Jun 27, 2016

Everything Gainsbourg: Régal du Brasseur


Every place has its favorite sons and daughters, its iconic people that you can't seem to escape. Serge Gainsbourg is one of France's, and his face is particularly in your face in Paris, especially if you happen to walk by his old home in the 7th arrondissement on Rue de Verneuil. You won't have to ask which one it is.

On an otherwise very normal looking Parisian block, this place is either an eyesore or a bright spot, depending on your perspective.


His life was just about as busy as the wall art on his home, which is still there 25 years after his death. Gainsbourg was, of course, primarily known as a singer-songwriter -- a raspy-voiced, profound poet of the zeitgeist, something like a French Bob Dylan.

Unlike Bob Dylan, however, Gainsbourg was an unabashed capitalist, cashing in on his fame in every way possible. He directed commercials, including Pentax, Konica, and RATP (French rail system), and allowed his music to be used in ads; he appeared as an actor; he wrote songs for as many famous singers and actresses as possible, like Catherine Deneuve, and apparently slept with many of them, including Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, despite nearly everybody being married to somebody else at the time.

Gainsbourg got attention any way he could. When he had a heart attack in 1973, he called a press conference from his hospital bed and vowed he would smoke and drink even more. He seemed to keep good on his word and was known as a huge smoker and incurable alcoholic.

His first song from his first album, in 1958, is still one of his most famous: Le Poinçonneur des Lilas. A "poinçonneur" is an employee who punches holes in metro tickets. The job no longer exists (tickets are now stamped by machines), but the song lives on. It is so linked with Gainsbourg that his headstone in the Montparnasse Cemetery is covered with metro tickets. They are all purple stamped from the machines. I mean, I haven't looked through every ticket, but I've yet to see one with a hole punched in it. There he is, on the left, with his littered headstone. Not too far away in the same cemetery, in a tribute that makes no sense, people copy this gesture and put metro tickets on the grave of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.


Evidently, Gainsbourg loved a bad pun or play on words, and he loved them more and more as time went on. Some of his song titles reflect this: "Beau Oui Comme Bowie" ("Handsome like Bowie"); "Il Est Rigolo Mon Gigolo" ("My Gigolo is Funny"); "Mais Ouis Mae West" ("But Yes, Mae West"). Non-punny but just as questionable: "La Vie est une Belle Tartine (de Merde)" ("Life is a (Shit) Sandwich").

He embraced all that was commercial and cheesy, and in Europe you know what that means: He actually wrote a winning Eurovision song, in 1965, for Luxembourg, "Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son". It may, literally, be one of the worst songs you will ever see/hear, but once it won, Gainsbourg went on to write her another one about lollipops, full of double entendres that seem obvious to us, but that the naive singer didn't understand.

The Guardian, one of England's big newspapers, published a list of some of the best Gainsbourg songs saying, "from sex to sex, via some other songs about sex..." Perhaps his two most famous songs are Bonnie and Clyde, sung/spoken by himself and Bardot. "Bonnie and Clyde" is one of the weirdest songs you will ever hear in your life. He also wrote "Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)", for Bardot and she recorded it in 1967. But this version wasn't released till 1986. So the more famous version and the "original" (though recorded later) is recorded with his next lover, Jane Birkin. Released in 1969, it was so famous and so famously arousing -- banned by both the BBC and the Vatican (you can't buy publicity that fantastic) -- it is credited with creating a mini baby boom. It's like a Barry White song of its times. In French. Both breathier and more annoying.

Serge Gainsbourg, the person, may be dead, but Serge Gainsbourg, the legend, is not. In fact, Gigi, who sings, plays the ukulele, and publishes her music on Instagram and Youtube, covered "Couleur Café", a Gainsbourg song famous enough to be well-known among her 13-year old friends. Gainsbourg is dead. Long live Gainsbourg!

THE CHEESE: Régal du Brasseur

Régal du Brasseur is a raw cows' milk cheese made in Alsace. It's a semi-soft cheese with a semi-strong taste, made much like its cousin, Cure Nantais. During the aging process, the Régal du Brasseur is washed with Licorne Black, a beer from the same region. This gives it a sticky orange crust and that funky foot-fungus aroma, with a flavor to match.

This is not a cheese for the faint-hearted, though it's still milder than, say, an Epoisses. The center is soft, creamy, silky, and stinky-sweet.


Roumillat is a cheese that was produced until at least 1984, but seems to have since disappeared. I bring it up because Serge Gainsbourg directed a TV commercial for it that year, as part of his prolific career which included directing, acting, singing, and composing. Roumillat was a small round, white-bloom coated cows' cheese made in the Vosges department.

photos from http://www.priceminister.com/ and http://www.delcampe.net/

So what I was hoping for was a round, white-bloom coated cows' cheese made in the Vosges. What I found instead was a round, orange-mold cows' cheese made in the Vosges. Other than a little color problem, they both come in the Camembert-style wooden boxes and seem to have a lot in common, though I'd wager that the Roumillat was not nearly as strong tasting.

Given Gainsbourg's reputation for liking liquor -- strong and lots of it -- I feel like he would have appreciated being linked to a cheese washed with beer whose flavor can clear the sinuses.


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