Bonita Avenue and translating song parody (Jonathan Reeder over de vertaling van Peter Buwalda)

19 september 2014
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Wij vroegen Jonathan Reeder zijn Engelse vertaling van Peter Buwalda's Bonita Avenue toe te lichten. Hij koos voor een specifiek vertaalprobleem en schreef een stuk over de door het personage Wilbert gebezigde parodie op een liedje van Rob de Nijs. 'Inventing an English equivalent to this puerile joke should be a piece of cake, right? – even for someone who can’t hold a candle to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic as a song parodist.'

N.B. Wij publiceerden eerder voor uit (de oorspronkelijke Nederlandse editie van) Bonita Avenue. Lees een fragment op

'Zaggies tikt de penis tegen het maandverband, het ritme van de geiligheid' – schalde hij in plat Utrechts door het huis toen m’n moeder een cd van Rob de Nijs had gekregen.1

Joni Sigerius is recalling to her boyfriend Aaron how her teenage stepbrother Wilbert comically undermined the ostensibly trouble-free but in fact uptight and inflammable Sigerius household. Aaron is unimpressed: ‘Guess you had to be there.’

Inventing an English equivalent to this puerile joke should be a piece of cake, right? – even for someone who can’t hold a candle to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic as a song parodist. First I drew up a list of plausibility criteria:

  1. the original pop song had to come from the right period (pre-1980s)
  2. it had to be immediately recognizable to both British and American readers
  3. the performer(s) had to be stylistically similar to the Rob de Nijs of this number
  4. the original lyrics had to lend themselves to substitution with risqué language in the given space (two lines, half a stanza)
  5. it had to be singable by a teenage boy

Point one was easy: I had no trouble eliminating post-1980 pop tunes because I didn’t know any. And the bulk of ‘70s hard(-ish) rock was stylistically unsuitable. What was needed was an English-language pendant to Rob de Nijs’ squeaky-clean, slightly saccharine, 1963 performance:

Numerous candidates came to mind: Perry Como, The Carpenters, Cliff Richard, Barbra Streisand, Tom Jones, Sonny & Cher, the Partridge Family, the Bee Gees. I then eliminated some as being overly ‘American’ or ‘British’. Cher was too brazen, Perry too bland, Bee Gees too hard to sing solo. And the Partridge Family – really, it was all about the bus. Barbra almost made the cut, but how do you dirty up ‘People / People who need people...’? And shouldn’t it be a man, the kind of man Joni’s mother and her generation secretly lusted after?

It almost became a take-off on Cliff Richard: 

The yo-oung ones / Darling we’re the hung ones

but the here joke rested on just one word, whereas the original rides on three.

Tom Jones fits the sex symbol criterion, but in ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’ the lyrics are already replete with racy double entendres, and the music itself has a raunchy undertone.

The parody of Perry Como’s ‘Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning’ with its obvious substitution of ‘Carolina’ with ‘your vagina’ is suitably crude, but it had been done before, and again, relied on a single (tired) punch line.

Cher did make a brief comeback, in the form of ‘Titties, cramps and fleas’ as a take-off on her chart-topping signature number. Succinct, yes, but like ‘Pussycat’, the lyrics and music are already quite in-your-face.

My teenage mania for The Carpenters was about to pay off.

‘Wankin’ around, nothing to do but pound, randy days and Mondays always crank me down’2

It was possible to maintain the original rhyme as well as the basic feel and look of individual words (wankin’/hangin’, randy/rainy) while fitting three lewd substitutions into two lines. The main, and obvious, concession is that it uses explicitly British vulgar slang: ‘wank’ and ‘randy’ are uncommon in the US. But as the book was primarily intended for publication in the UK, this was not an issue. Now, however, Bonita Avenue is to be published in the US in 2015. If I am given the chance to rewrite this excerpt, I would opt for a clean-cut male solo artist with a tame De Nijs-like mellifluousness. John Denver might fit the bill, but Barry Manilow’s lyrics would be more fun to play around with. Maybe Cliff Richard after all:

Or perhaps I’ll a drop a quick line to Weird Al.

Jonathan Reeder is vertaler en freelance fagottist. Zijn eerste romanvertaling, De handelsreiziger van de Nederlandsche Cocaïne Fabriek van Conny Braam (2011), werd genomineerd voor de International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Hij vertaalde werk van onder anderen Edzard Mik, Elmer Schönberger en Jeroen Theunissen en werkt momenteel aan de Engelse vertaling van A.F.Th. van der Heijdens Tonio. Reeder vertaalt daarnaast libretti en artikelen over muziek voor ondermeer Het Concertgebouw, De Nederlandse Opera en Holland Festival. Hij heeft een website:


1. originally: ‘Zachtjes tikt de regen tegen ’t zolderraam / ‘t ritme van de eenzaamheid’

2. originally, for both of you who don’t know it: ‘Hangin’ around, nothing to do but frown / Rainy days and Mondays always get me down’

Bonita Avenue and translating song parody (Jonathan Reeder over de vertaling van Peter Buwalda)

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