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Gainsbourg's faves Vilaine fille, mauvais garçon EP (1963)

La Javanaise

Summary

Serge tells his dance partner to stay in the moment and not stress too much about what will happen after the song ends.

Paroles de Gainsbourg

J’avoue j’en ai bavé pas vous
Mon amour
Avant d’avoir eu vent de vous
Mon amour
Ne vous déplaise
En dansant la Javanaise
Nous nous aimions
Le temps d’une
Chanson

À votre avis qu’avons-nous vu
De l’amour?
De vous à moi vous m’avez eu
Mon amour
Ne vous déplaise
En dansant la Javanaise
Nous nous aimions
Le temps d’une
Chanson

Hélas avril en vain me voue
À l’amour
J’avais envie de voir en vous
Cet amour
Ne vous déplaise
En dansant la Javanaise
Nous nous aimions
Le temps d’une
Chanson

La vie ne vaut d’être vécue
Sans amour
Mais c’est vous qui l’avez voulu
Mon amour
Ne vous déplaise
En dansant la Javanaise
Nous nous aimions
Le temps d’une
Chanson

Discussion

A true classic in the Gainsbourg canon. He loved it, his fans love it, his non-fans love it, I love it.

Juliette Gréco also loved it. As well she should, since it was written for her. The story goes that, in the summer of 1962, they spent an evening together in her big house on rue de Verneuil — a few doors down from Gainsbourg’s own future house — listening to records and drinking wine. She also, significantly, improvised a dance. The next day, he sent her a bunch of orchids, and this song. They both released versions in 1963, Serge’s opening the second side of his wonderful Vilaine fille, mauvais garçon super-45 (with an awesome cowboy-outfit cover).

Here’s Gréco doing a nice version of the song a decade later, in 1972:

And here’s what Gréco had to say about the song:

C’est d’abord un jeu, pas un jeu de mots, mais un jeu avec les mots grâce auquel ils prennent une valeur, une couleur beaucoup plus forte. “J’avoue j’en ai bavé pas vous” — C’est superbe. Il l’a appelée comme ça, mais la chanson n’a rien à voir avec le javanais tel qu’il se parlait autrefois. Ceci est beaucoup plus fort, beaucoup plus musical. … Serge Gainsbourg sait jongler avec génie entre musique et paroles.

First, it’s a game, not a play-on-words, but a game with words through which they take on a much stronger notes and colours. “Javoue j’en ai bavé pas vous” — That’s amazing. He called the song “La Javanaise,” but it has nothing to do with the javanais slang people we talking around this time. It’s much stronger, more musical. … Serge Gainsbourg juggles music and lyrics like a true genius.

So, yes — As she says, it’s sort of related to this “javanais” slang that Parisians were excited about at this time, but also sort of not. You can learn everything you need to about the javanais slang from the below song by Boris Vian (hero to Gainsbourg, dedicatee of his first feature film), where he teaches you how to do it. Basically, it’s French Pig Latin, where you add “va” (or sometimes “ja”) in the middle of every syllable.

This song, “La Javanaise,” in not in javanais. Instead, it just uses lots and lots of V-sounds, as many as it can cram in. (Note that “Javanaise remake” from the later reggae album Aux Armes et caetera adds an extra verse that is in javanais. Typically for such slangs, it reads, “Navré d’avoir ouvert mes veines, Love, pour une vraie savalavopave, Love” — the encoded word being “salope,” slut).

Sometimes all these V-sounds kind of get in the way of clear sense. That first line that Juliette Gréco loved so much is a bit of a head-scratcher, for this non-native speaker anyway. Is he saying, “I admit it: I’ve been through some hard times, which you’ve managed to avoid” — or is it, “I admit, I’ve struggled at times, and who hasn’t?” I remain stumped.

Beyond all the wordplay — what is this song actually about?

I’d say it’s spoken by a pretty typical early-Serge persona, telling his date not to get too hung up on him, and just to enjoy their brief time together. This isn’t going to last; he’s never going to be able to commit; it not going to be capital-L Love. But it can still be nice lowercase-l love, if she can live in the moment a bit, and avoid getting upset.

Basically, the Gallic precursor to the Rolling Stones’s “No Expectations”: “Our love is like our music / It’s here / (duh duh!) / And then. / (duh duh!) / It’s gone…”

How the mysterious first line fits into this, though, I’m still not terribly sure!

Traduction de “Fluid Makeup”

I admit it: unlike you, I struggled,
My love,
Before I caught wind of you,
My love.
Don’t get upset
While we dance the Javanaise.
We’ll love one another
For the length of
A song.

What do you think we’ve known
Of love?
Between the two of us, you’ve got me,
My love.
Don’t get upset
While we dance the Javanaise.
We’ll love one another
For the length of
A song.

Alas, springtime didn’t bring with it the ability to commit
To love.
I wanted to see in you
That love.
Don’t get upset
While we dance the Javanaise.
We’ll love one another
For the length of
A song.

Life isn’t worth living
Without love.
But you’re the one who wanted to do it
My love.
Don’t get upset
While we dance the Javanaise.
We’ll love one another
For the length of
A song.

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