He Speaks in Tongues #3/Aborted Concert Review: Juana Molina – Micael

9 03 2009

Juana Molina - SonAfter two years of being in love with Son, the third album from Argentine ex-soap star turned electronic-music pioneer Juana Molina, I finally found a chance to see her live: she would be passing through the Detroit Bar, one of the few decent music venues in Orange County. We got our tickets, and showed up early, in time to catch the tail end of the first opener, Laura Gibson, a pleasant singer-songwriter from Portland, who pulled off an enjoyable set despite the absence of one of the three members of her ensemble.

But things started going south as soon as Gibson left the stage. While I chatted with some people from my department who I had run into at the show, the second opener, Free Moral Agents, had begun to set up their equipment. Suddenly, our conversation was interrupted by a loud shouting match, apparently between one of the band members of Free Moral Agents and, well, everyone around him, but especially some sort of a manager who the band member accused of being sent by the label to “babysit him.” It sounded like he probably needed a babysitter. He threatened violence, of the “meet me across the street after the show” variety. Things eventually calmed down and Free Moral Agents finally took the stage, only to play one of the most unbearable sets I’ve ever heard.

Finally, we were ready to hear Juana Molina. The venue was fairly empty, so we were able to stand comfortably right in front of the stage. But after we had stood there for a few minutes, a representative of the Detroit Bar came on stage to make an announcement: due to unforseen circumstances, Juana Molina would not be performing that night. No explanation given. We were promised refunds. I back got the ticket price, but not the $2.50 ticketing fee.

Oh well, the tail end of Laura Gibson’s performance, plus a good story, were well worth my $2.50…

So, in lieu of a real concert review, here’s one of my favorite songs on Son, along with a brief translation:

Juana Molina – Micael (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/06-micael.mp3″

Micael, seres luminosos, haznos ser
Valerosos, arcangel Micael.

Michael, luminous beings, make us
Brave, archangel Michael.


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

He Speaks In Tongues #1: Migala – Instrucciones Para Dar Cuerda A Un Reloj

26 01 2009

Migala - Restos de un incendioBecause I’ve spent the last few years of my life studying other languages, a lot of the songs I’ve come to love aren’t in English, which I realize is a barrier to a lot of the people with whom I like to share music. So I’ve decided to start a new series where I post songs in Spanish or French along with translations of the lyrics in the hopes of convincing you that these songs are worth your time.

Julio CortázarThis first track, “Instrucciones para dar cuerda a un reloj” (“Instructions for Winding a Watch”) is a piece recorded by Madrid-based Migala using a recording of my favorite author, Julio Cortázar, reading the preamble to a short prose piece of his of the same name. Cortázar, whose short stories play with the unities of time and space, and whose best known novel, Rayuela (Hopscotch in translation), involves reading and rereading the same passages in different orders according to detailed instructions, uses fantasy and allegory to draw out the hidden economies behind the apparent banality of everyday life. The low register of his voice and his grave delivery are given depth by Migala’s atmospheric guitars, in a simple post-rock style whose most recognizable reference point today is probably Friday Night Lights regulars Explosions in the Sky.

Migala, “Instrucciones para dar cuerda a un reloj” (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/instrucciones-para-dar-cuerda-a-un-r1.mp3″

Preámbulo a las instrucciones para dar cuerda al reloj.

Preamble to the instructions for winding the watch.

Piensa en esto: cuando te regalan un reloj te regalan un pequeño infierno florido, una cadena de rosas, un calabozo de aire. No te dan solamente el reloj, que los cumplas muy felices y sí esperamos que te dure porque es de buena marca, suizo con áncora de rubíes; no te regalan solamente ese menudo picapedrero que te atarás a la muñeca y pasearás contigo.

Think about this: when someone gives you a watch as a gift, they give you a flowery little hell, a chain made of roses, a prison cell made of air. They do not give you just a watch, may you have a happy birthday and, yes, we hope it lasts you because it’s a good brand, Swiss with a ruby clasp; they do not give you just that minute piece of stonework that you will tie to your wrist and carry around with you.

Te regalan -no lo saben, lo terrible es que no lo saben-, te regalan un nuevo pedazo frágil y precario de ti mismo, algo que es tuyo pero no es tu cuerpo, que hay que atar a tu cuerpo con su correa como un bracito desesperado colgándose de tu muñeca. Te regalan la necesidad de darle cuerda todos los días, la obligación de darle cuerda para que siga siendo un reloj; te regalan la obsesión de atender a la hora exacta en las vitrinas de las joyerías, en el anuncio por la radio, en el servicio telefónico.

They give you – they don’t know it, the terrible thing is that they don’t know it – they give you a fragile and precarious new piece of yourself, something that is yours but is not your body, that you have to tie to your body with your strap like a hopeless little arm hanging itself from your wrist. They give you the need to wind it every day, the obligation to wind it so that it keeps on being a watch; they give you an obsessive need to pay attention to the exact hour in the shop windows of jewelers, in the commercial on the radio, in the phone service.

Te regalan el miedo de perderlo, de que te lo roben, de que se te caiga al suelo y se te rompa. Te regalan su marca, y la seguridad de que es una marca mejor que las otras, te regalan la tendencia de comparar tu reloj con los demás relojes. No te regalan un reloj, tú eres el regalado, a ti te ofrecen para el cumpleaños del reloj.

The give you the fear that you might lose it, that it might be stolen from you, that it might fall to the floor and break. They give you its brand, and the certainty that it is a better brand than the others, they give you the tendency to compare your watch with other watches. They don’t give you a watch, you are the one given as a gift, they offer you yourself for the watch’s birthday.