He Speaks In Tongues #2: Serge Gainsbourg – Cargo Culte

10 02 2009

Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody NelsonFor the second post in this series of translations, I switch languages to French and dig up a gem from Serge Gainsbourg’s perverse 1971 masterpiece, Histoire de Melody Nelson. Gainsbourg is the Humbert Humbert of French pop, and Histoire de Melody Nelson is his Lolita, the story of an affair with an underaged nymphette who Gainsbourg’s character meets when he nearly runs her over in his Rolls Royce. Melody Nelson is voiced by Gainsbourg’s wife, Jane Birkin, whose squeaks and squeals of delight provide an unnervingly erotic accompaniment to Gainsbourg’s lurid bass lines and luscious psychedelic arrangements.

“Cargo Culte,” the album’s finale, is staged as Gainsbourg’s response to Melody’s tragic death in a plane crash. The song attempts to summon her lost body from the sky like the wreckage of an airliner downed in the Pacific. The comparison to a New Guinean shaman completes the singer’s transfiguration by Melody’s bewitching power. Like Nabokov’s invocation of the musicality of the name “Lo-li-ta,” Gainsbourg’s choice of the name Melody here is no coincidence, leaving entirely unresolved the question of whether the erotic appeal of this music lies in Melody’s giggle or Gainsbourg’s melody.

Serge Gainsbourg, “Cargo Culte” (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/07-cargo-culte.mp3″

Je sais moi des sorciers qui invoquent les jets
Dans la jungle de Nouvelle-Guinée
Ils scrutent le zénith convoitant les guinées
Que leur rapporterait le pillage du fret

I know of sorcerers who summon jets
In the jungle of New Guinea
They scan the heights, coveting the wealth
That pillaging the freight will bring them

Sur la mer de corail au passage de cet
Appareil ces créatures non dénuées
De raison ces papous attendent des nuées
L’avarie du Viscount et celle du Comet

On the sea of coral, upon the passage of that
Aircraft, these creatures, not bereft of
Reason, these citizens of Papua await in swarms
The breakdown of a Viscount and of a Comet [*Two aircraft models]

Et comme leur totem n’a jamais pu abattre
A leurs pieds ni Bœing ni même D.C. quatre
Ils rêvent de hijacks et d’accidents d’oiseaux

And since their totem has never been able to pull down
To their feet a Boeing or even a D.C. 4
They dream of hijax and crashes with birds

Ces naufrageurs naïfs armés de sarbacanes
Qui sacrifient ainsi au culte du cargo
En soufflant vers l’azur et les aéroplanes.

These naive shipwreckers armed with blowguns
Who sacrifice thus to the cult of cargo
Blowing their weapons towards the blue and the airplanes

Où es-tu Melody et ton corps disloqué
Hante-t-il l’archipel que peuplent les sirènes
Ou bien accrochés au cargo dont la sirène
D’alarme s’est tue, es-tu restée

Where are you, Melody, and your broken body?
Does it haunt the archipelago peopled by sirens?
Or do you remain hanging from that cargo
About which the alarm siren is silent?

Au hasard des courants as-tu déjà touché
Ces lumineux coraux des côtes guinéennes
Où s’agitent en vain ces sorciers indigènes
Qui espèrent encore des avions brisés

Adrift in the currents, have you already touched
Those luminous corals of the Guinean coast
Where the indigenous sorcerer, still awaiting
Shattered airplanes, fidget in vain?

N’ayant plus rien à perdre ni Dieu en qui croire
Afin qu’ils me rendent mes amours dérisoires
Moi, comme eux, j’ai prié les cargos de la nuit

No longer having anything more to lose, nor God in whom to believe
So that they’ll give me back my pathetic passions
I, like them, have prayed for the cargos of the night

Et je garde cette espérance d’un désastre
Aérien qui me ramènerait Melody
Mineure détournée de l’attraction des astres.

And I keep that hope for a aerial
Disaster that will return to me Melody
Minor diverted from the pull of the stars

“Tu t’appelles comment ?
– Melody
– Melody comment ?
– Melody Nelson.”

“What’s your name?
– Melody
– Melody what?
– Melody Nelson




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