Photo of Serge Gainsbourg by Jean-Jacques Bernier (1985)
Allons enfants de la Patrie / Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
It's Bastille Day - one of the few dates in history genuinely worth celebrating.
I pretty much love all things French: the wine, the women, the food, the literature, the philosophy, the fashion, the music, the arrogance, the joie de vivre and the je ne sais quoi. But most of all I love Serge Gainsbourg who, somewhat ironically, most beautifully and brilliantly embodied the very essence of France and the spirit of 1789.
And perhaps my favourite Gainsbourg story (amongst several possible contenders) concerns his reggaefied version of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, which so outraged and disgusted the paramilitary forces of the French far-right. It was an obvious provocation, with affinities to both the Jimi Hendrix version of The Star Spangled Banner and the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen and there were calls made for Gainsbourg to be stripped of his citizenship.
Events came to a head when Gainsbourg went on tour with his Jamaican musicians to promote his new album, Aux Armes Et Caetera (1979). In Strasbourg, an ex-paratrooper presented the mayor with a petition demanding that the show be cancelled and threatening violence if it went ahead.
Despite this - and in courageous defiance of the forces of reaction and racism - Serge took to the stage, alone, and sang the anthem in its original version, much to the confusion and consternation of those in the crowd who had come to disrupt proceedings, before walking off with a gesture of 'Fuck you!'
Two years afterwards, just to ensure he would have the final word in the affair, Gainsbourg purchased the original manuscript of La Marseillaise by Rouget de Lisle. It almost bankrupted him to do so, he said, but it was a question of honour.
Vive la France! Vive la Revolution! Et vive Gainsbourg!