Jane Birkin on Soul Sisters Podcast I Billboard

Jane Birkin on Soul Sisters Podcast I Billboard


– Jane, thanks for coming on the show. (laughs)
– That’s alright, thank you. – It’s an honor and a pleasure. (“Je T’aime” by Serge
Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin) I was sitting on my couch
yesterday thinking of what we could talk to you about today, and I realized that above
me I have a picture of you on my wall that I hadn’t actually
connected until yesterday, that I have a still from
“Blow-Up” hanging in my apartment. And I said, “Oh, wait. I
actually look at her every day.” Yeah, anyway, so this is a little trippy to have you here in front of me. – How extraordinary.
– Yeah. – Are you sure? – Positive. (laughing) Yeah, anyway, so you’re here in New York because you’re performing
at Carnegie Hall, right? So that’s, that’s not a shabby venue. – It’s not shabby at all, no. – And it’s the first time
you’ve performed here in a while, right? – Yeah, I did the Town Hall. And I did the French Institute. And maybe a third, so I’ve
been here before on shows, one of which was the with Nobuyuki Nakajima, whose
done the orchestrations. I’d done another show with him, I think that was at the Town Hall. – That was a different project. – Yeah, it was about… I can’t even remember. Five years ago? – Do you come back to New York often to visit your lovely daughter, who was just on our show also? – I’d like to have come
much, much more often, but I was too ill, I
couldn’t, I wasn’t allowed to. But now I’d love to, because it’s really so easy
and such fun to be with her. I’m so stressed out for
Thursday that I’m in a hotel, So, (laughs)
– Right. (laughing) – So I feel as if I’m in a foreign land. – Yeah, yeah sure. – But this won’t be the first time you’re performing with this arrangement, this big orchestra, no? – No, I’ve been doing it for about a year. – Wow, how does that feel? – It’s lovely because the 65 musicians with cellos and violins and, I don’t know, it’s just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard, so it’s as if you’re
suddenly allowed to sing on, a bit of Gustav Mahler, I don’t know. And I’m put into quite a lot of comfort by
Nobuyuki, who’s given me bits where I start off with the piano and then the others come
in, and so I’m on a sort of cushion of velvet. It’s rather lovely. I just mustn’t fish anything up, because you can’t suddenly say, “Oh, whoops, I’m starting
again,” with 65 people. – That’s a lot of people to
get back on the same page. So let’s zoom out for a second. If you could just tell people what project we’re talking about exactly
and maybe how it came to be. – It came to be because, about three years ago, I did a project with Michel Piccoli and Herve Pierre which was reading Serge Gainsbourg’s words without any music. And it was an idea that
Philippe Lerichomme, my directeur artistique, and Serge’s had. Well, I didn’t know what to do when my daughter Kate had died, and I’d stayed, you know, as people do, at home and not moving for a year and then got ill, and so I
couldn’t really do a show-show, but the idea to actually get
out and be amongst friends, which I was with Piccoli who’s been, played my father in many films, it was actually the best possible
thing to do of an evening. So we went ’round, most of France, a little bit to foreign countries, not that much. We were in, we went to Canada. There I met Monique Giroux,
who’s a friend who is a journalist and I was explaining that usually Serge’s exquisite words went with classical music when he wanted to give us the very best. So if he panicked because felt he hadn’t given me enough Baby Alone in Babylon then whoops, it was on Brahms, or, or same thing for Jane B on Chopin. For Charlotte it was Un zeste de citron, and there again classical
music, last song the same. Initials B.B. for Brigitte Bardot was equally classical music. So I was explaining all this to her, and she said, “Well why don’t you do it” “with a symphony orchestra?” I said, “Well that would
be a pushy use of it,” “given my voice.” And she said, “But I could give you one,” in that the “Montreal Philharmonic Orchestra” “could do it with you, and you could have” “a night at the FrancoFolies,” which is one of the
biggest French festivals, French-speaking festivals, and they know Serge’s
work so terribly well. And, so I thought, well, if it’s just a one-off like that, maybe if Phillipe
Lerichomme could choose the, you know, the songs I’m going to, would sing that would look right, seem right, sound right
with the symphony orchestra, and if Nobuyuki Nakajima
could do the orchestrations, it would be like movie music. And in that case perhaps
one wouldn’t be bored. And perhaps in that case it
wouldn’t sound pretentious to be singing with a,
because people do it, you know, musical people
when they don’t know what to do at the end of
a career, then ally-up. And so it had to be different, and I’ve always admired movie music from John Barry’s but also, also Michel Jarre, also, you know, the fabulous music for Fellini, for… So it was so, and they came up with the orchestrations and,
yes, you don’t know which song you’re going to. When you’ve got classical
arrangements, you can have rather frightening cellos
and violins going on whilst the little tune, it sounds so sweet and everything’s going well,
no undertones of disaster, and it’s very, very exciting. So that’s how it started for one go. Then I lost my voice in Canada, was taken to a hospital. They said to another second show, and I thought, well, no. Perhaps even if I could just
speak it, and it works as well. – With the orchestrations? – With the orchestrations,
because otherwise it means they wouldn’t have heard all the wonderful orchestrations
and everyone was there to do two nights.
– Right. – And then we should’ve gone through China, but I wasn’t given my permit because of sticking up for the Dalai Lama. – Oh, really? – Yeah, so goodbye Shanghai. – So you had to cancel dates there? – Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it was going to be
recorded for a live record, so. – Oh, man. – But it was lucky, because
it would have been a one-off. Perhaps it would have
been disastrous, and, as it was, we went to Poland, where there’s a wonderful
symphony orchestra where we had a date anyway, and we just kept them for
five days, made the record, and that came out first, so people that didn’t really believe in the project, you could say, listen to this. – Yeah, I mean it’s gorgeous. It definitely is proof that it works. – So the title of the new project, the symphonic orchestra project, is Birkin/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonique. And how much is it taken
directly from the music of Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg from 1969? Cause the title suggests that it’s a sort of re-imagining
of those, of that collection, but is it not necessarily
to be thought of that way? – It doesn’t matter how you think. I think that the most
beautiful songs were the ones that were at the separation and after, so Baby Alone in Babylon
with Les dessous chics and Fuir le bonheur, I think are the most beautiful songs that have ever been
written about separations, but tout court, absolutely wonderful. But it can’t just be miserable. And then Phillipe thought of many other songs like La chanson de Prévert, that I’ll be singing with
Rufus Wainwright, but… And other songs like Javanaise, that was certainly not of my epoch. He wrote it for Juiette Greco. Why not one that he wrote for Adjani, why not Lacados which is rather jolly? Cause otherwise it’s just so sad. – You need some levity to it. – And levity as you say. – I just suspend more of his work. – Yes and he…
– There was that one time. – Exactly, so that was the dates that were the earliest ones really. Cause the ones afterward
that were indeed… – Yeah.
– Sad. – No Jane, I have to ask, you mentioned John Barry and you love his music. How have you been able to maintain such a healthy relationship with the work of your ex-partners? – I haven’t.
– No meaning you… – Just Serge.
– You’ve got, oh okay. – I mean, John Barry never
wrote anything for me, so there’s nothing to sing. – [Jesse] Right. – Serge wrote for me from when I was 20 until the day he died.
– Yeah. – I mean really, in that he did a song called Amour De Feintes, which is love of failing
or love of the dead. That was literally three months before, with 12 songs again, and with Jacques Doillon and Lou, father. And then I made movies.
– Right. Of which I made three. And if I can stick up for them
in cinematheques then I do, cause they’re probably the
best films I ever made. So of course.
– Yeah. – Of course. – [Jesse] I just think it’s
this beautiful thing that you, I would imagine that
emotionally you’ve had your ups and downs through
these relationships breaking apart and moving on
and different chapters in how you relate to everything to
do with the relationships. But that you’ve been able to
keep the love of the work. You know? – Yes. And it wasn’t very steady
headed at the time. – [Jesse] Yeah. – Yes, it’s quite romantic,
it’s romantic the idea of you and Serge separating but there remaining a creatively potent and… – That wasn’t what was
extraordinary, for me, someone would go on
wanting to write for you whereas you’ve gone on with somebody else, and that person needed you for, maybe his very feminine side? I think that’s what he gave me. He went on doing songs
that say, I don’t know, Bernie’s 500 Franc
notes on the television, or be outrageous and…
– Provocative? – And that he needed.
– Yeah. – Cause he also needed a sentimental side – Yeah.
– And a broken side. – What did that feel
like, at the beginning, when you were separated and then he came to you with these new songs? Was it surprising to experience
that at the beginning? Like “Wow, we’re still going
to maintain this relationship?” Or was it just completely natural and didn’t even feel strange. – No, it wasn’t natural,
it was very strange. (laughter) It was. – So it was what you would
have imagined, yeah, yeah? – You go back to the house
where you’ve lived for 13 years and you sit at the piano
and then you cough a bit because his cigarette gets
in your eye and he says “Now you can’t even take his cigarettes?” No, no, no, and no it was definitely uncomfortable, but at the same time I
was on it, I kept saying “You don’t have to do it,
you don’t have to do it.” Cause he was so tired, he
did two songs in the night. And then you come to the
recording studios and say “(foreign language)” and the next day he’d come
back and he still hadn’t slept. (foreign language) he got another two. By the end we’ve come to Friday, I thought he wouldn’t make it and I could see him visibly
moved behind the glass. All I could do was to sing as high as I could to try and
do it, as best I could. But of course I realize that he was asking me to sing his pain. It was a very, very strange,
for the others not so, or not so much so. And he liked the idea that the, I can’t remember what he said, something like “we’re history.” And so he played on that and so did I. – Yeah. – Cause I was so grateful. – Yeah. – How much of your identity as a singer and a musical artist is tied up with him? – Oh, totally. – Like 100% you feel? – Well I would think, um, 60 percent. – You don’t have to give us
exact percentage, oh 60, okay. – Because I’ve made records
of duos with other people because everyone, after he died everyone wrote me duos, and actually it did rather well. It was fun cause you could
be with people and it was from Francois Hardy, to absolutely everyone, Souchon, and Etienne Daho, they were really wonderful, sweet songs that they gave me to sing that they’d written for me, and then another record, similarly, then I wrote my own record, which didn’t do well, which was called Enfants D’Hiver, Winter’s Children, but of which there were at least two or three songs that
I would be proud of, and then, no, the rest is him. And of course I get asked to
be on other peoples’ albums, or to sing a duo or to do this or that, and that’s fun, because
it’s something that’s rather lovely to be able
to still go on doing. But the identification
is totally with him. And sometimes you feel that, actually, you’re not worth much
without him, song-wise. That’s very true. – It’s interesting, the
one noticeable thing that’s not on the new album in this project is the duo that you had
with him, the famous Je T’aime song, and I heard you say “How could it be?” The other half isn’t
there, and it would be inconceivable to record
it or perform it with someone else, which
just speaks to, I think, how alive that music is. It’s not, you know,
re-interpreting the music of Cole Porter, of someone
else, some other composer that’s been done a million times, and you’re bringing your own thing to it, that’s something in itself, but to these songs, have
a live, living history, where you wouldn’t think of singing it or performing it with someone else. – No, we never did, because
we did it in, what, ’68? And he and I never sang it together ever. Not through the 15 years that
we were together, either, or for the rest of the
years, of course not. Because it was, in those days, too, it was a recorded thing,
and it was so famous, and for a charity show we
might have mumbled it once. I’m not even sure that we
did it, I’m not even sure. So it wasn’t something that
I didn’t do directly he died out of being, you know, sacrilegious, you know, not at all. Something we didn’t do at all, point, and certainly not to have somebody else, and I wasn’t courageous enough to talk his bit. I suppose one could have done, but it was so much his
song that he had already sung it with Bardot that I didn’t, I didn’t feel that I could. But in this, on this
concert at Carnegie Hall on Thursday, and on the record, I’ve taken two of my songs off so that Nobuyuki Nakajima’s
versions of Initials B.B., Le Zest de Citron of Charlotte’s, and the Turkish Market, and Je T’aime Moi Non Plus are played by the symphony orchestra, and it brings tears to your eye because you realize what
wonderful song it was, it just (Jane sings) three notes. (Jane sings)
Four. And you know where you
are, when you heard it, and so it was irresistible, so beautiful, that I felt that it would be missing, even though it has nothing to do with me apart from Je T’aime Moi Non Plus, nothing, I’m not going to sing them, but I thought it should be
there with the orchestra. – That’s lovely.
– So they’re played, not sung. – Yes, for about six minutes. – Oh, wow.
– And absolutely wonderful. – I feel like we just harmonized. Oh, wow. (girls laugh) – When you hear that, are
you transported back to 1969, or, I’m curious how it
was, the experience of being a young actress turned
singer and muse of this pop star in France, you know, the swinging ’60s were in
full bloom at this point, and what was that like for you? You know, can you go
back there, viscerally? – No. – No. (laughs) – Do you want to? – No. No, because I don’t
think you have any idea. I don’t think you have any
idea of what it was like, or how unflustering it was. How normal it seemed. I mean, now perhaps it doesn’t, but when it happens like
that, little by little, and you’re number one in charts of, because of Je T’aime Non Plus
and everything like that, no, but when I do hear it
at the end of the show, it’s the, when it’s
the orchestral version, then it does make you cry, because then it, I know how moved he’d be. I know that he would not have a dry eye. It’s too lovely, and it’s
what he wanted because for his film Je T’aime Moi
Non Plus, he was able to have nearly a symphony orchestra,
because it was movie music, and it was paid for by the
producers, so it was luxurious. And he wanted it to be
the most beautiful thing on his film that was otherwise
a film that was set in I don’t know, 1950’s petrol pump sort of, very Dennis Hopper sort of land, but he wanted this sumptuous generique, and he was so thrilled
by it, to have so many- it’s rare to be able to
pay for so many musicians. When you’re a French composer,
you don’t get paid to do the movie, so they pay for the seance, but they don’t usually give enough money to have that many instruments, so he was allowed to have that luxury for Je T’aime Moi Non Plus and Manon because they were both movie musics. And I saw what it did to him, so I know that he would be well pleased. I know that he would be
well pleased, actually, to be in New York, and to
be at the Carnegie Hall. He didn’t play New York. He didn’t even play Canada. I mean, he was very
short-lived as a live artist, sadly, so, he is there. His music’s there. – That’s beautiful. – It must be remarkable
now to see the appreciation and adoration for him now. I feel like he was beloved
in his time in France and Europe, but more so now here. Would you say that’s true? – I think it’s true that it’s, I mean the day that he died,
everything stopped in France. He, thank God, had been loved before. Before he died. He could have missed it. He
could have been someone who was so outrageous and so
much ahead of his time, and never repeating himself. I mean, his work’s a bit like, a bit like somebody, it’s not pretentious to say Picasso because I can’t think of
another example where somebody had a rose period and a blue period, and a cubic period,
and a serialist period, and just went on changing. I think probably he’d think it was old hat even to bring in lots of
instruments and be sumptuous. (girls laugh) Always, always, always ahead, so it was amazing in that case. When he pissed a lot of people off, when people could be very shocked by him, that actually, about two, three years before
dying, I think he knew how loved he was by the whole of France, and Philippe Lerichomme
did TV shows with him where 50 little boys came forward, it seems strange now, but 50 little lads would come forward with Chetan cigarettes in their mouths, singing “Je suis venu
ce dit a que je t’aime,” there he was crying
because of being so moved, seeing these little boys, so, it was the mood of France when he died, actually, he was probably the
most loved person in France. So, now, the appreciation of his work, and of his literary work, and of how, probably, poetically wise, he’s changed everybody since. They’ve all been influenced by him is something that’s got bigger and bigger. But even when I sang at the Savoy Theater after he died, and I’d
gone over to England, and the British press,
the chic ones were fine, but the Sun, or I don’t
know what trashy newspaper, said “Oh, are you going to
show us a bit of leg, Jane,” “for the photo?” I said no, and then they said, they said “Have you made any other
dirty songs, Jane?” And I thought how can
they be so unaware of who Serge is, and instead of crying I thought no, I must go back to France, and I must ask other people of whom they’ve heard, so that I can prove it. So I rang up Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Du Gard, Mitterrand, Chirac, absolutely, Katherine DeNeve, Francois, I mean every single person that I thought, “ah, at least they know,” the minister of education, and that they would each
write who Serge was to them. So when Chirac wrote “Serge is our Apollinaire,
our Baudelaire,” I think it was Mitterrand, then I went back to England
with it all hand-written, and printed underneath and
translated into English, I was able to say, there. Voila. That’s what they think of him in France. And Beauregard came onto
the stage to explain to the English who I was to the French, because he, too, had
had a career in Italy, where sometimes the English
had been a bit blase to have not realized that
he’d done films with Visconti. So, you know, it suddenly made me aware that in a very short
time after he died there, it was, he was considered to be one of
France’s greatest writers, if not the greatest of his time. – Yeah. How aware and comfortable
are you with your own legacy? – Which means? – Which means you are such an icon and mean so much to so many people through so many things that
you’ve done over the years, but I get a sense that you
are kind of self-deprecating, very humble person. – I’m not a humble person. – No? – At all, at all. Not at all. It’s just that I, people exaggerate when
they say “fashion icon,” I mean even the word icon, I don’t I don’t merit that in reality. I think I’ve done about ten good films where I was alright, and
some more than alright. But for the ones that most people know, like Blow Up, or the
Agatha Christie films, I was nothing in them. The films were, but I was nothing. To be honest, they came into being great cultural things, but it wasn’t like Charlotte. Charlotte was an actress
right from the word go, and she had her own statement to make, and yes, she was something. Kate, my daughter, as a
photographer made a statement. Lou writes her own stuff in English and writes the music. Ferdy was suddenly artist of the year, so they’ve really made their mark. I was a sort of jolly
actress that suddenly did a bit better than people imagined in dramatic things, like with Patrick Giroux, that was really good, and with other plays I’ve
done, that was really good. So, it’s not self-depreciating,
it’s, I think, very lucid. I mean if you’re known for a bag, then what can I say? It’s really not to do with
anything I’ve made or, I would have loved to have done something that was very typically mine. They all been associated,
really, with somebody else. – Are you seeking to do something- – No. – That is yours? – No. – No? But I mean, you have time. – We will see. – But even this right now, because of how much of it is Serge, that doesn’t- – I think it’s the best
thing I’ve ever done. That and Arabesque. With the Arab orchestra. I think they were really great. But I can’t say it’s not as if, when you asked me the question of whether it’s completely me, no, it’s not. But I think that I was one
of his best interpreters, I think because of being an actress, I play it really well, because
I knew the person so well, then I have to watch it, because you can’t suddenly cry or be indecent, or, anyhow, you lose
your voice, so you can’t, but, and it’s what, been 26 years now, so someone will take over those songs. It won’t matter anymore what the actual inspiration was. My mother had a song
written for her, which was A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, that was very, very well
known during the war. It was written for her. She was Noel Coward’s muse during the war, and know people will sing A Nightingale Sang in
Berkeley Square, possibly, another song that was
written about her, which was (Jane sings) the telephone never answers
these foolish things, because Ma picked me up once
saying when I got something wrong, like only 20 pounds a kilo, or something like that, she
says “no, it’s not that,” and she told me the other price, and I said “well, how would you know?” and she said “Well, it
was written about me.” So the telephone rings but doesn’t answer- – These foolish things? – Yeah. So, later on you no longer, if they’re great songs
then other people think “Oh yeah, my phone didn’t ring, either.” “Or his phone didn’t ring, either.” And they won’t know
where it had started or, – How does that- – Great songs are great songs. – How does that tie into
your decision to now release, maybe, some of your diaries? – It’s all I had left. It’s all I have left to show. To give. And some of it’s very, very funny. Much funnier than I thought. The anecdotes. And some of it is such a
terrible, constant insecurity, that it’s quite wearying, really. When you’ve got that
characteristic from being 12 until being 60, you know, I can understand that
perhaps it didn’t work with everybody, you know,
I think John Barry got really pissed off. You can’t be with this
child who’s cutting up their legs because you haven’t
thought about them, or because you haven’t
got something to say in the middle of the night. So yes, I wrote a play called
“Sorry, Were You Asleep?” About somebody who bugs
somebody all night long because they can’t sleep, I mean, I couldn’t sleep,
the other person’s asleep, and it’s really annoying. You try and find
something to wake them up, little pretenses, Oh, sorry, were you asleep? So that was a good idea, but I can sort of see
on reading the diaries that you actually don’t change. And the unbelief in yourself, the cruelty at boarding
school from other girls, the feeling that you are not attractive, not that you weren’t pretty, but not attractive to the person you loved, and that they went, then after that to have met Serge, who actually drew girls
that looked half like boys, and actually found the beauty
of boys very irresistible, then what good fortune. I mean some people say,
well you can get over it, not having any bosoms, it’s okay. But to have, actually, somebody who says bosoms frighten me, I think he exaggerated a bit after Bardot, I think he might have sensed
it would please me a bit. – Well, is there some catharsis
in sharing these things with the world? Does it help you let go
a little bit, or what is the compulsion to share? – I don’t know. I think that probably most of the time, it will be rather unpleasant. – Will it be coming out in book form? Or did you consider
turning it into music form? – No, no, no. No, already I’m stressed
out as the idea of it actually coming out, because it’s fine to talk
about little anecdotes, but rather measly, horrible
things about oneself that you would rather cut out, or changed, I felt morally I couldn’t do that, so they’re there. – Unedited. – I’ve taken things out
that would wound people, but not that would wound me. – Okay, yeah. Do your daughters have first read on it? – They did, and they didn’t want to. – Oh, okay. Do you think they were
afraid they would ask you to make changes, and
that’s why they didn’t want to see it? – I don’t know. No, I think they probably
felt that I would be probably quite fair, and they know that it
worries me more to think that I would leave something
in that would wound somebody. – Do you, is it nice that
you and your daughters are having, in some way,
parallel careers right now? Do you guys get to share? You and Charlotte had albums
out around the same time. – Same time, and Lou, and one time it was
Charlotte, and Lou, and me. But it was, it was fun, but we’re very plus dit, we don’t talk about the metier. I don’t know whether other people have got actresses daughters,
or mother and fathers, it’s not something we talk about. We talk about private life. But we don’t talk about, I didn’t even know when
her show was on in Paris, because I didn’t ask, and she didn’t say. And I don’t like flaunting either, I don’t want to know whether
she’s coming on Thursday, because I want to be good,
and I’m too frightened of letting her down, or
her being disappointed. – But would you like to see her perform? Are you like, “Tell me when your show is.” – I’ve got my tickets already. Of course, of course. – That’s funny. – And I think she’ll scoop up
artist of the year, as well. – Yeah. That album is brilliant. – Wonderful. – Truly. And please tell Lou that we would love to
have her on the show. – I will tell Lou. – The trifecta. – I think she’s writing right now. She’s written it, and
she’s in the studio now. – I follow her on Instagram. She has very good Instagram posts. – Good recommendation. – She inspires me. She always makes songwriting
look very romantic. There’s always like a great cup of coffee. – She’s also somebody
very fascinating to watch, because I think if she finds a I don’t know whether you’d
say a delight in Instagram, but that’s it’s worth doing for her, is that when she seems
something that she likes, and she’s terribly inquisitive, so if she sees a a wonderful expo, or
if she sees a musician, or if she sees a film, usually that aren’t making
much money, possibly, then she puts it online, and then people – It helps other people discover it.
– People will go. So I think that’s what
she finds the joy of it. And also I think she finds
something to say each day. I wouldn’t. And I’m not of that generation. And I don’t know how much I like it, in that if your on a
holiday and you think you’re far away from everybody, and
there’s a photo of a sheep, and everyone says “oh, those
sheeps were quite funny.” In Manchester. And you
think “Hey, who was with us in Manchester with the sheep?” And then you say oh
yeah, bloody Instagram. – Oh, it’s true. It’s a blessing and curse. Well, Jane, thank you so
much for coming on the show, and have a great performance. – Have a wonderful time. – And the album is absolutely gorgeous, so for those of you who
won’t be seeing it live, just dwell on the album. It’s an experience in and of itself. Thank you, Jane. – Thank you. Thank you.

4 thoughts on “Jane Birkin on Soul Sisters Podcast I Billboard

  1. My heart broke a little at Jane downplaying her own role in Gainsbourg’s music and getting no pushback whatsoever from the interviewers. Those songs were literally made for her, and she was the perfect person to interpret them. And she did so, beautifully.

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