There are a lot of great birthdays today, but I have to with Jacques Brel, who was born on this day in 1929. He was one of the greatest singer-songwriters ever. He wrote chansons with interesting characters in complex situations. There is nothing especially interesting about his life other than that he died very young from some ill-defined problems with his lungs. So let’s just focus on his songs.
First up is “Le Moribond,” probably his best known song in the United States. A terrible English translation of it was a big hit for Terry Jacks, “Seasons in the Sun.” The original version is full of pathos that was somehow ripped out of the English version. You can read about it in some depth in, It’s Hard to Die in French.
Next up is “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (don’t leave me). It is haunting in its quiet desperation.
The flip side of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” is “Mathilde.” In this song he talks about the ecstasy as well as the terror of a returned lover. You know it won’t work out. All your friends and family know it won’t work out. But you just can’t stop, “Mathilde est revenue!”
And just to finish out, here is “Madeleine.” This is just about the delusion of love. The narrator has scheduled meetings (according to him) with Madeleine, but she always stands him up. The song ends with him looking forward to tomorrow where he will take Madeleine to the movies. He plans to tell her that he loves her. He knows she will like that.
Happy birthday Jacques Brel!