Academic goes Pop
An academic at the University of St Andrews has been quoted by Iggy Pop on his new jazz-inspired album.
Dr Gavin Bowd, a lecturer in French, was ‘amazed’ to hear his translation of a controversial French novelist’s work read out by the ‘Godfather of Punk’ on his new album ‘Preliminaires’.
Pop has described the album as an ‘alternative soundtrack’ to ‘The Possibility of an Island’, Dr Bowd’s translation of Michel Houellebecq’s 2005 sci-fi novel ‘La Possibilité d’une île’.
Houellebecq (pron. Wellbeck) is a cult figure in the literary world, the ‘bad boy of French literature’, known for his bleak and provocative work and interest in cloning and the eternal life.
Pop was originally approached to write songs for a documentary on Houellebecq, after speaking openly of his admiration of the writer and poet’s work. In the end, he wrote a whole album, inspired not just by Houellebecq but by old jazz standards and French torch singers.
Pop has described his change in musical direction, saying that, “I just got sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars banging out crappy music”. The new album is described by one critic as possibly Pop’s best album since 1977’s Lust for Life.
The track, A Machine for Loving, features Pop reading aloud passages from Bowd’s English text from 2006, and is described by the singer as one of the ‘most moving tracks’ on the album.
Dr Bowd, a specialist in modern and contemporary France, commented, “I couldn’t believe it when I heard that the ‘Rock Iguana’ was inspired by reading my translation of Houellebecq’s last novel. I knew that Pop liked Houellebecq’s work; he is a great Francophile and some time ago fell in love, as I did, with his poetry.”
Pop, who came across Houellebecq’s fourth novel when looking for ‘important fiction’, has said that the album consists of music he would ‘hear in my soul when reading the book’. Although the former Stooge sings two songs on the album in French, his English spoken reading of Dr Bowd’s translation, has been described by one critic as the ‘stand-out track’.
Of the inspiration behind ‘Preliminaires’, Bowd commented, “On his way to France from Miami, he procured a copy of my 2006 translation of ‘Possibilities’ and went to stay in the legendary Grand Hotel in Cabourg made famous by Marcel Proust. It was there he read the book and thought it was an extremely beautiful and funny novel about sex, death, the end of the world.
“It was also about dogs; Houellebecq and Iggy Pop are united in their love of dogs; so he was approached to write the soundtrack for the making of the film adaptation. But it snowballed into Pop making an entire album which contains songs inspired by the novel.
“I was extremely chuffed by the fact there is a track called The Machine For Loving in which he reads out an extract of my translation, which deals with the death of yet another clone of the narrator’s dog, Fox. Pop describes the song as the saddest on the entire album.”
Dr Bowd ‘fell in love’ with the work of Houellebecq in 1994 after being given a book of poetry by the ‘best young poet in France today’. Since then, Bowd has formed a close friendship with the infamous writer, becoming the chief English translator of his work.
He was also the first person to introduce Houellebecq to the University system, when he started teaching on the writer’s ‘virtuoso talent’ at the University of Manchester in 1994.
Image: Dr Gavin Bowd with Michel Houellebeqc during filming in Benidorm
In 1999 Dr Bowd brought Houellebecq over to St Andrews for StAnza, and acknowledges he is ‘more than just a scholar of his text’, that he has had some creative input along the way, and that they ‘have known some dramas together’. In 2005 he organised a high profile conference on Houellebecq’s work in Edinburgh – uniquely, for an academic conference, attended by the subject himself.
More recently, they collaborated on the ‘ill-fated’ film adaptation of ‘Possibilities’, in which Bowd plays an English footballer in Benidorm. He describes Houellebecq, who now lives in Ireland, as ‘the most intelligent person I have ever met’.
Noting that he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if Pop and Houellebecq collaborated again in the future, Dr Bowd commented, “It is quite remarkable that Houellebecq discovered Iggy Pop in 1969 – here was someone talking about himself. It’s very moving that forty years on Pop discovered Houellebecq writing about himself. So here you see the real power of the artist.”
Dr Bowd, who once took the 53 year old Houellebecq on a pub crawl around St Andrews, acknowledges the unusually colourful academic partnership. He commented, “Michel Houellebecq is the enfant terrible of contemporary French, possibly world, literature.
“Academics are constantly under pressure to demonstrate research which has a real impact on society. People talk about knowledge transfer, so I suppose this is rock and roll knowledge transfer at work.”
Dowload and listen to the full podcast below
NOTE TO EDITORS:
DR GAVIN BOWD IS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW ON 01334 463643 OR EMAIL [email protected]
NOTE TO PICTURE / NEW MEDIA EDITORS:
IMAGES OF DR BOWD AND MICHEL HOUELLEBEQC ARE AVAILABLE FROM THE PRESS OFFICE – CONTACTS BELOW.
SOUND FILES (MP3 FORMAT) OF DR BOWD SPEAKING ON THE SUBJECT ARE ALSO AVAILABLE FROM THE PRESS OFFICE.
Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected]
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