2003 / september / 13

Ne me Quitte pas

I discovered Jacques Brel when I was 23. It was the year in which that my taste in music first started shifting from form to content. The year when I discovered my own voice. The year in which I set the first conscious steps on my spiritual path, as I called then what I now simply look at as my life.

Brel. What a passion in that voice, and how rich the melodies of his songs. My French was never good enough to get the full subtleties and nuances in the lyrics - even when I read them, I got Tout Brel years ago - but together with his vigorous reciting and the music I felt I got the essence.

The grand bookstore Scheltema celebrated its 150 anniversary this summer. Lots of famous authors reading from their work, public lectures, wonderful goodies to be had when making a purchase, and tons of special offers. Some valid for a week, some only for a day, to keep it interesting.

One of these offers was a boxed set of 10 cd's with Brels complete recordings. For half the normal price, less than a hundred euros, a steal. As I was humming along with a huge pile of books - on that day that all O'Reilly titles got 15 to 25% off, and I also got the new Oek de Jong novel, in hardcover, which was even heavier than O'Reilly's Sendmail tomb - I happily put it on top, enjoying how I was treating myself. Of course, next to the cd boxes were books on Brel on display. Brel, the passion and the pain stood out - and in the shopping spree I was in I just got it. I treated myself that day, I spent over 400 euros on forty centimeters of books and cd's.

It turned out a very interesting book. Written by the late Johan Anthierens, it's a biography, not of Brel but of Brel through his songs. The author dives into the soul of these songs, line by line, not in an academic way, but with a passion not unlike the passion he is trying to unearth. And as the book's in Dutch, it handily contains a selection of translations of Brel's pivotal lyrics.

Boom. With a loud thud, Brel fell of the pedestal I had put him on. Anthierens does a wonderful job explaining all the intricacies in the words that I never understood - what a dark side, what a viciousness is there between the lines of those wonderful songs. I realized that I had projected that the heartfelt passion about searching and desperation I hear in his voice would also be at the root of his lyrics. That like the voice, the lyrics transcend the mundane love that a woman can bring, worse still, only a certain woman. Brel once said that he did not believe that there are men who both love Love itself and Women, a statement I somehow never could take seriously until I saw that his bitterness is pervasive in most of his songs.

It was a shock. Such a disappointment. Such a bitter man, and especially against women, with whom he could not build friendships: the bond he valued most he could only have with his mates. And even then.

This of course does not diminish the wonderful character studies in his songs, and that voice full of desperate passion. But it is the desperation of a cynical hedonist, looking for a fix on his own level - not for a higher love, beyond the simple personal.

So there it is, that neat boxed set that I was so excited about. I haven't brought myself to put it on again and listen. One of my heroes has fallen of the pedestal that I put him on - and my heart is still too broken to listen to him again.

(written in June 2003)

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