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Initials B. B. (1968)

Initials B. B.

Summary

Serge, in autofiction mode, recounts and memorializes his just-finished real-life love affair with Brigitte Bardot, aka B. B.

Paroles de Gainsbourg

Une nuit que j’étais
À me morfondre
Dans quelque pub anglais
Du cœur de Londres
Parcourant l’Amour Monstre de Pauwels
Me vint une vision
Dans l’eau de Seltz

The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.

Tandis que des médailles
D’impérator
Font briller à sa taille
Le bronze et l’or
Le platine lui grave
D’un cercle froid
La marque des esclaves
À chaque doigt

The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.

Jusques en haut des cuisses
Elle est bottée
Et c’est comme un calice
À sa beauté
Elle ne porte rien
D’autre qu’un peu
D’essence de Guerlain
Dans les cheveux

The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.

À chaque mouvement
On entendait
Les clochettes d’argent
De ses poignets
Agitant ses grelots
Elle avança
Et prononça ce mot
“Alméria”

The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.

Discussion

All kinds of cool stuff happening here. First, the sheer audacity of writing a song about a freshly-evaporated real-life love affair with the woman generally regarded as the most beautiful in the world. Then, the ambivalence of Serge’s position. On the one hand, he contemplates the affair from a distance, elevating it to the status of legend, rendering it heroically — and presenting himself as a hero, a conqueror. On the other, he’s still in it, still trying to figuring out what went wrong — or whether the whole thing was just a dream.

I see three main strains of images: (1) dreams, (2) the world of epic heroism, and (3) enslavement and containment.

The dream imagery lives in the outer verses, first and last. The vision of B. B. arises out of Serge’s seltzer — a misty mirage projected from the bottom of a glass. Then the vision vanishes when B. B. says the magic word, “Alméria,” and Serge is left back on his dreary barstool. You can imagine the scene that follows: “Guys, I swear, it all happened — I was B. B.’s lover!” Yeah, yeah.

Next layer in — second verse, first five lines of the final verse — we get the heroic imagery and the images of enslavement. B. B. is dressed in imperial finery, fit for Cleopatra — but the rings on her fingers mark her simultaneously as a slave. When she approaches Serge to deliver her abracadabra, the silver bells on her bracelet don’t signal wealth or ease — instead, they pick up her trembling fear (a great play on the French “grelot,” literally a bell, though the expression “avoir des grelots” means to tremble with fear). This is all Serge consoling himself: sure, she looks like a figure out of the Iliad, but in fact she’s a frightened slave. The biographical meanings are very direct here: Serge is saying that her wedding band was a manacle — that she was too scared to leave her husband (Gunther Sachs) and be with him.

BTW, check out this amazing behind-the-scenes making-of mini-documentary:

Traduction de “Fluid Makeup”

One night when I was
Sulking
In some English pub
In the heart of London,
Flipping through Pauwels’s L’Amour monstre,
A vision came to me
In the soda water

The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.

Although imperial
Medallions
Glimmer about her waist,
Bronze and gold,
Platinum engrave her
With a cold circle,
The mark of slaves,
On each finger.

The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.

Her boots rise
To the tops of her thighs
And they’re like chalices
Holding her beauty.
She wear nothing
More than some
Eau de Guerlain
In her hair

The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.

Whenever she moved,
You heard
The silver bells
About her wrists
Trembling with fear.
She approached
And pronounced this word:
“Almeria”

The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.
The initials, the initials, the initials B. B.

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