What's that? Is it time for yet another
semi-blasphemous post in which we somewhat humorously assert what would happen if a giant of American literature were to write a 33 1/3 book
in the style of one of their masterpieces? Why, yes it is! Today we have fed the Atomic Fictionatoralizer, our infernal machine that conducts this nasty business of fictional cloning (and that being the reproduction of something that did not exist before, such as the lost final season of Deadwood
or an uncringeworthy AFI best-of list) with the book so American that it had to be written by a Russian, Lolita
Of course, Nabokov was a trickster of the first order, so it's only right and natural that he would understand America better than most Americans. This made the choice of an album to toss into our cloning device along with Lolita not so easy. Rock music certainly has its share of proud perverts, but few are on quite the same wavelength as Humbert Humbert, who doesn't so much wallow pig-like in his sexual deviance (for pigs can indeed be washed and win Grammies and that sort of thing) as relate to it as a fish relates to water. Early Prince? No, he's having too much fun. Michael Jackson? No, the flavor's off. In fact, Nabokov mentions in his notes that one publisher suggested that he change Lolita into a 12-year-old boy, this apparently being less taboo than the goings-on in his perfect novel.
We realized that there was one pervert out there in the rock world who was perfect for Humbert. Like Humbert, he wasn't American, but he certainly shared Humbert's weird (dare I say?) sophistication. We're speaking, naturally, of the man who sang "Lemon Incest" with his 13-year-old daughter Charlotte in 1984, the king of all rock perverts, Serge Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg had already paid his debt to Humbert on the 1971 album Histoire de Melody Nelson with Charlotte's mother, Jane Birkin, playing his 15-year-old paramour. And Melody Nelson was the perfect album ? or so we thought ? to splice with Nabokov's Lolita. But we may have been too hasty.
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From Vladimir Nabokov's Histoire de Melody Nelson:
It is the height of absurdity, the way they meet. His car just brushes her off of her bike? Ridiculous! Where is the sweep and swoon? No nymphet in this lonely world would ever be smitten by a man employing such a cheap ruse. And then he gazes down and sees a flash of white, ses pantalons blancs, where her skirt has been forced up? Folly, folly. The angle is all wrong. Ah, I missed the last lines. I must listen to it again.
Melody Nelson a les cheveux rouges
Et c'est leur couleur naturelle.
Red is her natural hair color, Serge? Oh, so old already. And yet still a nymphet, n'est-elle pas? I'm eager for the next song, but I have to hear this one yet again.
Cursed arcangel? Spirit of Ecstacy? Oh, he asks her for her name again. Melody Nelson. Mel. Lo. Dy. Only twice does the tongue dash forward. Its strike on the teeth is slow, languid, not the sharp attack that I prefer. Not as beautiful as my Lolita, but I am being unfair. There is some charm in the name. I shiver in anxiety for the next song.
Elle avait de l'amour. The tears! Unexpected tears in my eyes. She had love, his Mel-ody. Mais ses jours étaient comptés. But her days were numbered: fourteen autumns and fifteen summers. So short, this life. I can feel mine slipping away. Perhaps these very molecules that compose Humbert were once creeping claws in a seamless sea. I am a Proustacean, scuttling towards ancient memories of my Lolita. I can see her before me, smell her unwashed hair. Had you but loved me, I would never shed a tear in all my remaining years!
L'amour s'é-gare au long de la vie. His emotional state is clearly deserving psychiatric observation. Love gets lost throughout life, he says. This is a lie! Love endures, even when cruel time turns supple nymphet into haggard woman.
Oh! Melody. You don't know what love is. Fickle is love, S.G. And love makes monsters of all men. I missed some of this song and will have to return. Ah, yes, now he is at the matter. Lentement j'enlace Melody. I can picture the scene, the embrace, the columns of the bed. I am seeing the wrong elements! He is trapped in the dressings, but he forgets his main purpose. Melody is too good for him. She is his flower to be plucked, and he is staring at a mirror on the ceiling. Ridiculous! I must listen to it again.
Ah, okay. I'm ready to hear the next song.
Serge, these wretched guitars are the bubblegum and soda of today's modern sound. Oh, yes. Then she giggles and shrieks, and I feel proud Humbert rise again to stand. When she laughs, I glance in the mirror and see myself, still handsome despite my age, my strong chin still a match for any movie star, my eyes still dark and enchanting. Is it you, Melody, who makes me feel so amorous? No, it is always my Lolita. And now ? what? Melody is gone, a fallen star? S.G., you have betrayed me and worse, you have betrayed her. She must die with you. The situation you have created is too terrible to bear. Mineure détournée de l'attraction des astres. Not a minor, Serge. You know the word, and you must use it. Nymphet. Lolita. Fill the song with your cries of Melody. Turned away from the gravity of the stars, yes. I know that feeling. A disaster to bring her back. Yes, I know those words, but I must turn away for now. Back to the begin-ning! I believe this album needs another song. I could compose it myself, if I had more time. My time, however, is for another.
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As in all of these experiments, Humbert Humbert left a message for us, this one carefully written in tight letters on a hotel receipt:
You have taken the easy route with this album, an unforgivable offense. If I had the means to destroy you, I certainly would. If you had given me Sinatra or anything where you can hear Bill Wyman on his bass guitar ? que sais-je! ? I might think that you had a future at this sort of enterprise. You have settled, however, for Mr. Gainsbourg's attempts at describing the capture of the heart of a nymphet, and I find the whole experiment to be an exercise in vulgarity.
Yet, let it not be said that H.H. is an unreasonable man. I have created a collection of music, per your modus operandi. The songs found here mostly please me, at least on a basic level. I suspect that they may appeal more to a younger audience, as well. Much younger. The penultimate is likely my favorite and the true expression of my heart.
Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place
Where as a child I'd hide
And pray for the thunder
And the rain
To quietly pass me by
The mark of a poet is the ability to elucidate such emotions. Listen and learn.