On 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!