9 October 2008

Jacques Brel (1929–78)

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Jacques Brel, who was a poet as much as a singer. Also an actor, Brel turned almost every song into a powerful drama. He wrote many brilliant songs, of which 'Les singes' is perhaps my favourite.

'Les singes' begins with a few lines that describe (in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner) a pre-lapsarian world, but we very soon plunge into a Fall brought about by religion, governments and warmongers in general: civilisation, in fact, is seen as far from civilised. Brel's anger burns through the verses.

Brel was also at his best when singing of the unfortunates of the world. In 'L'ivrogne', he empathises with the plight of the alcoholic, and in 'Les timides', that of the shy, a large (self-)repressed and usually invisible minority.

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