30 Sad Songs no 17. Mon Enfance – Jacques Brel

Bjacques_brelrel has almost been ruined for me by the obsessive reverence in which he’s held by every would-be cabaret singer. If I hear one more crap rendition of Ne me quitte pas, I will scream. There are some great versions, it’s a great song, but please, leave it alone and move on. I’m looking at you Ute Bloody Lemper. However, Brel is a great singer and songwriter and an accomplished misery, so it would be wrong not to have him on the list. Instead of the grovelling masochism of Ne me quitte pas, I’ve chosen Mon Enfance, a lesser-known and mercifully un-covered song about nostalgia for the innocence of childhood. It’s a subject matter that’s fuelled Francophone culture for 100 years – how many songs, films and novels rake over the artist’s pre-pubescence in a search for significance? Brel tackles it with his usual gusto, recalling a childhood full of pointless rules and regulations, silent men and weeping women. Then he discovers sex with a great musical upsurge, he feels he’s flying, he’s finally alive – then ‘la guerre arriva/Et nous voilà ce soir’. Best thing he did, I think.

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