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France Brel: “My father Jacques belongs to history and we must therefore tell the truth about him”

In Tahiti in 1976, Jacques Brel said in his own way, bluntly, that he would be included in the pantheon of song: “As long as I'm alive, you'll keep your mouths shut! Once I die, perhaps I will be a little part of history; then, you can tell them what you have to tell.

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France Brel: “My father Jacques belongs to history and we must therefore tell the truth about him”

In Tahiti in 1976, Jacques Brel said in his own way, bluntly, that he would be included in the pantheon of song: “As long as I'm alive, you'll keep your mouths shut! Once I die, perhaps I will be a little part of history; then, you can tell them what you have to tell..." France Brel, the daughter of the cantor of the Plat Pays and high priestess of the Brussels Foundation dedicated to the great Jacques, decided to tell the story of childhood and young years of this Brel before Brel which, she is convinced, is the source of her work.

After the first volume, entitled Jacky, which recounted her father's childhood, she has just published Un Troubadour, chronicles of a life II, the young years of a "totally distraught Jacky" whose destiny will be strongly influenced, for the best, by Hector Bruyndonckx, the soul of the humanist youth movement La Franche Cordée, and of course by his meeting with Thérèse Michielsen, known as Miche, who would become his wife and the mother of his three daughters.

Also read: Jacky: the secrets of Jacques Brel told by his daughter France

While in Paris, France Brel met Le Figaro to explain why she undertook this titanic work, which will include two other volumes. For her, she is convinced, it will now allow all exegetes and other “Brelien” biographies to better understand the songs of a man who will have painted, often metaphorically, the world of his youth.

LE FIGARO. - Do you think that Brel's talent was shaped during his childhood, his adolescence and then his first years as an adult in Belgium?

France BREL. - You just have to read the titles of his songs to grasp his inspiration, his source, his breeding ground: Brussels, Les Flamandes, Ces gens-là, Le Plat Pays, etc... Before writing, I said to myself: Jacques en 1958, in 1965, all this is the fruit of his youth. And people don't always know that. I wanted to detail the crossroads of his destiny, everything that was going to happen in short in order to provide clues. Basically, Jacky and then Le Troubadour tell the beginnings of someone who is extraordinary. Because Brel, before his talent, is an extraordinary being.

In your chronicle of a life, a sort of commented and dissected family album, you emphasize the encounters which shaped it between the ages of sixteen and twenty...

Yes. First there is the friendship symbolized by Hector Bruyndonckx, the soul of Franche Cordée, a youth movement whose ideal is camaraderie, solidarity and, to put it bluntly, humanism. And then, he there will be the blue eyes of my mother, Miche, who will be the symbol of love. In my opinion, all of Brel's generosity begins there. The question has often been asked about him: why so much help to others? Thanks to La Franche Cordée. People said my father was very generous. But it's too short. He discovered a man, Hector, who showed him that he was available for him at a time when things were not going well. He shows her that he is a writer. He simply reveals it. I use big words to make people understand. But what touches Brel is of course the artist, but it is also and above all the human being behind it all. It’s fundamental, there we are at the heart of tenderness, of humanism.

And the crucial role of your mother, Miche...?

For me, the most important moment is when Jacques, at the end of his military service, decides to take a trip to the mountains with his friends. While he was discovering the roads of France, my mother wrote him a letter: "I want to be part of your life, Darling, but I don't want to be obsessed with it..." From the start, she understood his need for freedom.

You mean that Miche is a bit like his Pygmalion, his pillar...

No, I don't see it like that. She is a woman who practiced the well-known adage: “If we love others, we love them as they are, as they are.” This exceptional duo will last until the end. The story I tell of this couple is the guy who lives at the end of the world with another woman and who doesn't say anything to anyone, and who is going to tell his wife all the money I have earned, This is for you and the girls. This kind of concrete connection is unusual, right?

As in Le Tango Funèbre you “rummage through the drawers, feasting in advance on the love letters wrapped in pairs…”. Would your mother wish you had revealed all this?

With humor, she told me: “Not too quickly.” I believe that Brel belongs a little to history and that we must therefore tell the truth. But I still fight against immodesty. I never publish the most intimate feelings. I want to shed light on my father’s work, that’s all and that’s already a lot. Lovers of my father's songs will tell me if I succeeded...

Jacky and Un Troubadour, Chronicle of a Life published by the Jacques Brel Foundation in Brussels

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