Sat, 02 Dec 2023

After more than 32 years under wraps, the doors to French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg's Paris residence have finally reopened. The first visitors to his house, and a nearby museum, found the experience an emotional one.

Jerome Bassin, a 40-year-old living in the Paris region, was clearly impacted by his half-hour audio-guided tour inside the house where Gainsbourg lived for 22 years.

Wiping his eyes, he described the visit to French news agency AFP as "very moving", especially seeing the room where the artist died in 1991.

Bassin also mentioned the "smell of cold cigarette butts" in the living room ashtray, next to a packet of Gitanes and a Zippo lighter.

Gainsbourg's daughter Charlotte has left everything intact at 5 bis rue de Verneuil since her father's death. The reopening, after years of setbacks and complications, is by all accounts, an emotional event for her.

The audio guide, made to accompany visitors step by step, is deeply personal. Charlotte's voice often cracks as she relives learning piano with her father or bath-time with mother Jane Birkin, who died in July.

Nearby, 46-year-old Jose Sarica from Marseille is enthusiastic. He compliments Charlotte's recording for the audio guide, which is "so modest and at the same time delivers so much intimacy".

"It's like entering a time machine," he told AFP, referring to the house where his hero wrote the popular song "La Javanaise".

Sarica's jacket is adorned with pin's of Jane Birkin - who resided at 5 bis rue de Verneuil with Gainsbourg from the end of the 1960s to 1980.

Inside the dark, bohemian lair, there's the signature black piano, alongside golden records, newspaper cuttings and pictures of the women in his life - such as Birkin and Brigitte Bardot.

They rub shoulders with framed spiders, an elaborate mermaid banquette and an unlikely collection of police badges.

Gainsbourg: still France's favourite bad boy three decades on

Yann Boucaud, from Charente-Maritime, 48, says the guide gives "really great anecdotes" and allows the visitor to "enter into the daily life" of the Gainsbourg family.

"We feel the presence of Serge Gainsbourg" thanks to the worn out furniture dotted about, he says.

Gainsbourg's unique, poetic style has remained a major influence across musical genres, and people from all walks of life stopped by at the house for a late-night drink.

He has influenced everything from hip-hop (sampled by De La Soul and the Wu-Tang Clan) to indie (Beck based an entire album around his "Histoire de Melody Nelson"), to pop (Kylie Minogue reworked his duet "Bonnie And Clyde" with Brigitte Bardot for her 2007 single "Sensitised").

Originally published on RFI

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