Faute grave 4: Serious Proof … singing

When you listen to a song, which comes first: words or melody? Not something I gave much thought to until I came across “En relisant ta lettre” again. Everyone, pretend I didn’t ask and listen.

Alright now… Words or melody? Both with this song: as if I could choose between smart edits and mellow jazz. And I’d still be crooning along, had it not been for Linda’s recent crusade for the walking wounded. Surely, I thought, Gainsbourg’s “proofsinging” is the kind of spelling rehab even they could enjoy. Worth a closer look.

Clever wordplay, no doubt. But how cruel! I should not have sold “our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire” — François Mitterrand’s own words for France’s “most beloved and important songwriter” — short. Too short: The clip did not include the last — and most equivocal — lines. Here comes the song again, interpreted one last time by a fine duo.

 Do not trust Julien Clerc’s smile, at least not until you fully grasp the last piece of advice — ce qui n’est pas de la tarte. Not how Charlotte Gainsbourg says it, but what she means about her father’s songwriting: “What he did was way ahead of its time. You can just read his lyrics — he plays with words in such a way that there are double meanings that don’t work out in English.”

Moi j’te signale

que gardénal

ne prend pas d’E,

mais n’en prend(s) qu’un…

cachet, au moins,

n’en prend(s) pas deux

ça t’calmera,

et tu verras,

tout r’tombe à l’eau:

l’cafard, les pleurs,

les peines de cœur

OE dans l’O

Behind gentle reminders (how many E’s do gardénal and cachet take) hides a heartless warning—and big spelling choice: S or no S? Prend (takes only one E, doesn’t take two) or prends (take only one pill, do not take two)? Not one to trust the walking wounded with.

Songwriting at its fiercest best is Serge Gainsbourg’s signature prose. He may have been “France’s premier pop poet” and “elevated song to the level of art,” there’s little chance he would have made Gaignard’s coaching team.

— Claire

P.S. to les nuls seeking revenge: Can you spot the missing S our “proof…singer” missed (second video)?

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Acknowledgements: Serge Gainsbourg, La Grande Librairie
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