Harry Gallagher on his poem ‘Jacques’

I’ve long been an admirer of the songs of Jacques Brel, the subject of ‘Jacques’. He’s a really interesting figure to me. Such a great writer. The world he writes about is the same seedy underworld that the great Tom Waits treads around in. We’re talking drunks here. Down and outs. Ne’er-do-wells. Men who take it to the edge and then over. They invariably land in a broken, broke mess and begin imploring their lover to take them back one last time. When she refuses, they begin the whole sorry process over again. The women themselves are loved, despised and mistreated in equal measure. You can see a couple of these songs directly referenced in the poem and for anyone new to his stuff I’d recommend starting at Scott Walker and then joining the dots through Bowie, Marc Almond et al.

But what was a revelation to me was listening to the man’s own renditions of his songs. Great as the covers are, what they all miss is the grime and the sweating and pleading he left all over the vinyl. To hear him imploring and roaring – yes sometimes roaring – for reconciliation is something I really wasn’t expecting from the velvet voices I’d heard covering these songs. I have my wife Bridget to thank for that. She, being a lifelong Francophile, knew the songs backwards and seeing her reaction to them was as much a revelation to me as the material itself was. She reacts to his songs in the same way as she does to the aforementioned Waits. Full of messed up – and often highly chauvinistic – men imploring forgiveness; their worlds, though repulsive in real life are a dark, magic netherworld on record. Jacques went there so we don’t have to!”

“Jacques” features in Issue 3 of Marble

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