Jane Birkin on Her Relationship With Serge Gainsbourg

Jane Birkin is a living, breathing 1960s icon. Her marriage to Serge Gainsbourg may have ended a lifetime ago in the early 1980s, but her name remains irrevocably linked to his.The British Parisienne reflects on her extraordinary life, from the making of the “Je t’aime” song to navigating the feminist revolution.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: If you had to sum up, what would you say is the essence of Serge Gainsbourg and his legacy, not just in music but as a cultural touchstone?

JANE BIRKIN, ACTRESS AND SINGER: I think what no one has ever done better than him, and probably because he was ahead of his time. When he wrote also for everybody else, for Bardot, for Catherine Deneuve, for everyone, was it was also his look and the way — his way of being, his impertinence and yet, his great romanticism, he was an eternal adolescent. And the way of being, that means that even when people have their slight beards nowadays, sort of a three-day old beard and jeans and white tennis shoes, it was he who started it.

AMANPOUR: Are you talking about the fashionable stubble that almost every man is wearing these days? That’s a really funny, interesting reference. But look, you just mentioned “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus,” you mentioned Brigitte Bardot. That song is possibly, you know, one of the most affecting songs in modern times. It’s a very, very sexual, overtly sexual song, and it shocked a lot of people at the time with all the breathiness and the whole sort of, you know, climactic quality of it. Tell me about how it came to you. Because he did write that for Brigitte Bardot, who at the time was the major French actress.

BIRKIN: Well, he not only wrote it for Brigitte Bardot, but he recorded it with her. And in the recording studio, there were photos that got published and Gunter Sachs, to whom she was married, admitted so that she would ask Serge to stop it, for it not to come out, so he had it in a drawer. A year later, he came across me because we did a film together, “Slogan.” He was a gentleman, but he couldn’t quite resist showing me what he’d gotin his drawer and making me listen to “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus” with Bardot, which was incredibly sexy. And so, he said, do you want to sing it? And as I was madly in love with him, I said, well, of course, because I didn’t want anyone else to be singing it with it and then sort does a recording studio a size of a wardrobe. So, I said, yes, of course.

About This Episode EXPAND

New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe joins Christiane to analyze the seismic political change taking place in Ireland. 1960s icon Jane Birkin reflects on her relationship with Serge Gainsbourg and her extraordinary life. Tanzina Vega chats with Heather Boushey, one of Washington’s most influential voices on economic policy.