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Friday, March 2, 2012

"Le poinçonneur des Lilas"

Serge Gainsbourg - "Le poinçonneur des Lilas" (1958)

Born to Russian Jewish parents who fled to France after the Russian revolution, as a child they all fled France when Nazis marched into Paris.



Serge Gainsbourg was one of the most prolific and beloved pop singer in France. His carrier spanned over thirty years, and over twenty five albums, as well as several films. This song was the opening track off of his debut album. He courted controversy his whole life, probably a good deal of why he was so popular in France. Even his earliest songs had sexual or morbid themes. If you didn't speak French ( I sure don't) you would be forgiven for thinking that this fast, driving, repetitive song was sexual in some way, but it is not. It is the tale of a ticket taker in a Paris Métro station (Porte des Lilas) whose life is so boring, all day long he thinks about punching little holes. Eventually his thoughts wander and he considers getting a gun, so he can put a little hole in himself, and then rest in a larger hole.

The driving forward aspect of the song is forming a picture of a train. The flute and saxophone give us the sound of the train whistle and the train going past. The guitar and brushes on a snare drum are of course the train itself, a trick that American country music performers popularized. We get a little piano to help give things a little color. Mostly just light hits at the very end of the first verse but then driving at the end of the the first chorus. Gainsbourg's vocals are an interesting cross between singing and spoken word. Some of it almost sounds like a tongue twister.

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