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Serge Gainsbourg autograph lyrics at auction in Paris
Author, composer, performer, artist, film-maker, photographer… Serge Gainsbourg (1928-91) left behind him a multi-faceted œuvre. Photo: Sotheby's.

PARIS.- Sotheby’s announced the sale in Paris on November 9 of an exceptional Serge Gainsbourg group of autograph songs, notes, photographs and memorabilia.

Author, composer, performer, artist, film-maker, photographer… Serge Gainsbourg (1928-91) left behind him a multi-faceted œuvre. With his phenomenal creative versatility, decadent poetry and musical genius, Gainsbourg earned a cult following around the world.

Both poète maudit and a controversy-courting provocateur, not to mention an ultra-sensitive musician and refined man of letters, Gainsbourg’s work, invariably conceived in aesthetic terms, reflects a wide range of influences. His lyrical approach was imbued with every aspect of life, in particular his own.

Sotheby’s will be offering for sale the autograph lyrics of five of Gainsbourg’s most famous songs, appearing on the market for the first time.

Doubtless the most extraordinary of these is the autograph draft (two sheets with countless variants and corrections) for the sexually charged Love On The Beat composed in 1984 (est. €12,000-18,000 –). This was the first track on the eponymous album, with the title inspired by words from the never-completed screenplay for Colle Girl (1981): ‘Angela advances towards the camera, always rising on the beat.’ With (Angela’s) repeated orgasmic cries marking out the rhythm, the song - like the album as a whole - is deliberately provocative.

This first-draft manuscript shows numerous variants and corrections compared with the final version, reflecting the influence of Baudelaire – which recurs throughout Gainsbourg’s œuvre.

The poignant Sorry Angel, represented here by the definitive lyrics, evokes Gainsbourg’s split with Jane Birkin (est. €12,000-18.0000). The song returns unambiguously to this painful separation: ‘C’est moi qui t’ai suicidé, mon Amour. Je n’en valais pas la peine, tu sais. Sans moi tu as décidé, un beau jour, décidé que tu t’en allais. (…) Moi, j'aurai tout essayé, mon amour, c'était vraiment pas la peine. Je sais que c'était foutu d'avance mon amour. Je n'ai ni remords, ni regret.’ (It was I who caused your suicide, my Love… I wasn’t worth it, you know… Without me you decided to leave… I would have tried everything… it really wasn’t worth it. I know it was doomed from the start… I have no remorse or regrets.)

The complete manuscript of Gainsbourg’s 1984 No Comment, one of the major tracks on Love On The Beat, was inspired by Gainsbourg’s sexual appetite, with the repeated use of the military term of agreement, Affirmatif! to reflect the author’s virulent and long-standing anti-militarism – which famously prompted a group of indignant French paratroopers to storm a Gainsbourg concert in Strasbourg in January 1980, protesting against Aux Armes Et Caetera, his reggae version of La Marseillaise (est. €8,000-12,000).

The sale also includes an unpublished autograph variant of the lyrics for Hmm Hmm Hmm, one of the more laid-back tracks on Love On The Beat in which Gainsbourg, over a funky beat, evokes the trials and tribulations of artistic creativity (‘les affres de la création’) as he pays tribute to three poets: Poe, Rimbaud, Artaud (est. €3000-4000).

Gainsbourg’s last studio album, You’re Under Arrest, was released in November 1987. The much-corrected autograph draft for the opening track, also entitled You’re Under Arrest, includes numerous unpublished variations from the final lyrics, and portrays a Gainsbourg physically and morally near the end of his tether (est. €5,000-7,000).

The sale also includes the unpublished song Allo...Ici, never performed or set to music (est. €5,000-8,000); the corrected and annotated typescript for the famous Gini advertisement (est. €3,000-4,000); and three autograph/typescript versions of the screenplay for a never-completed No Comment video (est. €8000 – 12,000).

Another iconic item in the auction is a ripped 500-franc note with a signed Gainsbourg dedication to his butler Fulbert Ribeaut (est. €15,000-20,000). Television brought Gainsbourg into the media spotlight, prompting his creation of the provocative, split-personality figure of Gainsbarre, who was often drunk and invariably over-the-top. ‘I may overdo things, but that’s because I have no time to lose’ was how Gainsbourg answered his ‘detractors’ (often disillusioned fans).

On 11 March 1984, during the programme 7/7 presented by Jean-Louis Burgat, Gainsbourg famously set fire to a bank-note in order to draw attention to France’s ‘income-tax racket,’ explaining that tax revenue ‘didn’t go to the poor’ but towards the country’s nuclear programme.

The televised image of the bank-note-burning Gainsbourg remains etched into the French national conscience, and is definitively associated with his reputation as a rebel and provocateur. But this premeditated act, ‘soberly’ carried out, has not always been interpreted as it was intended: as a provocative retort to excessive taxation and, above all, to how French tax revenue was distributed.

The sale’s Gainsbourg memorabilia also include the soldier’s jacket he wore when shooting Je t’Aime Moi Non Plus (1976) and the video for Les Roses Fanées (1975), performed with Jacques Dutronc and Jane Birkin (est. €5,000-7,000).

A series of memos bequeathed to his butler Fulbert Ribeaut, who worked for Gainsbourg from 1984 until his death, including shopping-lists and the authorization for Fulbert to recuperate his Despatch Box and Cartier watch…

The sale also features various photographs of Serge Gainsbourg, notably several superb, never-published portraits by Nigel Parry, taken for a British magazine in 1989 then stashed away in a box and never seen since (estimates from €2500).

* Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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