Pop Quiz: Charlotte Gainsbourg (San Francisco Chronicle)


By Aidin Vaziri, San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 2010

After suffering a cerebral hemorrhage that nearly killed her, Charlotte Gainsbourg did what anyone would do – she checked into a Los Angeles studio with Beck and made an album inspired by the sounds she heard during her brain scans. Now the revered French actress (and daughter of Gallic pop icon Serge Gainsbourg and British singer-actress Jane Birkin) is taking that recording, « IRM, » on her first tour ever, with a stop at the Palace of Fine Arts on Saturday. We spoke to her by phone from Paris.

Q: How did having a hole drilled in your head change you?
A: Well, it gave me insulation. I was also very attracted to those MRI sounds. It was the first thing I thought of when I was in that machine – I remember thinking what I could do with those sounds.

Q: Was there some profound revelation you got from being near death?
A: I hoped there would be at the very start, but when we come out of something so shocking it only lasts for a week and then you go back to normal.

Q: So you still get annoyed if someone’s bumper is hanging over your driveway?
A: Yes. I also stopped smoking, so I have been very nervous and irritated.

Q: That’s going to make touring difficult.
A: I know. The only thing that did change was the way I related to death. Getting so close I did realize how unprepared I was and how really terrified I was. I didn’t like that about myself. I thought I was much more courageous.

Q: Before this tour you only played live twice. What made you want to dive in now?
A: Well, I did a few shows and they went well. I want to continue and hopefully improve myself. Some people are not made for performing live. It doesn’t mean you can’t do an album. When I saw my parents, I never saw them perform live. It wasn’t part of their job.

Q: Beck is such a big fan of your father’s. Were you worried he would be too in awe of the family name to function?
A: Not at all. I knew he knew everything about his work, but we didn’t talk about it that much. It would have been too difficult to me. I needed a little bit of distance. I have all these references in my mind, and things happened accidentally.

Q: You’ve made almost 40 movies and only three albums. Do you have any plans to balance that number out?
A: It took me 20 years to admit that I was an actress. Maybe it will take me the same time to admit I’m a singer. I think I get the attitude from my parents. They never acted like artists. They never had an attitude of an artist. My father always said classical music was a major art and what he did was a minor art. He was very modest about what he did. So after all he did, how can I not be modest about what I do? {sbox}

To hear Charlotte Gainsbourg’s music, go to www.charlottegainsbourg.com
Follow Aidin Vaziri at twitter.com/MusicSF. E-mail Aidin Vaziri at avaziri@sfchronicle.com.

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