On 10 October 1963, Edith Piaf was announced to have died at the age of 47. Her remains were repatriated from her bastide in Grasse to her Paris home at 67 boulevard Lannes. Admirers flocked to the foot of the building, and proper credentials had to be shown to the police officers on duty in order to gain admission. This extended to other residents, and even the au pairs seeking to enter their maid’s room. Amongst them was a 16-year-old English girl, who some in the crowd mistook for Françoise Hardy. It turns out that it was Jane Birkin, unknown as of yet, who had come to Paris for a few months to perfect her French. Who could have predicted that, sixty years later, she would be the icon leaving her neighbourhood sadly bereaved?
The enormous emotion aroused by Jane Birkin’s death on 16 July 2023 proves at least one thing: she played a far more important role in the hearts of the French than the one she was boxed into during much of her career, namely that of an evaporated muse of male design. She was exactly the opposite. Jane Birkin was a superhuman being who embraced every cause she deemed worthy, and a protean artist who threw herself wholeheartedly into acting, directing and writing alongside music. Just as her garrulous personality could keep interviews going forever, there was no stopping her. Naturally she was best known for her singing, in particular through the couple she formed with Serge Gainsbourg both on the road and in the studio. From the end of the 1960s until 1978 and the magnificent album Ex-Fan des sixties, they were a double whammy that redefined the relationship between a Pygmalion and his “creation”. While Gainsbourg’s obsession with classical music, his fixed literary ideas and his black humour may seem to be his own preserve, many of the duo’s other characteristics are undeniably the fruit of a symbiosis between the two artists.