Since I discovered Jacques Brel a few months ago, I’ve listened to little else. His catalog of songs is for a lifetime of absorption and enjoyment. To pull out one perfect gem, this song “Le Moribond:”
A version with English subtitles is here. A dying man bids adieu in order to his dear friend Emile, to his wife’s priest, to his wife’s lover Antoine, and to his wife herself. Expansive and humane, the singer grieves to die in the springtime and wishes that everyone he leaves behind will go on to laugh and dance and “act like a bunch of crazies.” Typical of the subtlety in Brel’s lyrical artistry, in “Le Moribond,” the singer tells his wife he will soon close his eyes “as I often closed them before” which in the context of the song hints at both sleeping and Antoine. But he charges each of those present, even Antoine (“Goodbye Antoine, I didn’t like you at all, you know”), with the care of his beloved wife. As a bonus for me, he gently tells the priest to piss off, but as the priest has been his wife’s confidante, and as we are all “seeking the same port,” the dying man extends his full heart even to the priest.
If “Le Moribond” sounds vaguely familiar, it is because the song was famously butchered by some guy in the 1970’s. And butchered again by some other guy in the 90’s. And more recently by a boy band sappily performing on treadmills while taking off their clothes in front of pre-teen girls. Yes, a song can go that far down.
We don’t need to wonder how this song would sound if Jacque Brel himself had re-recorded it in the 1970’s. He did. And while I wouldn’t trade the original version, this is the essence of a 1970s jazz fusion Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew-esque sophisticated coolness:
Bonus Brel: Here are a few more of my favorite performances.
Dans le Port d’Amsterdam – This one might be my favorite. A tribute to hard-living, hard-drinking sailors. And he sings so hard towards the end, I worry for his health.
Valse à mille temps – My wife and daughter like this one. It’s a fun song and he sings faster and louder as the song progresses.
Quand on n’a que l’amour – He plays guitar and sings on this one.
Ne me quitte pas – He begs a woman to stay. He really, really does not want her to leave. I feel almost embarrassed for his desperation. Everybody and their uncle has recorded a version of this song, including Sinatra which is definitely worth a listen.