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Gainsbourg fille is back and in charge

February 18, 2007|Chris Lee | Times Staff Writer

TO the French, louche provocateur Serge Gainsbourg is a nicotine-stained national icon: a poet, director, singer-songwriter and actor as famous for his leering sexual persona as his bohemian nihilism.

To actress-singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, he is Papa but also her Svengali, responsible for directing her early movies and writing her songs -- including their duet single "Lemon Incest."

But when Serge died in 1991, Charlotte gave up on music. "Without him, I never thought it would be possible again," she says. "Doing that album when I was 15, I was being directed. There was no point in doing anything without him."

Instead, she concentrated on acting, appearing in dozens of films over the years, including Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "21 Grams" and Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep."

But after a chance meeting with the Parisian synth-pop duo Air, she was lured back to the mike. With the help of what she calls her "dream team" -- producer Nigel Godrich (of Radiohead and Beck fame), Afro-beat percussionist Tony Allen and vocalists Jarvis Cocker of Pulp and the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon -- they recorded her "5:55," an emotionally layered album of languid, orchestral pop.

But not without a few misgivings along the way.

"I was quite nervous of going back in the studio," Gainsbourg, 35, says in breathy franglais. "It was very strange to have no leader. So I asked Nigel if he would direct me."

"And he said no," she adds, laughing. "He said, 'It's your album. You have to find out what you want to do.' I was able to grow into it."

"5:55" hit No. 1 on the French album chart last summer. And even though the CD won't reach U.S. record stores until April, it appeared on a number of critics' year-end lists.

But Gainsbourg, who recently wrapped the role of Bob Dylan's wife (opposite Heath Ledger) in director Todd Haynes' unconventional Dylan biopic "I'm Not There," says she isn't giving up her day job. "This album was a very intimate and personal thing," she says, "and I can't think of doing another album in the same way."

The Mozart of Porn carries on online

THE funky, seedy, bow-chicka-bow music of '70s porn films has become a cultural touchstone -- even for generations too young to recall a time when people watched X-rated movies in theaters.

Not much of the genre's music has survived into the Digital Age, however. Which makes Klaus Harmony, Germany's foremost erotic film composer, a standout. His oeuvre is available for download at

Known in niche circles as the Mozart of Porn, Harmony's brassy -- dare we say it? horn-driven -- film funk helped motor the narrative of such Dutch porn classics as "Who Needs Dialogue?" and "The Ladies Man." He was killed in a mysterious London record store explosion in 1984.

A Harmony biopic, "A Touch of Klaus," is in the offing. And Britney Spears, to name one high-profile Harmony fan, has boasted of keeping her iPod stocked with the composer's songs -- compositions with titles such as "Get Off Marta, I Don't Dig You," "Gay Showers Punch Up Montage" and "Cycling Teens in Love" -- that pack a visceral punch even before you hear them.

Music insiders also

go west by southwest

MUSEXPO bills itself as the "United Nations of Music & Media." But the music industry forum is, in effect, a smaller, more insider-y version of Austin, Texas' South by Southwest Music Conference.

This year's Musexpo, which takes place April 29 to May 2 in West Hollywood, boasts speaking appearances by a host of entertainment heavyweights: Sire Records Chairman Seymour Stein, YouTube founder Chad Hurley, Warner Bros. Pictures' music operations chief Doug Frank and CNN's Larry King among them.

And KCRW music director and Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt will receive the conference's inaugural Music Person of the Year award.

It's all part of their rock 'n' roll fantasy

ROCK 'N Roll Fantasy Camp's $9,499 tuition buys you five days in an immersive school of rock taught by a host of yesteryear rockers including Kiss' Paul Stanley, Go-Go's guitarist Jane Wiedlin, Lynyrd Skynyrd's Artimus Pyle and Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers.

But to hear it from camp counselor Simon Kirke (better known as the drummer for Free and Bad Company), the experience is priceless -- for both teachers and students.

"We have dentists, orthopedic surgeons and judges who strap on a guitar or sit behind the drums, and it's an incredible transformation: by the fifth day, they're rock stars," says Kirke, 57, who has done five RRFC tours of duty. "And I'm at an age where my performing days are on the wane. I can combine my years of experience and desire to teach and put it to good use."

The Fantasy Camp's Los Angeles run kicked off Thursday and will culminate in a battle of the bands at West Hollywood's House of Blues on Monday night.

"You see them beaming or in tears at the end of the show from nervous exhaustion, elation," Kirke says. "And corny as it might sound, that's the payoff. We don't get paid very well. Music is its own reward."

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