Sat, 02 Dec 2023

More than 30 years after his death, the former home of French pop legend Serge Gainsbourg opened to the public on Wednesday - and tickets are already sold out for the rest of the year.

Fans of chanson francaise have been making pilgrimages to 5 bis rue de Verneuil, the house on the Left Bank of Paris where Gainsbourg spent the last 22 years of his life, ever since he died on 2 March 1991.

The outside walls have long been covered with drawings, notes and other tributes to the iconoclastic singer-songwriter, but this is the first chance the public has had to get a glimpse behind the gate.

The visits have been carefully curated by Gainsbourg's daughter Charlotte, who bought the building - a converted stable - shortly after his death and preserved the house and its contents virtually intact.

"As soon as he died, I didn't want to move anything. Right away I was thinking about opening a museum because he himself had talked about it," she told reporters this week.

Now, after several years of working on the project, she is granting visitors an intimate glimpse of the childhood home that she, her older sister and her mother, singer and actor Jane Birkin, shared with Gainsbourg until her parents split in 1980.

Jane Birkin, an English chanteuse who left her mark on French pop

Charlotte has voiced an audioguide in which she describes her memories of growing up in one of France's most famous families - as well as the moment she found her father lifeless in his bed at rue de Verneuil.

He had died suddenly of a heart attack, and she and her siblings climbed in to lie beside his body, she recalls.

Sold out

Only two people are allowed to tour the house at a time, for up to 30 minutes.

Entry slots are already booked out until at least the end of 2023, with the website promising that more dates will be made available soon.

In the meantime fans can visit the Gainsbourg Museum at number 14 on the same road, which displays hundreds of items from the singer-songwriter's notoriously large personal archives.

A bookshop and a cocktail bar - named, of course, Le Gainsbarre after Gainsbourg's hard-living public persona - complete the collection.

In total, the site expects to attract some 100,000 visitors each year.

Gainsbourg: still France's favourite bad boy three decades onMess or museum?

After moving in in 1969 Gainsbourg amassed a vast collection of artworks, instruments, photographs, press clippings and other memorabilia at the house, where he was fond of giving journalists unconventional tours.

"I don't know what it is: a sitting room, a music room, a mess, a museum..." he told a TV crew in April 1979 as he showed them round the black-painted living room where he composed many of his best-known songs.

He insisted that there was logic behind the sprawl of apparently random objects, from an antique umbrella handle to a wind-up monkey.

In total some 25,000 items have been counted, many of them now displayed in situ or at the museum opposite.

"He turned it into a museum full of objects while he was alive, and it was hard to walk around without being afraid of breaking something," Charlotte Gainsbourg told French news agency AFP in March 2021.

In opening her father's home, she has said she wanted to create a place "truly rooted in Paris's heritage, open to the public".

"It's his townhouse - you're not going to discover things about his work but the context in which he worked," she told AFP.

"It's him, his personality."

Originally published on RFI

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