Anything but plain Jane

English musician, actress, model, and activist reflects on the legacy of her debut with Serge Gainsbourg

(Universal Music)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / September 7, 2010

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Featuring the erotically charged “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus,’’ the album was recently reissued by Light in the Attic Records.

Q. It was released in 1969 and yet we’re still talking about this album. Why are we still so fascinated by the song “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus’’?

A. The song already had a very beautiful tune, and then the heavy breathing meant you didn’t have to speak French for it to go to No. 1 [on the charts]. People vaguely knew what was happening in the song, and if you know the lyrics in French, then it means “I love you, nor do I.’’ That was because Serge was a very literate man and thought it was corny when people said, “I love you, I love you’’ when they were [having sex]. He took it with some degree of not really believing the female partner.

Q. Both the song and album were recorded at a pivotal time in your career, but also in the beginning of your relationship with Serge. Does it now feel like a time capsule of your courtship?

A. Not really, because I’m never able to forget for a second that I had been with him for 12 years or that Charlotte [Gainsbourg, the actress and musician] is my daughter. I can’t get into a taxi without the taxi man turning around and saying, “Oh, we miss him.’’ So I’m never allowed to forget that I was with him, which makes life difficult with any other person who gets into the taxi with me, unless they have no ego whatsoever. It doesn’t have a time warp for me because Serge is on the radio every five minutes, either him or me or Charlotte. The legacy goes on.

Q. Does that ever bother you?

A. No, because I realized when I came to the United States on tour, the venues were full — 40 years after “Je t’aime.’’ So you can’t spit in the soup, as the English say. I also know that the signature music that will be played when I pass onto the other side as the feet go out first will be [she sings the melody of “Je t’aime’’]. I have a lot to be thankful for. It’s made my career without anyone knowing anything about me.

Q. The last time you and I spoke, you were disappointed that I hadn’t seen the 1976 film “Je t’aime moi non plus,’’ which is quite sexually explicit and stars you and Joe Dallesandro. I finally tracked down a bootleg copy on eBay.

A. And?

Q. I liked it, but I’m curious why it’s your favorite film you’ve made.

A. It’s not my favorite, but I think it’s probably the most original and best of the five films that Serge made. It’s also the most surprising and very avant-garde, and Joe had an innocence about him. In Tokyo and Paris, it’s shown every year. It’s become a cult movie.

Q. I liked it enough to invite some friends over for a screening.

A. I hope you didn’t put it on at dinnertime.

Q. I saved it for dessert.

A. [Laughs.] Thank you for buying it.

James Reed can be reached at