November 30, 2021

“I make my songs like my father made houses”

IN THE TELERAMA ARCHIVES – He would have been 100 this year. In 1972, already twenty years of celebrity behind him, Georges Brassens was the guest of “Télérama”. Speaking in public or to journalists: he didn’t like exercise. But “the humble songwriter”, as he saw himself, is not doing so badly…

“My ancestors were almost all in the building. They were making tiles. My father was a mason. Me, I quite like building songs like we used to build houses. With as little concrete as possible; rather stone and not too visible joints. “

Twenty years of celebrity. One hundred and twenty songs. A grand prize for poetry awarded by the Académie Française where he has fervent supporters who have already spoken to him about green clothes. And always the same malice, the same generous verve, the same grumbling kindness.

“I am quite capable of speaking with familiar ones, but as soon as I am put a microphone under my nose, I have difficulties: when I feel that I am going to say some nonsense, I immediately hear it and I start talking. stammer. I believe that to speak in public, you have to be either very c … (said the whole word to him!) Or very intelligent. Being neither one nor the other, I have difficulties. When you’re very c … you say anything, but you don’t notice anything; we are always happy. This is not quite my case. When you’re very smart, you can talk about just about anything and say interesting things. And I no, unfortunately. Sometimes I say less uninteresting things than usual, but it’s not always. “The good Homer sometimes slumbers”, as the poet said. A fortiori a humble maker of songs.

“Under the pretext that you wrote two or three songs which found favorable ears, one imagines that you are able to treat any subject with mastery and that is not true. Often admirers come and ask me what is the way to go in the things of life. I cannot tell others what attitude to take. I am not a moralist; even if I do a little moral in my songs, it’s a bonus. I make songs for my pleasure.

“I started to make songs for fun, to amuse friends. And then little by little, by dint of doing them, I came to write them more or less correctly. I write little but in the end I write for a long time. I write little, I cross out a lot. Since the age of 14 or 15, I have been practicing writing little things and I like it. I like to play with words. Sometimes I take a month to do a couplet, sometimes five minutes. I like it anyway. “

– When we meet you, we are embarrassed …
– You don’t have to.

– … one wonders what question to ask you that you have not already heard a thousand times.
– Believe me, the most embarrassed of the two is always me. You know we don’t always say what we think. Out of laziness, or weakness, or to please the one who asks you questions, we sometimes agree with it. Even without doing it on purpose. It’s a courtesy, if you will.

This “manner of courtesy” is reflected in Brassens’ conversation by a disarming modesty. Not only does he claim to have long since lost all his certainties, but he is also careful not to ever be peremptory on small things as on big problems.
– If I always speak of God, it is because he has existed for a long time in language. My mother was Catholic and I was brought up with respect for religion. It necessarily leaves traces. And then God, like death, is a subject that interested all poets. I am not a poet but finally because I write in verse, because I play the words with each other, I am obliged to meet, I dare not say the big subjects, God, death, love.

“It seemed to me that it was nicer to be tolerant than not to be.”

I do not believe in God. But if you believe in God, you, I believe in your belief. She seems very respectable to me. It has happened to me – not now – to envy those who had this belief, although it did not seem easier to believe in God than not to believe in him, especially in our time.

– We could define your character in one word: tolerant.
– Tolerance, I think it’s a somewhat natural and somewhat cultivated virtue. It seemed to me that it was nicer to be tolerant than not to be. And then I think it’s the bottom of my nature. I am incapable of any grudge whatsoever. Notice, I’ve never been wronged much. But I even forget, over time, the offenses that have been done to people who were dear to me.

– In your audience, there are a lot of young people who are old enough to be your children.
– Perhaps it is that they found in me a certain detachment with regard to what they reject and a certain attachment to a dignity that interests them. The way they refuse a certain form of society is fine with me. I, too, have refused it for a long time.
But what I do alone, they do in a group. I am more individualistic. I’m not saying I’m right. But I’d rather be wrong on my own than be right with others.
I, who am rather reserved, it is painful for me to mingle with a crowd, all the more reason to get up, climb onto a table and harangue it.

– Speaking of harangue, we hardly see you on stage.
– When I started (I was 31 years old) I didn’t really like going on stage. And then I got used to it. Now I enjoy it a lot, but I can do without it, at least a year or two, I have already proven it.

– But why these long eclipses?
– It still happens from time to time to have small problems with my kidneys which prevent me from working. Finally, to work is a very big word, let’s say to write. When a stone hurts me, I don’t have the morale to do songs, because …

“I am criticized for always writing the same melodies. This is not true; they are in great demand. ”

No Brassens did not tell me how many stones he had made in his career, nor told of his terrible renal colic. Neither collector, nor veteran … “His Two Uncles” even earned him some famous reproaches and a lot of insults. “It was Uncle Martin, it was Uncle Gaston – One loved the Tommies, the other loved the Teutons. Each for his friends, both of them, they died – I who loved no one, well I still live. “

“- A controversy, it immediately seems important. People disapproved of the song, that’s all. It doesn’t matter that much. We made a big deal out of it, but it wasn’t more of a consequence than a discussion at the Café du Commerce.
Exactly like the story of Brassens, a rude character. Of course I am a rude character since I use questionable terms in the matter of good taste. I amuse myself a bit like children who have just picked up a swear word and say it until they tire of it.

“My songs are life size. They seem to have done like that on their own. They are quite difficult despite appearances. Even the music. I am criticized for always writing the same melodies. This is not true; they are in great demand. You know, not everyone is made to love the song. Under the pretext that we serve a lot of songs on the radio and on television and that everyone buys a record player, it seems that everyone is affected by the song. This is not true. There are people who are not made to like the song, so they like anything. You have to have the bump of the song. “

Two covers by Georges Brassens on 10/13/1957 and in issue 2773 of 11/11/81