Jacques Brel, “Les désespérés”; or, how much would you pay for a single song?

Lately I’ve been rediscovering the genius, and I do mean genius, of Monsieur Jacques Brel. I’d known maybe a dozen, maybe two dozen, of his songs in the past, among them many of the masterpieces. But he released 12 or 13 studio albums, and a few live albums as well, and I suddenly had to hear them all. And then own them all. I just knew they’d all be very worth becoming familiar with, and I also knew that there would be some further absolute jewels to discover.

So his recordings have been almost all that I have been listening to for the past month, regularly floored equally by his astonishing singing — the powerful expressivity, suppleness of phrasing, playful employment of timbre, humour — as by the endlessly varied, sophisticated, poetic songwriting. He can be clever, inventive, very funny, and he can reach into the centre of your heart.

This one, for instance, which was new to me and which I can’t stop listening to. Some of the albums I bought on CD, but the album this is on, Ces gens-là, was difficult to get, so I bought it online, for — if I’m remembering correctly — $1.29. And it has just caused me to wonder: what are individual songs worth to me? What if there were literally no way to hear a particular song unless I bought it? How much, then, would I be willing to pay for that privilege?

Well … you know … the truthful answer, with regard to a great many songs in the upper echelon of preciousness to me, is … you don’t want to know! I honestly can’t even see how I could put a price tag on the members of that category, but the amount would be way, way, way up there… I mean, I’d have to cut way back on food if need be, maybe even waste away…

And here is one of those. You don’t need to know any French to understand it, and deeply. The music, the singing, takes you all the way there. But if you would like a sense of the words, and lack any French (mine is far from great, alas), the lyrics can be found online, and a machine translator will yield a terrible, often meaningless mess of a result (!), but you will at least get some sort of sense of its poetry. Mainly though — and as always — it’s the music that matters. And this one just … ah … nothing can really be said about it. I think I’ve put it on ten or twelve times today. It’s a complete … it’s complete. If you are in touch with your heart, it will melt it down.

Ii’m feeling so grateful to this man. So many astonishing songs. Here is Les désespérés: