by Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991)
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 97-80957
Translated from the French by John and Doreen Weightman
This is the one and only novel by the 20th century provocateur of French pop music and film - the legendary Serge Gainsbourg. This prototype lusty punk tore into the threads of French society with his numerous films, music projects, and outlandish persona. He made recordings with Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin and a scandalous recording of "Lemon Incest" with his own daughter Charlotte. If that wasn't bad enough, he told Whitney Houston live on French TV that he would love 'to fuck' her.
Evguenie Sokolov is a novel about an artist who uses his intestinal gases as the medium for his scandalous artwork. What once was a huge smelly and noisy problem in his social and sex life becomes a tool for success in the early eighties art world.
"Serge Gainsbourg's 1980 novel Evguenie Sokolov (TamTam Books), about an artist who uses the vibrations of breaking wind to make his work. It's a funny yet tragic story, and Sokolov's technique and the art "movement" (Hyper-Abstractionism) his gasograms inspire are described so vividly you can almost smell the ---.
Georgina Starr, Artforum International (May 1999)
"It's a parable of a guy who's got a serious farting problem. I know it sounds ludicrous, but it's one of the most well-written books I've ever read. It's really serious in tone because this guy has this malady and uses it to create art. It's not for the faint of heart."
Russell Mael, Sparks
"Gainsbourg takes one childish, cheap and tasteless one-joke idea and manages to keep it entertaining enough to last for a whole book. He has an envious command of adjectives and adverbs."
Mark Webber, Pulp
"Serge Gainsbourg is one of the world's great eccentrics. His kinky obsessions, smothering fashion with tastelessness have catapulted him into super stardom in France. This is his only novel and you have never read anything like it. Evguenie Sokolov will make you squirm. It will make you laugh. It also may very well make you sick. Gainsbourg's vision is his own: authentic and convulsive. But don't forget to hold your nose."
"Is there much difference between art and a fart? The recently republished 1980 novel by eccentric French torch singer Serge Gainsbourg wonders just that. 'Evguenie Sokolov' grew up ashamed of his chronic gas, but once he learns how to make gasograms, he becomes the darling of the art world. Sophomoric, giddy and insightful, this quick read proves just how well Gainsbourg understood the science of selling controversy and the troubles that come with being an enfant terrible."
Neil Gladstone, Ray Gun (September 1999)
"Though the French pop-star's notoriety (Gainsbourg) never quite spread to America, his subsequent impact as a singer in France was enormous-an impact perpetually kindled by his artful embracement of scandal. Among the colorful high points of his career (which included his first smash hit, "Je t'aime moi non plus," as well as a reggae version of the French national anthem and the 1985 "Lemon Incest" video filmed with his daughter), there lies the exceedingly odd novella, Evguenie Sokolov, which depicts the life and death of an artist who transforms his violent flatulence into artistic fame. Its availability in English probably comes a bit late, given that toilet humor has already taken the American entertainment circuit by storm over the last few years; but Sokolov merits a look even from those without a penchant for fart jokes (whoever those sad characters may be). Not since the turn-of-the-century performances at the Moulin Rouge of the infamous "Petomane" has flatulence been treated with such dignity; something of a Rabelaisian memoir, Gainsbourg presents Sokolov's story with grotesque tragedy and erudition, bringing a pathos to gas in a classically French autobiographical syntax that shifts in the third person as Sokolov's fame increases. This short work is well-translated, and provides a humorous English introduction to a particularly charming scandal-monger."
Marc Lowenthal, Excerpted from a longer piece in The Boston Book Review
"Literally artsy-fartsy, Evguenie Sokolov is a satirical, allegorical, rise-and-fall story about a dyspeptic, marginal young man who becomes a famous painter via his lusty flatulence. This pseudo-autobiography is at once an ode to anality and a sly rendering of happenstance in the creative process. It's also a play on Serge Gainsbourg's life history: in the '60's and '70's, he deliberately flouted Europe's conventions and - despite or because of his overindulgent rebel pose - farted his way to the top of the charts as one of France's most controversial and admired pop stars. As the introduction conveys, he performed his own songs in a raspy, strung-out voice and in duets with the likes of Brigitte Bardot. In the most infamous of these, the 1967 "je t'aime - moi non plus (I Love You - Me Neither)," he croons "je vais et je viens entre tes reins" ("I go and I come between your kidneys").
Gainsbourg's mock/real lyricism resonates throughout the novel. In passages reminiscent of Proust's Madeleine riffs, Sokolov rhapsodizes on his inspired, foul emanations: "I would escape on my own to Nordic sand dunes and (stand) there, shivering in the twilight gusts ... the wind would carry off my exhalations and disperse the diabolical... wisps in fascinating, enchanted swirls." For Sokolov, the fart serves as both revenge and display, the source of the narrator's humiliation as well as his brilliance. "I would get my own back at the swimming bath by going close to [my teachers] and releasing iridescent bubbles, which rose gurgling to the surface and burst into the clean air as subversive farts."
This tale is clever and moving. The narrator contradicts himself without apology, at times veering from first into third-person point of view, referring to himself by name as though he were in the position of his buyers of critics. Gainsbourg's snipes at art world notoriety produce a Seinfeldian, box-within-a-box counter-reality. His novel is intellectually provocative, but also deeply and sensually - aromatically - felt."
Perry Friedman, Rain Taxi (Fall 1999)
"Like the songs he penned for Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, and himself, this novelette by French singer/provocateur Serge Gainsbourg (who died in 1991) is infantile, shockingly frank, and extremely clever. First published in 1980 but previously unavailable in English, Evguenie Sokolov is the fictional autobiography of the uncontrollably flatulent title character, an artist who makes his distinctive drawings ("gasograms") by letting his hand move while passing violent wind.
Hiding his condition by publicly blaming the inevitable sounds and odors on his bulldog, and artificially inducing it when it mysteriously vanishes, Sokolov climbs to the pinnacle of art-world success before his untimely end. This is not a book for the easily nauseated, but there's more substance than the one-joke premise suggests. Gainsbourg's book is a scatological allegory for the dangers facing artist, like the author himself, who turn their own internal pathologies into public spectacle. "
Franklin Bruno, CMJ: New Music Monthly (May 1999)
"It is axiomatic that an emperor rarely wears old clothes. Yet moldy figs forever carp that our own cultural emperors wear nought but new threads. To the figs, free improvisation or the heavy use of electronics or even playing away from standard Western pitch is evidence of naked sloth. To which we can only reply (in the eloquent words of Jimi Hendrix), "Woof, woof, blah, blah".
The late French renaissance man, Serge Gainsbourg, was one cultural emperor who didn't give a rat's ass whether or not the establishment considered him talented. Gainsbourg understood the implicit nature of art in a post-Duchamp universe. As a creator, he created. If he did so while functioning as an artist, he created art. The fact that Serge often appeared (especially to non-French eyes) as little more than a poorly kept mumbler did not impinge on his view of himself as a great artist and provocateur. The recent interest in Gainsbourg's recordings (spurred by Mick Harvey, Luna and others) bears out his opinion. Now that he is safely dead, Gainsbourg is becoming internationally acknowledged as one of the few keepers of France's art flame in the late 20th century.
Gainsbourg's Evguenie Sokolov first appeared in 1980. It is, most simply, a novella about flatulence. Gainsbourg's contemporaneous musical release of the same name consisted, appropriately, of fart sounds accompanied by reggae rhythms. Neither of these items was designed to be particularly fig friendly. It tells the story of a young painter whose bowels are in a constant uproar. Sokolov's condition causes him no end of grief until, in an epiphanic moment, he discovers how to harness his gas in the service of his art. Sokolov's rise through the art world, his battles with critics, and the evolution of his technique comprise the rest of the text. Both lyrically sophomoric and intellectually engaging, Gainsbourg's only known book is a written parallel to his musical work. It pushes against acceptable boundaries of taste, while making it clear that the author finds such niceties both artificial and inane. What shines through, beyond this, is Gainsbourg's delight in the process of production and the emergence of the final product itself. It's apparent that he has internalized Duke Ellington's dictum, "if it sounds good, it is good". And any artist who takes this instinctual route can be assured of a modicum of satisfaction, outside the strictures of externally applied aesthetic criteria. This liberating stance is also one that many of our more tight-assed squares (and even hipsters) might do well to consider. Perhaps if Ebba Jahn had read this story before making his 1984 film, Rising Tones Cross, he wouldn't have been so automatically dismissive of John Zorn's noisemaking antics. He could have just laid back and enjoyed the noise for what it was: fun.
If you are neither a moldy fig nor an uptight intellectual, you'll probably dig this funny, smutty little book. And if you are either one of those, man, you need it."
Byron Coley, The Wire (May
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