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Live Reviews

Bad Reputation Live At Barbes

By Published: November 7, 2010
One of the many highlights was one of Brassens' later songs "Don Juan," in B minor of course, from 1974. De Gaillande's English words continued, as always, hugging the notes regardless of Brassens' melodic twists, just like the subject of "Don Juan," who, in Brassens' vision, performs the gallant deed of giving love to unattractive and neglected women. "She's a very nasty girl, I've got to have her now," sang de Gaillande.

"Philistines" tells the story of staid professionals who want their children to grow up as "fat and round" accountants, but instead they become "hairy poets." The song employs brilliant imagery to point out these self-interested attempts at control by the unenlightened.

Finally, de Gaillande came to Brassens' famous "Le Pornographe," a self-parodying song from 1958, concluding with the words ..."and it's offensive!" He also said, "We updated it for a more modern audience."

The song, Brassens' perhaps biggest hit, talks about how the singer titillates his audience with four letter words and bawdy stories, and how this is what keeps him fed. The overall idea of the song is well summed up by the request of the cabaret owner in a verse of the song, who pleads with the singer that if he happens to sing about flowers, "for pity's sake just let them grow in a bordello." The singer is happy to oblige, or else, as the song says (in de Gaillande's translation), he'll end on skid row. He is the pornographer of the phonograph. That's what he does.

Yet he sometimes questions it all: "When I'm alone back at my place my psyche stares me in the face, and shouts you twisted little elf go fuck yourself." The original says "Incorrect man, look at the [ancient] Greeks," but de Gaillande's minor change is possibly better, at least for today. "Twisted little elf" is fine for Brassens' "homme incorrec." And it sure rhymes with "yourself"! As he said, it's updated. In any event, it works better in English the way he has it. De Gaillande's humor is exactly right.

Another minor change, necessary for an English rendition to match the original music, is in the chorus. In French, the notes that fit "pornograph-e" are four in number. So De Gaillande adds "sir" after "pornograph," to match the melody's four notes. It works very well, striking the right tone: "I'm the pornographer of the phonograph, sir, the perverted son of a sing-along." "Perverted son of a sing-along" is an excellent variation on Brassens' original "le polisson de la chanson," literally "the rascal of song," and even adds alliteration.

Then there is the creative change in the verse about the singer's wife, where Brassens says she will lay down for the first person who comes along. To fashion it in English, De Gaillande rhymes it, "lay down nude, with any old dude"!

De Gaillande's translational changes totally work in English. Listening to the album is almost like watching a television show, but with excellent poetics and the music added.

Another example of de Gaillande's translation is in the song from which the band takes its name, "Bad Reputation" (1953), where the literal French is ..." but good folks don't like it if you take a different road (or way) than they do. De Gaillande makes it funnier: "Good folks don't appreciate those who like to deviate."

The last song was one not on the album, yet a Brassens classic. It was "The Gorilla," a song about a gorilla in a zoo that escapes and summarily makes "love" to a judge who was passing the animal's cage at the time. The song was banned in France, and was taken by the public as being a statement against the death penalty. Like others of Brassens' songs, it is a staple of traveling French students' iTunes programs. The chorus was sung by de Gaillande in French ["Gare aux gorille": "Look out for the gorilla"], as the English words could not possibly fit the music of the chorus, which has a very distinctive sing-along figure.

The Barbes atmosphere of the Hotel D'Orsay sign and red velvet curtain worked well to provide Pierre de Gaillande and Bad Reputation with the opportunity to create the rich world of Brassens. Bad Reputation have just played in Paris at a complete works of Brassens festival, L'Integrale Brassens. Ladies and gentlemen, "the rascal of song" is now available in English, so step right up.


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