In Lou Doillon’s face is writ the whole mad glorious complex of transgression and art, attraction and repulsion, intelligence and sex that entails the allure of her clan. Even the features of her half-sister Charlotte Gainsbourg’s father are uncannily there, but, then again, so is the face of her own, the filmmaker Jacques Doillon. Jane Birkin, her mother, is etched on her too, and wrought in her louche limbs. In the Anglo-French accent is a touch of Charlotte. They are a family through which brilliance has spread like blood through the tissue applied to the wound.
They perspire intelligence. Has anyone, like this bunch, so united sensuality and mind? Lou took the stage at (le) poisson rouge like a philosopher queen, her rock-pop songs driven, in their seductiveness, by the seriousness of the lyrics. “Jealousy” gets at the emotion but also the heart of identity (“It’s never ‘I’/It’s always ‘we’”). And who, in that vein, is the “we” in “Places,” who “have figured it out/ Creation and God” – the better half of a couple speaking or a whole humanity, selling itself war to “balance” its peace? To “Lay Low” with someone isn’t to keep your head down until the problem passes, but to “pretend a little while/That all there is, is here and now.” She sings plenty about love and desire and what it means to be with somebody, or break it off, but these are less relationship songs than confessions of reality and where it comes from.
The songs were from her collections Places (2012) and Lay Low (2015), with an extra thrown in that didn’t make it onto a disc. The sound wasn’t the best, where I was standing, but her presence fought through it. She is, like Charlotte, post-decadent, a state that Serge exhausted and Jane coasted through. Thought is physical to her and the body ruminative. She projects emotional health without naïveté, aware that niceness can be, perversely, a turn-off, but that decency is essential. She wanted to get the crowd going – to French kiss strangers and “do lots of things” with our arms – but didn’t push it. We were too rapt to get down. She managed a sing- and hum-along at the end; that Birkin jaw of hers is unmistakable with the lips taut. Something in her voice makes hairline cracks in the music, a slow growl when she coddles the microphone. A moment later she is smooth as flame, the song as wax before her; and in her banter she speaks good sense, frank as the sort of friend you make when traveling, and will never see again.
I think it not unfair, and in fact unavoidable, to relate the experience of her to the extended family she is a part of. But Lou Doillon is no dyer’s hand, subdued to her heritage. She is, among them, another smart sensuous original. It is the rest of us, those attuned to the culture her biology represents, who receive the stain, like ink on a fingerprinted thumb.