Gainsbourg sang about B.B., Melody, Jane B and… Jeremy?

Saturday, 23 June 2018

My mother did some weird things when I was a child, none of which were more weird than buying the News of the World every week. Long before the organ ignominiously shut itself down and reopened under a different title after it got caught hacking a dead girl’s phone, it used to hire a soothsayer of dubious verity called Mystic Meg. Meg wrote spooky bollocks for a living, but I still used to read it most weeks to see what fate had in store for me, none of which was ever true.

Then one Sunday in August 1991 Meg wrote: “Destiny says this week you will buy a record with your name on it”. How silly I said to myself and thought little more of it. Later that week I bought Pearl Jam’s Ten, and lo and behold there was a song called ‘Jeremy’ at the end of side one. Perhaps Meg doesn’t talk bollocks after all? I played Ten lots and lots until I became absolutely sick of it, then the band released said song as a single; it was a hit and it made my life a misery for the next two years, with drunk people bellowing “Jeremy spoke in class today” into my face with beery breath every time I stepped out of the house.

Why Meg chose to reveal this to me, I’m not certain. It would have been nice had she suggested some lottery numbers or surreptitiously got the message to me that a legacy was hidden in the attic or behind the fridge. Why she would want to let me in on the tracklisting of a Seattle grunge rock five-piece’s debut album six days before it dropped will I expect forever remain a mystery, which is why they call her Mystic.

There aren’t many songs with that name in the title, so I was aghast this week when I suddenly noticed one with Jeremy in the title written and recorded by Serge Gainsbourg, who I am, of course, writing a biography about. ‘Tatoué Jérémie’ to be precise.

How I’d not spotted this petite chanson before I’m not exactly sure. It’s on Gainsbourg Percussions, which - with its forward looking use of drum sampling with more than a smidgen of appropriation (in an old school colonialist stylee) - is definitely my favourite of his early albums. I’ll be honest, the early stuff doesn’t hit my Hi-Fi as often as, say, anything from the 70's, but I’ve listened to Percussions a fair bit. To somehow miss a Serge song with a French version of my own name in the title is surprising and maybe even embarrassing.

To be fair the song is fairly missable too — tucked away towards the end of the album, it’s a two minute tale about a guy called Jérémie who has tattoos next to his heart, on his forearms and in a more intimate place in honour of a girl he’s fallen in love with… and who he falls out of love with just as quickly. Obviously he’s then stuck with the tats that represent his infatuation. As someone who has never gone under the needle the song hasn’t exactly got under my skin, but I do wonder why he chose the name Jérémie. Perhaps my French friends can tell me if the name has the same uncool connotations in France as it does in England? Jeremy somehow epitomises being bourgeois and square; another weird thing my mother did. Perhaps she was motivated by her middle class pretensions or maybe she just liked the name (I’m being a bit hard on my mother here aren’t I).

Did Serge choose it because the name Jérémie has a suburban and proudly bourgeois association while getting marked with ink was still a dangerous thing to do back in the mid-60’s, long before body art became de rigueur for the casually disenfranchised? Jeremy means “may Jehovah exalt” apparently, while a jeremiad is a long mournful rant with its etymological origin almost certainly coming from the prophet Jeremiah. But I suspect Serge is juxtaposing unthreateningly bourgeois with bad to the bone for comedic effect. He’s having a laugh at us Jeremys, and I don’t blame him.

I’m meeting with the legendary Alain Gorageur in Paris on Monday — arranger of five out of six early Gainsbourg’s albums (Percussions included), string genius of ‘Poupée de cire, poupée de son’ fame and composer of the incredible La planète sauvage soundtrack — so perhaps I’ll ask Alain about it. This is the kind of insider information that you’re unlikely to get from Mystic Meg.

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