Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2016 July 11 • Monday

This songs-only edit of a bootleg recording of either a live performance or rehearsal of Lolita, My Love, an ill-fated musical adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, with music by John Barry and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, is the 421st Soundtrack of the Week.

You can hear bits of dialogue before and after the songs. We'll never know what this was really like but it sounds ghastly. I remember being disappointed with Nabokov for selling out in this way, especially since he was already rich and famous. More disappointing than that was his attempt to vouchsafe the artistic integrity of the project by praising Barry and Lerner, when he was a complete ignoramus on the subject of music. In fact, he pretty much didn't like music at all and I would bet that he had no idea who Alan Jay Lerner and John Barry were and had never heard of them. But this didn't stop him from talking up how great they were.

I hope that Nabokov was at least dismayed when Lolita herself ended up being played by a 12-year-old girl. When Kubrick was making his Lolita movie, Nabokov insisted that the actress playing Lolita had to be several years older than the character, because having a girl the same age as the character would be disgusting. (His words were "sinful and immoral".)

Listening to this recording, which can hardly be a fair presentation of whatever the show was really like, is not enjoyable. There are moments when Lerner comes up with some clever rhymes and Barry pulls off some melodically effective figures, but that's really it, just moments.

One of the tricks of the book is to show how even though Humbert is an insane, lying monster whose actions are inexcusable and completely unsympathetic, the reader should not enjoy his suffering. Cruelty is always evil, never desirable, regardless of its target. A detail of the picture painted by the novel shows how dangerous, dismal and despicable it is to destroy life in pursuit of a delusion.

Perhaps some tiny part of Humbert does experience a real love for Lolita. That is definitely not what's mostly going on in the book, but it's something that might be glimpsed. He insists on his true love on every page but you shouldn't believe him. You should look for that yourself and you might glimpse it behind his lies and his declarations.

The best number is the mournful waltz "Lolita". whose sadness and longing express Humbert's phony but convincing performance of love and also suggest a real feeling inside him, a feeling whose reality isn't fully known even to him.