Awesome Men Throughout History: Serge Gainsbourg

If I recall correctly, the last Frenchman I wrote about for Awesome Men Throughout History was a furious iconoclast who was always in trouble and didn?t care. The current Frenchman I?m writing about ? poet and musician Serge Gainsbourg ? is cut from the same cloth. Is that a cultural thing? Maybe it?s something in the wine.


In any case, Serge is probably best known to Americans for being the guy who told Whitney Houston that he wanted to fuck her live on French television. It wasn?t one of his prouder moments, but it is hilarious in a cringingly awkward way, and really, would he have been a worse choice than Bobby Brown? That guy smoked crack.

But Serge had built up a long history of provocation before that moment. For one thing, he always looked like he was coming down off a three-day bender. At a time when celebrities were almost forced to be reasonably well-groomed, this was highly irregular (if refreshing). For another thing, since he and his family were Jewish, they had to wear yellow stars during the Nazi occupation of France during WWII, and eventually fled Paris altogether. That right there is enough to kill whatever giving-a-shit instincts one may have been born with, so it?s no surprise that Serge?s music was so fearless. Being drunk and horny all the time didn?t hurt, either.

As an example, Serge was comparing candy to oral sex long before 50 Cent; he wrote a song called ?Les Sucettes? for then 18-year-old pop star France Gall in 1966. Sucette is French for lollipop, so you?d think the innuendo was pretty clear, but Gall didn?t get the song?s double meaning until much later. Once she figured it out, she then understood why her film shoots for the song attracted so many heavy-breathing male visitors.

Serge created more controversy with a song he performed himself, first with Brigitte Bardot and then with Jane Birkin, called ?Je t?aime…Moi Non Plus? (translation: I love you…me neither). The dorky title hardly prepared the 1960s French listener for a song with extremely suggestive lyrics and simulated female orgasm. The song was banned, and the Vatican issued a public statement about how out of line it was. A pretty high compliment, I?d say. Gainsbourg?s response to the accusation that he?d recorded live sex for the song was pretty classic, too; ?thank goodness it wasn’t,? he told the press, ?otherwise I hope it would have been a long-playing record.”

Gainsbourg?s sense of humor wasn?t just sexual ? he had a very dark side to him that was daring for his time and still impressively morbid today. His Rock Around the Bunker album, released in 1975, was a concept album about Nazis and his experience as a marked Jewish person during the occupation. He also recorded a reggae version of ?La Marseillaise? (aka the French national anthem) that earned him death threats from France?s scary right-wing element.

While Gainsbourg?s final years weren?t kind to his legacy (translation: he became a degenerate alcoholic), he should still be recognized as a bold and influential artist who wasn?t about to be controlled by tight-assed censors or cultural taboos. He was also a man who was dirty before it was acceptable or expected, and punk before it existed. Finally, he was a man whose daughter Charlotte grew up to be really hot. We owe a lot to Serge Gainsbourg, it turns out.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at