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Part of Ascensus Casusque Sigii Sidorum et Aranearum Martis, a project to translate Ziggy Stardust into Latin

Back to Suffragette City

Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

by David Bowie

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Oh, you're a rock 'n' roll suicide

You're too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clocks waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe, but you don't eat when you've lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you're a rock 'n' roll suicide

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead, so you hurry home
Don't let the sun blast your shadow
Don't let the milk-float ride your mind
They're so natural, religiously unkind

Oh no love! you're not alone
You're watching yourself, but you're too unfair
You got your head all tangled up, but if I could only make you care!
Oh no love! you're not alone
No matter what or who you've been,
No matter when or where you've seen,
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I've had my share, I'll help you with the pain
You're not alone…

Just turn on with me and you're not alone!
Let's turn on and be not alone!
Gimme your hands, 'cause you're wonderful!
Gimme your hands, 'cause you're wonderful!
Oh, gimme your hands!

Suicidia Musicae

ab D. Bovio

Fumandum tempus capescit
In tuo ore ponet
Per flas digitum, aliudque digitum, fumandum tum
Orat intermurum, cunctatur, dein obliviscaris
O, suicidia es musicae

Veta nimis amittas, nova nimis id optas,
Cano horologium praestolotur patientiter,
Aput thermopolium is, sed non edis cum senex tam sis,
O, non, non, non, suicidia es musicae

Rotae sunt ringens, cum trans viam claudes
Sed prima ob lux adsum, et domi festinas
Non umbra sole tollenda
Non lactori mens patienda
Naturalissima, religiose asperi sunt

O non amor! non sola es
Te spectas, sed nimis iniustis es
Mentem nodavi, si at possem te agere curae!
O non amor! non sola es
Quisquid quisquisve esses,
Quandoque quaquave aspiceres,
Cultri omnia videti mentem lacerare
Partem meam habebam, te dolore iuvarem
Non sola es…

Te reperi mecum, et non sola eris!
Nos reperiamus, et non soli erimus!
Manos mihi dona, quia es mirabilis!
Manos mihi dona, quia es mirabilis!
O, manos mihi da!

Translation Notes

I didn't really have a word for "cigarette," so I went with fumandum, a thing which is to be smoked. It reminds me of that joke in Hitchhiker's Guide about how being drunk is unpleasant — just ask a glass of water. Fumo does not really mean smoke in the sense of breathing smoke into your lungs, but I didn't want too many levels of innovation in my neologism, so I had to be happy with what I had.

I was pleased with the way the third and fourth lines went, mostly because of the rhythm. The originally song has kind of a staccato feel to the words: there are a lot of stops and minor pauses in the phrasing, and I wanted to duplicate that more than matching syllables. I think I did manage to match syllables in the end, which was a nice bonus, but it wasn't my full intent.

Amitto means to lose, but with overtones of "we lost Charles to the sickness:" loss through death. And since the song is, in the end, about Ziggy dying (though we don't really know whether it is suicide or not) it was important to me to have that. We also see the word horologium, one of my favorite words (I have a writeup in Node Heaven, a joke about horologiographers, or watchmakers*).

I translated "you don't eat when you live too long" as "you do not eat when you are so old," since a literal translation would have been more like "you do not eat when you have lived through too many years," and would have been even longer and more convoluted in Latin.

The third stanza also presented me with some words that don't really have analogues in Latin. Chevrolet brakes became simply "wheels," since chariot wheels would (I assume) make a grinding noise if they were forced to a sudden stop. This raises the issue of what is stopping them: perhaps somebody behind pulling. A milk-float is a milk delivery truck (I, being an American, had to look this up); I used to word lactor to be a "milkman," which seemed a good analogue. Saying "don't let the X do Y to Z" I replaced with "Z is not to be Yed by X," since it's faster and easier to say than noli sinere or non liceat ut, meaning "do not allow" and "it is not allowed that," but both constructions were too complex, and threw off the flow of the song.

I played with the line "They're so natural, religiously unkind" for a while. It's pretty important, since condensed into those words is the idea that these things pulling you towards suicide really are hurting you, but it's not maliciously part of their nature, and they will be there no matter what. You must deal with them. So I say they are naturalissima, most natural, and for "unkind," I say they are asper: bitter, unfair, cruel, yet crude at the same time: the crudity overtone appealed to me because it played into the unawareness that is part of that line.

Here's a fun word: nodo. In some contexts, such as this song, I would translate it as "to tie in knots," but of course, it's also the verb "to node." A good word for Everything2! I worked for a long time trying to translate "no matter," since there's no simple word for "no matter" or "despite." I ended up saying "whatever or whoever you may have been, whenever or wherever you have seen."

I translated "I will help you with the pain" in the imperfect subjunctive, since it's part of the si clause several lines back: "if I could only make you care…I would help you with the pain." It occurred to me as I made this choice that similar choices by ancient Roman authors (to put so much separation between the two parts of a clause) irritated me to no end when I was translating their work, and I finally forgave them for it. I see this as a big step in my appreciation of this language, and I'm glad I came to feel this way! Similarly, later in the song, when I translate "you're not alone" with the future, I was using a future more vivid (although I really should have had a future imperative): I think that the narrator doesn't see there being any doubt about this outcome.

I chose to translate "turn on" in the sense of "try something new that will widen your horizons," like "turn on, tune in, drop out." So I used reperio, which means to discover, to come to understand, or to invent. I briefly considered "te renova," reinvent yourself, but I like reperio. One final note is that I translated "give" as dona instead of da, since dona feels more polite. I left the final instance as da to make it more forceful, though. Try to carry in words what is carried in Bowie's breaking voice at the end of the song. I didn't mention it yet, but this is probably my favorite song on the album. "Lady Stardust" was when I first began, but I have changed as a person. And I'm sure you have too.

This is the final song in my Ziggy Stardust project. As of the time of this writing, I haven't completed Suffragette City yet, but it's the most difficult song to translate by a lot, so I am still working on it. In any case, vale, amici nodatores!

*Q: What's the difference between a horologiographer and a screw?

A: One watches cells and the other sells watches.

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