Friday, April 2, 2010

Our Obsession with Self-Destructive Genius

Serge Gainsbourg lived a fascinating, conflicting life. The son of Jewish parents who escaped Russia during the 1917 revolution, Lucien Ginzburg - ironically his parents changed his name to sound more "French"- wore a yellow star in the streets of his adopted Paris, during the Nazi occupation of France in 1940. After escaping to Limoges for the remainder of the Second World War, Serge would live the life of an obscure musician and artist, until finally gaining fame in the late 1950's. He would spend the remainder of his life outraging and tantalizing the country that once reluctantly agreed to call him a "citizen". There were few subjects dared to avoid - his 1969 song "Je T'aime" recorded with his much younger girlfriend, Jane Birkin, caused a scandal for its blatant sexuality, although forty years later, it would hardly raise an eyebrow. He mocked Nazism, and the hypocrisy of becoming a French icon after the horrors of his childhood in an album called "Rock around the Bunker". He nevertheless became a French icon, and his fascinating life is now celebrated in a film that opens in Montreal today, on what would have been his 82nd birthday. "Gainsbourg - Vie Heroique" traces his journey from childhood painter to legend, complete with his association with famous women like Brigitte Bardot and Juliette Greco, and culminating with his downfall, dying of a hear attack at the age of 62. As an ex-social smoker, moderate drinker, sporadic excerciser, and vain seeker of eternal youth, his path of self-destruction fascinates me. The fear of offending has always kept me in check, violated only occasionally by an off-colour comment meant to shock my peers and superiors. Perhaps my relatively closeted live failed to ingnite the type of outrage that Gainsbourg's early stigmatization surely did. Perhaps it's just a personality trait or lack of talent. Either way, I am forever the voyeur, staring into the public window of lives ended too soon, but which fortunately leave behind a legacy of music, art, and mannerisms that conspicuously safe individuals can appreciate and immitate. I can't wait to see this one.

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