Valentine's Day: A Love for Love

by André Schulz
2/14/2021 – Today is Valentine's Day, the day dedicated to romantic love. The French singer, actor and writer Serge Gainsbourg was a great romantic, and he was known for taking his mission in the name of love very seriously. His song "Je t'aime..." was quite explicit and censored in a number of countries. But Gainsbourg loved scandals - and chess, as well. | Photo: Serge Gainsbourg | Photo: Roger Kasparian

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February 14th is the high day of love. It is named Valentine's Day after Saint Valentine, a mythical Roman martyr. In 469, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th Saint Valentine's feast day. In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer first associated Valentine's day with romantic love at court. The tradition surrounding Valentine's Day developed in 18th century England and was later adopted in the United States and other countries.

French artist Serge Gainsbourg, whose actual name was Lucien Ginsburg, was a great romantic. He was born in Paris in 1928. His parents had fled Russia after the revolution and immigrated to France from Turkey. His father originated from Charkov, his mother from Crimea. Serge Gainsbourg's parents were both musicians, and it was from them that he inherited his artistic talent. Initially, he studied painting, which brought him into contact with Salvador Dali, among others. Through one of this acquaintances, the writer Boris Vian, Serge Gainsbourg was introduced to chanson, and ended up composing and writing songs. In later years, Gainsbourg frequently dabbled in other musical genres, as well, and became one of France's most influential musicians. 

In 1965, the young French singer France Gall won the Eurovision Song Contest with "Poupée de cire, poupée de son", a song composed by Serge Gainsbourg. In 1969, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin published "Je t’aime…", which caused a worldwide scandal with its explicitly sexual subject matter.

Serge Gainsbourg had previously caused an uproar by writing a song for 18-year-old France Gall with rather ambiguous lyrics centered around a lollipop.

Over the course of his career, Gainsbourg provoked a number of other scandals, for instance by performing a Reggae-style version of the French national anthem during concerts.

He also wrote numerous screenplays, appeared as an actor in movies and worked as a producer.

Gainsbourg married twice and was rumoured to have been involved in numerous extramarital affairs. Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter born from his union with Jane Birkin, carries on her father's creative legacy as an actress and singer.

Serge Gainsbourg playing chess with his daughter Charlotte

Serge Gainsbourg was a heavy smoker throughout his whole life, with a particular preference for Gitanes cigarettes. He was an alcoholic, as well, and died of a heart attack on March 2nd 1991. He is buried on Montparnasse Cemetery. 

Serge Gainsbourg playing chess | Image: Carl Bruin

In 2010, Joann Sfar produced an outstanding movie based on Serge Gainsbourg's life.

In spite of his intense lifestyle, Serge Gainsbourg still found the time to dedicate himself to other passions, some of which greatly helped him cope with stress. There is a number of pictures showing Serge Gainsbourg playing chess. Considering his family background, this might not be all that surprising.

The image on the left shows him together with France Gall in front of a row of chess pieces, apparently taken from more than one set and lined up like an army of toy soldiers.

However, there are images which show Serge Gainsbourg and France Gall in front of a real game of chess, as well. More precisely, a small travel set, which apparently belonged to Gainsbourg, as it does also appear in a number of other pictures. Gainsbourg does indeed seem to be invested in the position on the board, France Gall not so much.

The same set can also be seen on a 1963 picture taken by photographer Roger Kasparian.

French musician Jason Kouchak shares Serge Gainsbourg's love for music and chess. With his interpretation of "Je t'aime...", he has recorded a tribute to Serge Gainsbourg, love and chess, perfectly fitting for Valentine's day.

The performance for the song was already filmed several years ago on the great chess board in London's Holland Park, long before anyone could even think of a global pandemic.

Jadon Kouchak regularly combines his two great passions, music and chess, and is currently working on a chess-themed show inspired by Lewis Carrol's "Through the Looking Glass".


Jason Kouchak's website...

- Translation by Hugo B. Janz

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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