i’ve just discovered how amazing brel is. i borrowed andy’s copy of ces gens-la (an import) and the title track bowls me over every time. this is one of the few CDs i’ve encountered where i like pretty much every track, and i understand now what andy meant when he said listening to this stuff really makes you want to learn french. he has another of brel’s CDs, infiniment, that’s domestic and has english translations, and the translations prove that brel’s status in france as a great poet is entirely well founded. it’s interesting to read comparisons online to bob dylan and leonard cohen, although of course brel doesn’t sound anything like them. hopefully they’ll be releasing more of his music domestically.

addendum: i finally found a translation of this song online! here it is:

First – first there is the eldest,
the one who’s like a watermelon,
who has a thick nose,
who no longer knows his name, Sir,
so much he drinks,
so much he has drunk,
who doesn’t do a thing with his ten fingers,
the one who is at the end of his rope,
who is completely smashed
and takes himself for the king,
who gets drunk every night
with bad wine,
but who is to be found at dawn
at church snoozing,
stiff as a hard-on,
pale as an Easter candle,
and who mumbles,
and whose eyes wander off…
Let me tell you, Sir,
those people,
they don’t think, Sir,
they don’t think
– they pray!

And then there’s the other one,
with tufts in his hair,
who has never seen a comb,
who is mean as a louse,
the kind who’d give his shirt
to the happy poor,
who married that Denise,
a girl from the city,
I mean – from another city,
and that’s not all of it –
he does his little business,
with his little hat on,
with his little coat on,
in his little car,
he would like very much to look as if,
but he looks like nothing at all
– one must not try to look rich
when one is without a penny!
Let me tell you, Sir,
those people,
they don’t live, Sir,
they don’t live
– they cheat!

And then, there are the others…
The mother who says nothing,
or just anything;
and from night till morning,
in his handsome apostle’s face
and in its wooden frame,
there’s the father’s moustache,
– he died from a slip,
and he looks down at his flock
gulping their cold soup
and one hears big shlrrps,
and one hears big shlrrps!
And there is the very old one,
who doesn’t stop rattling,
and they wait for her to croak,
because she holds the dough,
and they don’t even listen
to what her poor hands try to tell…
Let me tell you, Sir,
those people,
they don’t talk, Sir,
they don’t talk
– they count!

And then, and then, and then –
there is Frieda
who is beautiful as the sun
and who loves me as much
as I love Frieda!
Even we often tell each other
that we’ll get ourselves a house
with lots of windows,
with almost no walls,
and that we’ll live there,
and that it will feel good,
and that if it is not a sure bet,
it’s still a maybe…
Because – the others are against,
because – the others are against!
The others, they say so,
that she is too beautiful for me,
that I am just good
to skin cats –
I have never killed no cats,
or then, it was a long time ago,
or maybe, I forgot,
or they smelled funny…
I mean, they are against…
they are against…
Sometimes, when we see each other,
pretending it was not planned,
with her big wet eyes,
she says that she’ll leave,
she says that she’ll come with me,
then for a moment,
only for a moment,
then do I believe her, Sir,
for a moment,
only for a moment,
because, those people, Sir,
they don’t leave!
They don’t leave, Sir,
they don’t leave…

But it’s getting late, Sir,
I ‘d better go home…


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