If there is a more anguished, impassioned performance of a song about love lost; I have never witnessed it.
My first experience of Jacques Brel was in an off-Broadway show in Greenwich Village in 1968. I was in NYC for a journalism conference at Columbia University, sponsored in part by an award-winning newspaper in my high school. I was the city editor at the time, and represented my school at a symposium on effective news writing.
The conference was not as memorable as the side attractions and activities that were built into this 4 day trip. Included were the controversial “Hair”, which debuted that year; the opera “Tosca” at Lincoln Square; the NIT Basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden; an 8 course dinner at “Mama Leona’s”, and the quirky coffee house performance of “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”.
This was the Greenwich Village of the 1960’s, the era of Bob Dylan, the beatniks, the poets and street performers. It was gritty, and dirty, and wonderful. The room was in a basement, it was dark, a bit smoky. The show would maybe have been R-rated, no such ratings at that time.
It was a collection of original songs by Jacques Brel, Belgian born, known mostly in France. He was a songwriter, poet, lyricist, a bit of a rebel, and an amazing performer. If I ever saw him on TV, I honestly don’t remember him.
Through the magic of Youtube, I came upon this video, and was amazed at his intensity. That song troop in NYC in 1968 did not even come close. With English subtitles, that probably don’t matter. Ne Me Quite Pas. (Don’t Leave Me). Amazing.