Saturday 16 February 2008

Le Gorille - Video and Text

"Le Gorille," was Georges Brassens’ first single. It was released at the end of 1952. It caused controversy and was banned from French radio until 1955. Some attribute this to its strong anti-death penalty stance, but it was probably also the detail of Brassens’ scandalous tale, which some found  pornographic.


C'est à travers de larges grilles
Que les femelles du canton
Contemplaient un puissant gorille,
Sans souci du qu'en-dira-t-on
Avec impudeur, ces commères(1)
Lorgnaient même un endroit précis
Que, rigoureusement ma mère
M'a défendu d'nommer ici

Gare au gorille !

Tout à coup, la prison bien close
Où vivait le bel animal
S'ouvre on n'sait pourquoi (je suppose
Qu'on avait dû la fermer mal)
Le singe, en sortant de sa cage
Dit « c'est aujourd'hui que j'le perds »
Il parlait de son pucelage
Vous avez deviné, j'espère

Gare au gorille !

L'patron de la ménagerie
Criait, éperdu : « Nom de nom(2) !
C'est assommant(2) car le gorille
N'a jamais connu de guenon(3) ».
Dès que la féminine engeance
Sut que le singe était puceau
Au lieu de profiter de la chance
Elle fit feu des deux fuseaux(4)

Gare au gorille !

Celles-là même qui, naguère
Le couvaient d'un oeil décidé
Fuirent, prouvant qu'ell's n'avaient guère
De la suite dans les idées
D'autant plus vaine était leur crainte
Que le gorille est un luron(5)
Supérieur à l'homme dans l'étreinte
Bien des femmes vous le diront

Gare au gorille !

Tout le monde se précipite
Hors d'atteinte du singe en rut
Sauf une vieille décrépite
Et un jeune juge en bois brut(6)
Voyant que toutes se dérobent
Le quadrumane accéléra
Son dandinement vers les robes
De la vieille et du magistrat.

Gare au gorille !

« Bah ! soupirait la centenaire
Qu'on puisse encore me désirer
Ce serait extraordinaire
Et, pour tout dire, inespéré »
Le juge pensait, impassible
« Qu'on me prenne pour une guenon
C'est complètement impossible »
La suite lui prouva que non.

Gare au gorille !

Supposez qu'un de vous puisse être
Comme le singe, obligé de
Violer un juge ou une ancêtre
Lequel choisirait-il des deux ?
Qu'une alternative pareille
Un de ces quatres jours, m'échoie
C'est, j'en suis convaincu, la vieille
Qui sera l'objet de mon choix.

Gare au gorille !

Mais, par malheur, si le gorille
Aux jeux de l'amour vaut son prix
On sait qu'en revanche il ne brille
Ni par le goût, ni par l'esprit
Lors, au lieu d'opter pour la vieille
Comme aurait fait n'importe qui
Il saisit le juge à l'oreille
Et l'entraîna dans un maquis.

Gare au gorille !

La suite serait délectable
Malheureusement, je ne peux
Pas la dire, et c'est regrettable
Ça nous aurait fait rire un peu
Car le juge, au moment suprême
Criait : « Maman », pleurait beaucoup
Comme l'homme auquel le jour même
Il avait fait trancher le cou

Gare au gorille !

  1953 La Mauvaise Réputation
It was through strong iron railings
That the females of the district
Weighed up a strapping gorilla
Unworried what people will say
With no shame, these nosey women
Even goggled one precise spot
Which my mother has quite strictly 
Forbidden me to mention here

Beware of the gorilla !

All at once, the tight-shut prison
In which the fine animal lived
Opens, we don’t know why (I think
They must not have closed the door right)
The ape, coming out of his cage
Said “Today’s the day I lose it”
Talking of his virginity
You have already guessed, I hope

Beware of the gorilla !

The boss of the menagerie
Shouted frantically « Good Heavens ! 
That’s awkward because the gorilla 
Has never known female monkey".
As soon as the feminine mob
Knew that the ape was a virgin
Instead of cashing in on their luck
They ran at full speed on their pins

Beware of the gorilla

The very same ones who, just now
Were wilfully fancying him
Fled, proving that they had hardly
Any consistency of thought.
All the more vain was their fear
As gorillas are quite funky
Superior to man in embraces.
Many women will vouch for that.

Beware of the gorilla

Everyone rushes off from
The attack of the ape on heat
Except one senile lady
And a young judge standing firm.
Seeing all the girls escaping
The beast on four paws went faster
Waddling straight to the two dresses 
Of the old woman and the judge.

Beware of the gorilla

« Ah » sighed the hundred year old  
That I might still be desirable
Would be weird and wonderful 
And, frankly quite unexpected. »
The judge expressionless thought
« For me to be deemed a she-ape
That’s completely impossible »
The next events proved him wrong.

Beware the gorilla !

Suppose one of you men might be,
As the ape was obliged to
Rape a judge or very old lady 
Which would he choose of the two
Should a similar alternative
One of these days fall to me
It is the old gran, I’m convinced
Who’ll be the object of my choice.

Beware of the gorilla.

But, sadly, if the gorilla
In games of love earns his rating
We know though that he does not shine
In his taste or his intellect
So, instead of choosing the old gran
As anybody else would have done
He grabbed the judge by the ear
And dragged him into the brushwood.

Beware the gorilla

What follows would be delightful
Unfortunately, I cannot
Tell it and that’s regrettable
That would’ve made us laugh a little
For the judge, at the supreme moment
Yelled out “Mamma!” and cried a lot
Like the man whom, that very day
He had had decapitated.

Beware the gorilla!

1)     Commères = gossipy/ curious women.
2)     « Nom de nom!- C'est assommant – Although the zookeeper is frantic, his words are comically understated.  “Nom de nom” is a very mild expletive and the adjective “assommant” my Collins Robert dictionary translates as “deadly boring” - the verb assommer is more dramatic because it means to knock some-one or something out/ to batter unconscious- the source of the word seems to be "sommeil"
3)     Guenon means female ape.  As seen in note 2, Brassens is again having fun with inappropriate words.   He says the gorilla"n'a jamais connu de guenon.  This use of connaitre is a nice way of saying "to have sex with".  The zookeeper is extremely polite about the mating of his animals!
4)     Elle fit feu des deux fuseaux -Un fuseau is a spindle - therefore her legs.  The French expression that he is making play on is « faire feu des quatre fers » used for horses setting off so fast their hooves spark.
5)     Un luron is a womaniser – some-one who is “a great one for the girls” says Collins Robert.  Larousse says a happy, carefree person bold in love.
6)     En bois brut – « Brute » has a secondary meaning in both French and English of « raw »/ »unchanged ».  The judge has the hardness and impassivity of a dogmatic person of principle

The guillotine

Wikipedia tells me that the guillotine remained the official method of execution in France until the death penalty was abolished in 1981. The final guillotinings in France before abolition were those of child-murderers Christian Ranucci on 28 July 1976 and Jérôme Carrein on 23 June 1977 and torture-murderer Hamida Djandoubi on 10 September 1977.

Here we see Brassens the anarchist attacking with his humour those officials, who like judges and priests dress up in fancy robes to make themselves authorities over the lives of their fellow humans.

The song tells of to a clash of opinion with his mum. Whereas his dad was proud of the success of his son, his mother, although a music lover who enjoyed his early songs, was shocked by “Le gorille” and his other scandalous songs. A devout Catholic, she never once went to see her son perform on stage, because she said she had no wish to listen to him uttering insanities.

A comment below recommends this English translation made by Jake Thackray.  I agree.  I think it is very inspired.



Anonymous said...

thank you for your blog and translation! Another favorite of mine is "Le mauvaise sujet repenti"
If only we still had such good and playfully scandalous performers!

AnnHawkins said...

Listen and watch the fabulous English version by Jake Thackray - a wonderful homage to Georges Brassens

Michael Gradwell said...

I have just found your blog and I am really pleased that I have done so. Thanks.

Alli Reviews said...

I have been meaning to write something like this on my website and you have given me an idea. Cheers. Alli Reviews

Moyshele Rosencrantz said...

Thanks for this translation and for this blog! Ever since marrying into a French family who live and breathe Brassens, I've been trying to translate his songs into "singable versions" that respect the original. Here's my singable translation of "The Gorilla". I hope you enjoy it!

Anonymous said...

When I was a child, my father would play this song occasionally. My sisters and I loved, but we had not a clue what the words meant. I still like it after learning.

Anonymous said...

Let me suggest the Italian version of this beautiful song, performed by one of the finest poet singer ever lived in Italy: Fabrizio De André.