8 April 1929, Brussels, Belgium, d. 9 October 1978, Bobigny, Seine-Saint-Denis, France. Brel remained a figurehead of modern songwriting, despite a reluctance either to sing in English or, owing to his bitter opposition to the Vietnam war, perform in North America - or, indeed, anywhere else, after retiring from concert appearances in 1966. Although Flemish, he conversed in French. After studying commercial law, he married and spent several years in the family cardboard merchandising business until, in 1953, nauseated by bourgeois convention, he began a new career in Paris as a singing composer. Buck-toothed and lanky, his lack of obvious mass appeal was thrust aside by impresario Jacques Canetti, who presented him regularly at Pigalles Theatre Des Trois Baudets, where he was accompanied by his own guitar and a small backing band. A sense of dramatic construction resulted in performances that, embracing fierce anger, open romanticism and world-weariness,...
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