For someone whose relationship to rock and pop music was marginal at best, Jacques Brel casts one hell of a long shadow. While a number of the Belgian’s brooding songs are synonymous with the magnificently torrid late 60s output of Scott Walker, his influence resonates to this day in the compositions of artists as varied as Jarvis Cocker, Julian Cope and Bowie, so a considered English-language overview of his career and its ramifications has been a long time coming.
Seasoned biographer Clayson applies his customarily exhaustive and wide-ranging research skills to Brel’s life and circumstances, deploying a florid turn of phrase entirely befitting the subject matter. What emerges is a not-always flattering portrait of a dynamic, literate and uniquely gifted lyricist and performer whose painstaking craftsmanship and empathetic insights into the human condition were in sharp contrast to some surprisingly cold-hearted peccadilloes.
Really, the only black mark is the carelessly sloppy proofreading. It’s admittedly debatable whether it actually matters to most readers whether, say, a hyphen should actually have been an en dash, or whether the spelling of “chansonnier” is inconsistently rendered: it just seems a shame to present the book in such a lackadaisical fashion, when Clayson’s thoughtful efforts surely deserve better treatment.