We can never be certain of what our legacy will be. What we leave behind after a life lived. We may work to instill values in our children that will serve them well after we’re dead and gone. We may strive to create a fortune so they might live without worry. Our body of work may be a lasting treasure. We may donate to charity in hopes of curing the ills and injustices of society.
Often, we feel very intentional about our legacy, but what happens after we die–how we are remembered, if at all, and what we are remembered for–is largely out of our control.
Take the life of Serge Gainsbourg, for example. The French songwriter, producer, and performer is remembered as much for his debauchery as for his music. He womanized, drank too much, and smoked like a chimney. He provoked the authorities with what were considered (at the time) obscene lyrics and over-the-top antics. Think burning French currency on live television (a crime) and recording a version of the French national anthem to a reggae beat (an outrage).
He was loved, hated, reviled, and adored, often by the same people…simply at different points in time during his life.
He fathered four children. One of them, Charlotte, is now an accomplished actress. Most likely, his drinking, numerous affairs and marriages, love/hate relationship with fame, complete disregard for money, and all-round unconventional life have left her with at least some painful memories.
‘Mixed emotions’ might be a generous way to put it, but who doesn’t have mixed emotions about their parents?
What legacy, then, did Serge Gainsbourg leave his daughter Charlotte? As it turns out, quite a lovely one, and probably quite by accident. You see, following his death at the too-early age of 62, the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg tried to carry on with her life. She took the metro to auditions. She landed parts. She began to work steadily in films.
The only problem in the early 1990s was taking a taxi in Paris. It seemed that almost every time she hopped in a cab, the driver would take her to her destination and then refuse to accept her money.
The reason, she soon realized, was her father Serge. The notorious drinker never drove in Paris and was therefore on a first-name basis with almost every taxi driver in the city, so frequent were his excessive nocturnal outings to, from, and in between his apartment and local cafes, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants.
Not only did he tip the drivers beyond the generous limits, he had also helped many of them out in a pinch. “You see these teeth?” one driver smiled as he spun around to face Charlotte as she sat in the back seat of his taxi. “Your dad paid for them.”
And the stories went on, almost every time she hailed a cab in Paris.
“When my daughter was sick, your dad gave me money…” “Serge shoved money in my hand when he heard about my mother…” Serge gave this, Serge paid for that. “I never got a chance to thank him…” “He wouldn’t let me pay him back…”
These curbside confessions were spontaneous, heartfelt, and sincere, and they often left her in tears, not to mention the drivers.
So, yes, Serge Gainsbourg probably left Charlotte, and all his children, a tidy sum of money. His high profile might have made it easier for Charlotte to gain access to the film industry and start her career. Privilege is, of course, part of having a famous father.
But I think all of that pales to the legacy found among those Parisian taxi drivers, the ones who certainly needed Charlotte to pay her fare, but owed too much to Serge to let her do so.