As I carried on with sorting the papers of the late Lord of Saxy-Beaulieu, my distant relative from the Isles, I found a few sheets with writings addressed to one woman who is only named by the initial letter R. It seems the Baron kept these sheets as copies of letters to her. Or was he writing an epistolary novel? I have no idea –nor do any of our other relatives– who that lady might be, who appears to be a songstress by whom he found himself enthralled past his young years, as a middle-aged man, when it had become obvious to his relatives that he would remain a bachelor. It is a secret the Lord of Saxy-Beaulieu took with him in the grave. The lady does not appear to have requited his sentiments in any discernable way.
Given the interest my readership has shown for the writings of the late Lord, I took the decision to publish his love letters to R.
To my great dismay and confusion, I missed the two concerts you have just given in France, where I am currently residing. I have discovered your music only this year – and I am about your age. Such beauty blows my mind. As a young man I used to listen to people such as …, how could … pass me by unnoticed at that time is beyond my understanding. Listening to your music has been a shock, and as I learned you would be this year in France on a special tour, I said to myself I must go and hear you sing, even though it had been many years since I last went to such a jollification.
It was May. You were to sing in P. However I had no idea how I would come back from the infamous Parc de la V. after the concert, having no car and guessing there would be no more trains at that hour (not even taxis, due to the place). So I decided I would go to S. in August instead. And I went to S. Coming straight from a sojourn in the South of France, the weather was a shock, and then I heard about the heaps of mud on the spot, severe irregularities in the shuttle bus schedules, and a few other things that discouraged me. It was a lack of faith, I own, a lack of courage, it’s as if I were stuck to my slippers at this juncture of my life. Please do come back soon. I shall be there. Prepared, equipped, mentally-trained. I was taken by surprise this time. Give me another chance. (Aug. 16)
Yes, such beauty, such unendurable beauty (to hear it is like looking at the sun), blew my mind, made me feel sad for the life I live, and I can even say, broke my heart. But I think it’s going to be all right because I have bought a ticket for Dec. 20, L. (Aug. 24)
Sorry to obtrude once again, but as I made a blunder I should think I ought to apologize, oughtn’t I? So please let me apologize, and then you’ll hear from me no more (except my anonymous applause, in a few months) — unless, of course, I make another blunder in the present process of apologizing, in which case I would have to apologize for the new blunder, at the risk of blundering again and of having to apologize again, in such a way that it would keep going on from blunders to apologies, from blundering apologies to apologizing blunders, until the end of time.
The blunder was to remind a woman of her age, and I’ll be hanged if I ever forgive myself for being such a bear. That’s it. If you find in this apology any blunder likely to have escaped my ursine exertions, please not to hesitate and call my attention upon it. Best wishes.
“Lost Kine. You’re lost little cow, you’re lost, tell me moo are you.” (Aug. 27)
Is it so certain that I should call my writing you obtrusive? Am I to justify myself for praising one who has made herself conspicuous in the arts? or rather is it not the most matter-of-fact thing in the world that a conspicuous artist receives the praise she deserves, and how can I help it if I feel that my praise of you should be a little longer than one word or two? But then, will you say, why don’t I make it public? I intended it to be public, ’tis you kept it private, for whatever reason, all possible reasons being cogent indeed.
Before I listened to your music — pray remember it blew my mind — I would say the genre is slightly at odds with the kind of art I intended at a past-the-prime juncture of my life to deal with. I fear the prim audience I envision would object, did it exist in any real world, that I were going to the dogs if I started dabbling in that genre. However, as a point for you against such audience –were this needed, which is not–, I don’t see just now what be noble or highbrow in arts subsidized by bureaucrats. But such considerations are quite remote from my present purpose, which is to tell you I must apologize for the blunders made while intending to praise, and laud, and extol, and incense you. I will apologize, to be sure, if you allow me. And, since it has been private thus far, by your own will, not mine, ’tis your own will I shall follow. (Aug. 30)
the cruelty of lust and the fragility of love (Thomas Hardy)
‘Tis broken-hearted that I write you that I like you very much. “Love” I cannot write, because I read in a novel (a French one: yellow literature) that you only love once in your life (so be sure you don’t let your love pass by), and I had my share of it a few years ago with a married woman who who would smile at me but could not face the consequences. But was it love after all? How can I tell? So many occurrences were there before.
On second thoughts, love may still come to me, I believe. (Alas, a philosopher would say, grimly, if it’s on second thoughts, then one will have it second-hand!)
I like you very much for I think we have many things in common. I, too, bloody love gin. I love the one gin which you have laid upon my way, catching me with it. As you are not likely, so conspicuous are you, to open the contrivance and free me again, I shall be carrying the gin with me, or at me, in this world, not a little hindered but not a little proud. And the sharp teeth of the trap are bloody indeed — glossy from my flesh and blood. ‘Tis the heartbreakingliness o’t, and how I happen to make an awkward figure in this world.
Break my heart it did (and one leg no better), the bloody gin. I talked of the music, warped fiddles and fuzzy dulcimers, but I haven’t of the images yet, have I? Yet images there were. Have you any idea what I allude to? which images my missive is about? or are you shy and perplexed a living stone of precious womanliness enough to have difficulties in finding out my meaning? Mind-blowing images of sprightly softness and fairylike tenderness, in an iridescent aura of lustrous warmheartedness: does it help?
One scheme would be the following. Your beaming at life — My writing to you — Your beaming at me (as part of life).
Another. Let me hate beauty or else let beauty be my doom, so commonplace and dull is the world.
Break my heart you did (or at the very least the ice of it, which is no less wonderful) with your Wessex native garden fairies also — I’m sure it is you had the idea — and with your long lost friend the coastline too. It occurs to me that we were friends long ago, so much long ago that we have quite forgotten it, or even — if this is too bold, pray accept my apologies — that, maybe in the shape of emerald and ruby lovebirds, we were lovers in a previous life. (Sep. 21)
The images give me pictorial knowledge of some of the places which Thomas Hardy describes in his stories. I imagine the yellow dale in which you are frolicking so playfully to be a Wessex† heathland and the yellow blooms, heather. And there is the coastline, of which the novelist also speaks in A Pair of Blue Eyes and The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved.
As I said (the first thing I said) I didn’t see your concert in S…, but I discovered that place, and found there the bow-windows I have always so much liked in pictures, never seeing one for real before, and I from now on will be dreaming that I be dreaming on a window seat looking at the Brittany coastline and saying to myself: ‘At the horizon is standing she’; and that I cross the sea some time and come stealthily by night, concealed by the moving shadows of trees, to a glimmering oriel behind which you be sitting in a multicoloured light, each and every small-paned lattice being of a different colour, and I: ‘Here’s the Shrine.’ (Sep. 29)
†There are the Wessex, or West Saxons, the Essex, or East Saxons, the Sussex, or South Saxons, and finally there are the Nossex.
I confess that yes I’m of the Isles, where I saw many bow-windows, and as far as I remember I didn’t give a dee about bow-windows or any other kinds of windows then, so when I said ‘bow-windows I have always so much liked in pictures, never seeing one for real before,’ yes it’s nothing but stuff. The saddest thing is that I was certainly believing it the moment I wrote it down, so eager was I to give the narrative of my life some dramatic intensity with such words as always and never before. So the passage in fact should read as follows: Bow-windows I have always so much liked since I first found I liked them six months ago, never seeing one for real before during these last six months. I don’t want to be a low trickster in your eyes, dear R.; I envision bigger and higher and grander tricks as regards you. (Sep. 30)
When the press critics were calling you the likes of so and so, you had already made history. I wonder if it is the embitterment that such criticism must not have failed to provoke that drove you, under a different name, in a decidedly different road, a road on which some cursory listening makes me feel you were not as lucky as before.
The alleged reasons I read why the press critics have not paid due credit to your music at the time, namely that you would have been off the fashion of the day, strikes me as ex post facto rationalizing. Straightforward remarks on the nincompoop way of classifying artists, though received with collected miens, might nevertheless have been resented by the trash among journalists.
These might have instilled gnawing doubt in your minds, misleading you into labyrinthine experiments in evincing originality, with your losing spontaneity in a embittered attempt to assert genuineness demonstratively.
After the maze, you needed the desert for purification ceremonies, and you found it in Colorado or Arizona, and you needed practising roots music, meaning thereby to find yourselves again.†
It may not be unusual that after reaching a high peak at an early stage a depressed period ensues, after which however a pristine pure creativity rises again at a more mature time, as accomplished genius. (Oct. 5)
†I certainly find pleasure in these more recent images, insofar as they highlight your physical advantages, and I do appreciate the music, but the decadent overtone reminiscent of stuffy Blue Velvet makes me long for a Wessex heathland caressed by marine breeze.
My failure to conquer you has been heavy on my mind, and I have come back to my nonconformism (talking of my denomination, not of an attitude or outlook, sorry) because I have found that it has all been FLESH in the guise of fuzzy fiddles and lemon-yellow heathlands, and TEMPTATION in the guise of SHE. (I adjure you to take it off: Only the naked truth is worth one’s attention!) So (I have no real choice, have I) the virtuous ways of my fathers shall be mine.
Besides, I feel I was too severe in my previous missive. Although the name itself is one of the biggest failures in the history of music, because one of the most irrelevant on all accounts — I don’t blame you for trying the tricks of an egghead, on the contrary the experiment was grand, and it confirms my opinion regarding some people and their obnoxious awkwardness — despite the name, I say, there are gorgeous and delightful songs. So you will find, I am sure, in another twenty years hence, that you have also been the primary source of inspiration for crooners and femmes fatales that were to come, or poets and spiritual guides. (Nov. 13)
My last missile was silly, don’t you think? How can one expect to conquer by writing? One thing I learnt in French novels (yellow literature) is that it is the goofiest thing in the world – for had the writing any effect at all, the writer would not be there to take advantage of it. Let’s imagine he concludes a long, passionate missive with the words “And won’t you fall into my arms,” then even if the lady were inclined to comply she would, perhaps, fall in one person near at hands’ arms, but certainly not in the writer’s, a goofy miles away. It was so silly and awkward and — did I believe my writing could have any effect, which, luckily for my plans, I do not — such a boon for free riders. (Free riders. I know a girl, her lover wanted her no more, so she would go out with the creepiest nerd in the place as a vengeance: a vengeance against the whole world, you would swear, it gave everybody the chills. She was very much hurt, I think. I also know another guy, a real cool badass, all the girls wanted to be his sweethearts, true, and they all went out with his friends, who had all the good time. He became very misanthropic. Once, he spoke angrily to one of these so-called friends about the girl he was in love with, poor fellow, and who was the plaything of the friend (so-called), he told him he was grieved, and the latter scorned him: “Why, you only make her laugh!”)
As to my calling people “eggheads”… I am an egghead myself. I have been planning for years an anthropology work called Wonder Dropouts: The Theory of the Leisure Underclass. It’s supposed to be about young pop bands that become known all over the world and then retire early in obscure private life, thenceforth having, presumably (as I heard of some), to toil like anybody else. But maybe I’m mistaken and the guys work because they want to keep doing something, not because they have to, as they could deservedly make a living from their worldwide achievements. The field work for my research is still embryonic, in fact. (Nov. 21)
Once again, I told things as they are not. Two things.
First, as regards the badass in the story, he was not in love with the girl. He was only annoyed that the girls would date the other boys instead of him, notwithstanding the fact that he was, thought he, the objective “rouser” in the group. In other words he was grieved not so much in his heart as in his pride. He thought the girls were fond of him, and as far as I can judge many of them were, but he disliked the idea of dating a girl without being fond of her too (this was, admittedly, a major flaw in his badassness) and thus he was bound to be unequal to their expectations, and the other boys took advantage of the situation as much as they could. He was angry because such developments would tend to belittle him compared to the others, as inferior in experience, according to the old law (instinctual) “one conquest more” (as a prize) or in their case (they were all in their teens) “one conquest at last.” He was in jeopardy to fall into the nerds category, which he feared very much. Had he loved one of those girls, I think he may have found his peace of mind. I’ve been told he actually loved someone, but he couldn’t manage it either. — This is, to the best of my knowledge, the true story of the badass from the time I was acquainted with him.
The second distorsion of truth concerns my anthropology project. I have not been thinking of it “for years,” only for a couple of weeks. You remember the bow windows, do you… I can’t tell why I said so (except that it would be a way to define myself as a failed egghead), especially considering that it could make you think I had tried to break the ice having this project in mind, i.e. in order primarily to use you as a source of information, whereas I never considered such a topic before I began to think, and feel, about you. (Nov. 23)
I wish I had sent the present missile sooner, in case you were anxious to receive a feedback from me, but certain technical obstacles made it impossible to send it through the usual channel earlier.
I was at …, L., on the night of Dec. 20, and I really enjoyed myself.
At first, two or three days before, I experienced sharp angst, so I decided to take the underground in the morning in order to reconnoitre the place. The neighbourhood, inconspicuous and just a little derelict, seemed okay; there were touches in it that I found reminiscent of stuff familiar to me and that made me optimistic. I said to myself: “I can feel at home here,’’ or “I feel at home.’’ A peculiar thought, by the way. Before this reconnaissance I had not been sure yet I would show up at all (because of the angst).
Back in B., I kept secluded in my room until 6:20pm. I could not eat anything. I tried to read but it did no good. I could do nothing but wait. I had tried a little walking but the wind, same as in S. (ominous sign!), was chilly. At 6:30pm I took the underground anew, following like an automaton the same way as previously earlier in the day. At K. station, noticing a few easy-going youngsters, and one easy-going white-haired glasses-wearing elderly, taking the same direction as I, I felt comforted; from some of these people at least I felt sure I would not meet with rampant hostility.
Once inside the venue I thought with some satisfaction: “I am malking it.’’ After the warming up by …, I found myself a place not too far from the stage on the right-hand side (looking at the stage). I had had a couple of drinks and had already gone twice to the toilets. It was the stress accumulated during the last hours, you see. When you showed up on the stage I soon felt, much to my dismay, the need to go to the toilets again. I knew it would be a fatal retreat because I would not dare scramble my way through the crowd to find as good a location again. So I started to undulate a little at the sound of music, and I realized it did me good, the pressure on the bladder became less acute. Maybe I could stand it through the whole performance this way! It worked, I soon forgot the inconvenience completely, I did not feel it anymore, and I was banging my head and having a great time. It was necessary to get rid of all restraint, otherwise I would have have to retreat. It turned out to feel so good I did not think of my inconvenience until I was back in my room in B. (and that is quite an amazing thing per se).
I could have banged my head much more wildly, and a couple of limbs too, was it not for the immobility of my immediate neighbours, who were more demure. They must have more control on their bladders. I don’t think they had such a great time as I, though (some had and it was nice taking a glance at them once in a while), but I hope I didn’t make a fool of myself; for a moment I thought afterwards that you might feel contempt for me if you knew I had banged my head, that you might consider banging one’s head right for the others but not for me, as if you said to some confidante: “Of course the public has to bang their heads, to feedback the stage, but think of this ass making a fool of himself in that way: I’ll never forgive him for lowering my consideration.’’ So uncertain is men’s mind on heart affairs… At least you know the circumstances.
In overcoming natural restraint, I found the recollection of the badass useful, because he would be quite at ease in such situations. Once we both went to a party where the lioness of the block, Carine, was also present, with her boyfriend, a boy older than the others. The badass hated the boyfriend, who dared date girls not intended for him, as he said, considering he was taking advantage of his age superiority. At this party the badass had a nice surprise, because the boyfriend, in spite of his vantage situation as the favourite and intimate of the lioness (or because of it, who knows?), among (even if not quite openly) hostile boys behaved with much unease, whereas the badass and a few others were all spiritedness, so much so that this turn of events infuriated the lioness, but wait, she was incensed against none other than her boyfriend, and a rumour soon delighted the whole party that she was abusing the poor fellow behind his back, raging that he had “a stick in the ass.’’ That’s how she broke with this one (and this time I do not exaggerate the story in the least). We’ve never heard of the boy anymore. (He didn’t take his life, don’t worry, he had just fallen in the deepest insignificance conceivable, worse than death itself, one might say.)
Apart from that, the badass was a guy with ideas, but his were always strange. Once he asked me to buy a bass guitar to play in a band he wanted to start, and that was fine with me, but in his idea the band would be called So You Think You Like It, and no one could make him change his mind on that point. He also said the band would launch a new artistic movement in the world, which he called “socktrade.’’ He tried to explain me why it had to be such a stupid name as that, but his reasons were so confused, or elaborate, that I can’t remember them, if they meant anything at all. However, he ended the whole business saying success would only benefit free riders, that free riders had the upper hand in the world. With such views as these I guess he must have been doing sweet Fanny Adams of his life.
Sorry for the digression. A word on the performance. Although the sound seemed a little fuzzy-magmatic to me compared to studio sound, and the different instruments not always much distinguishable, when I was, let’s call it dancing, I thought I was high, I thought I was flying (and I had taken only a few light drinks). So you may like to try something in the future: By expanding the length of passages like the finale in …, you could make more people fly, couldn’t you? As far as I’m concerned you would only need to repeat the same lines again and again. Perhaps it can’t be the same on record, time is different there.
I was delighted to see you in flesh and bones, but at such distance, however short I tried to make it, I could not appreciate your numerous charms in as much detail as on pictures. Pictures from Dec. 19, for instance, reveal lovely intricate knee bones, and this is what I call fine beaming.
I am just coming back from my stay in L. Except for the concert, this time I did not enjoy the stay as much as previous ones, because it was vacation time and people that work all their lives were then free for a while to do things (serious things, I mean). I found them everywhere I went. Why should they have vacations at all, by the way, since it is hopeless they enjoyed it decently? One has to train for one’s leisure, one has to be used to it, and they are so obviously not, this office fellowship, ‘tis a pity.
Then, also, everything closed for a few days, so it wasn’t a good idea to stay that long.
Ending on such a topic as common people (in England most of these common people have to be English, I fear, but this is merely a chance circumstance; there were a good deal of tourists too) is rather bad form, sorry, but I really wanted to let you know the reason I didn’t write sooner after the concert, and that is because of my being in L. still. As I said, I wish I had written sooner. Hopefully you didn’t get too nervous in the meanwhile and had a merry Christmas. (Dec. 26)
Have you ever felt like living among jerks, dear R.? The answer seems obvious to me. After pondering it a long time, in no way will I read “love gin” otherwise than meaning “You are all jerks.”†
Besides, what’s the relevance of such a quote as “Judging a person does not define who they are. It defines who you are”? Quoting this rather vacuous piece of wisdom is indeed meaningful: It says that people have been judging you and that you have been suffering from it. However, you should not advance thus unmasked, it’s blunting your blade. I want to see them at your feet and pay for what they’ve done to you, whatever it be. So, for the sake of me, please hide that dagger.
Order and you shall be obeyed.
I wish you a happy new year. (I was prevented by my not being home to send these wishes as soon as I wanted: all apologies for that.) (Jan. 5)
†A jerk is the kind of person who will say you are “still” pretty and think he has paid a nice little compliment. Well, before you fling me out of the window, I have this to say: You have never been so pretty as you are now. (As the philosopher says, what doesn’t kill you makes you sexier.)
It appears that the “love gin” is going to be a bone of contention between us, especially since you will throw me no other bone. I can’t understand it, so many are the reasons you ought to drop that nonsense. I know I ought not to talk to you like that, but then won’t you admit I’ve been open-hearted?
I know I’ve had your ear, because recently you told journalists things that reminded me of what I had written you, so I thought you wouldn’t feel as if I was trying to impose things on you. The reasons are so many, let me state only two more. Everybody knows (I love when people say “everybody this and that,’’ knowing they only talk of themselves) everybody knows the Greek poet has said: “No songs can please nor yet live long that are written by those who drink water’’; but one is not supposed to congratulate oneself, even in indirect ways, are they? Then you say “by the sea,’’ and somewhere also “in a garden’’: yet the poets who sing the pleasures of being by the sea, in a garden, didn’t drink water, presumably, but somehow they felt it would be odd to acknowledge both kinds of pleasure, Natura and Bacchus, in the same breath. (Jan. 26)
I realize you won’t marry me and that makes me melancholy and sad. (Jan. 31)
1/So far away paradise (03:11)
3/Taj Mahal (08:05)
Already alluded to there, Maharajah was a teenage creative experience that was to last about one year and a half. The band gave three concerts (in Chaville and Sèvres) and made two recordings, one studio, one live. The name Maharajah comes from the fact that, as would-be hippies, we were beguiled by a fantasized India.
The three songs here (actually two songs and one extract of a song) were recorded during a concert in Chaville (or was it in Sèvres?) in April 1994. Performers are Serge (guitar and vocals), Florence (violin), me (bass), Guillaume (drums), and Aurélien (percussion). Originally the band was Serge, Guillaume and I. It later expanded with two new members, Florence and Aurélien. We knew each other at the Lycée de Sèvres.
These songs were written by me but they owe much to the guitar line added by Serge, who also wrote the lyrics on Taj Mahal (both French and English, although our lyrics were mainly English), as well as to the contribution of all the other members. When either Serge or I brought our compositions to the pool, the final songs always were the result of what came out of our jam sessions in Guillaume’s cellar.
I had no previous training in music and, if I remember well, neither had the others more than a smattering of it, Florence being the exception (as she had completed training at a classic academy).
We were lucky enough to find conditions that allowed us to have that activity, and we were happy doing what we were doing. Circumstances did not allow us, however, to polish our work, did not provide us with the means to give it a less amateurish gloss. Maybe the ending of it was made easier by such considerations as that we were young and could and would make greater things in many other ways. When, twenty years later, the thought dawns upon you that you have achieved nothing worth a few songs that only exist in poor recordings (I remember that the live recording had disgusted me because the bass line was not distinguishable enough to my liking) of a rather poor performance as well, time has come to deal with these relics of one’s past with seriousness.
Contrary to most of my writings of that time, which probably were more to the taste of my contemporaries than the later classic verses I published, all these years I have kept the two cassette tapes of our two recordings. It must have been a decade and a half since I last listened to them, I was not even sure something could still be heard on these tapes after so much time. Yet everything could be heard and I recorded a few songs on a dictaphone. Then a friend accepted to remaster the files. I have just posted them on YouTube.
If, on YouTube, I wrote ‘All rights reserved,’ it’s only because the thought that another might reap the harvest of one’s work or ideas (and we all have heard of people becoming millionnaires from just one song) is too hellish to be borne by a man, but in no way does it mean that I am convinced our ideas, our inspirations were successfully embodied in our music, especially in these recordings. I won’t likely find the conditions again to give it another try, so I leave these ideas to the world such as they are here incarnate.
They’re ideas somewhat embedded in a layer of mud (lack of time and means). I wish, o my reader, had you the means yourself, you would clean the stone, if you could do it without concealing where you found it. Many people, I am sure, are so haunted by the hellish thought I have alluded to and at the same time lack the means, the channels, the acquaintances to air their ideas in a secure way that they keep them out of the world’s sight and bring them bound to their bosoms into the grave after a life in obscurity, whereas their ideas would have enlightened our existence. I don’t blame them. They’re proof, if I’m not mistaken, that our age-old logic of exploiting one another is at odds with the calling of mankind.
A last word on that wrecked calling of young people. The idea that we could have made a living writing and playing songs was hardly credible, in the context, given the market open to a French band (even singing in English). For determined teenagers in U.K. or U.S. that seems far more credible, inasmuch as they’re offered a world market, potentially. In these countries you can drop out and make it to the top as an artist; not here. In these countries, thus, you can overcome petty-bourgeois prejudices; not here. Yet I don’t envy those I’d call wonder dropouts (idea of a book called Wonder Dropouts: The Theory of the Leisure Underclass). Many musicians I used to listen as a teenager, who were selling albums all over the world, today eke out an existence from various toils. They were and still are known worldwide: How is it possible that they have to toil in order to earn their bread? In whose motherf*ckers’ pockets did the money go?