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  • Musique

    Serge Gainsbourg: The influences behind the man with the cabbage head

    By Vincent Hanon 01 September 2015
    Image – Serge Gainsbourg by Jean d’Hugues

    BEHIND the big ears, the astonishing Serge Gainsbourg was a trailblazer who constantly reinvented himself. Born in 1928 in Paris to a family of Ukrainian immigrants of Jewish descent, the last poète maudit has stayed a visionary following an uncommon musical path.

    Beyond what he once defined as the ‘equaliteral triangle’ (Gitanes, alcohol and girls), the provocative yet reserved singer was influenced by all genres of music. From 1957 until his death in 1991, he listened to African rhythms, merengue, jazz and swing, cabaret, garage rock and funk. Like Nougaro and Bashung after him, the controversial artist appropriated different musical languages to elevate French songwriting.

    In 1979, he flew to Jamaica to record a reggae LP called ‘Aux Armes Et Caetera’, with the I Threes and the popular rhythm section Sly and Robbie, who reached international acclaim with Bob Marley. The album included a revolutionary cover of the French National Anthem, ‘La Marseillaise’, written by Rouget de Lisle. Gainsbourg eventually bought the original manuscript.

    Influenced by classical music and french surrealist poetry, ‘L’homme à Tête de Chou’ (‘The Man With A Cabbage Head’, the title of one of his best records) he was planning to travel to New Orleans and record a blues album with The Neville Brothers in 1991. Unfortunately one week before Gainsbourg suffered a third and final heart attack. Here is a collection of songs to remind you of the genius versatility of this highly influencial dandy.

    Jazzy
    Classical I (Antonín Dvořák)
    Merengue
    Cabaret
    Surrealism
    Psyché rock
    Reggae
    Funky
    Classical II (Frederic Chopin)