Initials B. B. (1968)

Docteur Jekyll et monsieur Hyde


In a retelling of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Gainsbourg explains the process by which the Hyde triumphs over Jekyll: by being more fun.

Three voices are present: a female chorus speaking English (presumably, the “petites garces” or “little floozies” mentioned in the second verse); Jekyll/Hyde himself/themselves, replying to these voices in the chorus; and a third-person narrator who tells the tale in the verses.

Paroles de Gainsbourg

Hello Docteur Jekyll!
Non je n’suis pas le Docteur Jekyll
Hello Docteur Jekyll!
Mon nom est Hyde, Mister Hyde

Docteur Jekyll il avait en lui
Un Monsieur Hyde qui était son mauvais génie
Mister Hyde ne disait rien
Mais en secret n’en pensait pas moins.

Hello Docteur Jekyll!
Je vous dis que je n’suis pas le Docteur Jekyll
Hello Docteur Jekyll!
Mon nom est Hyde, Mister Hyde

Docteur Jekyll n’a eu dans sa vie
Que de petites garces qui se foutaient de lui
Mister Hyde dans son cœur
Prenait des notes pour le docteur

Hello Docteur Jekyll!
Il n’y a plus de Docteur Jekyll
Hello Docteur Jekyll!
Mon nom est Hyde, Mister Hyde

Docteur Jekyll un jour a compris
Que c’est ce Monsieur Hyde qu’on aimait en lui
Mister Hyde ce salaud
A fait la peau du

Docteur Jekyll
Docteur Jekyll,
Docteur Jekyll…


An easy translation — but a tricky and fascinating song!

Having taught Stevenson’s novel for many years now, it strikes me more and more how poorly Dr. Jekyll seems to understand his own lesson. In the first-person “Full Statement of the Case” he delivers at the end of the novel, Jekyll claims to have discovered that “man is not truly one, but truly two” — i.e., that we all have, within our supposedly unified “selves,” multiple equally valid selves. But Jekyll then goes off and invents a serum that divides himself into two pure, simple, fully unified selves. If he’d really discovered the multiplicity of the self, why did he feel compelled to “purify” it? Why not just own his discovery and embrace multiplicity?

In Gainsbourg’s retelling, both sides of Jekyll/Hyde inhabit the same body. There’s no question of Jekyll “turning into” Hyde or vice versa: they’re both always there, in the same flesh. But their relationship to one another is pointedly ambiguous throughout the song. Hyde “ne disait rien / Mais en secret n’en pensait pas moins” — he holds his tongue, while secret knowing exactly what was up. But what does he know? What’s up? What is he holding his tongue about? Later, Hyde, “dans son cœur / Prenait des notes pour le docteur” — in his heart (whose heart?) was secretly taking notes for (or about?) the doctor. What are these notes he’s taking? What’s he up to?

At the end of the song, we learn that Hyde has murdered (“made the skin of”) Jekyll. But you get the sense that the murder isn’t literal. There’s no stabbing or shooting. This is a symbolic death, and it’s all been achieved by guile — secret notes and held tongues. It seems that what has actually “killed” Dr Jekyll is the realization that the only thing anyone likes about him is his “Mr Hyde” aspect. Jekyll likes his “Jekyll” self. But everyone else finds that side of himself hopelessly boring.

Another way we know that Jekyll isn’t literally dead is that it’s clearly him singing the chorus — it’s the only way to explain the despondent, self-pitying way he says “There is no longer a Dr Jekyll.” Why would Hyde be sad about that?

Here’s what this all reminds me of, in a Gainsbourg-biography context.

Gainsbourg to this point in his career had been a defender of jazz, classical music, poetry — high(er) culture. Gainsbourg has been a Jekyll: a good boy, someone who commands respect. And he’d been down on rock, yé-yé, pop culture — all the disposable trash. But nobody liked or bought Gainsbourg’s jazz albums. Instead, whenever he wrote pop music (like “Poupée de son, poupée de cire,” which won Eurovision 1965), people went wild. Pop Gainsbourg didn’t literally kill Jazz Gainsbourg — but one day, Jazz Gainsbourg realized that Pop Gainsbourg was the only thing anyone liked about him. Jazz Gainsbourg was no longer supportable as an identity, because no one gave a fuck about it. Pop Gainsbourg doesn’t have to lift a finger to kill Jazz Gainsbourg — he just bides his time, shuts his mouth, knowing that the audience (represented by the floozy chorus) will choose Pop Gainsbourg in the end. Pop Gainsbourg had murdered — made the skin of — Jazz Gainsbourg.

Of course all this Jekyll/Hyde stuff only gets more fascinating/depressing in the late 70s onward, when Gainsbourg creates an even more dissolute version of himself, Gainsbarre (the one who burns cash and tells Whitney Houston he wants to fuck her on live TV) — who people loved even more!

Traduction de “Fluid Makeup”

Hello Dr Jekyll!
No, I’m not Dr Jekyll.
Hello Dr Jekyll!
My name is Hyde, Mr Hyde.

Dr Jekyll had within himself
A Monsieur Hyde, who was his evil spirit.
Mr Hyde held his tongue,
But secretly knew exactly what was up.

Hello Dr Jekyll!
I’m telling you, I’m not Dr Jekyll.
Hello D Jekyll!
My name is Hyde, Mr Hyde.

All his life, Dr Jekyll surrounded himself
With little floozies who didn’t give a fuck about him
Mr Hyde, in secret,
Was taking notes for the doctor.

Hello Dr Jekyll!
There is no longer a Dr Jekyll.
Hello DrJekyll!
My name is Hyde, Mr Hyde.

One day Dr Jekyll finally realized
That Mr Hyde was the only thing anyone liked about him.
Mister Hyde, that son of a bitch,
Had murdered

Dr Jekyll
Dr Jekyll,
Dr Jekyll…

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