It’s Hard to Die in French

Jacques BrelThere are few songs in the world as insipid as Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun. If you doubt me, consider this statistics: it is one of the top 30 best selling singles in the history of the world. Apart from this, however, there is something about this romantic notion of death that ruffles me—it is sentimentalism at its worst. But there is something good about the song: Le Moribond by the Belgian artist Jacques Brel.

Le Moribond, or “The Moribund” (Never would have figured that, huh?) is what Seasons in the Sun was based upon. It is in French. It tells much the same story: goodbye my friends, I’m going to die. But whereas that seven word summary completely explains Seasons in the Sun, it fall well short of the complexity of the original.

In Seasons in the Sun, there are three verses. The first is directed to a friend, the second to the singer’s father, and the last to the singer’s girlfriend. Especially repugnant is that last verse: “Goodbye, Michelle, my little one / You gave me love and helped me find the sun.” And so on, but worse.

In Le Moribond, there are four verses. The first is also directed to a friend. But whereas Seasons would have us believe the friends are very young (“Skinned our hearts and skinned our knees”?), it is clear that these are adult friends. What’s most important is that this verse introduces the singer’s wife:

Goodbye Emile, I loved you
Goodbye Emile, I loved you well, you know
We sang of the same wines
We sang of the same girls
We sang of the same sorrows
Goodbye Emile, I’m going to die
It’s hard to die in the springtime, you know
But I’m leaving for the flowers with peace in my soul
For, given that you are good as white bread
I know you’ll take care of my wife.

He’s just laying the groundwork. After this, he goes into the chorus which is kind of a proclamation of life: “I want to laugh / I want to dance / I want us all to raise hell … Until they put me in the ground.”

The second verse is pretty much a replay of the first, except that it is sung to a priest. It provides the first insight that the singer might just be a tad bitter. He knows that the priest will take care of his wife because the priest has been her confessor. What?! Moving on…

Everything comes to a head in the third verse that varies substantially from the first two:

Goodbye Antoine, I didn’t like you well
Goodbye Antoine, I didn’t like you well, you know
It’s killing me to die today
While you are so alive
And even more complete [?] than boredom
Goodbye Antoine, I’m going to die
It’s hard to die in the springtime, you know
But I’m leaving for the flowers with peace in the soul
For given that you were her lover
I know you’ll take care of my wife.

Ouch! This is level ten bitterness. Not only have you been fucking my wife, but soon I’ll be dead and you’ll still be fucking my wife.

The fourth verse is sung to his wife. I think it is telling that this song is fundamentally about the wife whereas Seasons has only a girlfriend and she is not central to the song. This is because Seasons is a children’s song. And this makes the song of no real value. Certainly it is true that children die, but mostly they die in car crashes.[1] The whole process of preparing for death and having “those” conversations is something for the old, not the young. It was probably because Terry Jacks pulled out all the complexity of the song that it was able to be a hit with a demographic largely unable to understand the material.

This verse has my favorite line:

Goodbye my wife, I loved you well
Goodbye my wife, I loved you well, you know
But I take the train to the Good Lord
I take the train before yours
But we all take the train we must
Goodbye my wife, I’m going to dying
It’s hard to die in the springtime, you know
But I’m going to the flowers with my eyes closed, my wife
Because I’ve closed them so often
I know you’ll take care of my soul.

“Because I’ve closed them so often”?! Ouch! He just turned the bitterness up to eleven! It’s brilliant: Now my eyes will be forever closed, so I won’t have to close them to the fact that you are fucking Antoine.

Jacques Brel died far too young—just a year older than I am now. It is a great shame because all his music is really great, not just this song. He is well worth checking out. Enter him into Pandora and see what happens. Or you could just buy Jacques Brel either on CD or as MP3s. You won’t be disappointed (assuming you have good taste).

[1] The top five causes of death of teens are, in order from most common to least: accidents, cancer, suicide, congenital disorders and anomalies, and murder. This may explain why I’ve always kind of thought that Seasons in the Sun was about someone who was going to kill himself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *