To Meet One’s Goddess

sonoramaAbout a month ago I wrote about my ongoing quest to find a dirty French record called L’Histoire de Melody Nelson. I intended on continuing that quest, but then I didn’t, I wrote about something else instead. Well I have a confession to make. (I think 90% of the things I write involve some kind of confession. Maybe that is the point of writing.) After part one of my quest I got kind of scared. They almost had the album at Atom Heart, the first record store I tried. I was just a few days late. I could very easily have left the store holding the baby-blue bottled lightning in my arms. That scared me.

There is a part of me that wants the search for Melody Nelson to never end. I mean, I want the record. There is just something very compelling about having a reason to go into any record store in the world. There is nothing wrong with going into a record store for no particular reason, but I like having a story. I like saying “I’m looking for L’Histoire de Melody Nelson.” I like mutilating the pronunciation of “L’Histoire” (actually I hate that but I can’t help it). I first listened to the album more than three years ago. I am a fickle person. It is hard for something to be My Favorite for that long. Whenever I get the pull to listen to Melody I worry that I won’t like it anymore, but somehow it always satisfies. Melody Nelson is a part of me at this point. The fact that I have never found it in a record store is a part of that part of me.

I am afraid of death. I think everyone is, basically. There is this idea that really cool guys and really wise old folks are no longer afraid of death, but that’s hard for me to believe. There is no logic in fearing death, as Mark Twain put it, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” Mark Twain was a smart guy, but the fear of death doesn’t live in our brains. The fear of death lives in our guts. It is not something we know until we feel it, and it is not something we can logically contemplate. It just comes. To me, finding Melody Nelson would be a tiny death, but it reminds me of bigger ones.

Melody represents an ideal for me. It is the compressed, pure vision of one person. It is a much longer phonopolisrecord which has been chopped, pushed, stretched, squashed, molded, broken and mended over and over until only the most perfect bits remained. It is 28 minutes long. Twenty-eight minutes. My God, that’s marvelous. It’s not that I have a short attention span. I would just rather listen to a near-perfect twenty-eight minutes than an imperfect hour.

Enough brooding, the quest must go on. In the late afternoon I hopped on the fifty-five bus up Saint Laurent towards neighboring record shops Phonopolis and Sonorama in the Mile End. I knew where I was going, but I didn’t know how to get there. I knew the shops were past Ubisoft, but not how far past. I put my earbuds in my ears, put on music written by a sad person, for sad people (No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross) and let the buscarry me north towards destiny.

I got off too early and let my instincts take hold (I asked for directions). I knew that the shops were closer to the residence hall than Saint Laurent, so I started walking towards Saint Urbain. Once I spotted the Church of Saint Michael and Saint Anthony up Saint Urbain, I knew I was in the right place. I turned northward, and walked until I hit Bernard. On that musical street I spotted Phonopolis in all of its gritty, unassuming glory and walked right in.

inside_sonoramaPhonopolis is a little shop, not much bigger than Atom Heart, packed like a cave full of records and CDs of every genre. It defines itself as specializing in music that lies outside of the mainstream, and that is proven at a glance. Now, I consider myself a music lover, but I am not so devoted to any genre as to be an “expert.” I am definitely a populist among music lovers. What I’m saying is, I didn’t recognize many records. If you’re looking to find something new, something out of the mainstream, to dig through some crates, then Phonopolis is the place for you. I had my quest, so I walked up to the clerk.

“Allo. I’m looking for L’Histoire de Melody Nelson, by Serge Gainsbourg.” He thought about it for a second, before sharply inhaling, “Ahh, that one. I think we used to have some copies, but I haven’t seen it in a little while. Good record though. Is there anything else you’re looking for?” The clerk was pretty busy, the place fairly packed, so I didn’t want to trouble him further. “No, thank you. I’ll just look around.” I looked for a minute or two before hitting the street. One store down, one to go.

I walked half a block farther away from Saint Laurent, and spotted Sonorama. In the window I noticed The Velvet Underground and Nico’s iconic banana (There She Goes Again), and knew that this place was more my speed. There were also fewer people in the shop, which meant fewer people cooler than me. This was also more my speed.

A larger, more spacious shop than Phonopolis, Sonorama was less a cave of records than a sea. Just scanning the store I noticed at least four records which I would pay money to own. Unfortunately, records are expensive. Besides, I didn’t want to get distracted from my mission. I made a beeline for the francophone section, and started searching. P, Q, R, S, Serge, Serge, nothing. I looked through G as well, to no avail. The clerk piped up from across the store, “Looking for anything in particular?” I walked over to the counter. “L’Histoire de Melody Nelson, by Serge Gainsbourg.” Before he could reply, I saw it in the corner of my eye. Sitting in the center of a display, I saw Jane Birkin’s familiar ghost staring back at me. “That’s the only copy we have, but you can have it if you want.”

There was the record, my favorite record, the icon of my taste, memy guiding light in the flesh. I had to accept my tiny death. “I’ll take it,” I whispered. “It’s a great album. A really great album actually. Have you listened to his other stuff?” The clerk continued, as he took the record from the display. We talked about Gainsbourg for a little while, then I slipped the loot in my backpack and stepped back into the tentative spring air.

I walked back towards the bus stop. My quest over, my journey complete, myriad thoughts drifted through my mind, “What will I write about now? Who will I give this copy to? I should really get a record player. I’m hungry.” I decided that these were thoughts for another time. I got on the bus, put my earbuds in my ears, and listened to L’Histoire de Melody Nelson straight through, twice.

– David Johnston, Game Programming Major, Official Blogger, Spring 2015