Friday, May 7, 2010

L'homme à tête de chou: an original translation

What follows is an original translation of Serge Gainsbourg's song "L'homme à tête de chou," from the album of the same name. (Whose cover, somewhat unsurprisingly, has a picture of a statue of a man with a cabbage head.)

The highlight, of course, is the second line: "Half vegetable, half guy." I also like "white foam wrack." The complex silly wordplay on "chou" (cabbage) can't be captured, nor can the rhymes, but of course you can hear that in the song. I have retained much of the slang in its literal form. Rather than translate "feuille de chou" as "tabloid" or "rag," I have just left it as "cabbage leaf." This I do to inspire you and myself to develop weird personal slang. (The Toronto Sun has just become for me a "cabbage leaf.") This in its turn inspired by Wyndham Lewis's advice in "The Code of a Herdsman." (Though I am not ready just yet to say "I like a fellow with as much sperm as that.")

I am going to do more or these sorts of things, and post more songs and pictures, and less of the long Jean Brodie style posts, which I will nonetheless conclude at some point.

Serge Gainsbourg (Adam Swick tans.)
The Man with the Cabbage Head
I’m the man with the cabbage head:
Half vegetable, half guy.
For the lovely eyes of Marilou
I went off and pawned
My Remington and my ride—
I was in the depths of the hold,* on the edge
Of my nerves, I didn’t have a kopeck left.
From the day I mixed myself up with 
Her I lost almost everything—
My job at the cabbage leaf,*
Where scandals equal beefsteaks*—
I was finished, fucked, check-
Mate in the eyes of Marilou,
Who treated me like a white-beak*
And drove me half mad.
Oh no you have no idea, guy—
She needed discothèques
And dinners at the Kangaroo
Club, so I signed the cheques
Without the funds, it was nuts, nuts—
At the end I waited and waited
Like a brainless melon—a watermelon—
But how—No, I’m not just going
Spell it out for you like that, cut and dry.
What? Me? Love her still? Nails!*
Who and where am I? Cabbaged* here or
In the white foam wrack
On the beach in Malibu.

* "in the depths of the hold": (nautical image; cf. "white foam wrack"): at the end of my rope
* "cabbage leaf": pejorative slang for newspaper
* "scandals equal beefsteaks": i.e., they put food on the table
* "white-beak": "greenhorn"
* "Nails!": No way!
* "Cabbaged": stuck


Anonymous said...

Je suis l'homme à la tête de chou
Moitié légume moitié mec

note the extent to which this anticipates Kraftwerk's "Die Mensch Machine," which follows only two years later:

Die Mensch Maschine
Halb Wesen und halb Ding
Die Mensch Maschine
Halb Wesen und halb Überding

this shit is striking to me

your pal,


Alberta Descotte said...

This is the best translation I ever got from this song... Thanks.