Monday, July 19, 2010

Jacques Brel: Ne Me Quitte Pas (1962)



Nineteen fifty-nine was the year Jacques Brel, the Belgium born chansonnier (singer-songwriter), composed this brilliant and pathetic paean to the emasculated-in-love male. Since, it has been recorded by legions of singers (never heard this karaoke'd but I shudder to think) and translated into just about every known tongue but Klingon. And deservedly so: In the world of popular song, this chestnut has few betters.

About the song Wikipedia has this to say:

"Ne me quitte pas was written after Brel was thrown out of Zizou's (Suzanne Gabriello - his mistress at the time) life after casting shame and sadness upon her. Zizou was pregnant with Brel's child and had an abortion after Brel refused fatherhood."
It is considered by some as 'Brel's ultimate classic'. He would later say in an interview that the song is not a love song, but rather a song about the cowardice of men."

This version, by the maestro himself, is both deeply moving and wonderfully creepy. Watch as his face describes the heart-wrenching tale of the jilted lover begging the jilt of his desire in circular, plaintive bleats (
don't leave!) This, people, is the song selling art at its finest. (Let's see you squeeze that kind of juice from of any of your winners of American Idol or The Voice!)

In a project to translate Brel's work, Rod McKuen wrote a slightly different take of the story with If You Go Away. This version, while no less worthy, is the one that's probably better known. Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Scott Walker, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Brenda Lee, and others have all taken worthy passes at it. But in the end these singers are only pretenders: None, in my estimation, have captured the song's scaling depths of depravity and mountainous peaks of despair quite as effectively as the maestro himself.

See the French lyrics alongside their English translation here.
I’ll weep no more/I’ll speak no more/I’ll hide right here,
to look at you/dance and smile, to/listen to you/sing/and then laugh...
Let me become/the shadow/of your shadow,
the shadow of your hand/the shadow of your dog, but/don’t leave me!
Don’t leave me!
Don’t leave me!
Don’t leave me!

"The shadow of your dog." Beautiful.

1 comment:

ink stain inc. said...

Fantastic and deeper connection to the feeling of a song, to the history of a song. This is a great place to dive into the deep-end of a song; it's the realization that songs are like architecture or a certain era of style: they affect us in ways that build a personal history. And they become part of our narrative with the world — and there is so much humor and story in a certain recording or track, arrangement or lyricism. This is a place to discover the deeper deep track.