A European pop cultural icon visits Oslo World.
There are enough triumphs, tragedies and fascinating detours in Jane Birkins life to fill a bookshelf. But interestingly enough, the 2020 project «Oh! Pardon, tu dormais...» was the very first time the english actor and singer recorded music with her own lyrics. The french cult musician Etienne Daho convinced her to base songs on a play by the same name, which Birkin wrote 20 years ago. It has become an album filled with the sensibility and life experience one might expect from this unique figure in European popular culture.
Where to start? The obvious place is the 1969 single “Je t'aime... moi non plus”, which was the beginning of her musical collaboration with Serge Gainsbourg, who also was her life partner for a period. The song was scandalous in its time, banned on radio stations in several countries. Birkins whispery vocals were unheard of in its time - and to this day, it really is something else. But Birkin and Gainsbourg had a lot more in store, and two years after “Je t’aime”, their collaboration culminated in the legendary album “Histoire de Melody Nelson”, a surreal, erotical sonic adventure about events transpiring when the Birkin character Melody Nelson collides with Gainsbourg’s Rolls Royce. It is sublime and immersive, due to both the voice acting from Birkin and Gainsbourg, in addition to the innovative arrangements by Jean-Claude Vannier. “Melody Nelson '' is, simply put, one of the great art pop albums, its influence heard in the music of Beck, Air, Stereolab and so on.
"Oh! Pardon tu dormais… is weary but never resigned, battle-scarred but never defeated, a work of personal reckoning marked by a frantic desire to connect, as our time slips away. None of us can cheat death; but to face it with Birkin’s fortitude and poetic skill is to score a minor victory."
Ben Cardew, Pitchfork
Gainsbourg is a large, and ultimately tragic, figure in Birkins artistic life - but it is not the only one. She played in the revolutionary art film Blowup by Michelangelo Antonioni in addition to films like Wonderwall and Kaleidoscope in the sixties and has been a prolific actor ever since - for instance in the Agatha Christie-adaptations Evil under the sun and Death on the Nile. In the eighties, she became a stage actor, where the seeds to the album which came last year were sown. She has done several other artistic collaborations, she worked for Amnesty during the AIDS epidemic, she has had an iconic Hermés bag named after her - it’s a dense, complex life story with an artistic core: an intimate rebellion of sorts, which changed the way record listeners thought about the human voice. It’s hard to think of a greater achievement than that.