JANE BIRKIN
OH! PARDON TU DORMAIS…

Partly inspired by Birkin’s theatrical play of the same name, Oh! Pardon tu dormais... (which translates as “Oh! Sorry you were sleeping…”) marks her most intimate and personal album to date. Its 13 songs feature lyrics written by Birkin—including, for the first time, two tracks in English—and music by Etienne Daho and Jean-Louis Piérot, who also produced. Daho co-wrote lyrics on multiple tracks as well.

NOTES ON THE ALBUM, IN BIRKIN’S OWN WORDS:

“Oh! Pardon, tu dormais...”

When I played my film Oh! Pardon, tu dormais... at the Gaîté Montparnasse with Thierry Fortineau a few years ago, Etienne came to see me... often. Because he really liked it, and he spent years trying to convince me to do a musical adaptation.

I went to Etienne’s house for our first session, along with my dog Dolly. I sat on the sofa and Etienne and Jean-Louis Piérot had me listen to some melodies that they had been writing for me for a few months. That’s how the writing sessions began. Etienne reworked my words to their music, and I asked him to give me the line. It worked like a charm.

At the start, we took inspiration from the script of Oh! Pardon... Then gradually, along with Etienne, we moved away from this, and more pressing, urgent themes were addressed... My daughter Kate, loss, heartbreak, ghosts, even lyrics written in English... Little by little, we drifted towards other horizons...

“Ces murs épais” and “Cigarettes”

I opened my diary, which contained the outline of two songs about losing Kate, written in Lyon a few months previously. This was the starting point for “Cigarettes.” Over a melody reminiscent of Kurt Weill, I sung into the mic “ma fille s’est foutue en l’air [my daughter fucked up]...” This felt obscene, but also fair... That first song happened very quickly, and naturally. Another poem, about the gifts I could no longer give to Kate, about the horror of the graveyard, the Spring flowers left in haste, the terror at what might be happening below the ground. Set to music by Jean-Louis and Etienne, this became “Ces murs épais.” Etienne came up with the title and the chorus. This collaboration, which gave shape to my lyrics, was like an electric shock... Alone, I was stagnating, but together, the inspiration was magnified.

“Max”

“Max” is a guilt-ridden monologue by the daughter in Oh! Pardon… We always say that when we die, there’s just one name engraved on our hearts, that of our one true love... But I believe that it could be a suffering love, to whom we showed no mercy, brought to their knees, kicked when they were down, and then turned our backs, so we wouldn’t have to see... I knew a man a long time ago, a film technician. We were in a nightclub for a film wrap party. The music was very loud, and I said I wanted to see his fiancée’s face. He didn’t understand so I yelled “I want to see a picture of your lover!!!!” He took a photo from his jacket, but it was dark, and I couldn’t see well, “Who is it?” “It’s the man that I killed!” ... This is what he kept in his wallet, close to his heart. This unbearable image of the young man that he had killed in Algeria when he was twenty... Over Jean-Louis and Etienne’s gloomy music, like waves of “invaders,” I read the verses as a voice-over, punctuated by lyrical refrains, which give life and rhythm to the declamation and allow us to move forward and not drown in memories...

“Ghosts”

For the first time, I wrote in English over this piece by Jean-Louis and Etienne, which reminded me of a Gustave Doré landscape. A sleeping figure, freeing its ghosts, which slip out and fly away on bat wings, a litany... Grandparents, parents, daughter, nephew, husbands, friends, dogs, cats, like the ghosts in Disney’s Fantasia, A Night on the Bare Mountain... The chorus is a nursery rhyme dating to the time of the bubonic plague, which is sung by children: “Wallflowers, wallflowers growing up so high, we are all young maidens and we shall all die, except for Linda she’s the only one, she can hop, and she can skip, and she can turn the candlestick” ... The harmonic progression descends and, with it, the bodies of adored angels...

“Les jeux interdits”

In another song, I evoked the story of my daughters, so inspired by the film Jeux Interdits that they buried everything, with solemn rituals, even the Sunday roast. In the small graveyard beside my house in Normandy, they swapped everything on the graves. For the sake of fairness, the richest were dispossessed in favour of the more modest graves. The plaques, the porcelain pansies, everything was mixed up. A plaque to “Our dear aunt” was placed on another grave, to the dismay of the locals. And so the song “Les jeux interdits” was born, more malicious than intended... little girls running through the hills...

“F.R.U.I.T”

The man: “say sex,” the girl replies: “I cannot... Even on pain of torture, I could not”... and, it’s true... F.R.U.I.T was a joke that Kate, Charlotte and Lou used to make when, at the grocer’s, I was unable to say it, but “bananas, pears, peaches” was no problem. It was worse in English. With my brother and sister, we whispered this word in each other’s ears, and it made us scream! There was even an ad that left us in hysterics, “Juicy Fruit.” In France, I listened, red-faced, to all these words, said without embarrassment, describing F.R.U.I.T. as “soft, juicy, firm, succulent.” It’s torture to listen to chefs on cooking shows explaining their art! This is all so uncomfortable that, I guess, at heart it involves an unbearable eroticism. It triggers such embarrassment that it’s probably sexual... So these are all words that bother me... Starting with S.E.X. ...

“A marée haute”

“A marée haute” is inspired by the beach in front of my house in Finistère... Devastated at low tide, memories overwhelm with the rising tide. I had these nostalgic lyrics, to which Etienne added a more dramatic tone... Him: “d’accord c’est mort [ok, it’s dead]” and me: “je pue la défaite [I reek of defeat],” a marriage of us two, a landscape to which we added a beacon, English mist on hangman’s beach, and a light, dreary rain. “Si tu ne m’aimes plus, je ne m’aime plus non plus [If you don’t love me any more, I don’t love me any more either]”... Despair…

“Pas d’accord”

“Bang tu m’a touchée [Bang, you got me].” From this dynamic arrow, a litany is born, the girl’s ulcerated lament... “Pas d’accord pour ces silences affreux [I disagree with these awful silences],” she cries, hysterical, vomiting insults, justified or not... She is fed up of the artifice of love, the infidelity, suspicions, disguising oneself to be alluring, the sarcasm... Painful memories of being locked in a role for years, of being asked to fade away, to shut her mouth... And, finally, she can no longer bear it... So she “esquive des coups [dodges blows],” she rebels. She is “plus d’accord [no longer in agreement]!”

“Ta sentinelle”

At the start of the writing process, this melancholic melody by Jean-Louis and Etienne was inspired by an outline of the lyrics to “Les jeux interdits.” But the lyrics were replaced with these ones, evoking the subsequent years, the bitterness caused by a fatal thunderbolt. The first throes of love, so miraculous but, like a hundred-meter sprint, it cannot go the distance... A melancholic, envious look at lovers who, like us in the past, embrace under the archway, not wasting a second, losing themselves in each other... The eroticism of fleeting movements, secrets, this blessed state and this vision, to which no one can remain indifferent. Later, the details are clear: her scent, her red sweater, her coat... The excruciating absence, staying near the other, without whom sleep will not come... Jealous of these lovers, she screams in her head “comme je vous envie [how I envy you],” she mourns the lost desire, the vanished passion, “Tous ces amants me rendent malade [All these lovers make me sick!]”… She implores “juste un baiser, comme dans le temps [just a kiss, like the old days]”…

“Telle est ma maladie envers toi”

This frenzy of passionate jealousy came straight from my journal. I was reluctant to publish it, and almost deleted it, it was such a terrifying admission, but it was well expressed, so I left it. Etienne loved it! He wanted to turn it into a song and adapted it to Jean-Louis’ music. The lyrics evoke a sort of madness, but I found that this corresponded perfectly to love sickness, passion, failed possession. It perfectly illustrates this state, this headiness that I knew so well, but which today seems so distant, as if it were the story of another. But now I can relive it, for the length of a song...

“Je voulais être une telle perfection pour toi!”

Etienne created this song by compiling all the phrases and expressions which he had found in Oh! Pardon… that he regretted not using. I arrived at the studio and…surprise! Set to his tense, haunting music, these out-of-context, seemingly unrelated phrases became an exquisite, surreal corpse… woven like lace… I was seduced, it was like a gift. And this was also the last song that we were going to record, which lent a certain tension to my voice... I should say that I had bronchitis that day!

“Catch Me If You Can”

I wrote this in Brittany, when I found myself alone last summer. The music, composed by Jean-Louis, heralded a fall, and I was trying to write about this fall, but I became obsessed with “look I’m falling...catch me if you can,” and it imposed itself. I remember a post-it that Kate had stuck to her diary, which I kept, on which was written “happy like Ulysses between his parents…” A desire to be “enfin à la maison [finally at home]” to be “protégée, saine et sauve [protected, healthy and safe].” It bothered me... I suppose it was what she wanted, maybe what we all want in the end... I wrote it as if I were her... The last memory I have of her is at a cocktail party after my concert in Châtelet. She was there, near the piano and, after she was gone, everyone was talking about her. Everyone had a different opinion about what she had said that night, how she behaved, her demeanor... I imagined her leaving on tiptoe, leaving us behind, frozen in time, as if we were playing “Statues” ...

For a moment, I panicked, because I realized that our concept album was finished. The musical flights and tapestries of Jean-Louis... So often silent. Just a smile to show his approval of an idea, the birth of a song, when my lyrics settled so naturally into his melodies. Etienne, and the excitement of having been so perfectly understood by him. I pondered how he showcased my lyrics, put order on them. The care with which he suggested changes, reworked my monologues with an incredibly light touch, tender like a lover, ensuring he was in the same head space as me. Or maybe we are kindred spirits? He saved me from an old wound, delivered me from melancholy and inertia. We gave everything, took everything, and I’m still amazed and stunned at what the three of us created. We gave birth to this thing... and this moves me.

Jane Birkin


For more information, please contact Chris Schimpf or Carla Sacks
212.741.1000 at Sacks & Co.