I have always considered L’HISTOIRE DE MELODY NELSON as one of the most provocative pop LPs of the 70s. Serge Gainsbourg’s opera musically melanged JG Ballard’s CRASH and LOLITA into an opera of sexual authenticity. The accompanying video is a gem with Jane Birkin playing Melody to the hilt.
I was thinking about her and wondered if Serge was a voyeur.
I googled his name and voyeurism, finding this 2006 internet entry by Melita Teale;
Why I Hate l’Histoire de Melody Nelson
Fuck Serge Gainsbourg, that fucking voyeur pedophile satyromaniac. What sort of man writes a concept album about knocking a teenager off her bike with a Rolls, giving her piggyback rides, deflowering her, and mourning her subsequent death in an aeroplane accident?
What sort of a worm of a Svengali records his young girlfriend Jane Birkin having a shockingly piggy orgasm on track six to flesh it out? Not to mention having her photographed with the most lamentable cameltoe in rock ’n’ roll history for the album cover – while she’s topless and holding a teddy.
Talk about objectification. How can he so objectify a fifteen-year-old with a line like ‘une poupée qui perd l’équilibre, la jupe retroussée sur ses pantalons blancs… (A doll who lost her balance, her skirt pushed up over her white leggings)’?
With his googly eyes and hideous looks, of course Gainsbourg would have fantasized about some poor disinterested ‘agréable petite conne’ of a virgin who would fall hard enough for him to let him take advantage of her.
And he sang on the album about as well as Leonard Cohen sings now. Except Gainsbourg actually tried to carry a tune.
Melita didn’t hold back any punches, but then went on to write the following;
Why I Love l’Histoire de Melody Nelson
My god, Serge Gainsbourg made an enchantingly beautiful album about being a voyeur pedophile satyromaniac. I’m reminded of a story about Paul McCartney making a bet about being able to write a song about anything and coming up with one from Picasso’s obituary. Except it embarrasses me to compare Melody Nelson with anything that came out of Paul McCartney.
Can I recommend an album this evil? Well… I recommend it like I recommend Italian strippers or hash oil. You’ll feel dirty, but if it’s your sort of thing you’ll like it. Outside of Jane Birkin squealing there’s nothing pornographic about its sounds; the lines quoted above are the naughtiest. I don’t write that to defend the album; I write that to exclaim over how the world of longing here is all the more artful for not being solely physical.
Not one wasted word or note – they all take you right into the heart of a hard but besotted man who believes the girl he’s obsessed with is both a straightforward simpleton and an unearthly, irresistible force that he can never understand.
His voice, crappy though it is, manipulates. In the “Valse de Melody”, where he carries the tune as well as he can, the seconds where it breaks and snaps show us more desire than Ang Lee managed in three boring hours about star-crossed sheep herders sniffing each other’s shirts.
And the arrangement is flawless. This being Serge Gainsbourg, the hero of French pop, and it being the ’70s, he got an orchestra to use as a simple backing to his vocal crackling and to the three piece band that drives the action and the tune.
He uses the orchestra not wastefully, but as one big ambient instrument helping beautifully bury the listener in the narrator’s perturbing emotions, letting the whole thing seem like a desperate quest not just to possess but to love.
Right on Melita with the love/hate thing, because Serge Gainsbourg is too complicated to simply choose between love or hate.
Moi, je l’adore.