Histoire de Melody Nelson (1971)

En Melody


In the penultimate track on Melody Nelson, the titular heroine laughs manically over a maniacal instrumental — and then Serge delivers a brief voiceover outro explaining the circumstances of her death.

Paroles de Gainsbourg

Melody voulut revoir le ciel de Sunderland
Elle prit le 707, l’avion cargo de nuit
Mais le pilote automatique aux commandes
De l’appareil fit une erreur fatale à Melody


From a lyrical perspective, only really one thing to discuss here: how on earth Melody ends up crash landing (as we later learn) in New Guinea when she is on her way from Paris to Sunderland.

First: is she really in Paris? I mean, there’s no proof, but it certainly seems that she is. Those distinctive posts at the sides of the road, the ambiance of the “townhouse” — it’s all distinctively, if not irrefutably, Parisian.

Second: is she really going to Sunderland? This seems more doubtful. According to Jane, interviewed in Le Monde in 2013, this is why Serge chose Sunderland as Melody’s home:

Mes parents ne venaient pas de Londres, mais de Sunderland. Ma mère trouvait cette ville “so boring”, mais Serge aimait bien la consonance du nom. C’était mieux que Nottingham, qui faisait trop shérif à son goût.

My parents weren’t from London but from Sunderland. My mother found the city “so boring,” but Serge liked the sound of the name. It was better than Nottingham, which was a little too “sheriff” for his tastes.

So if the city was chosen for the sound of its name — why treat it as a literal place at all? And more pertinently, why not play around a bit more with the sound of that name?

  • Sunderland, rhymes with wonderland — fictional spot, u-topia, projection of fantasies, inversion of the actual
  • Sunder-land, place where things are torn asunder, “split apart,” where relationships and bodies are fractured
  • S-under-land, underworld, Hades, kingdom of the dead

If we go with this chain of symbolic associations — and surely we ought to, rather than seeing Melody as prosaically coming from some ordinary town in the northeast of England, and dealing with the geographic absurdities that result — they actually get us back into the geographically actual.

If Sunderland is “Underland,” then it can also be “the land down under,” Oz, Australia… and a flight from Paris to Melbourne (in whose environs we find Sunderland Bay) might plausibly — if the autopilot drifted sufficiently — crash-land in New Guinea.

Traduction de “Fluid Makeup”

In Melody

Melody wanted to see again the skies of Sunderland.
She took the 707, redeye cargo jet —
But the autopilot at the helm
Of the aircraft made an error that proved fatal for Melody.

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