Lulu Gainsbourg, father, son and spirit
First album From Gainsbourg to Lulu
25-year-old Lulu Gainsbourg, son of Serge and Bambou, has just released his first album, a tribute to his father offering up his personal versions of hits like L’Eau à la bouche, Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais and La Javanaise. The impressive guest line-up includes Marianne Faithfull, Vanessa Paradis, Johnny Depp and M.
His big sister Charlotte has been under the spotlight since her tender years, but there has been scant news of Lulu since he appeared as a two-year-old on the stage of the Zénith with his dad Serge Gainsbourg performing Hey Man, Amen, a track about his young son, and then on the TV show Sacrée Soirée, dressed as an avatar of his famous father. Not a dickybird since, except for scant traces of his goings-on in celeb magazines.
All of a sudden, he’s everywhere, promoting his first CD, From Gainsbourg to Lulu, a tribute to his father. The 25-year-old is an athletic, Johnny Depp lookalike with a nonchalant air: “My mother always protected me from too much publicity and I wasn’t just going to build up my reputation as ‘Serge junior”. For the last quarter of a century, Lulu (“Lucien, it’s gross. I would never give a son of mine a name like that”) has been trying to escape from his fate.
Although he enjoyed playing music, he chose to bury his shyness in video games (“I’d reached the edge!” he laughs), and dreamed of working in IT, managing a video club or becoming a formula one racing driver. But then Lulu grew up, shook off the shackles of childhood and made a few realisations: “Just because my father did music, that didn’t mean I couldn’t”. He set off for Boston five years ago and entered the prestigious Berklee Music School, composing Quand je suis seul, a track for his friend Marc Lavoine (Volume 10 album). It opened his eyes. Lulu has now released his first record, a collection of his father’s songs: “I was ready to assume my heritage and bear my name. Gainsbourg junior at last had something to show for himself.”
To break free, Lulu chose to make a musical gift to his father, serving up his songs dressed in new colours. Serge died when Lulu was only five and he remembers little of his father, only a few precious gems, like the intense joy they both felt when they were together, school trips, a few piano notes, and of course his music.
To make his tribute, Lulu conjured up a mind-blowing cast to ensure that his father’s name would resonate across the world and the generations. Nothing was too good for Serge. The daring young man went straight to the top and contacted Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Wonder, Jamiroquai, Herbie Hancock and many more. The definitive list boasts Rufus Wainwright, Scarlett Johansson (whom he describes as “the Brigitte Bardot of the 21st century”), Marianne Faithfull, M, Vanessa Paradis & Johnny Depp (“my spiritual big brother”), Shane MacGowan (“Lead singer of The Pogues, the only group that my father used to go and watch live”), Angelo Debarre, Richard Bona, Mélanie Thierry, Iggy Pop, Ayo, Sly Johnson... quite some line-up.
To support the stars, a few of Serge’s former musicians worked on the album and were quick to spot the resemblances: “In the studio, the drummer told me that I was as perfectionist as my father: a gentle tyrant, just like him”, Lulu says proudly. When asked what else he has in common with his genitor, he says: “I don’t know, I’m still too young. Perhaps I’ve got the same hands, but definitely not the same hooked nose!” he cracks up. Some might be surprised not to find Charlotte and Bambou contributing to the album, but Lulu is firm, “Family on this record boils down to me and my Dad, period!”
The result is a sixteen-track collection of elegant and tender songs. The hits (L’eau à la bouche, Requiem pour un con, Initials BB, etc.), sound different, as if bathed in another light, and some of the monuments turn into illuminated jazz numbers (e.g. Intoxicated Man and Black Trombone). But there are no revolutionary surprises in the record. Lulu is clearly attempting to move away from his father, yet remains strangely in his footsteps. None of the tracks was written or composed by Lulu, and although he has arranged them well, he has invented nothing new. We will all be awaiting the next chapter to see, now that the son has flown the nest, just how wide he will be spreading his wings.
Lulu Gainsbourg From Gainsbourg to Lulu (Fontana/Universal) 2011