In Beaubourg, the small papers of the great songs of Gainsbourg


“Let the little papers speak”, wrote Serge Gainsbourg in the song popularized by Régine. The opportunity is given to us to listen to what they have to say to us. Dozens of manuscripts, typescripts, newspaper articles and other curiosities – such as these book pages torn out to preserve their author’s dedications – are brought together in the Public Information Library (Bpi) of the Center Pompidou in Paris. They make up the exhibition Serge Gainsbourg, the exact word, which approaches the work of the artist from the literary side. Free and open until May 8, it allows you to reconstruct the sources of inspiration and the writing process of the man who created some 550 songs between 1954 and 1990.

“It is touching to see his relationship to paper, ink, books”, confides to 20 minutes Anatole Maggiar, co-curator of the exhibition. At the beginning of the visit, several books from the artist’s library await the curious. “There are those who marked his childhood, such as the Tales of Andersen, and a whole section of classical literature, such as Adolf of Benjamin Constant, who meant a lot to him, or Backwards of Huysmans”, continues our guide. Alongside a collection of poems by Rimbaud or the chess player by Zweig, there are more surprising works, such as said by Francis Picabia. We thus learn that he was keen on Dadaism and surrealism.

Exquisite corpses and caesuras

We (re) also discover that the reading of lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was “a real shock” for the artist. He dreamed of adapting the poem from the novel into a song. “But the rights were blocked by the production of Stanley Kubrick’s film, explains Anatole Maggiar, co-curator of the exhibition. So he had to play with the paraphrases and it came up Jane B. »

The part of the course devoted to “the Gainsbourg method” is the most interesting. “With him, it’s the phoneme [la sonorité] which is the most important. He makes associations of words, this gives him a theme and this leads to a poem, says Anatole Maggiar. There is this idea of ​​collage, of the exquisite corpse, borrowed from the surrealist movement which was dear to him. He looks for the word that slaps, the complex rhyme, has fun with caesuras as in How to say goodbye to you. The lyrics of this song appear on one of the walls to make clear this process consisting of rejecting the end of a word at the beginning of the following line: “Under no pretex…/…te, I do not want/have reflex …/…are unhappy…” An unstoppable poetic license to ensure rhymes in “ex”.

“Nothing is lost for Gainsbourg, everything is recovered”

The A4 sheets, some covered in ink, others left three-quarters blank, testify to the search for rhymes between two erasures. For To the lucky childrenfor example, the artist had thought of “no sense”, “dance”, “intense”, “in advance” and “my reminiscences” which he ultimately did not retain in the final text.

These two manuscripts, one related to "Ford-Mustang" (left), the other at "love" (right), reflect the creative process of Serge Gainsbourg.
These two manuscripts, one related to “Ford Mustang” (left), the other to “L’anamour” (right), reflect Serge Gainsbourg’s creative process. – Gainsbourg House

It is also amusing to look at the lists of titles that Serge Gainsbourg considered, in 1981, for the respective studio albums of Alain Chamfort and Catherine Deneuve. That of the first, finally titled love year zerocould have been called “Sleep, a chance to dream”, “Girl of straw”, “Malaise in Malaysia” or “Remember to forget me”… which became the title of the album of the second.

For the actress, Gainsbourg had also thought of “Fine lingerie, novelties”, “Chiara’s stuffed animals”, “Jolie laide”, “Alice alas” or “Jet Society” which had also been proposed to Chamfort. “Nothing is lost for Gainsbourg, everything is recovered. The material thrown on the ground is never swept away,” explains Anatole Maggiar.

Sometimes it is the collective culture that recycles. The exhibition ends by evoking Gainsburgian creations that have fallen into everyday language, such as “No Comment” or “Je t’aime… moi non plus”, which has inspired several titles of newspaper articles. As many front pages as Serge Gainsbourg had not hesitated to add to his collection of “petits papiers”.

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