WHO THE HELL IS LODBROWNING ?
IMRE LODBROG / BARBARA BROWNING
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WHO THE HELL IS IMRE LODBROG
We’re pleased to be publishing an excerpt from Barbara Browning and Sébastien Régnier’s new collaborative book, Who the Hell is Imre Lodbrog? It’s an exploration of art and music, perception and revolution, told through two distinct voices. The book’s New York launch will take place tonight at Dixon Place.
Imre Lodbrog was born in July 2008, with a hangover and on the road between Cherbourg and Evreux. He wasn’t a newborn babe. He had fifty-six years under his belt.
I was on my way back from seeing Freddy. But was that really Freddy? His enigmatic words the night before, as he’d stared at me with a slight walleyed look, still shook me to the core: “The guy who’s speaking to you at this moment, Seb, is not me…” In the course of my visit, Freddy urged me to change my name. Or at least to adopt a new one for the rock ‘n’ roll adventures that awaited us. A new name? To give birth to a new me? The idea might be interesting, but… What name?
Sometime around the year 800, a more or less mythic Viking king was thrown into a swarming pit of vipers to meet his end: Ragnar Lodbrog. Such a death could only lead to the birth of a legend… My father had the firm conviction that our family name, Régnier, was derived from Ragnar, our Norman origins erasing all doubt.
In another time, somewhere in Transylvania, my mother’s father was called Imre. She was two years old when she lost him. According to my mother and a few other rare testimonies, he was a wise man, a patriarch, the solid trunk of a family tree with wide branches – today reduced to almost nothing.
At kilometer 244, the collage came together on its own: Imre Lodbrog. It seemed obvious. The idea that it was practically unpronounceable and hard to remember pleased me in equal proportion. I stepped on the accelerator.
So, my real name is Sébastien Régnier. And for Sébastien Régnier, the twenty-first century had begun well enough. After fifty years of Parisian life, I’d thrown in the towel and moved to the country. With my longtime companion Atika, I had a six-year-old daughter, Lucie. Often, the roles of children and their parents are reversed. The good we want to do them returns to us like a boomerang. At the end of the summer of ’99, which is to say at the end of the school holiday, we discover Lucie crying in a corner. We’re on vacation in the south of France. When we ask her what’s wrong, she tells us, “I don’t want to go back to Paris!”
That’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Suddenly I can’t even imagine her growing up in the unhealthy gloom of the capital. We promise Lucie that before her next school vacation, we’ll be living in the country.
I will always love Paris. But in the past few decades, Paris has changed a lot. The air is charged with an ambient nervousness, and often agressivity. And gone is the time of cheap little pleasures, like sitting at an outdoor café over a coffee, watching the passersby. Life has gotten impossibly expensive. The population has gentrified, and the good old neighborhoods like Belleville or Ménilemont have crumbled like sand castles. When I think of my youth, it’s like another city, another epoch, another film.
In June of 2000, we leave Paris for Pourry, a picturesque little hamlet (whose name, ironically, sounds like “rotten” in French), with about two hundred inhabitants, on the edge of a forest. For a pittance, we buy an old Norman country house. The city rat has turned into a country mouse, finally realizing a childhood dream: we have a few chickens, rabbits, cats, ferrets, and a dog. In fact, the king of dogs: we name him Ragnar – as in that Viking myth that already looms over this story.
A period of true happiness. The arc of the sky is 360°, I rediscover the seasons, the ellipse of the sun, the evolution of the moon, everything smells good – the hay in the summer and the wood smoke in the winter. And what’s more, however much you may sympathize with Karl Marx, being a property owner isn’t nothing. I remember the voluptuous sense of pissing, for the first time, under the stars in MY garden.
One spring morning, in 2002, finally having given in to Atika’s insistence, I become a father for the fourth and final time. Anouk arrives. A baby owl we found in the forest comes to complete our bestiary, and it becomes Anouk’s guardian angel, perched on the frame of her cradle, scrutinizing with its round eye this strange little creature. As for work, I have nothing to complain about: one film’s just come out, and I’m writing another.
But in 2004, the machine goes off its rails. My father dies – in my arms. I seem to box up the shock of an event I’ve dreaded all my life. One says that great pains are silent. They’re also subterranean. They march through our galleries like termites, crumbling our structures as they go. My notion of time has always been a little hazy, maybe because time and I have never truly been friends. Too short, too fast, too… And not enough. But beginning in 2004, and for several years, time really becomes a formless mass in which all my guideposts sink, except for the alternation of the days and the nights. Christmas seems to come back every two months.
What’s more, my relationship is on the rocks. After the enchantment of the first few months, disillusionment strikes Atika: isolation, discomfort, the animals that shit all around us, the mud we track in on the soles of our shoes… She misses everything about Paris, the pleasures, her work. Me, I won’t budge, and anyway, it’s too late. If it was hard to leave Paris, going back is practically impossible. So, I begin to look like some sort of jailer in a confinement I thought we’d chosen together. And finally: no more income is in view: the day arrives when I deposit our last check, The specter of material difficulty returns. I should have been used to it, but this time, it was one time too many.
When I was ten years old, at the Porte de Montreuil, a fucking gypsy grabbed my hand to read my future. After which, she pronounced her prognosis: she traced in the air a chain of mountains, with crests and valleys, highs and lows, explaining: “Your life will be like that!” She saw right. My life has never had a head or a tail. Blown by the wind here and there, passing from calm to storm, from inertia to chaos, from here to there, from solitude to multitude, from hardship to provisional ease, from high to low and low to high without any precise direction or a clear cause and effect, except for those provoked by pseudo-chance. Everything in the name of a wild and innate dread of an “ordinary life,” with La Fontaine’s fable “The Dog and the Wolf” as my guiding principle:
“You live on a leash?,” said the wolf. “You don’t run free wherever you want?”
“Not always, but does it matter?”
“It matters so much…”
Grosso modo, a sort of enslavement to liberty. But having arrived midway between fifty and sixty, I’d suddenly had my fill of, as we say, holding the devil by the tail – being tossed around by fate, on a precarious loop. All that made for a rather bitter brew, and instead of facing the facts, I put my head in the sand.
That year in Pourry after Atika left, the cannabis plants I’ve been cultivating give a remarkable harvest, supercharged with THC. Enough to fill two garbage bags. I consume them almost all by myself between the fall and the spring. Let’s just say it is a smoky winter. Well, smoke and depression make a nice little team: one accelerates the other, which makes one want more. It can seem like you’re protecting oneself and when in fact you’re drowning. Same goes for alcohol. But the biggest error, without a doubt, was abandoning music, the guitar, my songs. Since the age of fifteen, I’d written more than two thousand songs. Aside from two or three little televised eccentricities, they hadn’t done anything for me – and I hadn’t done anything for them. That garden had never produced anything but wilted flowers. It was time to hit the brakes. My guitar had been sleeping in its case, and my dreams of music slept with it. As for travels, which had always provided both the tempo and the color of my life, they’d been packed up with the suitcases on the top shelf of my closet. Elsewhere had definitively gone back to being elsewhere.
That’s when I begin dragging myself through the gloom, with my little Anouk as a sole ray of sunshine. She accompanies me (along with Ragnar) on my walks in the forest whatever the weather. “Storms give you courage!” was one of her first sentences. I occupied myself with the construction of a little tent in which we spent some enchanted nights.
But each morning becomes an ever murkier swamp to cross. What good is it putting one foot in front of the other, letting the days add up? After all, I tell myself, maybe I’ve had my run. My life has been rich in all kinds of experiences, dense in extravagances, just like I’ve wanted it, at the cost of any strategy for security, and I hardly wanted to vegetate my way to the cemetery. What can I hope for now? A new life, a new love, new travels, a resurrection? Reality is right there in the mirror, where my face is turning into a crumpled dishrag. I was seeing the face of my grandfather looking at me.
A little parenthesis: over there, wherever he is, my father keeps sending me signs. In life, he had a habit of writing down phrases, thoughts, quotations, on little scraps of paper that he left here and there among the pages of his books. Since he left, I’ve often found these bits of paper. One of those sad mornings in Pourry, I find the following words in his hand, seemingly posed there in the night, a quotation from Bergson:
“The future is there. It calls us, or rather pulls us toward it. That uninterrupted traction that makes us advance down our path is also a continual cause of our action.”