Reflex-ology

October 17, 2017

Translating Simon le Bon is far from the easiest task you could set yourself. Song lyrics are rarely translated and the artists themselves, understandably, do not attempt to sing the same song in a variety of different languages (while on a European tour, for example).  On the continent, people are so used to hearing songs in English that generally they sing along oblivious to the exact words or meaning. (This probably happens rather often for English speakers as well, but that is not the point here).

 

Now, the usual translations of pop music tend to take a literal translation: you couldn’t sing it in time to the music, it doesn’t follow the rhythm of the song and it doesn’t rhyme.  That’s normal.  “Please, please tell me know” is impossible to reproduce in French, for example.  There is no one syllable word in French for ‘please’, giving “S’il vous plait, s’il vous plait dites moi maintenant” – or maybe as you will remember from first year French, “S’il te plait, s’il te plait dit moi maintenent.”  Either way, not too catchy.

 

Alternatively, Big Thing poses multiple problems, not the least of which being that I’m not sure I necessarily understand it.  The first line, "get it up, get it out, get it in time,” I assume is about sex, but I’d need a whole verse to explain it.  The second line is more difficult and by the time I get to "Bang it up, bang it on a Big Thing,” I’ve already lost hope.  The meaning of the lyric influences the translation – after all, how do you translate ‘sanhedralite’?

 

Other songs, or rather bits of songs, work surprisingly well.  “Ici Planete Terre” works perfectly well and “Elle s’appelle Rio et elle danse sur le sable” is also a respectable translation.  But the next line causes problems, because in French the rhyme won’t be with ‘land’, as in English, but with ‘dusty’ as they place the adjective after the noun.  Thus the literal translation of “just like a river running through a dusty land” becomes “juste comme une rivière parcourant une terre poussierreux.”  A problem.  And also the line does not now scan.

 

What follows is a French translation of The Reflex.  I have chosen to keep the rhythm and attempt the rhymes as far as possible.  Those of you who speak French or wish to check in your dictionaries should not be surprised to find some words changed or omitted.  I have been forced to hold on to the sense of each phrase rather than the exact lyric.  To do both would be impossible and remember that there is no such thing as a perfect translation.

 

There were many problems based on difficulty in rhyming, meaning and scanning.  For example, the French don’t have a phrase for “every little thing,” nor “hightime”.  It’s just ‘everything’ and ‘it’s time’.  The French also don’t talk about “crossing bridges when they find them.”  Indeed, neither do the English – the actual phrase is crossing a bridge when you come to it, but that wouldn’t scan, and so it seems Simon had to alter his lyric as well, though I prefer his version, it being less clichéd.

 

Rhyming difficulties came in the third verse. “Park / parc” was fine but “dark” became “noir.”  As for “question mark”, that runs to far too many syllables for a literal translation, so I have opted for “remarque” meaning only two of the three lines rhyme.  Sorry.

 

So, here is my effort, and, no, I am not going to produce for you next Union of the Snake.  I mean, who wants to tackle “Telegram force and ready…”

 

Le Reflexe

 

Cette fois J’suis allé trop loin,

Mais je danse sur le valentine,

J’te dis que quelqu’un veut jouer avec

Mes chances sur le ligne de mir

 

On s’en occupera quand on le trouvera

Encore un jour pour resister

Bien tard est trop tard pour decider

S’il nous fait un coup de main

 

Donc,

Pourquoi on ne l’use pas

Essaie de pas le faire mal

Gagne du temps, ne le perd pas

 

Le reflexe est un enfant seul attendant dans le parc

Le reflexe se doit de trouver du trésor dans le noir

Et veillant sur des trefles chanceux, n’est-il pas bizarre

Tout ce qu’il fair le reflexe nous répond par une autre remarque

 

Je fais un tour et je descend

Mais ils ralentissent pas le manège

Vendu le Renoir et le téléviseur

J’veux pas être là quand ils vont l’apprendre

 

Donc,

Pourquoi on ne l’use pas

Essaie de pas le faire mal

Gagne du temps, ne le perd pas

 

Le reflexe est un enfant seul attendant dans le parc

Le reflexe se doit de trouver du trésor dans le noir

Et veillant sur des trefles chanceux, n’est-il pas bizarre

Tout ce qu’il fait le reflexe nous répond par une autre remarque

 

Oh, le reflexe quel jeux, il cache toutes les cartes

Le reflexe se doit de….

This article originally appeared in Cherry Lipstick Volume 2 Issue 13, July - August 1999

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