L’esprit de l’escalier


‘Histoire de Melody Nelson may have sold only 20,000 copies at the time but everyone who bought one became a pervert.’ It’s funny how many good lines pop into your head long after you’ve finished writing a book. Appropriately the French have a name for it L’esprit de l’escalier, the spirit or wit of the staircase, that moment when you’re walking up to bed and you’re suddenly hit by a perfect comeback to an earlier argument but it’s too late. It’s such a familiar and maddening occurrence I think because we’re retrospective creatures, living our lives forwards but only understanding them backwards as Kierkegaard put it. The fortune tellers in Dante’s Inferno with our heads on back-to-front; such is the condition of the strange human animal, the ape who thought he was the centre of the universe.

On a happier note, Jeremy Allen has written an excellent and very generous review of my Melody Nelson book for The Quietus. It’s great that someone would spend time thinking about the book let alone writing about it but more than that it’s a relief that he got what I was trying to do (I’m not sure I entirely get it) – the ‘musical meta-history’ bit. I’m not a music journalist so it’s a different kind of book, more a series of narrative essays at various different angles than the usual interview-based text and using themes like decadence, Surrealism, L’Inconnue de la Seine and the Holocaust to tell Gainsbourg’s story (historicist is a bad bad word but maybe it was an attempt at something along those lines; context seems to be everything, in my head at least). You can read the review in full here and I’ll let him do the talking. The book incidentally is out now in the US, on e-book everywhere (I know I said about hoping every Kindle would explode in its owners face simultaneously but I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite) and will be released in the rest of the world in paperback on December 19th, my birthday of all days. I think if pre-ordered now from wherever you buy books online (I’d give the big bookshop-swallowing tax-evading distributors a wide berth), it’ll arrive before Christmas; the perfect gift for the discerning music fan/pervert in your life. I will also sleep with whoever, man, woman or beast, can prove they bought a copy. [My lawyers and girlfriend have just ordered me to retract the last statement]. Merci beaucoup.

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2 Responses to L’esprit de l’escalier

  1. Congratulations, darling — you don’t even need to understand the french to understand the lust behind those songs. Gainsbourg’s voice does it all.

  2. sfhopkins says:

    “that moment when you’re walking up to bed and you’re suddenly hit by a perfect comeback to an earlier argument but it’s too late.” Infuriating. And even worse that it’s the damn Frogs who get it so right.

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