Jacques Brel is

Back in 1975, my mother and I were entranced. We didn’t quite comprehend everything, but we were mesmerized by the TV. We were watching “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”

Later we would travel far and wide to live productions. My father accompanied us, and he too enjoyed each performance. And this was a man who habitually fell asleep at live theater productions. We listened to his music; we sang his songs; we discussed his lyrics. This songwriter sleepily made his mark on my upbringing.

After decades of belting out Jacques Brel tunes on the road, I found myself in the Fondation Brel in Brussels, Belgium. There weren’t any musical instruments or sheet music or cigarette holders of the man, such as you typically find in museums dedicated to an artist. It was very high tech with audio video recordings of performances and interviews.

I recall the interview in which Jacques Brel was asked about the vulgarity in his lyrics. I was lazy and read the English subtitles and I’m paraphrasing: He responded that speaking of piss was quintessentially French, a good French word. (More than one of his songs references a man pissing.) Then about vulgarity, he said that what is vulgar is a young girl introducing her sweetheart to her father and being asked about the young man’s income. Ever the rebel.

Jacques Brel

The live videos of Jacques Brel in a perspiring state after his performances, for which he had clearly given his all, also remain impressed upon me. Ne me quittez pas.

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