Silkworms Ink Mixtape 1 Berry Men

Mixtape XXI, Je Veax Te Baiser




Twenty years ago this week, Serge Gainsbourg departed from this life a calvados-, cognac- and Gauloise-smoke-soaked husk of a genius. There are conventional tributes laced with titillating anecdotes all over the place at the moment, so Silkworms thought we’d try doing something a little different, albeit equally celebratory: a Gainsbourg mixtape, along with a mini English-to-French dictionary that adopts the same approach to learning Serge’s language as he brought to learning ours. Namely, the selective mastering of useful phrases. Useful phrases like ‘I want to fuck you,’ as he gurgled at Whitney Houston on live television in 1986. Each useful phrase coming from a song on the mixtape. This, friends, is Music As Reading at its most educational.

Track one, 69 Année Erotique
For when you have an erotic experience on the Portsmouth/Caen night ferry and, for whatever reason, wish to discuss it subsequently in the third person present…

‘From their bed through the porthole / They look at the coast / They love each other and the crossing’

De leur lit par le hublot / Ils regardent la côte / Ils s'aiment et la traverse

Track two, Je Suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M’En Vais
For when you decide to end things with your pretentious, bookish lover…

‘Like Verlaine says so well, “On an ill wind” / I came to tell you I’m leaving’

Comme dit si bien Verlaine, ‘Au vent mauvais’ / Je suis venu te dire que je m'en vais

Track three, L’anamour
For when you wish to refer to a set of photographs your friend took on holiday in India…

‘You know those photos of Asia’

Tu sais ces photos de de l'Asie

Track four, L’eau Á La Bouche
For when attempting to allay your lover’s fears about your somewhat pugilistic sexual technique…

‘I'll take you sweetly and without violence’

Je te prendrais doucement et sans contrainte

Track five, Les Sucettes
For when you’re engaged in a multi-lingual ‘battle’ with Fiddy Cent about who can use the most ill-concealed confectionary-based double entendres

‘The barley sugar / Perfumed with anis / Sinks in Annie's throat / She's in paradise’

Le sucre d'orge / Parfumé à l'anis / Coule dans la gorge d'Annie / Elle est au paradis

Track six, Le Poinconneur Des Lilas
For when you want to be like Jean Gabin in the pre-war poetic realist masterpiece Le Quai des Brumes in order to impress your new pretentious, bookish lover…

‘And in the mist at the end of the quay / I see a boat that has come to get me’

Et dans la brume au bout du quai / J'vois un bateau qui vient m'chercher

Track seven, Intoxicated Man
For when you’ve just told Whitney Houston that you want to fuck her on live television, and want to convince everybody that it only happened because you’re really goddam drunk…

‘I drink too strong a dose / I see pink elephants / spiders on the shirt of my tuxedo’

Je bois a trop forte dose / Je vois des éléphants roses / Des araignées sur le plastron d'mon smoking

Track eight, L’hôtel Particulier
Erm, this one could be useful in a whole bunch of situations, really…

‘Among these naked slaves carved from ebony / Who will be the silent witnesses to this scene’

Entre ces esclaves nus taillés dans l'ébène / Qui seront les témoins muets de cette scène

Track nine, Cargo Culte
For when doing conspiracy theoristy impressions of Dick Cheney talking about the USA’s increasingly problematic oil shortages in late August, 2001…

‘And I hold onto that hope of an air disaster’

Et je garde cette espérance d'un désastre aérien

Track ten, L’homme A Tête De Chou
For when you wish to convey to your pretentious, bookish, vegan lover that you’re sick of her shitty cooking…

‘I am the man with the cabbage head / Half vegetable half dude’

Je suis l'homme à tête de chou / Moitié légume moitié mec

Track eleven, Le Chanson De Prévert
For when (misguidedly) arguing with your friend, the Kraftwerk fan…

‘But their song is monotonous’

Mais leur chanson est monotone

Track twelve, Marilou Sous La Neige
For when you decide it’d be best to let your passed-out hallmate Marilou go to sleep in the residue of your fresher-year, late-night fire extinguisher lols, rather than face the hassle of waking her up…

‘Let Marilou go to sleep under the carbon snow of the fire extinguisher’

Que Marilou s'endort sous la neige carbonique de l'extincteur d'incendie

Track thirteen, Sensuelle Et Sans Suite
For when your little cousin is a bit freaked out by the fact that his new pet guinea pigs’ hearts beat real fast when he picks them up…

‘Their little hearts palpitate / While they get excited’

Leurs p'tits cœurs palpitent / Tandis qu'elles s'excitent

Track fourteen, Bonnie & Clyde
For when you have to explain to people why moving to Libya didn’t turn out too good…

‘Now, every time we try to settle down to set up a quiet home / Within three days there's the ack ack ack of the machine guns coming to attack’

Maint'nant, chaqu' fois qu'on essaie d'se ranger de s'installer tranquilles dans un meublé / Dans les trois jours, voilà le tac tac tac des mitraillett's qui revienn'nt à l'attaqu'

Track fifteen, Ballade De Melody Nelson
For when giving up conveying to your bewildered friend why it is you dig Serge Gainsbourg above pretty much all other musicians, even though he wrote a song called Lemon Incest, the video for which featured him lying topless on a black bed drenched in dry ice with his 12-year-old daughter dressed in a man’s shirt and underwear and looking into his eyes, the pair duetting about ‘the purest, the headiest’ love they’ll ‘never make together’…

‘That surprises you, but that's how it is’

Ça vous étonne mais c'est comme ça

* This exercise wouldn’t have been possible without, remarkably the only decent resource dedicated to translating SG’s work into English on the entire internets. A. Chabot’s elegant, thoughtful translations are a joy to read in conjunction with the songs if your French is as limited as mine, and I’m hugely grateful for his/her efforts. *