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Histoire de Melody Nelson (1971)

Ballade de Melody Nelson

Summary

Jumping all the way to the end of the story in this second song from Melody Nelson, Serge looks back on his relationship with Melody, reveals that she was 14 they met, and informs us that she is now dead.

Paroles de Gainsbourg

Ça, c’est l’histoire de (Melody Nelson)
Qu’à part moi-même personne
N’a jamais pris dans ses bras
Ça vous étonne?
Mais c’est comme ça

Elle avait d’l’amour, pauvre (Melody Nelson)
Ouais, elle en avait des tonnes
Mais ses jours étaient comptés
14 automnes
Et 15 étés

Un petit animal, que cette (Melody Nelson)
Une adorable garçonne
Et si délicieuse enfant
Que je n’ai connue qu’un instant

Oh, ma Melody, ma (Melody Nelson)
Aimable petite conne
Tu étais la condition
Sine qua non
De ma raison

Discussion

Whereas the first song on Melody Nelson is about spatial zones, here we’re concerned with temporal boundaries.

First boundary: Melody’s age vis à vis the legal age of consent. We learn that she was 14, nearly 15, when they met (i.e., when Serge crashed his car into her). Since the age of consent in France is 15, this means that if they had sexual relations (and it is strongly implied that they did) the narrator committed a crime — though if they had waited a few months more, their relationship would have been perfectly legal. In Nabokov’s Lolita a clear source for Melody Nelson — Lolita is 12 years old. Making Melody two years older seems intended to place the relationship in a moral, if not a legal, grey area.

Second boundary: the fact of Melody’s death. In the second song on the album, moments after we’ve met her, Serge reveals that Melody is now dead — that at the moment he is speaking these words (the moment d’énonciation as it’s called in French narratology), her life is in the past tense.

Beyond the question of verb tenses and the tabulation of age, this is not nearly as dense lyrically at the other songs on the album. The main interest here is in listening as Serge comes up with rhymes for “Nelson” (personne, étonne, tonne, automne, garçonne, conne, sine qua non) — and the way he slips the rhyming “con–nue” across that line break…

Traduction de “Fluid Makeup”

This is the story of Melody Nelson
Who no one but me
Ever held in his arms.
It shocks you,
But that’s the way it is.

She had love, poor Melody Nelson —
Yeah, tons of it.
But her days were numbered:
14 falls
And 15 summers.

A little animal, that Melody Nelson —
An adorable tomboy.
And such a delicious child,
Who I knew but for an instant.

Oh, my Melody, my Melody Nelson,
Sweet little fool.
You were the condition
Sine qua non
Of my sanity.

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