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Alain Bashung

Alain Bashung meurt d'un cancer du poumon

By Joffre Agnes

France mourns one of the best artist it has ever had: French crooner Alain Bashung, 61, died of lung cancer on Saturday 14th March.  Alain Bashung had ruled the French rock scene since the 1980s with an inimitable style and class. The most awarded artist at the Victoires (French Brit Awards), he was unfortunately not very well-known in the UK. A last tribute to the "last giant of the French musical scene".

Bashung - Pizza
Bashung - Pizza

Alain Bashung was, as he often mentioned, “from nowhere, a baby from randomness” (“C’est pas facile d’être de nulle part / D’être le bébé von dem hazard”, Elsass Blues). And yet, such humble beginnings did little to restrict him… Born to a working class mother and an unknown father, Alain Bashung was raised in Alsace by his stepfather's mother. Music and sport provided an escape from the loneliness of his upbringing. Though Elvis was certainly an early favourite, it was the music of the cynic Buddy Holly and Serge Gainsbourg whose gloomy jazz seduced him most. Thus it was, in the midst of adolescence, that Bashung discovered his own fervour and talent for music.

Finding his own distinctive sound however, took some time. It was with his second album Pizza, that he reached the status of a mainstream popular singer thanks to hits such as “Gaby oh Gaby” and, most of all, the cult “Vertige de l’Amour”. Leather jackets, cigarettes, brooding lyrics inspired by nights of excess, husky voice and chopped melodies: such was the sound of the New Wave! With his first commercial successes, Bashung reconciled the French audience to French rock and roll.  

Yet Bashung remained a complex figure: suffering from depression, he yearned to break free from the label of "popular singer".  During this particularly difficult period, he collaborated with Serge Gainsbourg, one of his former idols. In 1982, they worked together on a musical UFO: “Play Blessures”. Though it was slated by critics, the album mixed engaging new wave and electro influences with highly provocative lyrics. By choosing such a new, and to some, strange cutting-edge style, Alain Bashung was aiming to break his own image. No doubt he did. The album is not what some might call ‘easy listening’ but it is a window into the psyche of a musical idol, a fascinating musical experiment.

Bashung - Osez Joséphine
Bashung - Osez Joséphine

After the production of this album, Alain Bashung became a father and after what some have called a dull period (musically speaking), he returned with a number of extraordinary albums. “Novice” in 1989, “Osez Joséphine” in 1991, “Chatterton” in 1994, and “Fantaisies Militaires” in 1997. Clearly he was not prepared to let the transition into fatherhood and his forties affect his musical spirit! Quite the contrary, as is obvious from the albums, Bashung had matured. His influences were consolidated and from these he developed a unique style: somewhere between rock and poetry, Léo Ferré and the Sex Pistols. He took risks and offered brooding and sincere texts. These albums are simply magical. Hits followed hits: “Madame rêve” (my favourite), “Osez Joséphine”, “Ma petite enterprise”, “La Nuit je mens” and “Fantaisies militaires.” Audience and critics agree: Bashung had reached his zenith. In 1999, he was awarded three Victoires and “Fantaisies militaires” was qualified “best album of the last 20 years”. On a par with Gainsbourg, Alain Bashung was acclaimed by both the experts and the general public, as a genius.

Alain Bashung
Alain Bashung

In 2002, he signed “L’Imprudence”, the darkest of his albums and the most outspoken. It is a masterpiece which was followed by a long absence, in terms of CD release. Indeed, Bashung made appearances on screens and went from tours to tours. In 2002 he signed his last album, the one of the consecration, the country-folk “Bleu Pétrôle”. A Légion d'Honneur and three Victoires later, Bashung became the most prized French artists (11 Victoires since 1986) and got a standing ovation during the ceremony; a moving tribute for the magical career of a musical genius and a kind man. But Alain Bashung was not only an extraordinary musician, he was also, according to all his relatives, an outstanding man. Modest, discreet, this aesthete with gloomy character was within the class of great men; never recognizing his own success. Tributes have followed tributes in France since the start has passed away. Weakened from his lung cancer and chemotherapy, the “last musical giant”, as the French magazine Les Inrocks nicknamed him recently, reached the end of what had been an extraordinary journey.
Our thoughts are with the family.



Alain Bashung
Alain Bashung



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