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“Where Do You Go To My Lovely?”

December 7, 2013

sarstedt

I’ve been thinking a lot about social immobility recently and this, in turn, has resulted in my thinking longer and harder about an insufferably little ditty that built a nest in my head many many years ago.
When I was a kid, the radio not infrequently programmed so-called “Golden Hours” devoted to the favoured hits of particular years.  And the “Golden Hour” in question would not infrequently turn out to be 1969.  And if ever it was 1969, then one of the favoured hits would always turn out to be “Where Do You Go To My Lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt.
I can hear the song now in my head, so clearly that I need never download it.  Its seductively Gallic accordion solos, its lilting verses, unrelieved by any choruses… and most of all, the bizarre message/conclusion of the song.
Here are the words in their totality…

 
You talk like Marlene Dietrich
And you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire
Your clothes are all made by Balmain
And there’s diamonds and pearls in your hair, yes there are.
You live in a fancy apartment
Off the Boulevard of St. Michel
Where you keep your Rolling Stones records
And a friend of Sacha Distel, yes you do.
You go to the embassy parties
Where you talk in Russian and Greek
And the young men who move in your circles
They hang on every word you speak, yes they do.
But where do you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head, yes I do.
I’ve seen all your qualifications
You got from the Sorbonne
And the painting you stole from Picasso
Your loveliness goes on and on, yes it does.
When you go on your summer vacation
You go to Juan-les-Pines
With your carefully designed topless swimsuit
You get an even suntan, on your back and on your legs.
And when the snow falls you’re found in St. Moritz
With the others of the jet-set
And you sip your Napoleon Brandy
But you never get your lips wet, no you don’t.
But where do you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
would you Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head, yes I do.
You’re in between 20 and 30
A very desirable age
Your body is firm and inviting
But you live on a glittering stage, yes you do, yes you do.
Your name is heard in high places
You know the Aga Khan
He sent you a racehorse for Christmas
And you keep it just for fun, for a laugh a- ha-ha-ha
They say that when you get married
It’ll be to a millionaire
But they don’t realize where you came from
And I wonder if they really care, or give a damn
But where do you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head, yes i do.
I remember the back streets of Naples
Two children begging in rags
Both touched with a burning ambition
To shake off their lowly brown tags, they try
So look into my face Marie-Claire
And remember just who you are
Then go and forget me forever
But I know you still bear
the scar, deep inside, yes you do
I know where you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
I know the thoughts that surround you
`Cause I can look inside your head.

If this song were just a critique of the shallowness of the European jet set, then I’d be untroubled by it.  If the escalation of its contemporary references, the guest list of casual entitlement and vapid privilege represented a note of class protest – why I might be humming it myself.  

But the message of the song seems to be clear enough:

“HOW DARE YOU BE RICH – HAVING EVER BEEN POOR”.

or

“YOU WERE BORN IN THE GUTTER  – YOU SHOULD LIVE AND DIE IN THE GUTTER!”

 

Marie-Claire, presumably would be fully entitled to enjoy a life of endless luxury and conspicuous consumption provided that she was to the manor born, provided that she had done nothing but passively inherit this state of affairs.  But because she has somehow, developing some ruthless charm offensive of her own, clawed her way up to the top table – then she has reason to live in a constant state of shame.  This Neapolitan parvenu lives in a constant state of fear of exposure (by her unsympathetic brother is it?).

The revolutionary 1960s, therefore, concludes with a ballad that tells the plebs to stay in their place.

I’ve never been able to get past the glaring unfairness of this hymn to social immobility, no matter how many times (oh so many times) I hear the  song.

I’ve also never been able to get past the metrical clumsiness of that dreadful “for a laugh – a- ha-ha-ha” bit just to pad out the line.  High cringe.

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