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Music

How Brigitte Bardot inspired Bob Dylan's first song

@SamWKemp

Brigitte Bardot is one of those stars who – like Marilyn Monroe – has been weaved into the fabric of popular culture. Not only was she one of the French cinema’s most sought-after actresses – appearing in a Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt and Roger Vadim’s Et Dieu Crea La Femme to name just two – but she also had an illustrious singing career that saw her join forces with Serge Gainsbourg to record the original (and subsequently banned) version ofJe t’aime… moi non plus’ before Jane Birkin re-recorded it a couple of years later.

Bardot was the modern aphrodite of the late 1950s and ’60s, a symbol of a new kind of female sexuality, one that – just a decade earlier – had scarcely seemed imaginable. Bardot wore her beauty on her sleeve, embracing her sex appeal in a way that was quietly revolutionary at the time. As a result, she became one of the most desired and talked-about women on the planet. Her strength of character was so powerful, in fact, that she attracted Bob Dylan’s attention, inspiring the first song he ever wrote – the appropriately named ‘Song For Brigitte’.

The track – which has never been released – was written when Dylan was just 15. As you would expect from an adolescent, the song is, at its core, a song of love, or perhaps of desire – it’s impossible to know for sure. What we do know is that Dylan briefly mentioned the track in a 1966 Playboy interview, where he was asked to describe the first song he wrote: “I don’t recall too much of it,” he replied. “It had only one chord. Well, it is all in the heart.” All in the heart indeed. Although we only have Dylan’s recollection to go on, it’s pretty clear that ‘Song For Brigitte’ was written as a love song for the French Actress.

I wonder if Bardot ever knew how much impact she made on the world of popular music. After all, she was the subject of the ‘Blowin In The Wind’ songwriter’s first musical venture. In that same Playboy interview, Dylan describes how he “saved the money I had made working on my daddy’s truck and bought a Silvertone guitar from Sears Roebuck. I was 12. I just bought a book of chords and began to play.”

‘Song For Brigitte’ soon followed. However, a self-penned pamphlet from Dylan’s first concert at Carnegie Hall states that the song was originally written for another instrument: “I started writing my own songs about four or five years ago,” it reads. “First song was to Brigitte Bardot, for piano. Thought if I wrote the song I’d sing it to her one day. Never met her.”

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Indeed, being on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Dylan and Bardot never did end up meeting one another in their heyday – rather they communicated with one another through subtle messages hidden in their songs and films. The same year that Dylan revealed his affection for Bardot, the actress appeared in Godard’s French new-wave classic Masculin Féminin, which makes a number of references to figures from pop culture, including Bob Dylan himself. Dylan also referenced Bardot in his 1963 song ‘I Shall Be Free’ from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, in which he sings the line: “Well, my telephone rang it would not stop/It’s President Kennedy callin’ me up/He said, ‘My friend, Bob, what do we need to make the/country grow?’/
I said, ‘My friend, John, Brigitte Bardot.'”

It’s funny to think about a young Bob Dylan being so mesmerised by Bardot. Of course, he wasn’t alone in his affection for the star. She defined an entire generation’s understanding of female beauty, joining Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Anita Ekberg. But, for Dylan, she represented more than beauty. She symbolised the glamour of a life beyond the provincial. Bardot was raised in a fervently Catholic family and made the choice to pursue acting perhaps out of a desire to escape the claustrophobia of her upbringing. Dylan would likely have related to that, being a Jewish boy from a small town in the mid-west. He, like Bardot, took a risk and ventured beyond the confines of the life that had been laid out for him. And In doing so, he forged his own path.

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