Etcetera ETC with Young Southpaw


December 13, 2020

Young Southpaw chats with writer Jeremy Allen about his excellent upcoming Serge Gainsbourg biography, Relax Baby Be Cool. We talk about his meetings with Jane Birkin, Anna Karina, and Mick Harvey, amongst others, for his research. There was so much to cover it us took 38 minutes to get to ‘Je T’aime...’ 


Jeremy Allen: He was so musically voracious, and acquisitive. He stole from everywhere. And for me, it’s probably that point, from writing about Serge, that I really got into jazz, and I’ve been getting into reggae more. It’s almost like Serge is the touchpoint and I’ve gone further into some of the stuff that he got into, that I probably should have got into before, really. Everything he did really, he kind of stole from black music and Frenchified it. Jazz, to begin with. Then he goes through his rock n roll period, he gets quite into the yé-yé writing, and he does it in a quite cynical way, actually. I guess the only time when he’s sort of listening to white music is when he’s copying swinging Carnaby Street, which is coming from America anyway, coming from rock n roll and rhythm & blues and all that sort of thing. Also, he made an album called Percussions where he ripped off a load of drum beats from Olatunji, this famous Nigerian drummer. It was very naughty because he didn’t credit him or tell him, but he built songs around his rhythms. And then he does reggae... So he did this throughout his career, stealing from black music. And from classical music - Chopin, Ravel, Dvořák...  


It was very meta, very Dada-ist. I don’t think many people had done that in music at that time. If you listen to a song like ‘Contact’ by Brigitte Bardot - just listen to that song! - it was made in 1968 and it’s like techno thirty years too early. It’s incredible, it blows my mind! You just think ‘wow’, he’s looping, and he’s playing with musique concrète. He was working with Colombier at the time, who had been working with Pierre Schaeffer, I think, so maybe that was where that influence came in. Serge was brilliant at finding people to work with. That’s a real gift. Bowie had it, Madonna for a while, though maybe not so much in recent years. But it’s a real talent in itself to find the right people to work with. But Serge also made all this great music, all this varied music, and right at the center of it was him so he knew what he was doing.  


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