A few days ago, it was the 20th anniversary of the death of Serge Gainsbourg (and if that isn’t an appropriately respectful sentence to remember the passing of a cultural legend, frankly, I don’t know what is. Seriously, I don’t know what is).
Bonnie and Clyde, an album with on/off collaborator Brigitte Bardot, which he describes as songs of love: “amour combat, amour passion, amour physique, amour fiction”, features a remarkable title track. Gainsbourg romanticises the lives of the two protagonists, painting a picture of two lovers defending each other and their own actions (“they claim we kill in cold blood… we simply need to silence those who scream”) in the face of a society which is to blame for ruining the young Clyde and turning him from “un gars honnête, loyale et droit” (‘an honest, loyal, straight-up kid’) into a callous killer. This is set against rich, hypnotic music, in keeping with the compelling, self-assured nature of the lyrics; a special mention has to go to the bizarre, distracting, but somehow integral, background whooping. Needless to say, the pair of them pull this off while looking impossibly stylish.
Gainsbourg knows full well what he’s up to, and tells us as much in his introduction to the song (itself based on a poem reported to have been written by Bonnie Parker). I especially like the knowing, accusatory nod of “ça vous a plu, hein?”, directed at the same society which (of course) both caused and condemned Barrow’s actions…
Vous avez lu l’histoire de Jesse James (You’ve read the story of Jesse James)
Comment il vécut, comment il est mort (How he lived, how he died)
Ça vous a plu, hein? (You liked it, didn’t you?)
Vous en demandez encore (You asked for more)
Et bien, ecoutez l’histoire (Well, listen to the story)
De Bonnie and Clyde (Of Bonnie and Clyde)