The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) welcomed Jane Birkin for a special conversation and booking signing on Monday evening, January 29th. The actress and singer discussed her iconic career and storied relationship with French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg in advance of her one-night-only performance of Birkin/Gainsbourg: The Symphonic at Carnegie Hall on Thursday, February 1st. The concert marks Birkin’s first US performance since 2011, and is part of an extensive international concert tour that has seen her playing to full houses in Montreal, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, and London, among many other cities.
Birkin and Gainsbourg had a mythic love story that defined a generation, and together, they created some of the most beloved music of the 1970s. Birkin discussed the rise of her music career from her infamous first hit Je t’aime moi non plus, to her solo career, and her recent work reinterpreting and performing Gainsbourg’s œuvre for a new generation.
The conversation was moderated by Elia Einhorn, Pitchfork Radio & Talkhouse Podcast host and producer. It was followed by a Q&A and book signing of Jane Birkin’s Attachments, written in collaboration with her friend, photographer Gabrielle Crawford.
Jane Birkin was born in London to actress Judy Campbell and David Birkin, an officer in the Royal Navy. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she studied acting at the Kensington Academy in London. While still a teenager, she made her stage debut in Graham Greene’s 1964 production Carving a Statue. One year later, she was offered a part in Passion Flower Hotel, a musical produced by James Bond series composer John Barry, whom she married soon thereafter. Birkin’s first film The Knack…And How to Get It followed in 1965, while a brief nude role in 1966’s controversial Blow-Up made her famous.
After her breakup with John Barry, Jane met Serge Gainsbourg in 1969 while co-starring with him in Slogan. This marked the beginning of a legendary, years-long working and personal relationship. In 1969 the duo recorded the pop song Je t’aime moi non plus, which caused a scandal for its sexually explicit content and was banned by radio stations in Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The song hit number one in England later that year, despite the radio ban. The collaborative album Je t’aime moi non plus soon followed.
Birkin spent much of the early ‘70s acting in films, including Sex-Power; Romance of a Horse Thief; Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman; and Dark Places with Christopher Lee and Joan Collins. With help from Gainsbourg, she recorded Lolita Go Home in 1975 and Ex Fan des Sixties in 1978, gaining hits in France, if not in England.
Her marriage to Gainsbourg dissolved in 1980 and Birkin later married the French director Jacques Doillon. She continued performing, acting, and making music, mostly directed towards a French audience, until 2006, when she released Fictions. The album included both a Tom Waits and Neil Young cover, along with new material from songwriters Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy, The Magic Numbers, Beth Gibbons, and Rufus Wainwright.
Enfants d’Hiver was released in 2008 and was followed by the double-live set Au Palace a year later. Birkin then started to focus more on touring than recording. In 2011, after the tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, she gave two benefit quartet concerts and was introduced to pianist, composer, and arranger Nobuyuki Nakajima, who had worked extensively with Ryuichi Sakamoto and scored numerous films in his own right. The quartet’s shows were so successful that they toured for two years.
Birkin and Nakajima worked with Gainsbourg’s longtime producer Philippe Lerichomme on her most recent show and thirteenth album, Birkin/Gainsbourg: The Symphonic, a collection of songs Gainsbourg had written for Birkin during and after their relationship, reworked with full orchestral arrangements. The album was released in March 2017, while the show was on the road.
The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) is New York’s premiere French cultural and language center. FIAF’s mission is to create and offer New Yorkers innovative and unique programs in education and the arts that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French cultures. FIAF seeks to generate new ideas and promote cross cultural dialogue through partnerships and new platforms of expression. www.fiaf.org
Special thanks to L’Oréal USA.