The singer and actress chooses songs by John Barry, Françoise Hardy and more

Serge Gainsbourg
Variations Sur Marilou

If ever ever you get a [French] dictionary out, this is just the most erotic poem that’s ever ever been written about a girl touching herself. It’s just absolutely wonderful. I didn’t realize it quite, until I heard just Serge’s words a few years ago. He did it rather like the poem for Lolita by Nabokov – he did a long poem, which I think might be called “Dolores”, because Lolita’s real name was Dolores – and it follows the same form. Serge was very influenced by the beauty of Nabokov and he just made something absolutely incredibly erotic. This is from an incredible album [L’Homme À Tête De Chou] that didn’t make a centime when it came out. It’s still less well-known than Melody Nelson, but neither made any money when they came out. And they’re both quite extraordinary. “Variations On Marilou” are also variations on Lewis Carroll, and he does “Carroll Lewis”, because in France you always start with the surname on letters. So he’s done that so that it rhymes. The extraordinary way that he uses how she is, and how she reminds him of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, and the pupil of her eye getting bigger and bigger… it’s just very very erotic, very beautiful. The Man With The Cabbage Head was a sculpture in our garden, and I always wondered whether the real man was in it. I think one of the cabbage leaves became a bit detached, and I heard that it was done with a real cabbage; then I looked at his feet and I wondered if the toe fell off, whether one would see a real toe inside it. In fact, whether it was the perfect murder… It was a strange period, because unlike nowadays, it was possible to be well-known, loved, on television doing shows that went on 8.30 in the evening, the whole of France knew you, and yet you were not making records that sold millions like Françoise. Serge never sold records like Françoise – until he did his “Marseillaise”, he was just well-reputated. With France Gall, he won the Eurovision, so he was very well-known and rather feared, but he was certainly not a big-seller. And yet it was possible to have a career anyway. I think he knew that he was probably the best lyricist alive, I think that he knew. But he didn’t take himself to be a poet either, he had a sort of modesty of great men, of knowing just exactly who they are, but no more and no less. So I don’t think he was overworried or surprised that Melody Nelson wasn’t a success – I was, and my brother was, but I don’t think he was.

  1. 1. Introduction
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