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Vernon Subutex 1 | The Legacy of Generation X

Recently, a friend shared on Facebook photos of the Mars record store, which was located on Rue Sainte-Catherine and where I spent many hours of my adolescence.

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It was a real dusty hole full of records and trinkets, with no heating in winter. We risked freezing if we searched the rows of vinyl records for too long. We didn’t have a smartphone to download music or to immortalize every second of our existence, which could have given us a file. We would happily freeze on Mars, which would always exist, as we would remain eternally young, at this crucial moment when music is at the heart of our identity, our friendships and our loves.

Every time I come across photos of old and 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’ trilogy of novels, which I consider to be one of the most powerful works of contemporary French literature. Of those works that do not sail in the air of time, but rather grab it and inscribe it in literature for eternity.

This character (Vernon Subutex) embodies by himself everything that we have lost with the triumph of neoliberalism together with technology, as a missing link.

The proof that Virginie Despentes is touching on something essential with this social fresco is that artists are increasingly making her work their own. Vernon Subutex was the subject of a superb comic strip by Luz, was turned into a bad television series (denied by Despentes) on Canal+ and is currently being adapted for the Montreal and Paris theater by two different directors. Thomas Ostermeier at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris deals with the first volume of the trilogy while in Montreal, Angela Konrad, the 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 addicted feels when he finds out that Denis Villeneuve is adapting Dunes to the movies…

But who is Vernon Subutex? A 45-year-old record store, ex-owner of Revolver, which everyone has frequented, and which the dematerialization of music in the context of the economic crisis is gradually sliding towards homelessness. Vernon Subutex has always been carried away by life, but the world around him has changed completely. He has become economically violent. He was atomized in a multitude of individual frustrations under the protection of an increasingly heavy capitalism, which killed the conditions that allowed a counterculture, another way of life. Expelled from his apartment, Vernon Subutex gets in touch with his old friends whom he has lost sight of in his drift and it is a world that is reborn as well, even damaged.

Seeing characters who have almost become imaginary friends incarnated before our eyes is wonderful, especially when done well. Angela Konrad’s proposal with Vernon Subutex 1 at Usine C I liked it a lot, as did my colleague Stéphanie Morin, who is writing the review here:

Starting with the choice in the role of Vernon David Boutin, who has the mouth of the trade. To play Vernon, you have to have the age, the seedy and vulnerable side, but also charisma and still effective sex appeal. Vernon Subutex is a bit of a Christ figure, who brings back the disciples of a religion, that of a youth that communicated through music and a way of life that put art and friendship at the center of existence, which made community. If Vernon Subutex can squat on so many people’s couch fuckingwhether they are in order or not, whether they are rich or not – in any case, they are all unhappy and wander – it is because everyone sees in it something that has determined it, a cardinal point that underlines how far we can go from what we once believed.

Within Vernon Subutex 1 by Angela Konrad, the actors stay true to Despentes’ text by maintaining a Quebecois accent, even though the story takes place in Paris, and that doesn’t take anything away from the experience. On the contrary, it is one more proof that the writer is touching something essential with this work, because the Vernon Subutex are found in all the big urban centers. It is not easy to summarize in a single piece, which lasts three hours here, this fresco that many have compared to Balzac’s work (with coke and a punk spirit), but Angela Konrad makes you want to read, or to read again, this furious testament to Generation X. I 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 artists. At Factory C until June 22.

the integral of Vernon Subutexadaptation of the three volumes of the work by Virginie Despentes, will be presented at Usine C from January 2024.

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