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For the past few months, I’ve been obsessing with the music of the late Jacques Brel.

Brel was a an outstanding lyricist. But he is mostly known for his fabulously intense performances. A bit of a stop on YouTube will give you ample to experience.

One of the great things about Brel’s songs is the breadth of his work. Les Bourgeois is comic brilliance; Ne Me Quitte Pas is arresting in it’s direct plea for a lover to stay.

But today, I want to spend a few minutes with Les Vieux–The Old. Written when Brel was around 30 years old, it is a bleak and uncompromising look at the lives of many of the elderly he saw. They are trapped in a state of death-in-life.

Les vieux ne rêvent plus, leurs livres s’ensommeillent, leurs pianos sont fermés
Le petit chat est mort, le muscat du dimanche ne les fait plus chanter
Les vieux ne bougent plus leurs gestes ont trop de rides leur monde est trop petit

The old do not dream, their books are blurred, their pianos are closed.
The small cat is dead, Sunday’s wine no longer makes them sing.
The old do not move; their gestures wrinkled, their world is too small. (translation mine)

Bleak.

But more arresting is the recurring image of the Grandfather Clock, purring in place of the cat, constantly calling.

…la pendule d’argent
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non, qui dit : je vous attends

…the silver pendulum
who purrs in the salon, who says “yes”, who says “no”, who says “I wait for you”
(translation mine)

 

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