Sad Songs no 2. Avec le temps – Léo Ferré

vignetteThis is the song that got me thinking about the whole ‘sad songs’ thing, and in a way it should be number one but for the fact that there’s another song that honestly reduces me to a messy puddle every time I hear it. I don’t know why Léo Ferré is so little known outside France. He should really appeal to arty Anglophones; I think it’s just that nobody ever translated or championed his work in the way they did with, say, Jacques Brel. And he’s a much more difficult proposition than Charles Aznavour. Ferré was an anarchist, a poet, deeply involved in politics, a bit of a mad sage figure. (He definitely had the worst hair of any singer, ever.) He did whole albums setting the words of Verlaine, Rimbaud and Baudelaire to music – and they’re great. But he’s at his best when he sticks within the chanson tradition, and Avec le temps is his acknowledged masterpiece. Basically it’s about how everything turns to shit as you get older, and there aren’t many subjects sadder than that. There are loads of songs on this list about lost love, broken hearts, bereavement and so on, but you get over those things and move on. For the kind of sadness that Ferré sings about in Avec le temps there is, I fear, no cure. The lyrics are all about how nothing matters any more, how you settle for second or third best, you can’t be bothered, you forget the passions that inspired you. The final verse is particularly devastating, with its conclusion ‘avec le temps on n’aime plus’. The music, melody and delivery all match the lyrics, making this without doubt one of the saddest songs ever recorded.

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