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Java of the atomic bombs: Homage to Boris Vian.

Sixty years ago, in 1946, French writer Boris Vian has published his most famous book, "Foam of days."

Now it's regarded as a masterpiece though at the time it was overshadowed by the scandal that involved another book he wrote. Well, not really: he posed as a translator of a book by US writer Vernon Sullivan, even writing an English version of it to prove that such an author really did exist. "I shall spit on your graves," a "hard boiled" sex thriller about a black American taking brutal revenge on the racist society, topped the bestseller list but Vian was fined 100,000 francs for the 100,000 copies that the book sold, on moral grounds. The scandal led to Vian's books published almost simultaneously under his own name to not be taken seriously. Dense, exquisite wordplay, and thick layers of absurd and irony make Vian's prose extremely hard to translate (that's why he's barely known in the English-speaking world) and simultaneously absolutely thrilling. Posthumously he has become a major figure of the French literature - only posthumously though.

Vian was born in 1920 and received training as an engineer. As an inventor he's been fiddling with whimsical and strange projects such as a mechanical cocktail-making piano (le pianocktail). He was employed at the French Association for Standardisation, and while on the job he wrote two novels within a year before he got fired. His later day job was for The Office of Trade and Industry for the Paper and Cardboard. His dislike of bureaucracy that surrounded him at work has led him to write several caustic parodies; Vian had developed a set of rules for behaviour at parties (that included gatecrashing, being aggressive to everyone and then getting knocked out by the most quiet of guests who is incidentally a karate champion) or his own version of traffic rules. His libertarain views were founded on the dislike of any authority, especially that of the organised religion and of the army. One rank he didn't reject though was that of a Transcendental Satrap of the Pataphysical College.

Vian has been involved in jazz music as a trumpet player in an amateur band led by Claude Abadie. He was connected with the zazous, French subculture of the war time that was kinda similar to the swing kids in Germany - jazz, long hair, cocktails, American style clothes, and a pretty strong dislike of nazis and collaborators. French fascists attacked the zazous for being lazy and a disgrace to the nation; physical confrontations have led to some of the hipsters actually joining the resistance movement or ending up in concentration camps (now, this sounds like The (International) Noise Conspiracy video, doesn't it?) After Paris was freed from nazis, Vian's combo became one of the leading post-war jazz bands. However, a few years later he had to give up playing the trumpet because his health was deteriorating. He was one of the leading jazz specialists in France, and as such he got involved with the record label Philips. Vian wrote sleevenotes, edited jazz magazines, produced records, deejayed, done cabaret sketches and film work, translated books (by Raymond Chandler and August Stringberg among others), wrote plays and even penned an opera libretto. Among his numerous creative jobs was working on a play dedicated to the story of the anarchist Bonnot gang. Vian also wrote for Le Monde Libertaire, a long-running anarcho publication.

Vian started writing songs first for his own amusement, then for other performers - including Juliette Greco and Yves Montand, and then he taught himself to sing. He didn't record particularly much, as only a minority of his hundreds of songs were sung by himself. A couple of Vian's first recorded songs were released on split 78s that Henri Salvador did with Monaco anarchist Leo Ferre.

"The deserter," a song that Vian wrote and which his friend Marcel Mouloudji sang in 1954 (Vian did his own version of the track the following year), has caused an outrage and was officially banned: the lyrics advocated desertion from the army and taking up the arms against the government. France at the time was fighting an unpopular war in Indochina (and trouble was brewing up in Mouloudji's native Algeria), and such a song simply couldn't be on the radio or in shops. It has become something of a hymn for pacifist movement, and is translated into dozens of languages. Defending himself, Vian had sarcastically claimed: "My song is no antimilitarist song at all, but, I admit, it is violently pro-civilian." Another song, tango-tinged "The merry butchers," compares army with an abattoir - as both organisations aim for more bloodshed. Vian noted: "War is a social phenomenon of capital interest because all those who engage in it may earn a pure and complete objectification and thus reach the corpse state... but war does not provide a solution because often one is not killed." "The political," another track that Mouloudji recorded, tells a story of a freedom fighter who's taken by the secret police and tortured but doesn't give in.

Protest songs are only a section of Vian's wide range of work but they are some of the most engaging. As early as 1956 he and a few of his friends have recorded some of first rock and roll songs in France - which were rather a piss-take. In "Do me bad, Johnny" Magali Noel sings the part of a woman who lusts for pain from her lover; however, instead of a romantic S&M encounter she just gets a brutal thrashing.

In June 1959 Vian had died at a cinema in Paris at the preview of "I will spit on your graves"; he had major disagreements with the filmmakers, and had his name taken off the credits. The dissimilarity of French actors to the Americans he envisioned has brought about a heart attack which proved fatal. His last words were "Are these people supposed to be Americans? My arse!" He's only been 39 - but he's done an incredible lot, and is a classic (if you can pardon this expression) in so many fields - including anarchist music.

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Best 'last words', ever!

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I AM THE GATE KEEPER. ARE YOU THE KEY MASTER?