La Chanteuse Barbara

BarbaraOn this day in 1930, the great singer-songwriter Monique Andree Serf, better known as simply “Barbara,” was born. She was a French Jew who had to hide out during the Nazi occupation of the country, and overall had a pretty bad childhood. She later became a cabaret singer. But it was not until she started writing her own longs that her career really took off. According to Stephen Evans at the BBC, her song “Goettingen” was more important in reconciling Germany and France after World War II than Charles de Gaulle’s 1962 speech in Ludwigsburg. I’m not that fond of the song—it’s kind of theoretical with lines like, “Mais les enfants ce sont les memes, a Paris ou a Goettingen” (“But children are the same, in Paris or in Goettingen”).

Barbara was at her best when she was being extremely personal—and that was most of the time. No one can make me cry as easily as she can. It isn’t just the writing. Her cool delivery makes it all seem so factual—like she’s saying, “I’m just telling you what happened.” There is also the sense that she is on the verge of losing it too.

But as is typical of a chanteuse, her songs told complicated, even deep, stories. A great example of this is her song “Nantes,” about coming to see her estranged father before he dies and arriving too late. This is not a great recording, but it is the only one I could find with English subtitles (although they aren’t very good subtitles). Prepare to be affected:

Happy birthday Barbara!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “La Chanteuse Barbara

  1. @Morwalk – Well, if I told you a bit more about her father, you might say he deserved it. I assume the song is autobiographical. Although it is beautifully and theatrically written.

  2. Pas un seul mot de ses chansons n’est à critiquer. 63-73 fut sa période d’absolu génie.
    Sur scène, sa chanson qui m’avait le plus stupéfait, était j’étais enfant, à Nantes justement, était LE SOLEIL NOIR? je m’en souviens encore…
    Vous parlez de Leo Ferre. Il avait une forme de talent, mais quel chaos à la fois textuel et musical, il était comme un vieux complètement immature et sur scène , il était désagréable. Il aimait si peu les musiciens qu’il était seul au piano + une bande-son, et avec son public de gauchistes (liberals) et d’anarchistes, c’était ridicule…
    Barbara et lui ne s’appréciaient pas…Gainsbourg, juif aussi mais jaloux, nul en scène, n’aimait pas non plus Barbara…Brel adorait Barbara.
    LE SOLEIL NOIR; Barbara est derrière son piano… Du génie à l’état pur…

    Et je vais vous faire découvrir une autre tragédienne : Gribouille, auteur morte suicidée à 27 ans.

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