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Boris Vian's Biography

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Boris Vian's extraordinary work mirrored his fascinating life. A jazz trumpeter, film actor, cabaret singer, translator, record company executive, jazz writer, inventor of the elastic wheel, Vian moved in both the world of Miles Davis and Dizzie Gillespie, as well as that of Sartre and de Beauvoir.

Vian's first play "L'equirissage pour tous" scandalised press and public. However Cocteau called it: "Une piece ettonante" and it was in recognition of the play that Queneau, Prevert, Ionesco and others named Vian "Knacker First Class of the College de Pataphysique".

He was one of the first to protest against the Algerian war with his song "Le Deserteur", which was banned by the government. But the greatest controversy came with the publication of "J'irai cracher sur vos tombes" (I spit on your grave). Jean D'Haullin, who owned Editions du Scorpion was looking to bolster sales and asked Vian if he knew any pop-pulp writers. A few weeks later Vian slapped a work by Vernon Sullivan entitled "J'irai cracher sur vos tombes" on D'Haullin's desk.

The novel about a mulatto who murders two wealthy white women in revenge for the lynching of his brother appeared in 1946 to rave reviews. in 1948 sales hit the roof when the book was found in a hotel room beside a murder victim. Vian was dragged into court and admitted authorship. The French government banned the book in 1949 as "contrary to public morals" and sentenced Vian with a fine of Fr100,000. Ironically, Vian was to die suddenly while watching a preview of the screen version of which he didn't approve.

A year after the publication of "J'irai ..." a collection of his short stories came out under the title "Les Fourmis". Like much of his other work, vivid and bizarre imagery is mixed with allusions to the jazz world. For example, the hero of "L'ecrevisse" is Jacques Thejardin who "woke with a start. The aspirin had made him perspire. According to the archimerdre principle, he'd lost weight equivalent to that of the displaced sweat, and his body levitated above the mattress, dragging along the sheets and blankets. The draught of the air which this produced rippled the pond of sweat on which he floated and small waves splashed on his hips. he took the plug from the mattress and the sweat poured into the mattress spring."

He was a frequent contributor to a variety of jazz magazines. Miles Kingston has dubbed Vian "one of the top half dozen jazz writers of all time."

In 1947 Vian's classic work "L'Ecume des Jours" (Froth on the Daydream) was published, ranked by Raymond Queneau as "the most heartbreakingly poignant modern love story ever written."

The powerful imagery and melancholic humour of "L'Ecume des Jours" is typical of Vian's distinctive style: "He used his yellow silk handkerchief to find out where the wind was blowing from. The wind swept all the colour out of the handkerchief and spread it over a lumpy building which immediately took on the appearance of the Rinkspot Skating Club. When he showed his ticket to the commissionaire it winked at him through the two little round holes that had already been punched in it. The commissionaire smiled back, but nevertheless gave a third brutal punch to the orange card and the ticket was blinded for life."

In his 39 years Boris Vian wrote 10 novels, 42 short stories, 7 theatre pieces, 400 songs, 4 poetry collections, 6 opera librettos, 20 translations of short stories and novels, and about 50 articles. In the words of Louis Malle in the foreword to Julia Older's collection of Vian's stories "Blues for a Black Cat":"In Paris in the 1950s Boris Vian was everything - poet, fiction writer, singer, subversive, actor, musician, and jazz critic. He was my friend and I admired him passionately for his eclecticism, devastating irony, and taste for provocation."

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