Date of Award

Spring 1985

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Languages & Literature

First Advisor

Nathalie Oppedahl

Second Advisor

Fr. William Greytak

Third Advisor

Ron Stottlemyer

Abstract

Having heard of Jacques Brel while living in France and also while studying French at Carroll College, I never realized his fame was so far reaching until this study began. it is usually very difficult for continental European performers to make a name for themselves in the United States, so it was surprising to find how many Americans knew of him, his theatre production and his remarkably successful record: "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris." Although Jacques Brel was definitely successful in the America of the 1960‘s, his actual popularity was unfortunately limited. In the United States it is difficult to find material concerning his career. Many people have heard of him or his theatre production, but little more is known. Because of his relatively recent success, few books have been written about him. Thus, this study of Jacques Brel began directly with his songs. By listening and analyzing them, it is apparent that certain themes recur in his works: childhood, love, women, time, old age and death. Thanks to a nation-wide computer search from the University of Montana and cooperation from the Carroll College Library, the reference material needed for an in-depth study was obtained, and this thesis began in earnest. Throughout the available studies, one finds continual reference to the “heros brelien", who is the main character in almost every song by Jacques Brel. The songs are based on various themes, and the "heros” is the thread which weaves through all of them. The format of this study is a mixture of the actual biography of the writer and the progression through * life of the “heros". The "heros" is studied solely through what Jacques Brel wrote, and in an effort to make the his position as clear as possible, many excerpts from Brel’s songs are included. Since another way yet to get a true appreciation of Brel’s works is to be able to see them in their complete form, many of the songs mentioned in this thesis are written out in full in the appendixes at the end of the study. The first chapter is a portrayal of one of Brel’s favorite themes, that of childhood. This study is accomplished through the available material concerning Brel's own childhood, and selected portions of his songs dealing mainly with children's dreams and imagination. The second chapter deals with the young idealistic Brel of the 1950's and his early years in Paris as a singer. At this period in his life the “heros" of whom he sings seems to be an exact duplication of his own personality. All aspects of Brel’s idealism are mirrored in the works of this period, and this portion of the study emphasizes his especially strong idealistic view concerning love. The third chapter continues the study of Brel’s view of love through what is termed the "second period” (1960-1968). All idealism of the first period has disappeared and is replaced by emphatically cynical and sarcastic tones—to such an extent that Brel's work is eventualy classified by some critics to be both misogynous and misanthropic. Concerning his career, though, this is Brel’s shining period. This chapter examines the various aspects which brought him his international success in the 1960's. Jacques Brel's obsession with time is discussed in the last chapter. Beginning especially in the second period, Brel becomes concerned with the passing of time and man's struggle to live life to its fullest. With his youth behind him and old age on the horizon, Brel studies the aging process and death in many of his songs. This last chapter is both a study of the aging Brel as well as the aging ''heros", for Brel's career and lifestyle after his retirement from singing are also examined.

Share

COinS