Recently, a friend on Facebook shared photos of the Mars record store, which was located on Sainte-Catherine Street and where I spent many hours of my teenage years.
It was a real dusty hole full of records and trinkets, with no heating in winter. We risked getting frostbite if we searched the rows of vinyl records for too long. We didn’t have a smart phone to download music or to immortalize every second of our existence, which could have given us an archive. We would happily freeze at Mars, which would always exist, as we would remain forever young, in this crucial time when music is at the heart of our identity, our friendships and our loves.
Every time I come across photos of old, defunct record stores, like Mars, Dutchy’s, Rock in Stock, Primitive, or Sam the Record Man, a fictional character looms over my memories: Vernon Subutex. The hero of Virginie Despentes’ novel trilogy, which I consider to be one of the most powerful works of contemporary French literature. Of these works which do not surf on the air of time, but which seize it and register it in the literature for eternity.
This character (Vernon Subutex) alone embodies all that we have lost with the triumph of neo-liberalism coupled with technology, like a missing link.
The proof that Virginie Despentes touches on something essential with this social fresco is that artists are appropriating her work more and more. Vernon Subutex was the subject of a superb comic strip by Luz, was transposed into a bad TV series (denied by Despentes) on Canal+ and is currently being adapted for the theater in Montreal and Paris by two different directors. Thomas Ostermeier at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris tackles the first volume of the trilogy while in Montreal, Angela Konrad, new director of Usine C, offers her own version of the same volume. The two intend to adapt the entire trilogy, and for fans of Vernon Subutex like me, it probably sounds like a geek feels when he learns that Denis Villeneuve is adapting Dunes At the movie theater…
But who is Vernon Subutex? A 45-year-old record store, former owner of the Revolver, which everyone has frequented, and which the dematerialization of music against the backdrop of the economic crisis is slowly sliding towards homelessness. Vernon Subutex has always been carried away by life, but the world around him has completely changed. It has become economically violent. It was atomized in a crowd of individual frustrations under the cover of an increasingly heavy capitalism, which killed the conditions allowing a counter-culture, another way of living. Chased from his apartment, Vernon Subutex contacts his old friends whom he has lost sight of in his drift and it is a world which is thus reborn, even damaged.
To see embodied before our eyes characters who have almost become imaginary friends is wonderful, especially when it’s done well. Angela Konrad’s proposal with Vernon Subutex 1 at Usine C I really liked – as did my colleague Stéphanie Morin who is writing the review here:
Starting with the choice in the role of Vernon of David Boutin, who has the mouth of the job. To play Vernon, you have to have the age, the seedy and vulnerable side, but also a charisma and a still effective sex appeal. Vernon Subutex is a bit of a Christ figure, who brings back to him the disciples of a religion, that of a youth who communicated through music and a way of life that placed art and friendship at the center of the existence, which made community. If Vernon Subutex can squat so many people’s couch fuckedwhether they are in order or not, rich or not – in any case, they are all unhappy and in a form of wandering – it is because everyone sees in him something that has determined him, a cardinal point which underlines how far we can go from what we once believed in.
In Vernon Subutex 1 by Angela Konrad, the actors stay close to the text of Despentes while keeping the Québécois accent, even if the story takes place in Paris, and that takes nothing away from the experience. On the contrary, it is another proof that the writer is touching something essential with this work, because Vernon Subutexes are found in all major urban centers. It is not easy to summarize in one piece, which lasts three hours here, this fresco that many have compared to the work of Balzac (on coke and in the punk spirit), but Angela Konrad manages to make you want to read, or to read again, this furious testament of Generation X. Can’t wait for the sequel!
Vernon Subutex 1, based on the novel by Virginie Despentes. Adapted and directed by Angela Konrad. With David Boutin, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Dominique Quesnel and six other performers. At Factory C until June 22.
The integral of Vernon Subutexadaptation of the three volumes of the work of Virginie Despentes, will be presented at Usine C from January 2024.