
His talent, his music, his words, and his personality make him one of the greatest composers of our sad and afflicting times."
— Brigitte Bardot
Gainsbourg: The Biography
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