Or: my very favourite translation AKA my proudest moment
If you ever happened to talk to me about music, the first thing you will find out is that I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of two musicians: David Bowie and Frank Turner.
Your next question is understandably: “David Bowie and … who, now?!!”
Ok, admittedly, Frank Turner is not exactly world famous, and outside of a very small group of people nobody heard of him in the Balkans; I’d wager that most of those who have heard of him in Montenegro have heard it from me.
I have no intention of digressing into the biographics and ephemera of one Frank Turner – I leave that to Google ad Wikipedia. Instead, I will just assert once again that more people should be listening to his music.
Let’s begin in the beginning: Some 5-6 years ago I was working as a tour guide in Kotor for a group of Brits. I don’t recall who among them mentioned Turner to me after I recited my philosophy on why living in Montenegro is awesome despite objectively low standard of living (which is: „Look around, with over 200 days of sunshine, a roof over your head, a shirt on your back and some food in your belly, what else do you need?“, in case anyone cares). Of course, I looked up “If ever I stray” as soon as I had internet access, of course I bought every album of his I could find and of course, it’s 2018, and half a decade and a dozen concerts later I am still talking about this guy’s music.
Now – I heard nobody say – since this is, after all, a blog about translating isn’t a post professing admiration for some random British musician a bit off-topic? Please, let me introduce you to the objective reason why Frank Turner has a “beyond cool and kick-ass” factor that by far exceeds his brilliant lyrics and great music: Every time Frank has a concert outside of the Anglophone area his setlist has a song named “Eulogy” in it.
„Eulogy“has some ten verses, it is really simple and tells that even if someone is not as lucky or as talented to make it to the top of the world, that it is ok, they should still try – you know, little things and such… For that reason, our good Frank, decided to sing this song in the local language – I would like to imagine – after he was inspired by that one concert where Freddie Mercury sang in Hungarian. At that point I had heard it in Croatian, acceptable Italian, surprisingly good German and Spanish. Naturally, I wanted to hear it in my own mother tongue. As you can imagine, when it comes to something that close to my heart, I wasn’t going to let somebody else butcher those lyrics. I wasn’t wasting any time, so I found Frank’s contact, emailed him explaining who I am, said I was a fan and asked what the odds of a concert in Serbia or Montenegro were. „Slim“ , he said… „but, have patience, maybe one day“. From that moment on, whenever I chanced upon somebody who worked in the festival organising circuit I kept asking if there were any chances of Frank Turner playing the festival, and I always got the same answer: “Who?!!”
I was beginning to think that I was destined to perform the schedule acrobatics with my job, plane tickets and hotels for the rest of my life if I was to continue seeing Frank perform live, when he announced that, as a part of his World tour, he was coming to Belgrade in 2016, it was to be the 12th of April.
After a brief email exchange, it was set: I was to translate “Eulogy”.
Let me be clear: I have been working as a translator for almost fifteen years, I have translated what any normal person would consider important, sometimes lifechanging documents and I have interpreted for some pretty big wigs: I have never been more nervous about translating anything in my life than I was about those ten verses… Here’s what that looked like on paper:
- Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut,
Neće svako postat astronaut
- Not everyone was born to be a king,
Nije svako rođen kao kralj
- Not everyone can be Freddie Mercury,
Ne mogu baš svi bit Fredi Merkjuri
- But everyone can raise their glass and sing.
Al’ nazdravit uz pesmu može svak
- Well I haven’t always been a perfect person,
Nikad nisam bio osoba za primer
- I haven’t done what mum and dad had dreamed,
matorima da ostvarim san
- But on the day I die,
al kad dođe sudnji dan,
- I’ll say at least I fucking tried.
rećiću, jebi ga, pokušao sam
- That’s the only eulogy I need,
Nek mi drugi govor ne drže
- That’s the only eulogy I need.
Nek mi drugi govor ne drže
However, if you look at a clip from the concert:
you will notice that the final product is… well, different – something happened – and here I will try to get to the bottom of it. My main theory is: he asked some random local and that random local hastily made some changes. I could be wrong.
Verse 3: I had noticed that Frank tends to namecheck a local music legend in Mercury’s stead. My first choice was one and only Johnny Štulić, but having failed miserably to work his name into the rhythm and the melody and with a founded suspicion that some people might just not get a Štulić Branimir reference, I promptly rearranged the text to fit Milan Mladenović’s name. Conversely, I thought it would be funny to (as a joke) suggest to Frank, who previoously went on record to say he doesn’t follow sports, nor does he know anything about sports, to sing about Novak Đoković. Much to my surprise, my joke suggestion was accepted, and at that point I was too embarrassed to say it was a joke, so I let it be; “It’s ok”, I thought, “it will fit into the melody.” And I was surprised to hear Zdravko Čolic being namechecked on the stage, which is the equivalent of aiming for Tom Jones and landing on Engelbert Humperdinck. Not that there’s anything wrong with Engelbert Humperdinck. Engelbert Humperdinck is a perfectly acceptable artist. He also has a name which is ridiculously fun to say: Engelbert Humperdinck. Ok, I am having waaay too much fun with this.
Verse 4: “svako” instead of “svak” – this is a change I absolutely do not understand: elision of vowels is a pretty standard feature of poetry and what I find particularly annoying is the fact that I adapted the translation to the rhythm and melody of the original and that adaptation was lost because of that one vowel.
Verse 6: “Matorcima” instead of “matorima”: actually, this is a very good catch, something I hadn’t realised at the time I was translating. Bravo, proof-reader, good job!
Verse 7: “Zadnji dan”, instead of “sudnji dan” – I, myself, suggested this change, having taken into consideration the fact that the singer is an atheist and the Judgement day would be something he is unlikely to sing about; that being said, I still stand by the “sudnji dan” version, as it fits better with the spirit of our language.
Verse 9 i 10: This is just a matter of poor pronunciation; bear in mind that the singer comes from a language which neither has all the phonemes present in the verse, nor the habit of piling up the said phonemes in a single word. It is understandable.
With all of that in mind, I am pretty proud of this and the fact that I even got a chance to do it makes me beyond happy.
And when it comes to Frank Turner, Frank is still trotting the globe full steam ahead and his latest album is – as one would expect – phenomenal. And even if, according to all the reports, “Little changes” is a fan favourite, I personally am enamoured of the acoustic version of the album titular “Be more kind”:
Oh, God bless you, Frank Turner, because in the words of the great Niels Bohr: “I am told it works, even if you don’t believe in it.”
Canzone, cercala se puoi…