Thank you, Jacques Brel

August 20, 2014

My Dear Jacques,

Did you ever think that when you started to write songs in far away Belgium in the 1940’s that an ageing Baby Boomer would adopt your songs as his shtick and hawk his version around a west coast city in America.

BrelIt must happen to a lot of writers. I mean, who sits down to write and says to themselves, “I don’t care if no-one ever reads this or uses it while I am alive; this is for that person who has perhaps not even been born”? No, most of us work for the time in which we live and act. And yet by far the bulk of any writer’s fans will be those who find his or her material long after their remains have rotted away to dust. In his lifetime Bill Shakespeare could probably count on a few hundred, maybe a thousand folk of his acquaintance who would dare to say they liked his work and would defend it against whoever reigned. And now Bill has a fan club of possibly billions.

And so, Jacques, I wonder if it ever occurred to you that your work had more staying power than you thought at first?

I have to say that when I first listened to the “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’ album I was not immediately bowled over. I did not go, aha, this is the kind of music that I can get into and through which I can reveal my own true character and musical aspirations. Well, I was only 28. But over the years as I listened again and again something happened and when I was in my fifties I suddenly found that your songs had gotten into my psyche and would not go away.

It did occur to me that I was only affected by the English version that Blau and Shuman had produced in New York in the 1970’s. So I bought CD’s of you actually singing your own work, and found yet more depth and interest in the music; and the discovery that the NYC review had sampled only 22 examples and there were so many more.

So how is it that your music is the vehicle for my musical aspiration? You are not the only other writer I admire. Somewhere in your work there must be the connection with my mind that pushed me. Something that said, Bob, you can do this, it is you. Whereas I feel somewhat out of place and uncomfortable singing Leonard Cohen or John Lennon, I feel absolutely at ease when I sing your work, and feel thoroughly connected to it.

I do sing others songs, and with pleasure, but it has been your work that gave the platform from which to begin. And so I thank you, Jacques, from my heart, from the stage where I am and hopefully from the stage where I want to be…

Your late, very late fan,

Bob Sterry

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