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Art & Culture / AnOther Thing I Wanted to Tell You

Andrew Birkin on Jane Birkin & Je T'Aime…Moi Non Plus

Inspirational figures get personal and share a passion with us in AnOther Thing I Wanted to Tell You

Jane and Serge en route to catch the sleeper to Paris, 1969
Jane and Serge en route to catch the sleeper to Paris, 1969 Photography by Andrew Birkin, Courtesy of Taschen

Andrew Birkin describes the first time he hears the world's most infamous song

"With a Christmas tree...in place, and Silent Night wafting from rosy-cheeked carollers warbling in the street outside, Jane cautiously produced a demo LP – one that she and Serge had recorded a month earlier but was not going to be released until the spring. The songs were an extraordinary mix to my ear, weaned as I was on Elvis, Dylan, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and the Stones. She didn't play them all but of the ones she did, Manon was my favourite, harsh yet full on romantic. Only later, when I'd ascended into the hermitage of my attic eyrie, did Jane come up to visit me alone, clutching the demo. There was another song on the album, one that she hadn't dared play in front of our parents: Je t'aime...moi non plus.

Shocked and seduced and thrilled by Jane's orgasmic sighs to the dreamy melody, opulent organ and billowing strings, I was blown away. Everything about the soaring beauty of the song stunned my collective neurons, not least the title, which perfectly expressed Serge's innate romantic cynicism.

I'm not sure I ever admitted it to Jane, let alone Serge, but that night I surreptitiously copied the entire album onto a cassette tape. I was planning to spend the next couple of months on Lundy – a remote island 30 miles off the coast of England, with no roads, no TV, no telephones, and nothing for company but thousands of seabirds, hundreds of sheep, a couple of lighthouse keepers, a big bag of dope – and Catherine, my French girlfriend. What finer flights of ecstasy could life hold than getting stoned and making love on a deserted isle to this dreamily seductive song?"

"What finer flights of ecstasy could life hold than getting stoned and making love on a deserted isle to this dreamily seductive song?"

Jane Birkin is one of the indelible faces and voices of the 60s and 70s, her gamine beauty and vibrant charisma bringing her roles in era defining films, such as Blowup, and relationships with some of the definitive creative voices of the age. These included marriages to Bond composer John Barry and film director Jacques Doillon, and in between a thirteen-year affair with the French singer Serge Gainsbourg, a romance best encapsulated by their infamous duet Je t'aime...moi non plus.

Birkin has always been incredibly close to her older brother, the photographer and filmmaker Andrew Birkin, and he spent a huge amount of time with her, Serge and their young family as they travelled to film sets, relaxed in Paris and on the Isle of Wight, capturing intimate moments with his camera. The results of these intimate and impromptu photoshoots have just been brought together in a gorgeous book titled Serge & Jane: A Family Album, published by Taschen. Styled as a personal album by design duo M/M (Paris), it is a touching wander through the family life of this iconic cultural couple, accompanied by a biographical essay from the photographer detailing his own relationship with his beloved sister and her lover, including the first time he heard that most infamous of songs.

Serge & Jane: A Family Album is out now, published by Taschen.

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