Jazz and Pretty Boosh

In honour of the Boosh’s 10-year radio anniversary, we at TVO thought it interesting to explore some of the lesser-known influences on the Boosh. Here, resident Velveteer Ashley takes a look at one of the most unconventional of places: 1930s France.

(c) wtns

France and The Mighty Boosh have more in common than just the relativity of Vince Noir’s long lost French Duke uncle. One may not immediately associate French author, composer, and playwright Boris Vian with The Mighty Boosh, but with a keen eye, Vian’s influence becomes shockingly apparently throughout Booshdom. Boris Vian lived from 10 March 1920- 23 June 1959, primarily in Paris. An accomplished trumpeter, Vian held a heavy affinity for jazz music (relatively unknown in Paris at this time- early 1930s), and often worked closely with accomplished jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Vian quickly began writing for French (and eventually American) jazz magazines, which lead way to his professional literary career; he also added music composer to his list of accomplishments around this time.

Somewhere in an alternative universe, Howard Moon weeps with jealousy for Vian’s career path. His earliest published works are signed with the anagram of his own name “Bison Ravi”, translated to English as “A Delighted Bison”. This Booshy pseudonym appeared on many of Vian’s earlier publications; however, by the time his most famous works, Foam Of The Daze and I Spit On Your Graves, were printed, he opted for the tamer alter ego of Vernon Sullivan.

(c) Big Chill

Though it remains unreleased, the Noel Fielding film I Spit On Your Rave takes obvious inspiration from Vian’s novel. The plots differ pretty heavily: Vian’s tale is of racism and jazz in America while Fielding’s is a campy zombie-apocalyptic jaunt around a Big Chill Festival in the near-future; nonetheless, the namesake likeness is clear. The central theme of Foam Of The Daze, as stated by Vian, is “Jazz and Pretty Girls”. If that’s not The Mighty Boosh in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. The use of jazz terms adjectively adds to the book’s uniqueness, a theme that transcends all of his works. Additionally, the forward to the novel speaks often of the “imaginary journey” about to be embarked upon by the reader. Boosh fans know all too well of a comparable journey…

Noel Fielding once famously said, “Reality depresses me. I need to find fantasy worlds and escape in them.” No more apt a quote could be applied to the life of Boris Vian. As a writer, he specialized in existentialism, and the satirising of such genre. His novels often were set in a world not unlike that of the Mighty Boosh; each of his carefully crafted environments subsisted luxuriantly, and developed concurrently to the emotions of the novel’s characters. In his surreality, coalitions of taste and sound resulted in synaesthesia amongst its inhabitants. Vian, like Fielding and Barratt, cited Lewis Caroll as a major influence on his work. Additionally, the form of currency exchanged in Vian’s scribblings were always some strange variation on the Euro. Not quite coinage in what wasn’t quite reality. Sound familiar?

He often referenced existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, whose works were apparently a favourite read of the pretentions coconut Milky Joe. A meal enjoyed by the characters in Foam Of The Daze, eel-pie, was concocted by the magical wizard-like live in chef Nicholas, who was known for creating mystical potions. Nicholas replaced the former chef of the house, Serge. Vian spoke of “gasoline blue [cuffed] pants”; this and other strange illusions to London fashion (in this case “zazou fashion”) would appease Vince Noir on even the gloomiest of days.

One of Vian’s quirks was his unspoken infatuation with the number eleven; tiny, seemingly insignificant references to eleven are strewn throughout his manuscripts. An exemplar: two little girls in I Spit On Your Graves were “11 or 12 years of age”. In Foam Of The Daze, Colin’s date of birth is given as 11 June 1920, and its mention is again apparent in the “eleven blind girls” a humanised mouse observes at the book’s end. It’s been suggested that as an engineer, Vian was simply taken by the oddity of this prime number. Whatever the case may be, a similar interest seems to have manifested in Mr Fielding.

The lack of zest for life itself was a common theme in Foam of the Daze. When the protagonist Colin is in need of work, he floats from job to job with neither

(c) BBC Three / Baby Cow

accreditations nor skill. The ease with which life hands Colin opportunities is not unlike the brazenly naïve day-to-day activities of Vince Noir; the difficulty plaguing his mate Chick while undertaking similar endeavours rings true to Howard’s struggles.

Riddled with health problems from his youth, Vian lived a rather difficult existence and a short one at that- he died from cardiac arrest during a showing of the film version of I Spit On Your Graves after seeing the poorly acted first scene. In true Montgomery Flange fashion, upon seeing French actors stumble over American dialects, Vian rose from his seat and exclaimed, “These guys are supposed to be American?! My ass!” Immediately following this outburst, his heart exploded. This was 1959, and the writer had been just 39 years of age. Boris Vian, a man whose legacy exists as a brilliant juxtaposition of Howard Moon and Vince Noir, left such an indelible mark on the literary world that his impact still lives on today. Hopefully, Boosh fans spanning the nations will now be able to appreciate his works a bit more comprehensively. 

5 Comments on Jazz and Pretty Boosh

  1. Interesting…just bought a couple of his books after reading this article, for him outdoors..

    Cheers 😀


  2. Very good and interesting article!! Vian also wrote surreal and subversive songs that brilliant artists such as S.Gainsbourg and J.Higelin (who became a Goth in” Champagne” !) sang ;Gainsbourg who first was a painter became a musician thanks to Boris Vian.
    Howard’s hairstyle and the bar in which “the Spirit of Jazz ” appears is also reminiscent of the “St Germain- des -Prés” style and setting and of films associated to that bohemian period.


  3. This is just too genius xo


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