Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot -- "Bonnie and Clyde" (1968)

Maintenant chaque fois qu'on essaie de se ranger
De s'installer tranquille dans un meublé
Dans les trois jours, voilà le tac tac tac
Des mitraillettes qui reviennent à l'attaque

(Don't worry -- there's a translation below.)

One of the things I always do when I visit Joplin, Missouri (my hometown) is to drop by Dude's Daylight Donuts to breakfast on maple bars and Dr. Pepper:

One other thing I always do in Joplin is to take long walks through the neighborhoods that were devastated in the May 22, 2011, tornado to see how the rebuilding is coming along.

This is the only pile of rubble I saw anywhere.  There are a lot of vacant lots in Joplin, but all of them seem to have been cleared of debris.

Take a close look at the photo above.  The pile of rubble used to be a house that stood on the northwest corner of 26th and Iowa.  The red brick house to the right (behind the white truck) is a tornado survivor.  The olive-colored houses to the left and in the center of the picture are brand-new houses.

My high school was destroyed by the tornado, and there's a lot of work to do before the new school will be ready:

The garage apartment where legendary criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow once hid out for a couple of weeks stood about half a mile south of the path of the tornado, so it escaped serious damage:

I vividly remember seeing Bonnie and Clyde at the old Lux Theater in Joplin in 1968.

I think the exact date was April 14, 1968.  Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, and riots broke out in Kansas City the night of King's funeral -- April 9, which was a Tuesday -- and lasted for five days and nights.  When my friends and I came out of the movie, we saw a convoy of National Guard jeeps heading north on Main Street -- we found out later that the local National Guard unit had been dispatched to Kansas City to assist in crowd control.

I'm pretty sure my friends and I saw the movie on a Sunday night, so I'm guessing it was the Sunday immediately following the outbreak of the riots, which was the 14th.

Seeing that long line of jeeps heading north was a sobering sight.  The ending of Bonnie and Clyde -- when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway get ambushed and shot about a million times -- should have been sobering as well.  But I was a 15-year-old boy, so it was more exciting than sobering.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow spent the first half of April 1933 in that garage apartment pictured above -- the exact address is 3347 1/2 Oak Ridge Drive.  While they were hiding out there, they were joined by Clyde's brother, Buck -- he had just been pardoned and released from the Texas state penitentiary at Huntsville -- and his wife, Blanche. 

Local police were tipped off that the group's behavior was suspicious -- they went through a case of beer a day, played cards (loudly) all night, and Clyde once accidentally fired a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) he was cleaning.  Five officers tried to blockade them, but the gang broke out, killing two policeman and escaping over the nearby Oklahoma state line.  

I didn't know about Bonnie and Clyde's sojourn in Joplin until I saw the movie.  I later learned that it was the Joplin ambush and escape that made Bonnie and Clyde famous.  When the couple headed for the hills, they left a lot of stuff behind -- including several rolls of undeveloped film and a poem ("Story of 'Suicide Sal'") that Bonnie had written.

The film was developed by the Joplin Globe staff, and one picture in particular -- Bonnie pretending to smoke a cigar -- became world-famous:

Here's Faye Dunaway's recreation of Parker's pose in the Bonnie and Clyde movie:

The couple were ambushed and shot to pieces a little over a year after their escape from Joplin.  The coroner's report listed 17 entrance wounds on the 25-year-old Clyde's body and 26 on the 23-year-old Bonnie's.  There were so many bullet holes that an undertaker had problems embalming the corpses because the embalming fluid kept leaking out.

A few before her death, Bonnie gave a handwritten poem titled "Trail's End" to her mother.  That poem -- which became known as "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde" -- is the source of the lyrics of our featured song.  The French song varies somewhat from the poem -- for example, the original poem consists of five-line limerick-style stanzas -- but the song's lyrics follow the content of the poem quite closely.

Gainsbourg and Bardot 
The French lyrics quoted at the beginning of this post are based on the following stanza from "Trail's End":

If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat
About the third night
They're invited to fight
By a sub-gun's rat-a-tat-tat

Serge Gainbourg was one of the most popular and influential French popular music figures of all time.  Gainsbourg's song were often provocative -- his most famous record was "Je t'aime . . . moi non plus," which features explicit lyrics and ends with the sounds of a woman simulating an orgasm.

Gainsbourg wrote that song in 1967.  The same night, he wrote "Bonnie and Clyde."  Both were recorded with his then-current girlfriend, Brigitte Bardot.  (The recording engineer reported "heavy petting" by the couple during the recording session.) 

Bardot (who was married at the time to a German businessman) begged Gainsbourg not to release "Je t'aime."  He later re-recorded it with a new girlfriend, English actress Jane Birkin.  That record was a big hit, although it was banned from the radio in several countries (including Sweden).

Gainsbourg and Birkin
Birkin's simulation of orgasm was very enthusiastic, and there was a rumor that the couple had been having sex during the recording of the song.  Gainsbourg denied the rumor, quipping that "it would have been a long-playing record" instead of a single if that had been the case.  (Typical showoff Frenchman.)

Here's the Gainsbourg-Birkin version of "Je t'aime":

"Bonnie and Clyde" proves less really is more.  Gainsbourg and Bardot perform the song in a very understated manner.  Every so often a guy makes a weird whooping sound in the background -- I have no idea what the hell it means, but it's all très, très cool.

The music video Gainsbourg and Bardot did is even cooler.  Here it is:

1 comment:

  1. The photo of Bonnie in front of the 1932 Ford (my mental jukebox just cued up "Little Deuce Coupe") reminds me of the "fan letter" that one of the infamous couple supposedly wrote to Henry Ford, telling the patriarch of Ford Motor Co. that they always tried to steal a Ford for their getaway car because of the great performance.