Monday, May 21, 2012

Doll of Wax, Doll of Sawdust, Doll of Metaphor

In writing about the accidental ode to oral sex, “Les Sucettes,” it was pointed out to me that another France Gall song merits a mention: the one whose name translates, unfortunately, as “Doll of Wax, Doll of Sawdust.” Believe me, the actual song skews a lot more epic than that title might suggest.

So why is it notable, aside from the stirring sound of it? The Serge Gainsbourg-penned song works on two levels, just like “Les Sucettes” does. On one, Gall is just singing about a doll — a wax-cased doll filled with sawdust, as French children played with back in the day. (Did they? Those poor French children!) However, the French title is Poupée de cire, poupée de son, with son translating as both “sawdust” and “sound.” And even cire, “wax,” is suspect, in that it could be a reference to old-timey waxen records. Thus, even before Serge Gainsbourg demonstrated that he was a masterful behind-the-scenes manipulator with the whole “the song about lollipops is actually about mouth sex” foofaraw, he was feeding his protégé songs that hint at the true nature of their relationship.

Well, that and the fact that he’s one of the few pop songwriters who actually bothered to have fun with the language he was setting to melody.

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